SHEFFIELD STEELERS captain Jonathan Phillips writes here exclusively for The Yorkshire Post.
Even though I’ve had a while now to let what was achieved in Belfast sink in, the pride and satisfaction has not really gone away yet.
It’s something that the Great Britain team has been waiting to achieve for a while now and finally getting that gold medal and the promotion that comes with it - particularly after what happened to us over the last two years - was just reward for everyone involved.
It has to go down as the greatest achievement of my career, it has to. To do it in Belfast and to have that added pressure of playing at home in front of our own fans, just made it even more special.
We had such a focus from day one of our training camp although, to be honest, that focus was there from well before that - from the previous year’s World Championships in Croatia when we lost out to Ukraine on the final day and missed out on gold for a second year running..
I’m sure they haven’t been happy with their results since their Continental Cup win, but we need to just look after our game and not worry about them.Sheffield Steelers’ captain, Jonathan Phillips
Two years ago when we lost to Lithuania on the final day in Eindhoven, it was obviously immensely disappointing. We just ran into a hot goalie on the day and there was nothing more we could do.
But last year we were bitterly disappointed, more so for the way we came out in the third period, it almost felt like we bottled it really. So, from that loss there has just been a focus and a determination that we had to come away with the gold this time.
It was a fun three weeks being away with GB, hard work as it usually is but everybody bought into it from day one and the team spirit was just unreal.
I think we’ve always been a very tight group, as a lot of us have grown up playing together for the various GB teams and then there are other age groups where they have grown up together. So the camaraderie and the togetherness comes naturally
But the big difference this time was our total focus on winning gold and that never wavered from day one..
We were never happy going down to Division 1B - I don’t think we should have been in that group because I honestly think we were too good to be down there.
But once you are down there it is very difficult to get out because you have to be virtually perfect all week, as was proved in the previous two years.
If you look at the Division 1A group we are going into, if you look at who gets promoted and who gets medals it usually comes down to the final day with four teams fighting it out for promotion and you want to be striving to be the best and it is somewhere we desperately want to be.
The way we played in Belfast all bodes well for next year. We play Poland on a regular basis ahead of world championships and they are usually tight games and in recent years they’ve often been fighting for promotion on the final day which just proves, again, how fine the margins are between success and failure.
The one downside to what we achieved in Belfast was the fractured cheekbone injury I suffered but - fingers crossed - I’m hoping I won’t have to have surgery now.
When we discovered the extent of the injury after that game against Estonia after I took a puck to the face, the doctors wanted to do surgery there and then but I said I’d wear a full visor and they kind of agreed to that!
The hope is now that it will heal itself, which is good news. I’ve obviously had a few broken noses and a few stitches here and there, but not an injury like this one.
At the time, we didn’t know that it had broken the cheekbone. I played on for around 50 minutes. The team doctor checked me out at the first period break to see that I was okay and to check that I was okay concussion-wise and I was fine. I guess it did take a period or so for my head to come around a bit, but that’s to be expected when you’re spinning a little bit through having your bell rung, as they say. It wasn’t until after the game when we had a proper feel around that we began to realise that it wasn’t quite right.
Luckily, though, I was able to get through the week playing with the full visor on. It was certainly worth it in the end.
I have to start off by summing up our season, as I haven’t had chance in this column yet. It was a really special way to end it the way we did. I wouldn’t say there was an added pressure when it came to the play-offs, but after missing out in the league and also the Challenge Cup final to Cardiff there was kind of like a collective sense of ‘we need this.”
What had gone before gave us a real determination to get our hands on that final trophy of the season.
We’ve always said that the Elite League is the best one to win, while the play-offs here is always the most fun to win because it is the last game of the year and if you do win it you go into the summer as a champion and on an incredible high.
And the way we ended up having to win it made it even more special. We went the hard route, for sure, the way we had to come from behind to beat Nottingham and how exciting that all was. It was a tough battle with Belfast too – as we expected - but then, obviously, there was that final.
We could sense the majority of the crowd was against us and willing Cardiff to win, but that kind of situation can be fun, when other teams’ fans are all rooting against you. It can certainly bring you closer together as a group and drive you on and give you that extra motivation to succeed because you just want to prove people wrong.
But I think it was also down to how our fans reacted and the sheer noise that they made throughout the whole weekend. They were unreal over both days and were like an extra man for us.
I can’t let it go without a mention for the great Rod Sarich, though. It was such a great way to send him into retirement. He’s been such a great servant to the club.
He was so good at what he did and as he got older and the game got faster and progressed, he seemed easily able to adapt his game to fit into any kind of team he played for here. Whatever a coach asked him to do, he would do. He was so reliable and unbelievable at making that first pass – I don’t think I’ve played with anybody with the kind of vision that Rod had and with that kind of composure on the puck.
He’s almost unflappable and he’s like that on and off the ice. I’m sure things do and have fazed him but he always remained a calming influence. He’s been such a great leader on this team and also a huge part of our lives as a very good friend.
Of course, this past week or so has seen me and the other Steelers’ boys working hard with the GB team ahead of this week’s World Championships in Belfast.
Training camp has been good and the two friendlies against Poland last week were just what we needed. We got into Belfast on Thursday afternoon, and things have been going well, we’re finding some good line combinations and getting to know each other once again and there is a really good vibe about the team.
It’s certainly nice being on home ice and it will be a nice change to have to home crowd behind us - hopefully, we’ll have the officials behind us too!
It’s going to be another tough week, we know that. We’ve been so close these last two years, slipping at that final hurdle. But this year, as we do every year, we go in with the aim of winning the gold medal and getting promotion.
I think the teams we are up against this year have all improved, but so have we. I know it is a cliche - but it really will be a case of one game at a time, it is so important in these tournaments to work like that.
As we showed last year, we got a little complacent against Estonia and ended up winning in overtime and if we’d finished that game in regulation, that last game against Ukraine would have seen it go down to goal difference and they would have had to beat us by a lot more than the 2-1 scoreline which it ended up at. It shows how those little differences matter and how focused you need to be 100 per cent of the time.
April 7: In all my time here, I don’t think I’ve experienced a night like last Sunday against Nottingham. When you put it all together, that’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of - just for everything that was involved, the emotion, what it meant to everybody connected with the club.
