THE season of giving has long passed now, but if Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Paul Thompson could ask for one belated Christmas present it would be a fit-again Colton Fretter.
The influential 33-year-old forward’s season has been blighted by injury this season, limiting him to just 25 appearances, in which he has contributed 17 points, including 11 goals.
An operation on a sports hernia problem was required for the Canadian earlier in the season, seeing him out of the defending Elite League champions’ line-up for 11 games.
His return was all-too-brief and he has now missed a further six games because of a similar injury, not icing for the Steelers since the 5-3 defeat at Notttingham on December 27.
Thompson’s frustration is exceeded by the player’s, a measure of the high regard he is held in being evident in the South Yorkshire club effectively bringing in two different players in the past two weeks to help fill the gap left by Fretter’s absence.
Ryan Hayes’s unhappiness at Edinburgh Capitals resulted in the Scottish strugglers off-loading the league’s leading point scorer earlier this week, with the Steelers being quick to move in and secure his signature.
It follows last week’s arrival of Swedish forward Conny Stromberg, who made his debut last weekend when the Steelers twice defeated Belfast Giants on the road in as many nights.
For Thompson, ahead of this weekend’s testing encounters with Nottingham Panthers and Cardiff Devils, it presents something of a selection nightmare, given Hayes’s arrival leaves him with a ‘spare’ import.
It is a problem he is happy to have, although what would bring an even bigger smile to his face is the return of Fretter to the starting line-up.
“We looked at the Colton Fretter situation and how long he is going to be out for and we felt we hadn’t really got around to replacing him and what he does on a regular basis for us,” said Thompson. “We just all want a healthy Colton Fretter.
“He’s frustrated, we’re frustrated – not with him – we’re just frustrated that he’s not able to be out there performing for us because he’s such an excellent player.
“So, when we got the nod that he (Hayes) was available, we jumped at it.
“There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about it – I don’t know why to be honest. Well, actually, I do – it’s because he’s come to Sheffield.
“But I know that every other club would have done exactly the same thing that we have.”
Steelers head into Saturday night’s Sheffield Arena clash with the Panthers in good form, having lost only once in their last six games.
Nottingham, by contrast, have lost four out of the last eight but, after Friday night’s 4-2 win at home to Belfast, moved up to fourth in the table and within two points of the Steelers.
Braehead Clan also turned up the pressure on Sheffield with a 6-3 win over visitors Manchester Storm, moving to within a point of Thompson’s team.
Thompson said he was going to decide at some point this morning which of his imports would sit on the sidelines tonight, but insisted he was not afraid of breaking the bad news to the unfortunate player.
“Every player here wants to play, they come here to play hockey, but I’ll be making a decision – one of many – that I think is best for the game coming up,” added Thompson.
“No player likes being left out of the line-up, but it is just down to the competition for places we have.
“Some coaches don’t like having a spare import because they don’t want to have to make these kind of decisions.
“But we want that competition for places, we want everybody on their toes every single game.”
A win on Saturday could potentially move the Steelers to within two points of leaders Cardiff Devils, who welcome third-placed Belfast before playing host to Thompson’s team on Sunday evening.