Video: Growing Swedish influence benefits Sheffield Steelers’ title ambitions ahead of Nottingham Panthers clash

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PAUL THOMPSON believes the arrival of talent from the hockey-driven nation of Sweden this season at Sheffield Steelers is testament to the growing stature of the Elite League.

For many years the UK’s top-flight has been seen as a poor relation when compared to its European cousins, favouring as it does a more North American style with the propensity for fighting that goes with it.

And while the leading European countries’ leagues generally eschew the fighting side of the game, they still hold nothing back when it comes to the physical side of the game.

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Last week, following the sudden departure of forward Tyler Mosienko, Thompson moved quickly to bring in a fourth Swedish player to the Steelers roster in the shape of Yared Hagos.

He has been made to feel welcome by four fellow countrymen, with defenceman Christoffer Björklund and forwards Andreas Valdix and Markus Nilsson having already moved to South Yorkshire in the summer, following in the footsteps of assistant coach Jerry Andersson.

It’s a market Thompson knows better than other EIHL coaches, having coached in Sweden and then Denmark for two years in between his stints at Coventry Blaze and the Steelers, where he took over last summer.

The 51-year-old finished the title-winning 2015-16 campaign with two Swedes on his roster and was this season keen to enhance what had clearly been a successful policy.

“We’re bringing in the style of player we think we need and I coached over in Sweden and Jerry (Andersson, assistant coach) has been there for 100 years,” said Thompson.

“As a result, between us we know a different market than perhaps a lot of the other coaches over here do currently – they are probably more North American orientated.

Sheffield Steelers' Andreas Valdix - in action earlier this season during the Champions Hockey League. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Sheffield Steelers' Andreas Valdix - in action earlier this season during the Champions Hockey League. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“But I think it is a healthy thing that more of these type of players are coming into our league now. They give us a different dynamic.

“Sure you have to persuade the Swedish guys to come across to a league that has not got a great name over there – for the wrong reasons I believe. But now the league is proving everybody wrong. It has got stronger with the quality of players over here – there are some very talented players over here, regardless of where they’re from.”

Thompson believes high quality players adapt quickly to new surroundings and challenges, something he feels has happened for his current Swedish contingent.

“In terms of personnel over here it is very different to what they are used to back in Sweden, but it still gets pretty physical over there,”he added.

There’s a lot of emotion that goes around whenever we play each other.

Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson

“Every player over there is in great shape, they are really good athletes and the speed of the game is quicker and, physically, they finish every hit so I think people misunderstand what goes on over there a little bit.

“There are something like 90-odd Swedes in the NHL right now and that’s the biggest contingent of players from outside North America so they quickly adapt.

“And they do have to adapt a little bit over here because it is a slightly different game – but good players do that.”

Tonight sees Thompson’s players meet arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers for what is the first meeting in the league between the two teams this season. Two previous encounters in the Challenge Cup group phase produced a win apiece on home ice.

Going into tonight’s encounter, the Steelers will be looking to rebound from a 4-0 defeat at Dundee Stars last Sunday but will have defencemen Zack Fitzgerald (suspension) and Mike Ratchuk (illness) back, along with highly-regarded forward Valdix who nhas recovered from injury.

The Steelers will host to a Panthers line-up smarting from a rare five-game losing streak, but Thompson is aware that, the form book goes out the window whenever the Steelers and Panthers lock horns.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“There’s a lot of emotion that goes around whenever we play each other,” said Thompson. “But we have to keep our feet on the ground as do they. We know we slipped up in Dundee and good teams don’t just brush that under the carpet, good teams look at it and we’ve looked at it in detail and we’ll be ready.”

Sheffield Steelers' Markus Nilsson.

Sheffield Steelers' Markus Nilsson.

Sheffield Steelers' Christoffer Bjorklund. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Sheffield Steelers' Christoffer Bjorklund. Picture: Dean Woolley.