I remember a few years ago when we were down by two or three and Sam Gospel went in net for us and we won in a shoot-out in Nottingham - that was a special night.
But there was something different about this one, because there was no next day if we’d lost - it would have meant our season was done.
And the way everyone responded to that - let’s face it, we weren’t just playing anyone, it was the Panthers - was unbelievable. The whole weekend was such a rollercoaster.
As soon as that fifth goal went in for them on the Saturday, you could almost sense everyone thinking that was the one that would come back to bite us overall.
For all the latest build-up and previews ahead of the FInal Four Weekend head HERE
But then you wake up the following day and you have that do-or-die attitude and I can remember Roysey saying to me before we went into our team meeting ‘I’ve got a good feeling about this, I think we’re going to do it’. It was just the way he said it and I thought ‘yes, I think you’re right’
It also helps to have so much experience in your room, with all the leaders we have on the team. I’ve always said that any team is not just run on one leader, you have to have a room full of leaders in order to win things and that made it possible to do what we did against Nottingham on Sunday - everybody led to perfection.
On a personal front, it’s very pleasing to sign a new deal with the club, especially these days when you get to my age! It’s seen more as a young man’s sport and I know I feel great but for the club to put their faith in me again to come back. I’m definitely not ready to retire yet.
I’ve known Thommo for a long time now, since he was coach of the national team. I like what he does for his teams and his philosophies on the game.
The record number of appearances isn’t really on my mind at the moment - I’m just thinking about Belfast and the semi-final on Saturday.
Obviously it is a massive honour to even come close to the all-time appearance record for the club. It’s something I’m very proud of and for me Hewey (Jason Hewitt) and Thommo (Mark Thomas) to be up there in terms of appearances, that’s great for the three of us as we kind of all arrived at the same time and have been through so much - not just on the ice - but off the ice with our friendships and stuff.
To be honest, though, it is only about getting two wins this weekend, not how many appearances I’ve made.
We know it is going to be tough on Saturday. The head-to-head series against Belfast gives you an indication how close this game is likely to be.
We’re pretty similar too in the way we match up, in terms of playing styles - we both skate very well and are quick on the transition. It will be an exciting game to be a part of and we need to make sure we limit our mistakes as much as possible and carry on from where we left off against Nottingham on Sunday - play with that pace and relentlessness.
March 30: We’ve been focused on the past two weeks really and it’s been a good week of practice. To be fair, it probably took us a week or so to get over the Challenge Cup Final loss and losing out in the league, but it has showed in the last couple of weekends that our game has been getting better and we’ve been more solid in our own end and making the right plays.
Whenever you make it through to a final and lose it is always obviously bitterly disappointing, it was another narrow loss but in this game you have to forget about things like that quickly and turn your focus to the next target and that is what we have been doing - focusing on getting things right for the play-offs and everybody in our group has that mindset.
In many ways this is an ideal quarter-final with facing Nottingham Panthers. Any game in the play-offs is never going to be an easy game, but with playing Nottingham we know how dangerous they can be and we know they can hurt you if you make mistakes. We’ve got to be at our best.
This is a new season for us all now and we’ve just got to be sure we solely focus on these 120 minutes that we’ve got coming up this weekend.
No matter what the results have been against Nottingham in the regular season, this is a whole new ball game. They’re not going to be the same team that we played last week in their place or any other time this year. They, like us, are going to be doing everything they can to get through to that Final Four Weekend in their rink.
I’m sure they haven’t been happy with their results since their Continental Cup win, but we need to just look after our game and not worry about them.
Getting to the Final Four Weekend is special because it’s the last weekend of the season and it is probably the most fun trophy to win because of the great atmosphere down in Nottingham. If you win, you go into the summer in the best possible mood having won the last bit of silverware on offer.
March 9: It has to be said it was a tough weekend all round really.
We went into the game with Coventry on the Saturday knowing that the league was going to be hard for us to win, we still wanted to win that game and to stay in some kind of hunt for the title, even with Cardiff winning the night before.
But another reason for wanting to win that game was that we wanted to go into Sunday’s final at Cardiff with some kind of momentum and in good spirits.
It didn’t go according to plan at all. We’d had a good week of preparation and gone over things for the final, we were all excited going down there.
We started off well and had a great first period, but then they came out for the second and they just turned it up a few notches.
And, really, all we can say is that they were the better team than us on the day - they fully deserved to win, but we were bitterly disappointed afterwards.
I think once they scored that second goal near the end of the second period it was a big blow. If we had been able to come out of that period 2-1, even though they dominated that period, that could have been incredibly frustrating for them and their momentum probably wouldn’t have been so good in the third. But they just kept coming and coming, they were relentless.
It was a very tough one to take, but that is sport and it happens.
We’ve obviously just got the playoffs to go for now and they are tough to win, but we’ve done it before and we can do it again.
Anything can happen in the play-offs. It’s a fun one to win because you go into the summer as a winner and on a high and so that’s what we’re working towards.
We’ve got to build up some momentum going into the play-offs. We have to stay fresh and continue to play good hockey, despite the disappointments of missing out on the league and the cup. We have to stay focused on that final trophy of the season because if we don’t then we’ll be finishing the season earlier than we want to.
I think now the league has gone, we can play without that game seven mentality that we seem to have had over the last few weeks. We can relax a bit and get back to enjoying our hockey.
The mindset is there within our room that we can still finish this season with a trophy. Obviously we were down on the bus home on Sunday, but we’re trying to learn from that and the experience we have in the room and the players we have had come in this season is why you play in Sheffield because of that expectation to win.
February 16: IT was such a great feeling to make it through to the Challenge Cup Final when beating Nottingham on Tuesday.
We’ve been so close on so many different occasions to winning the trophy – getting to several finals – but just haven’t managed to get over the line.
It’s always something we’ve always had our sights on. We’re a very ambitious club and every season you set out trying to win all the trophies on offer - that is the expectation coming in and this is the first trophy on the line and we want to grab it.
It’s definitely something missing on my CV and it would be nice to cross it off so we’ll all be pumped for it on the night.
The Cup can sometimes take momentum away in the league or, in some cases, build momentum for you and, for us, it was a great opponent to have in the shape of Nottingham and it was a great time to have the game.
