What Simon says is vital for new owner Ragan

INCOMING Sheffield Steelers owner Paul Ragan has targeted the retention of player-coach Ben Simon for a second season as being among his top priorities.

Ragan – already CEO of Elite League rivals Cardiff Devils – has taken over from Bob and Maraini Phillips, who leave after five years in charge.

The sale follows a turbulent few months for the Steelers which began back in May when the club's operating company went bust.

A walk-out of the management team, including general manager Mike O'Connor and head coach Dave Matsos followed weeks later, forcing the Phillips to undertake a more hands-on approach.

Speculation persisted ahead of the 2010-11 campaign that the club would be unable to start the season and that players signed by Matsos would not arrive.

But after appointing new player-coach Simon, the 2009 double winners have produced an entertaining and so far successful brand of hockey this season, leaving them second in the Elite League table with games in hand on current leaders Belfast Giants.

And convincing 32-year-old former NHL-er Simon to return for the 2011-12 season is something Ragan sees as vital to helping attendances improve.

"Ben has done a fantastic job of providing entertaining hockey," said Ragan.

"The team has performed exceptionally well on the ice in challenging times and it is my strongest desire to secure his services for next season.

"I want to work with him to build next year's roster, starting with key players he identifies from this season."

Ragan – who became famous after featuring twice on the Channel 4 programme 'The Secret Millionaire' – claimed yesterday that the club he has inherited is almost "on its knees" and insisted his intention was to try to raise attendances by about 1,000 to the 3.500 number he believes is necessary for the club to break even.