RYAN Finnerty has moved sharply to bolster the quality of Sheffield Steelers’ British contingent for the 2012-13 season by snapping up sought-after forward Colin Shields.
The 32-year-old GB international is currently playing in France’s top league with Morzine-Avoriaz having spent the previous three years with the Belfast Giants, with who he won the play-offs in 2009-10.
The loss and experience of Ashley Tait since early February with an ankle injury coincided with a dip in form at a crucial time of the season for the Steelers, who last weekend eventually surrendered their bid to retain their Elite League title to Belfast.
Finnerty cited the loss of Tait as a key reason behind his team’s end-of-season slide and made it clear he would be strengthening his ‘Brit-pack’ to avoid a similar situation next season regarding the homegrown quality at his disposal, prompting the move for Shields, who has scored six goals and nine assists in 26 appearances for Morzine.
“When we lost Ashley Tait, you just can’t go out and find top quality Brits,” said Finnerty.
“It was our top priority to bring another top-end player in and in Colin we have done that. I think we are now back on top in the Brit department.”
Shields will join a Steelers team already boasting fellow GB internationals Tait, Jonathan Phillips. Jason Hewitt and Mark Thomas, along with the increasingly impressive Lee Esders, who has earned repeated praise from Finnerty in recent weeks for his industrious performances.
In Shields, the Steelers get a player with vast experience from playing in both North America and Europe, along with his spells in the UK’s top-flight at Belfast and Newcastle Vipers.
Born in Glasgow, Shields left home aged just 15 and worked his way up to professional level in the East Coast Hockey League after putting himself through the fiercely competitive North American college system.
After four years in the NCAA with the University of Maine, he then enjoyed spells with various ECHL clubs, including San Diego Gulls and Fresno Falcons.
A high-scoring year with Newcastle followed in 2007-08 before he made a return to Belfast, who he had spent time with two years previously in between his two seasons in the ECHL.
His most prolific year came in the play-off winning season with Belfast, which also saw them finish regular season runners-up. In Steve Thornton’s final year as player-coach, Shields contributed an astounding 92 points in 60 games, including 35 goals, making him the leading points scorer in the whole league.
Once knowledge of his desire to return from France was made known, he will have been courted by a number of Elite League clubs with recent rumours linking him to both Belfast and the Braehead Clan. The fact Finnerty has been able to land such a key player is a clear indication of the additional spending power the Steelers’ player-coach will have at his disposal next time around, particularly following the restrictions he had to work under following last summer’s financial problems.
Shields admitted he had always held an ambition to play for the Steelers.
“The Steelers are one of those clubs that, inside, everyone hopes they get the chance to play for one day,” said Shields.
“We have been talking for some time and I think we were both keen to get the deal done and dusted so we could both prepare for a big season next year.
“I need to be assured I was coming back to the Elite League to join a good, strong and ambitious club.”