It really lifted us and kept us on track after such a good performance in Edinburgh on the Sunday before.
We know how dangerous Edinburgh can be, offensively they can be as a good as anyone in the league as they are so skilled and so composed on the puck.
We knew we needed a solid defensive performance and, a few weeks ago if we’d been 1-0 up we might have started to worry that we needed more goals to be safe. But we didn’t last Sunday and knew that if we continued with how we were playing we would be fine and the goals would naturally come.
In both games, it was good that Moose ended up with a shutout.
We owed Moose because we’ve kind of spoiled his chances of one several times this season because we’ve just turned off or been a bit greedy and goal-hungry for ourselves and we’ve let teams in to score in the last couple of minutes.
That’s happened a few times this year and you have to feel sorry for Moose because he’s deserved it. So it was nice for us to get those shutouts, particularly with Nottingham and how important that game was too.
Obviously, it is back to the league this weekend and we know there is no more room for slip-ups, we’ve used all of our lives up, if you like.
Four points are essential this weekend, especially with Cardiff being in Belfast - who knows what is going to happen there but all we can do is take care of business our end and not have to rely on other people too much going down to the last few games.
Most people probably regard us as outsiders in the title race now, but we’ve shown in recent years how we can come from behind late on to win it. We’ve certainly got the belief that we can do that again.
We know we’re not in the perfect position and where we would like to be - it’s always better to be sitting top and in control - but we have shown that you can’t rule us out. I don’t think we’ve ever given in – we’ve always battled right up until the final day.
December 3: To be honest I’ve been kind of shocked by the response from people over my testimonial season because I’m not really on social media that much and stuff like that, so it was interesting to see how it went.
But it’s been very humbling to see how much support there is out there ... I’ll have to try and not let it go to my head!
Steve Munn, Joey Talbot and Jeff Legue are going to be at the match against Nottingham on Sunday and it will be great to see them, and I think it’s brilliant that they have come so far to help me out.
They’re all busy people and for them to take the time out and use up their holidays – especially coming up to the busy Christmas period especially - is fantastic of them to do that. I’ve made some great friendships over the years and these guys are among some of the best.
Ryan Finnerty is coming down from Scotland, Doug Sheppard is coming up from Basingstoke and then Danny Meyers, Ash Tait, Warren Tait, Ron Shudra and other former players are going to be there. I think for fans who have been fans of the club for a number of years it will hopefully be a great night for them too as they get to see what’s happened to some of our former players ... as well as how much weight some of them have put on!
When we first came to Sheffield, Matty (former head coach, Dave Matsos) drove into us that we were trying to start something special and that is definitely something that he certainly did. He started something which almost couldn’t be stopped for a while and it was something that brought in three trophies in two seasons.
Ben Simon came in for a year and carried that on, as did G (Gerad Adams) and now Thommo (Paul Thompson) and, definitely, over the years I don’t think the words ‘enjoying myself’ really do it justice because I’ve had the time of my life in Sheffield.
Having been here so long is definitely an achievement I’m proud of. To play for a club like Sheffield so long is fantastic. It’s the biggest club in the country.
Tickets for the Jonathan Phillips Testimonial Game at Ice Sheffield on Tuesday, December 6 featuring a host of former Steelers players, can be purchased at the Testimonial desk at Steelers games on the concourse. You can also DM on Twitter @JP20Testimonial or give the Jonathan Phillips Testimonial Facebook page a ‘like’.
November 25: It’s fair to say that Cardiff have had our number at Sheffield Arena so far this season, but last week’s defeat was the most frustrating one for us all. Obviously the Devils beat us, but I think we lost the game rather than them winning it.
We just threw it away. We had played so well for 45 minutes or so but, with a couple of mistakes, it just shows you what can happen against a quality team like Cardiff. We gifted them those two points.
It could yet turn out to be a year where we turn each other over on our home patches which, if that’s the way it goes, is fine as long as we come out even or on top in our head-to-head series. A big win would be huge down there on Sunday, to help offset those home losses.
After losing to Cardiff the way we did, we were determined that there would be only one outcome when we hosted Belfast two nights later. In the dressing room on Friday, nobody was pleased with what happened and there was no way we were going to give up two home games.
That is the good thing about this league in that you never have to wait too long to put things right again. We were just determined to get the job done any way we could.
As expected, it was another tough night for us in Edinburgh in the Challenge Cup on Wednesday night. They are a very good one-on-one team and a team that will - if you try to go chance for chance with them - score goals against you because they have got a lot of skill.
To come back from that first leg on level terms was fantastic for us. Obviously, you always go into a game looking to get the win but, with it being two legs, the next best thing is to come away even and we managed to do that. We know it’s going to be very tough against them at ours on Saturday.
It was great that night, too, to see Dessy get two goals - he’s having a great season for us.
You can see how much of a leader he is, his presence just screams leadership. He doesn’t really say too much, but it’s just the things he does on the ice - you can see people notice and recognise the impact he can have on games. Dessy’s a guy who sticks to what he knows best and it is very, very effective.
The way he created that first goal for us against Cardiff last week sums him up really - from the way he collapsed things down to be in a good defensive position and take things away there. If you actually watch the video, you can see that he’s not just flinging the puck, he’s seeing where Fretts is and it couldn’t have been a more perfect pass. His commitment was imense and he does that kind of thing for us night in, night out.
Tickets for the Jonathan Phillips Testimonial Game at Ice Sheffield on Tuesday, December 6 featuring a host of former Steelers players, can be purchased at the Testimonial desk at Steelers games on the concourse. You can also DM on Twitter @JP20Testimonial or give the Jonathan Phillips Testimonial Facebook page a ‘like’.
November 5: It was disappointing missing out on playing for GB in the week. Playing for my country is something I really love but my injury meant I couldn’t play on Sunday at Coventry and there was just no way I could have skated properly. So it was the right decision to pull out, not just for me but for the team as well.
All being well I should be good to get back at the weekend when we head to Scotland to take on Edinburgh and then Dundee.
We know a lot of people will be expecting us to win both games, but we as a group know differently.
We’ve seen this past week what Edinburgh are capable of by going in to Nottingham and turning them over and the Capitals - particularly last season - have been our bogey team recently.
We know what we need to do and we know that if are slack or slip up anywhere then we’ll get punished.
