Tough schedule holds little fear for Steelers’ Hewitt

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SHEFFIELD Steelers’ forward Jason Hewitt is under no illusions as he and his Great Britain team-mates head out to Slovenia for the latest World Championship adventure.

Tony Hand’s squad fly out to Ljubljana on Saturday morning having spent the week in Altrincham preparing for the event under the watchful eye of the Manchester Phoenix player-coach.

Last year saw the team clinch an unexpected silver medal in Kiev, just missing out on promotion to the top tier which would have seen them up against big-hitting nations such as Finland, Canada, Russia and Sweden.

But the week ahead in the former Yugoslav republic is likely to prove tough enough, with the hosts and highest seeds Austria being the two teams to have dropped down from the top division last year and favourites to secure an immediate return.

Ukraine and Hungary are two other teams seeded above 21st-ranked Britain, with Japan making up the six-strong division.

The revision of the divisions below the top 16 nations group has led to Hand’s team facing a more difficult task than in recent years, with last year’s second place in Ukraine placing them in the top six nations immediately below the prized top tier.

And while 28-year-old Hewitt - now at his fourth world championship event - acknowledges the scale of the task in front of him and his team-mates, the gritty winger is typically bullish about their chances.

“I think everybody knows that this year is going to be tougher than in previous years,” said Hewitt. “We played in some big games last year against Ukraine and Kazakhstan and we did well.

“I think every game is going to be like this year because of the quality of the other teams there, but they are all the kind of games we shouldn’t have a problem getting ourselves up for.

“We played Slovenia two years ago over there and we lost in overtime and they got promoted. But it was a great game to be involved in, there was a massive crowd and it will be the same again this year.

“We’ve got a tough start with Slovenia and Austria up first, but that might be a good thing. We’ve just got to make sure we come back having not left anything out there.”

Hand will be competing at his first international tournament as head coach, having succeeded Paul Thompson, who resigned last year after five years.

Hewitt said the preparations had been pretty similar under Hand, with the only noticeable difference being in the coaches’ personalities.

“It’s not been much different under Tony as far as the actual coaching goes,” said Hewitt.

“He’s probably quieter guy Thommo, a little more reserved but I’ve been really impressed with the way he and Doug have been with us this week and what they’ve brought to the team.

“It’s always a bit of a trip into the unknown with the world championships, which makes it more of a challenge and more exciting in a way.

“You have to adjust pretty quickly to each team as they come along each time. The way Tony has set us out though is that we have got our systems and we’re going to have to try and make the other teams adjust their game because of our style of play.”

SHEFFIELD Steelers’ goaltender John DeCaro has left the club, halfway through a two-year deal.

The 29-year-old American had joined Norwegian side Sparta Sarpsborg, despite the South Yorkshire club only confirming his return to the Elite League for the 2012-13 season at a fans’ forum last month.

Steelers’ head coach Ryan Finnerty had championed DeCaro throughout the 2011-12 season, which saw the team finish runners-up in the league before a first round play-off exit to Hull Stingrays, and said he was disappointed to see him move on.

“We are sorry to see Johnny leave, I thought he had a good year for us and at times kept us in many games on his own,” said Finnerty. “We thought didn’t have to worry about goaltending this summer as Johnny was returning for a second year and to complete his education.

“But he received a fantastic offer from Norway, one he thought he couldn’t refuse, so we wish him well.”