Sheffield Steelers’ coach Ryan Finnerty is refusing to buy into the hype which has his side being tipped for major honours in the Elite League this season.
Having retired from playing, the 31-year-old Canadian is concentrating solely on coaching and has certainly upgraded his roster from last season, which saw the South Yorkshire club finish the campaign empty-handed.
The Steelers begin their campaign this weekend with a double header against Finnerty’s former club Cardiff Devils, the first match being at the Motorpoint Arena tonight (7pm) before a trip to South Wales tomorrow.
The league’s new two-conference structure means every point is more vital this time around, particularly in the much stronger southern section which Steelers find themselves in alongside Cardiff, Nottingham Panthers, Coventry Blaze and defending regular season champions Belfast Giants.
Finnerty believes he has a much stronger team this season, helped by solid support from owner Tony Smith, and believes he has players with the right mentality and quality to be successful.
“It’s a different mentality this year,” said Finnerty. “I think the guys coming in realise the importance of what winning means here in Sheffield.
“Depth was a big concern last season and I feel we’ve addressed that, especially with our British guys. And we’ve brought in some top quality guys – good dressing room guys.
“They have good pedigree on the ice obviously but, more importantly, we’ve brought in good people, a lot of former captains who are good leaders.”
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While some are tipping the Steelers to bounce back immediately from their barren year last time out, Finnerty is determined to let any talking be done out on the ice.
“We don’t want to start off on the backfoot here,” said FInnerty. “We don’t want to pat ourselves on the back or buy into the hype because that’s not the kind of team we are.
“People around us might talk about how good we are or how deep we are, but the Sheffield mentality is still a workmanlike mentality and that’s what we’ve been talking about a lot, just making sure we take care of business.”
Pressure is sure to be on Finnerty sooner this time around, having been given the licence to bring in some top-end players and having ended last season empty-handed.
But Finnerty, who made himself a firm fans’ favourite at Sheffield Arena as a player during his first stint with the club between 2007-09, almost embraces the pressure that comes with the job and can’t wait for the season to finally get underway.
“It’s refreshing to finally get here on the eve of the season and the guys are ready to go,” he said. “They’ve been put through their paces now for a couple of weeks so I think everyone’s just delighted to finally get going for real here.
“Everybody knew there would be changes from last season. The team we had last year was there for a reason and I still think the team over-achieved. Obviously it was a disappointing end, but to finish second with the group we had was a great achievement, I felt, especially with the injuries we had to contend with.
“So we’ve taken the positives and some of the good aspects from last year and brought them forward to this year because you need to change things up when you don’t win.”
It was Cardiff’s head coach Gerad Adams who first believed Finnerty was destined for a coaching when he had him as captain in South Wales for a season-and-a-half between 2009-11.
It was with Adams’s support that Finnerty accepted the role of player-coach in Sheffoeld just days after predecessor Ben Simon’s abrupt departure.
Given their history, Finnerty knows Adams would love nothing more than to spoil Steelers’ opening night on home ice.
“Cardiff are going to come hard, they always do,” said Finnerty. “G (Adams) will have those guys ready and be eager to spoil the party, so we have to be ready to go.
“They’ve got a good goalie, good ‘D’ and plenty of offence so we have to make sure we outwork them - if we do that, we’ll be fine.”
“We’ll be ready for them. We’ve ticked all the boxes we wanted to. I feel the guys are prepared.”
And as for not being able to jump into the play himself this season, having called time on his playing career at the end of last season, Finnerty has no concerns about his permanent switch to the bench.
“Oddly enough, when I’m behind the bench in the game I don’t miss it as much,” he added. “I miss practising with the boys and going out and skating with them and jumping in drills every now and again. But as for the games, I’m so focussed now on what I have to do that I haven’t missed it (playing) and being out there.
“To be honest I don’t think I could make this team anyway so that makes it pretty easy to sit back and watch these guys go.
“Obviously when things get heated like they did last week against Coventry (in a pre-season frinedly) you want to go out there and stand up for your team-mates. But, at the end of the day, I’m happy being behind the bench.”