It will be a good weekend to get away all together and spend some quality time with each other.
It always helps in terms of team spirit and it brings you a lot closer together as a group without any of the distractions.
You won’t find many people who work harder than Tyler Mosienko but it was a shock to hear of his decision to leave us at the back end of last week. It’s something that, as a group, we’ve just got to get on with and just look to the future. We can’t let his departure stop us from doing anything here.
But we had a great weekend following on from that, beating Coventry twice with the win at their place on the Sunday being particularly good. It’s always a tough place to go and after what had happened on the Saturday at our place we knew it would be a really tough game. But defensively we were solid and just played really smart and took our chances when they came and, after what had happened with Mosey, it was a really big weekend for us that we came through it very well.
It’s good to see that we haven’t had to wait to long for a replacement for Mosey.
Yared Hagos looks a real quality addition for us. I think he’s played a lot of Swedish top-flight and the AHL and the DEL for a couple of years too. Players don’t hang around in those kind of leagues very long if they are not top quality.
You look at our team now and we’ve got players with a lot of experience in lots of different leagues and Yared’s arrival gives those already on the team an added motivation.
It says a lot for the club when attracting the kind of player to the club like Yared with his resume. I don‘t think you could have said that two or three years ago.
But, we’ve been saying that for the last few years now, how this league has been growing and getting better year on year. That’s why we’re able to attract the kind of players we have like Yared.
October 14: I have to admit it was a massive confidence boost for us to beat a team as skilful and dangerous as Belfast the way we did last Sunday. The scoreline makes it look as if we strolled it, but I can tell you it was far from the case as anyone there and reading this will testify.
We had to be aware of their threat all night. The game was back and forth for two periods then, in the third, I think it was our depth and energy that started to take over and you could see that we were just coming and coming and coming and as soon as we got ahead we were able to finish them off. They obviously won’t have been too happy with the scoreline but, if I’m honest, I don’t think the scoreline was true reflection of the whole game.
With us facing just Cardiff this weekend – first in the Challenge Cup and then the league at ours on Sunday (5pm) it makes preparations different to most weekends when you’re facing two different sides.
In a way it simplifies part of your preparations because you get to concentrate on that one team all week. Come Thursday and Friday we’ll do video on them but, normally, we can’t really do any video on who we’re playing on the Sunday until just before the game that day and we’ll quickly go over some of their powerplays and their kills and their special teams, so playing just the one opponent over the weekend simplifies preparations.
I think there possibly is a bit more pressure this season on Cardiff to get that first league title under their belts. It’s a former club of mine and they are a club with high expectations anyway and they are putting the pressure on themselves to win the league – just like we are and a handful of others in this league.
I suppose this season they haven’t got the distraction they had last season when they knew they were going to have to move to a new rink at some point. Now they are in the new place it is all about concentrating on the hockey without any other stuff causing distractions.
But I’m sure they will be putting all that kind of pressure on themselves in a good way and that is why these early games against them are so, so important.
It is effectively a 52-game play-off season these days and those early points they have got to be taken. It’s definitely going to be a massive match-up with them throughtout the season.
This season sees Jonathan Phillips given a testimonial campaign by the Steelers. There will be events on throughout the next few months the next one taking place below.
Monday October 17 (7.30pm): Question of sport Quiz, Holiday Inn, Rotherham. Tickets will be on sale from the testimonial table during Sunday’s game against Cardiff at Sheffield Arena.
September 29: After what seems like a long, long time, we finally get the defence of our league championship underway this weekend.
Being in the Champions Hockey League has again been a great experience, particularly the way we were able to finish off in the group stages. But, one side-effect of being involved in that competition is that it has obviously put us behind the other teams in terms of getting our league schedule underway.
Obviously, every game we go into we treat as seriously as any other, but with the Challenge Cup because there are four teams from five that go through from each group, it gives you that bit of leeway to slip up here and there, just like we did last weekend against Nottingham Panthers and Cardiff Devils.
If that had been in the league, it would have been four big points dropped and those are the kind of slips that, over the course of a whole season, can prove so, so crucial and come back to bite you - that’s been seen in the last couple of years when things have gone down to the wire.
With Braehead Clan coming down to Sheffield this Saturday, it’s obviously a chance to catch up with - for msome of us at least - our former team-mate and coach in Ryan Finnerty.
Ryan’s done a great job up at the Clan and turned them into a serious contender and since he went there after leaving the Steelers, they have had the kind of stability that is so important.
He’s a coach that tries to get the best out of his players by putting a lot of trust in them and he’s a passionate guy. Whenever he’s up against us or Cardiff - his other former club - he’s shown in previous seasons that he wants to really hurt us. He’s very competitive like that.
We’re friendly with Ryan still, obviously but, come game time, we just want to make sure he doesn’t get anything from us and that it’s us that have the bragging rights among friends afterwards.
Going back to last weekend in the Challenge Cup, I feel it really could have gone either way at Nottingham while, on Sunday against Cardiff, we were just beaten by the better team - never an easy thing to admit, particularly when it is in your own building.
We gifted Nottingham some chances at the NIC and we know it was just a couple of little things here and there that let us down and we know how we need to rectify them.
On Sunday, it was a different story. On the night, Cardiff executed their gameplan to perfection and ours kind of fell apart.
But the good thing is that we know what happened, we’ve looked at some video since and we know where we didn’t play well and we’ve been working on putting things right this week. But it was an early chance to have a look at both of those teams and we know where we went wrong.
This season sees Jonathan Phillips given a testimonial campaign by the Steelers. There will be events on throughout the next few months but, for now, here are a few things happening before the end of December.
Monday October 17 (7.30pm): Question of sport Quiz, Holiday Inn, Rotherham.
Monday, October 24 (3-4pm and 4-5pm): Lock N Load laser (kids only)
Monday, December 5: Dinner ‘Roast of Jono’
Tuesday, December 6: Testimonial game
Tickets for events can be purchased at the Testimonial desk at Steelers games on the concourse or DM on Twitter @JP20Testimonial or Jonathan Phillips Testimonial Facebook page.
I don’t think the fact Salzburg had made sure of qualification on the Friday before coming to us last Sunday had any kind of effect on us as a team going into our final Champions Hockey League match.
