SHEFFIELD Steelers’ player-coach Ryan Finnerty said he had to move quickly in order to bring in forward Luke Fulghum after his surprise release by rivals Coventry Blaze.
The 31-year-old American winger has proved one of Coventry’s top scorers in the past two seasons and the decision by Coventry to release him on Thursday morning came as a huge surprise, with a need to balance the books being the most likely reason why they felt it necessary to jettison one of their most productive players.
And while Coventry reshuffled their roster, Steelers moved in quickly to snap up the kind of player who they believe possesses the necessary firepower to boost their hopes of landing a second successive regular season championship.
“We’re getting a proven goalscorer, there’s no doubt about that,” said Finnerty. “If we hadn’t signed him he would have quickly gone elsewhere. We have open dialogue with Coventry on many levels and through those realised there was a deal to be done.
“I think letting Luke go was something Thommo (Blaze coach Paul Thompson) had to do, rather than something he wanted to do. As soon as a player like that becomes available - particularly at this time of year - you have to move quickly.”
The move for Fulghum means emergency import forward R G Flath will be heading home earlier than expected, partly because he had already informed Finnerty that he didn’t intend to stay beyond the end of his short-term deal which would have ended just after Christmas.
Flath has impressed during his time with the Steelers, posting three goals and an assist in eight starts, but he was never likely to put up the kind of numbers Fulghum has proved he can regularly since he first came to the UK with Manchester Phoenix in 2008.
Their decision to switch to the English Premier League the following summer prompted Coventry to move for Fulghum and he repaid their investment immediately, scoring 48 goals in an 80-point tally which led to the club’s fourth Elite League title.
Even during the following season when Coventry endured their worst-ever top-flight campaign, finishing sixth, Fulghum racked up 82 points, including 43 goals.
His departure from the West Midlands is sure to anger some Blaze supporters who can possibly sense another trophy-less season. But Steelers’ fans will be excited at the American’s arrival, particularly if he can produce similar kinds of numbers under Finnerty.
“Because we’re bringing in Luke, we had to release R G Flath who has been brilliant for us since he came in,” added Finnerty. “But he had already made it clear to me that he wanted to go back home after his deal with us ended, so when the Fulghum thing came up we had to tell him we had to go for it and he understood our position.”
Fulghum admitted he was surprised at the speed with which his move to Sheffield had been completed, but was looking forward to beginning the next phase of his career.
“This all came out of the blue,” said Fulghum. “I’m a little shocked to be honest.”
“I had a wonderful time in Coventry and would like to thank everyone there for everything they did for me. My family and I were settled and felt a big part of that club. Time moves on though and this is a great opportunity for me.
“Sheffield are a contender, they have a great team and reputation and it certainly softened the blow to find out how much they wanted me.”
Finnerty said he was hoping to have a replacement in place to replace injured defenceman Rod Sarich by early next week, with two options available to him.
Fulghum’s exit from the Blaze means fellow forward Frantisek Bakrlik, who only arrived a the fourth-placed club on Monday - hours after being released by Hull Stingrays - is more likely to stick around beyond his original short-term deal.