SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ two young ‘apprentices’ will this weekend get their chance to show how far they have developed in their short time at the club.
Having each dressed for a game in the Champions Hockey League, Cole Shudra, 17, and 16-year-old Liam Kirk will step out on to the ice for Saturday night’s exhibition match against Manchester Storm at Altrincham Ice Arena.
The two teams meet again on Sunday night ‘for real’ when they facing other in the group phase of the Challenge Cup.
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Should they make a good impression across the Pennines on Saturday night, though, Thompson may be tempted to throw the teenagers in to the more competitive fixture 24 hours later.
For Thompson, the addition of Shudra and Kirk is something he hopes will mark the start of producing a regular conveyor belt of locally-drawn talent.
Thompson said Saturday’s night’s ‘friendly’ was an opportunity for the young duo to rack up some valuable ice time alongside their more experienced team-mates and show how far they have come in the short time they have been with the Steelers.
“These two lads wouldn’t have been brought in with us if they weren’t quality players,” said Thompson.
“They can’t start to understand what our level is all about until they start getting out there. This is no short-term thing with these two, so there’s no pressure on them.”
In recent months, Thompson has developed closer ties with Greg Wood, player-coach of neighbouring English Premier League outfit, Sheffield Steeldogs.
In contrast to recent years, the two clubs seem to be developing a healthy working relationship with one another, Thompson reiterating the fact that Shudra and Kirk will still be getting the majority of their game time with the Steeldogs, with whom they impressed last season and which prompted Thompson to make them the Steelers’ first to benefit from the club’s new apprenticeship scheme.
“Just being around players in training and being dressed for the CHL games as they have been will give these lads an invaluable experience and teaching,” added Thompson.
“They will still be getting most of their valuable ice time with the Steeldogs this season, but it is important that they get the best of both worlds.
“I don’t know anything about the relationship between the two clubs from before, but I’ve got a good relationship with Greg and he wants to see these two guys get on in their careers. It’s very much a two-way thing.”
As for facing Manchester, Thompson said he welcomes the opportunity to see where his team is at in comparison to other Elite League clubs having endured a tough time in their second Champions Hockey League campaign so far.
“It’s hard to know where our level is right now after the three CHL games because we’ve looked really good in some parts and then let ourselves down in other areas, mostly in the discipline area,” added Thompson.
“I do like our team and I like the way we play and, in the CHL, we know we’re up against it. So it will be good to play teams in our own league, just to give us a feel again of where we are in our own league and the pace we’ve been playing at in the CHL.
“It will be a big game here on Sunday against a Manchester team that is big strong and will cause team’s problems.”