'I can't live without hockey' - How new head coach Tom Barrasso convinced Sheffield Steelers' owner Tony Smith he was the man for the job

Tom Barrasso. Picture supplied by Sheffield Steelers.
Tom Barrasso. Picture supplied by Sheffield Steelers.
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OWNER Tony Smith insists the 2018-19 Elite League season is far from over for his Sheffield Steelers team as the club prepares for a fresh start under new head coach Tom Barrasso.

The 53-year-old American was on Tuesday afternoon revealed as the man to replace Paul Thompson, who last week resigned after a little over three seasons at the helm.

Former goaltender Barrasso - a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990s - arrived in South Yorkshire late on Tuesday night having agreed to make the switch from Italian club Asiago, who he led to the Alps HL title last season.

The Steelers received more than 30 applicants for the vacant position, including some former players, but have settled on a man they believe has the experience and knowledge to lift them from second-bottom in the regular season standings and turn them into a title contender.

Unlike Thompson who had a dual role at the club as head coach and GM, Boston-born Barrasso will purely concentrate on coaching, Smith told The Yorkshire Post.

“We had a lot of people to look through but we decided from the off that we wanted somebody with plenty of coaching experience,” said Smith. “Tom’s playing career alone sets him apart from most others, but we feel he has also been a good coach over the last few years at various levels.

Sheffield Steelers' owner, Tony Smith

Sheffield Steelers' owner, Tony Smith

“Our message to people who are saying we should write this season off and start building for next year is ‘that’s far from the case’ - 100 per cent there is more than enough time to achieve things this season.

"There is no writing this season off, there is an awful lot of hockey to be played and I have no doubt that as we settle and steady the ship, Tom will do a very good job for us.”

Over the last few days Smith and his team have held talks and exchanged many messages with Barrasso - a former team-mate of Steelers' legend Ken Priestlay when they played together at Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh - building up a relationship that convinced both sides they were a good match for each other.

"It’ was his commitment," explained Smith when revealing what made him believe Barrasso was the standout candidate. "This is a guy who has had a fantastic career, he’s obviously made a lot of money during his time from hockey and he probably doesn’t really need to work when you consider his positions over the years. The one thing he said to me was ‘I can’t live without hockey’

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

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

"For me a guy who makes that kind of statement is somebody worth having in your organisation. It would be easy for him to retire and spend all day on a golf course - but he clearly doesn’t want to do that, he’s made that clear. Hockey and being at the rink on a daily basis is where he wants to be - so it’s a great opportunity for both of us."

After bringing down the curtain on his illustrious playing career in 2003, it was a few years before Barrasso - a first round, fifth overall draft pick for Buffalo in 1983 - returned to the forefront of the game, taking the first steps in what has been a long career behind the bench as a goaltending coach for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, returning to the team he had spent part of the 2001-02 season with.

Two years later he became assistant coach with the Canes under head coach Paul Maurice before a switch to KHL outfit Metallurg Magnitogorsk as an assistant came about in 2012.

A spell as a goaltending coach at another KHL team, HC Slovan Bratislava, followed in 2015 before the chance to be a head coach for the first time presented itself when he took over the reins at Valpellice in Italy where, in 2016, he won the Italian Cup.

That summer saw him take up an offer to be head coach at Asiago and he had just started his third season in charge before making the switch to South Yorkshire on Tuesday afternoon.

Mark Matheson, who stepped up to be interim player-coach in the wake of Thompson's departure, will revert back to his initial player-assistant coach role which he took on in the summer.