I think there was still a chance of them finishing top of our group over HV71 but, the main thing I think for us, was that we didn’t worry about taking penalties or anything negative. We just played our game and that attitude eased us into the game. We were just determined to show people - particularly our own fans - what we were actually capable of.
We didn’t really have anything to lose, there was no pressure on us and it was just a case of showing Salzburg as well that the 8-1 defeat at their place wasn’t the real Steelers – that was a very bad night at the office for us; we had been undisciplined and we knew we were far better than that.
Just getting that first CHL win is massive for us as a club club - especially as Salzburg are such a big name in European hockey, they’ve gone quite far in this competition in previous years.
But finally getting that win is something the club has been aiming for over the two years we’ve been involved in the CHL and, as a team, it lifted our spirits as we proved something to ourselves. Everybody to a man was absolutely fantastic.
Now it’s all over, we want to go back and play some more in the CHL. We’ve got an added incentive to make sure we get back in the competition next year. It’s a fun competition to be involved with. It’s the beginning of a new season, you’ve got new team-mates who have come in and when you travel for the away games for a few days it gives you that chance to bond with team-mates you already know, but also get with the new guys.
And you are also playing against some of the best teams in Europe which, as a player you always want to be involved in.
So it is definitely something to work towards and gives us an added incentive - not that we need any - to go and win the regular season title once again.
This weekend we’re back to the bread and butter, if you like, taking on two teams who I feel will cause plenty of problems this season – as always.
We’ve got Nottingham coming into our building on Sunday which is always a big game. You want to earn those bragging rights and set an early marker. There’s never a meaningless game between us and it is a rivalry that will never go away.
Before that we head to Coventry on Saturday and we kind of owe them a bit as they had our number last season, winning the league series between us and causing us lots of problems every time we played them.
Also, and we say this every season, this is a competition that we really want to win. We came close a couple of years ago when the final was in our building, but Cardiff just edged us out. We’ve never won it in the Elite League era and that is something we want to rectify.
We got off to a good start in the group phase against Manchester. We just need to make sure we carry that on this weekend.
THERE were plenty of positives to take out of our opening Champions Hockey League game at HV71 Jonkoping.
The obvious one was that, 5-on-5, we matched up well with them. We were a little too tentative in the first 10 minutes or so but then, once we got a bit of confidence, we started to take it to them in spells.
So going into Salzburg two days later, I think we felt quite confident and we played quite well in that first period, but then - after that first break - we took some untimely penalties and with their speed and skill capitalised and they kind of frustrated us a little. I felt Salzburg were a little more direct than HV71 and they just started picking us apart at times and the more frustrated we got, the better they got.
I think, in that third period, the fact they had been in training for a lot longer than us had some part to play - not that I’m making excuses obviously, but I think the main thing was that we got so disappointed that it made us even more frustrated because we wanted to show what our club was about and show that we could cope with the big boys of Europe.
We went to Salzburg wanting to carry on the good work from the previous game in Sweden and try and get something from the game, which we were unlucky not to do two nights earlier.
We’ve got to play the perfect game going into this Saturday with HV71. We know that everything has to be on our side to win these games, but we genuinely feel that is something that we can do.
This week has been all about focusing in on the little things and refining what we need to and making sure we execute on the night.
We should be better prepared for this second game against HV71 because now we know what systems they go with and how they forecheck and how they attack on the powerplay and so we can adjust for that and prepare for it - last week we were having to adjust during the game.
We’ve had a lot of preparation this week and a lot of information being thrown at us but it’s all relevant for the task ahead of us.
We need to keep our feet moving if we’re to avoid taking soft penalties that we did in the first two games and which often cost us.
There were times against HV71 where we were taking penalties by lunging in for the puck when we shouldn’t have. But on the Saturday, against Salzburg, the penalties we took were more retaliation, where we would get frustrated and give somebody an extra shove or a shot in front of net.
We are learning from them mistakes and we just need to keep a cool head this time around.
It’s always good to get back out on to the ice as a full team after a summer break. We had a good few days of practise ahead of the two games against Aalborg which helped us get ourselves ready for the main event when we take on HV71 Jonkpoing in the CHL.
It’s nice to have a break, but it’s also great to see everybody come back for the new season and how excited they all are.
Everyone got into the UK by the Sunday before the Aalborg games and training camp went well with everybody seeming to fit in and settle down quite quickly. They all know what the club is about, with our winning traditions and everything else.
The games against Aalborg were vital for us ahead of HV71 - not in terms of the results at all - but just in terms of us being able to work on the systems we had been going through in practice all week and getting used to playing alongside each other in a game-type scenario.
At this stage of the season, it’s all about trying to find that chemistry among players and who your line-mates are.
You can practice all you like but you need to get up to that game speed again as quickly as you can at the start of a new season and the only way to do that is to do what we did with Aalborg at the weekend.
It was a nice change really to be able to take on a different kind of opponent, rather than playing pre-season games against teams you’re already going to face regularly during the regular season.
Aalborg were a young, fast and skilled team who caused us a few problems during both games and it was good to face a different style of opposition for a change.
We know they are not at the same level as the two teams we’re facing in the CHL this week but they play a similar kind of hockey and it just helped us to get thinking faster out on the ice.
Having played in the CHL before we know what to expect. We know the kind of speed and skill that we are going to come up against having played Frolunda and JYP last year.
I think, having played in it last year, we can go in to HY71 and Salzburg with a bit more confidence. There were times last year where we were more than able to play with those kind of teams and we need to make sure that this time we have a right go at it, stay disciplined and give it a real good shot.
It’s been a busy few weeks at the GB training camp and we’ve had a good amount of preparation time for the World Championships in Croatia.
Everyone came into the training camp in good spirits and upbeat and last weekend’s games against Poland were a really good workout for us.
I think the biggest thing we took out of the two games - never mind the results - was getting that confidence spreading throughout the team and to know that we were getting used to the systems that were being put in to place. Certainly by the end of the second game, we seemed to relax a little more and concentrate on the actual hockey as things were starting to come a little more naturally to us.
Both teams went into the two games looking to get plenty out of it. Poland came over here and travelled with 28 players. They are in the division above us in the world standings and there was competition for places on both sides, so every single player felt a bit of pressure to try and make their respective final 23-man squads.
