IT may have proved another tough start on the Champions Hockey League trail for Sheffield Steelers, but new centre John Armstrong believes it will only be of benefit in the long run.
A 5-3 defeat to Sweden’s HV71 Jonkoping followed by a rather more harsh 8-1 loss at Red Bull Salzburg has left the Steelers’ hopes of progression from Group P at best slender.
Tonight sees Paul Thompson’s team welcome four-time Swedish champions HV71 at Sheffield Arena, with the hope being that the South Yorkshire club can break their CHL duck at the seventh attempt.
Four CHL group games last season also ended in defeat for the Steelers and - particularly for those players still around - it is a monkey they are very keen to get off their backs.
For Armstrong, it’s all relatively new having arrived at Sheffield in the summer having spent the past two seasons in Europe, first at Lillehammer in Norway and then, last season, in Denmark with Odense Bulldogs.
It was through head coach Thompson’s Danish connections that Armstrong came to his attention, the former GB national coach having spent a year in charge of Aalborg Pirates before taking over at Steelers last year.
While results may not have gone Steelers’ way so far, Armstrong - who before his switch to Europe played 177 games in the AHL ahead as well as two seasons in the ECHL - believes playing against such quality from Europe will only benefit the club’s long-term aims for 2016-17.
“I think it is good for us as a team that we are straight into games against highly-skilled opposition,” said Armstrong.
“Once we get into our league games things will possibly seem a little slower for us and we should be able to do really well there.
“The fact a number of our players have European experience before coming here helps a lot because it is a very different style to perhaps how this league is on a week-to-week basis.
“They play with a lot of speed, particularly in Sweden, and Salzburg were really good on the powerplay which we noticed as we took a lot of penalties and they punished us for it.”
And as HV71 prepare to visit Sheffield for Saturday night’s return match, Armstrong is confident the Steelers have the talent to cause something of an upset.
“We learned a lot from our experiences on the road and we will be a lot better next game,” he added.
“I think we gave HV71 a little bit too much respect early on in that first game and we need to come in and get a goal on them real early. You could see once we scored a couple of goals over there that it gave us a lift and the team rallied around each other and played really well.”