SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ Jason Hewitt believes he is the most “comfortable” with his game this season than at any stage of his career.
The 31-year-old British forward last week became the first player to dress in 700 Elite League games, no mean achievement given the physical nature of one of the toughest contact sports.
The Manchester-born GB international admits his longevity has partly been down to his luck to avoid a serious, long-lasting injury since turning professional with Manchester Phoenix back in 2004. But there has also been plenty of hard work and graft along the way.
Spells followed at the doomed London Racers and then Basingstoke Bison before he made the switch back north to South Yorkshire.
It has proved a successful time to be involved with the Steelers on the whole, Hewitt playing his part in the club lifting two Elite League regular season titles, three play-off trophies and a British Knockout Cup.
It has been during his time at Steelers that Hewitt also stepped up to earn international honours, making his debut in 2009 and, so far, making 34 appearances for his country.
“Trying to improve each year is something I always try and do,” said Hewitt. “I’ve learnt more every season and I definitely feel a lot more comfortable than I probably ever have done on the ice. I know what I’m there to do and I’ve been doing it long enough.
“I never for one moment thought when I started out, that I would play this many games.
“I never even planned on making it a career for myself and things kind of fell into place for me and so far – touch wood – I’m quite fortunate not to have had a major injury.”
The 2014-15 campaign has seen the Steelers build on their play-off championship success at the end of last season with an encouraging start, losing only one of their opening seven league games under head coach Gerad Adams.
Hewitt feels his game has progressed even further under Adams, whose impact when succeeding the axed Doug Christiansen in February was almost immediate and which led to the memorable play-off triumph in Nottingham just over two months later.
“One thing I always look for in a coach is for them to be honest and to tell you where you stand if you do something wrong and that’s how he is,” added Hewitt. “It certainly rubbed off on guys the right way last year and it was definitely a breath of fresh air when he came in.
“Obviously, he has continued that by putting together a great squad for this season. He made some huge changes over the summer and some people were concerned about that, but I know that ‘G’ never was and he believed in what he was doing.”
Tonight sees Yorkshire rivals Hull Stingrays pay a visit to the Steelers and, although the home side will start as favourites, Hewitt is expecting a tough battle – certainly if the two earlier Challenge Cup games, both won by Steelers – are anything to go by.
“Both Cup games have been really close against Hull,” added Hewitt. “Like us, they are a very good skating team and they match up well against us.
“They have that never-say-die attitude about them and just won’t go away and they will play right until the very end.”
Hull player-coach Omar Pacha – whose team host Gardiner Conference rivals Fife Flyers on Sunday evening – heads to Ice Sheffield believing his team are capable of causing an upset.
“We have played two good games against Sheffield and I am expecting another tight one this weekend,” said Pacha.
“You always try and learn from your mistakes and we will be looking to be a bit more disciplined than last time.
“If we play to our strengths and respect the system then we can win any game.”