With Poland, they are in that group of nations above us and were very close last time out in going up to Pool A - which is a huge leap. Their prep time is always a lot longer than ours so for us to fare like we did against them - one win and one loss - was pretty encouraging.
Getting together earlier this year for the pre-Olympic qualifiers in Italy has certainly helped us being used to playing alongside each other, but I think the biggest benefit of that tournament is that we’ve been able since to see where we went wrong.
I’m not saying that we should have beaten Italy in that final game, but none of us were happy with the performance in that game, we didn’t show what we are capable of very well at all.
And I think there’s a general feeling in the camp of wanting to put things right as a result of what happened in Cortina. We need to show that we are a gritty, fast, determined team full of high intensity capable of competing with teams above us on a regular basis.
It’s too dangerous to think about which team is the biggest threat to our promotion hopes this week, or who is highest-ranked. I think the perfect example of avoiding that is what happened to us last year in Eindhoven. Before we went into that tournament, people would have looked at our opponents and thought that South Korea were our biggest threat. That was maybe the hardest game (on paper) that we faced. But we got through them and won but then we slipped up hugely against Lithuania on the last day where we just couldn’t get anything past the goalie and could not score and it allowed Korea to get promoted instead of us.
This week, these are all tough teams that we are going to come up against and while it is a cliche, you have to stick to the old adage of one game at a time, particularly at a tournament like this where we are playing five games in seven days and they are coming thick and fast.
It is a hectic schedule but most of the boys who play in the Elite League are used to dealing with such a flurry of games one after the other.
After this week, we know that we’ve got the rest of the summer to come so we know it’s our last taste of match action for a while and we want to make sure we go out there and enjoy it.
We want to end the season on a high. Tiredness can’t be used as any kind of excuse because, as players, we’ve all been in these situations before and it’s just state of mind really.
A lot of us have been together at these kind of tournaments for a number of years and we can kick back and relax as much as we want after this week - we’ve just got to make sure we throw everything we have into these five games.
It would mean a lot to get promotion up to Division 1A - to be involved in something where you can see the progression and enjoy success along the way would be a huge thing.
For a few years the GB programme went downhill a little bit. But I think, in the last couple of years, it has really started going back in the right direction and we’ve found an identity to our teams. So to get promoted back into the division I think we should be would be a huge achievement.
off the ice, it helps that we’ve got the right people in the right places pushing things forward. Andy Buxton, our general manager, does an absolutely fantastic job in organising everything for us down to the very last tiny detail. Everything is taken care of for us from where we need to be, at what time, what we need to wear and what and when we need to eat.
For players, that’s great, because there is nothing else to worry about other than turning up and practising and playing and doing our job out there on the ice.
We were all obviously very disappointed with what happened against Coventry, but I think every guy on the team had given so much every weekend and then also that Saturday at Coventry, they kind of just killed us in the first half of that game. which was the last thing we wanted.
And, in the end, on Sunday, that what exactly was needed to do proved just a bit too much.
It was disappointing to get ourselves into the position we did. And we knew how tired we were - mainly down to how the last five or six weeks of the season had gone.
I think those last few weeks of the regular season caught up with us really and whenever you play those types of games - and it was the exact same last season - they are such emotionally-charged games that - as I’ve said before - every Jakie me was like a Game 7. So you are so focused for so long and so emotionally challenged that once you do it (achieve you rain aim) you can start to breathe again and I think there was perhaps a little bit of mental fatigue by that weekend.
I fully expected that when we came back out for the third period in the second leg that - after getting ourselves back level. When we were even, I felt we were fine and confident we were going to win the tie. We had so much possession, so many good chances, we were creating and skating we were were skating very well and causing turnovers and I really didn’t see that goal coming for them, but they were able to pounce on a loose puck and got a bit of their spark back.
We do have to remember, though, that this has still been an incredibly successful season for us.
It’s never a good thing to lose your last game of the season and that’s the tough thing.
Whenever you lose your last game of the season, you can’t help but take that taste away with you into the summer.
We’ve got to be careful that we don’t do that and always try to remember what we did achieve this year. This league is the best these league it has ever been and there seems to be so much depth in every team - there’s depth.
To have to do it how we did it and we played in Europe which is a great experience - we’ve got to be proud of what we achieved.
Who will win?
As to who will win the play-offs this weekend, it really is too tight to ceall - I really, really can’t call it.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Coventry win and if they play like they way they do. They’ve done it before and they can do it again
It has been pretty relentless over the last couple of months and I think surreal is the word that comes to mind for me when we actually won the Elite League title in Fife last Sunday.
The pressure we had put on ourselves and with the situation we were in - if we’d lost any of those last five games we were out of the title race - it meant every single game was a game seven for us.
We knew it was going to be a tough game in Fife - it always is because they are a good team.
I think you could tell that we were a little nervous there in the first period and I think as soon as we scored that first goal we kind of settled a bit and then they came out flying again in the second and then, in the third, we kind of found our groove and relaxed a bit more. That is where our experience kicked in, the kid of experience in those pressure situations that was always going to be key for us.
t’s so easy to get carried away or get too low and we managed to stay on an even keel down the stretch in the last couple of months and just made sure that we took it game by game and didn’t get ahead of ourselves.
It is very much the end of an era at the club this week, two of my best friends both on and off the ice in Jeff Legue and Jason Hewitt have decided to hang up their skates.
When you see what both of them have done for the team and for the whole club, you don’t get two bigger names than Leggy and Hewy. They will be missed a hell of a lot.
They’ve already gone out on a high by winning the league championship and it would be nice to send them off on the back of winning a double.
As we start out on the post-season road, we know we’ve got two tough games but we are feeling confident and good about ourselves and we don’t just want to lay the towel down because we’ve already won the league - we want to go out on a high by winning the very last game of the season.
We came back to work on Wednesday after a couple of days off, and we quickly closed the book on winning the league title and moved onto this weekend.
We’re focused on the weekend and the boys are looking forward to it. If we play like we did against them the last time we metin the regular season when we won 5-2 - by being aggressive all over the ice - then I think we should match up well against them.
That was a key victory for us beating Coventry - not just for the title race but because of our poor record against them before that game.
It has been tough against them and there were games against them where we didn’t deserve to win, but I genuinely feel there were other league games where we did deserve to beat them.
There’s a lot of meaning coming into this weekend. They are a good team and a team that should have finished higher than eighth place. They won’t be happy with that and we know - more than anybody - how dangerous they are.
There’s no denying it was a great result for us when Belfast beat Cardiff on Wednesday night but, essentially, nothing has really changed for us.
We still have to win both our games as we were always going to have to do anyway - it just means that if we do, the title is ours and we’re not relying on anybody else - it is up to us to get the job done.
But there is no danger of us thinking we just have to turn up this weekend. We still have to play two very, very good teams in Nottingham and Fife.
The potential for slipping up on either night is there and Nottingham are certainly not going to want us to win the title.
But it is also the final weekend before the play-offs and nobody will want to go into the post-season on a bad run of form. They will all want to hit the ground running come the qurter-finals and that includes us - we want to carry some momentum into the play-off quarter-finals ourselves.
The fact we are on this position where our title chances are in our own hands, says a lot about our group.
In terms of injuries, luck has not really been on our side this year but that we are still where we are. emphasises the quality of our team.
If you look at the scoring for our team, it is quite evenly spread out. Our D score a lot of goals and all the forwards have had a big input this year in terms of scoring.
The differencce last year was that ‘Roysy’ and ‘Fretts’ were the standout pair in terms of scoring and both enjoyed stellar years.
That’s also a testament to the coaching team for putting together such a strong roster. We’ve definitely recruited well this year, as did ‘G’ (previous coach, Gerad Adams) last year.
It’s a similar situation to last year going into the weekend, we played on Friday and Saturday and had to beat Cardiff on what was our last night of the season.
I think the experience we have on our team can only help us and we all realise that the job is still a long way from being done yet.
We are facing two very good and very dangerous teams and it’s all about us keeping a level head right now.
We all know what is at stake and its about keeping our composure.
One slip and it is back in Cardiff’s hands.
IT’S been a bit crazy since the turn of the year with our schedule so it’s been good these past couple of weeks to have no midweek games and get back into a bit of a normal routine, in terms of our practice and preparations.
We’ve come through the last few weeks pretty well though, all things considered. With four games to go we’re top of the table.
Being top is great, but it’s not something we think about too much really. There is still so much more work to be done in order to win the league, it’s been a bit of a crazy end to a season and we’re not riding too high on where we are sat, just focusing on trying to stay there over these last four games. We also realise that we still need favours elsewhere between now and the end of the season.
There’s no point in looking at the final weekend yet, but it is going to come down to the wire.
Nobody is going to win anything this weekend so it’s going to be like last season all over again.
If we lose in Nottingham on Saturday, then it doesn’t really put us in a good position - not unless something major happens to our advantage with Cardiff.
We can only look at what we need to do against Nottingham at the NIC on Saturday and not even think about anything else until after that final hooter sounds.
The Challenge Cup defeat to Nottingham still matters, still hurts. No team likes to lose in the semi-final of the cup, particularly when it is at the hands of you fiercest rivals and particularly in the manner we did lose it - 10-0 on aggregate.
At this time of the year if you can get any added motivation into a game from anywhere then that has to be a good thing, but we shouldn’t need any motivation than we already have - winning the league.
Nottingham’s surprise 6-1 defeat to Coventry Blaze on Wednesday has obviously hurt their title chances but, as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks alone, teams are flip-flopping around and if results go the Panthers’ way this weekend then it puts them right back in the hunt again.
The whole run-in over the next 10 days is great for the league - especially when you consider that there are five teams right now that can still potentially win it.
In any season, there’s always one team who have your number - a team who you just can’t get the better of. For Belfast, I think it has been us this year because we have won seven out of the eight games we have played against them.
For us, it has to be Coventry. We beat them in the group games in the Challenge Cup and the first time we met in the league. But, since then, they’ve won every time and we need to end that run of losses against them when they come to ours on Sunday.
I don’t think it is anything that is affecting us mentally, in fact in a lot of the games we’ve had with them this season there have been plenty of opportunities for us to take control and we haven’t.
They are very good at collapsing around the house and with their goalie Brian Stewart playing the aggressive style he plays, it works well for them.
If you don’t take your chances to score, then they are always capable of breaking quickly into your zone and hurting you and, before you know it, you’re two or three goals down which - against that team - is usually too much to come back from.
On Sunday, we’ve just got to make sure every little thing we do out on that ice is done the right way and with 100 per cent commitment.
Coventry won’t be happy with the way their season has gone generally and they are going to want to go into the play-offs in a good run of form, wanting to prove a point - it didn’t do them any harm last season, as we found out to our cost in the play-off final.
But, we’ve had a good week of practice and preparation for this weekend. We’re a confident bunch right now and very focused on what we need to do.
IT was great to get a new deal finalised with the club this week. When I moved here from Cardiff all those years ago, I knew I wanted to stay with the Steelers for a few years, but I don’t think I could ever have imagined that I would still be around 10 years later.
There are just too many variables such as different coaches and owners that you can’t really make any long-term plans like that.
But, with each passing year, I’ve realised more and more that this is really the only place I want to be. This is my home, this is my club and I love it here.
There have been so many memorable moments that it’s difficult to pick any one thing out, although I think winning the league both last year and back in 2011 under Ben Simon perhaps represents the biggest achievements during my time here.
Last season under ‘G’ (former Steelers’ head coach, Gerad Adams), we’d had a bad losing streak around Christmas time and everybody was writing us off. But we managed to turn things around. Every game was a must-win game - and we were going into places like Nottingham and Cardiff to get two points, so to come back and win the title again like that was pretty special.
Under Ben, it was a different kind of triumph, mainly because of all the uncertainty around the club, both before and during the season.
Bob Phillips was selling and then Paul Ragan stepped in to buy the club. We can all remember Ben coming in just before Christmas time and saying that we might not have a hockey team any more.
So for us to focus as a team the way we did and playing through all of what was going on behind the scenes, made it very sweet to lift the trophy that year.
Over the years, the club has changed quite a lot and developed. Things are a lot more professional these days and I think that first changed when Ben Simon came in.
He taught us all how to be more professional and with all the uncertainty surrounding the club back then I think, looking back, it was so important to have somebody like him around. As a team, we could have gone either way but Ben came in and instilled that professional approach in all of us.
Also, since Tony Smith has taken over, that professionalism from top to bottom has been improved year after year and Tony is always looking for new and better ways of doing things, not just for the team, but the club as a whole and the fans.
It’s a secure club, everything is stable and you speak to fans and they all tell you how much of a great night out it is for the family and I think the way the owners have grown the club in the last few years is fantastic.
We’re back on the ice this weekend with just the one game at home to Fife. We’re down to the last five games now and, after things didn’t all go our own way last weekend, every game is like a Game 7 now. There really is no room for mistakes.
We got a little lucky with both Cardiff and Nottingham both losing, but we didn’t take our chance to move into pole position. There are so many different scenarios and permutations that you could look at but, as players and as a team, we just need to forget about all of that and focus on our own game.
We can only control what we do on the ice. We know we’ve got a big mountain to climb - but it is one which is achievable.
THIS past week has really highlighted the kind of highs and lows you can have in this sport - in any sport - in the space of just a few days.
It was such an emotional high and a big win on Sunday in Cardiff, particularly after losing at home to them which is where most people, including us, probably thought we would pick up two points.
But to go down there and get two huge points back on them was brilliant - especially with them going ahead early once again.
But we put in such a huge, huge team performance to get those points back.
So we were on a massive high from that and then it was a very quick turnaround for the Challenge Cup semi-final first leg and I think, to be honest, we were just drained.
We lost 8-0, but it wasn’t through a lack of effort or anything like that – it was just one of those nights where, whatever we tried, it just didn’t come off and went wrong.
But that happens, it’s one of those things and there are no excuses for it. It was just a very bad night at the office.
The thing to remember is that nights like that don’t come along very often and during the six months or so that we’ve been together now, I think we’ve been pretty solid and put in some very good performances.
It was uncharacteristic with and was something that we obviously weren’t happy with ourselves. But we were able to go down to Nottingham the night after for the second leg and put in a far better performance.
Although the scoreline didn’t suggest it, I think we performed well because they are tough games to play in when you’re going in with an eight-goal deficit. You’ve got to find a different kind of motivation for that kind of situation and I think ours was just how bad we played the night before and how we owed something not only to ourselves and the coaches, but also to the fans who had paid good money to come and watch.
It would have been bad enough to lose to any team by that scoreline but, the fact that it was a Challenge Cup semi-final and also against our fiercest rivals in Nottingham just made it feel a lot worse.
It really sucks because we’re not going to the final but, at this late stage of the season, we still have three trophies to play for and we’re right in the mix for the league championship.
So, we have to forget about it what happened against Nottingham as quickly as we can and move on. We can’t dwell on it for too long as we’ve got two more huge games coming up this weekend.
Dundee is always a hard team to play against, our former assistat coach marc LeFebvre has got them going this season and it won’t be easy against them at UIce Sheffield.
Then we head to Coventry and we’ve not had any joy at their place in the league this season.
The fact that Coventry are back in the bottom two makes them more desperate because they are in a real scrap with Manchester for that final spot.
There’s no way they should be where they are with the team they have but they haven’t had the best of luck this year.
But I’ve always felt that they are a very talented team and a team that work well as a tight unit and are very difficult to break down.
It’s going to be one of those games where we have to go out and win every single puck, every single battle and slowly grind our way through it and take our chances when they come along.
THERE’S a break from the norm this week as Ben O’Connor and myself leave our Steelers’ colleagues behind to join up with the GB team.
It’s slightly different from a normal GB get-together as this is all about Olympics qualification.
If we get through this stage then we know we’re one step away from making it to the 2018 Olympics - although that is always a big step to make.
We found that out last time there was Olympic qualifying. We went over to Japan and not people gave us much of a chance to make it through. But we did and then we headed to Latvia where it was a whole lot tougher.
And although we couldn’t make that next step, we could see what a great thing it was for the GB programme, including all the extra media attention it got for the sport in our country. It would be great if we could get that sort of interest going again.
This time around, it’s going to be tough and that starts with our first game against the Netherlands on Thursday.
Then we’ve got to play Serbia on the Saturday - who are a bit of an unknown quantity - before we finish off against Italy.
Going in, you probably have to say that Italy are seen as favourites - they are the highest-placed team in terms of world rankings in the group and they also have home advantage too.
But we just need to worry about ourselves and if we can match the same intensity levels as we did in last year’s World Championships and make sure we stay smart and are disciplined then I genuinely think we stand a good chance of qualifying.
We’ve had a good training camp this week in Coventry before heading out and everybody is really excited about the next few days.
I think with how we did at the worlds in Eindhoven last year when we were so close to promotion, and with how we did in the Olympic qualifiers the last time around, there is a good buzz around the GB camp and the programme as a whole these days.
It’s always good to meet up with guys from the other teams and it’s sometimes nice to get away from your club for a short while, to concentrate on a different challenge and, with GB, we’ve been together for quite a bit of time now and the guys all know each other well and get along.
I think there is a lot of passion in the GB programme now from the coaching and managerial side of things and it’s a good time to be involved.
If we do make it through to the next stage of qualifying it’s a lot different in terms of who you are up against - we know that. You face some big, big ice hockey nations and it’s always very tough - but it’s nice to be among that.
And for the GB programme to keep progressing we need to be getting to that kind of level as often as possible and to keep testing ourselves against those bigger teams.
Here’s hoping we can.
It’s been a week of mixed fortunes and emotions for us, but we go into this weekend in good spirits.
It was tough coming off second-best twice to Coventry last weekend. We would have been right in the mix if we’d taken maximum points last weekend, particularly with Braehead losing on the Sunday too which, you have to say, was probably the only silver lining for us.
But we knew we couldn’t sit around in the locker room or on the bus back to Sheffield after Sunday’s defeat feeling sorry for ourselves - mainly because we already had to be thinking about travelling to Belfast early on Tuesday morning.
I think on Saturday in our barn, we played well against the Blaze. We had a lot of energy, we were dominating possession and we created some grade-A quality chances. But we just couldn’t get it past their goalie Brian Stewat and it was frustrating not to finish them off in regulation. Then, losing out in a shoot-out just made it worse.
On the Sunday, we were definitely second-best.
Coventry play a similar game both home and away generally. They are very defensive and they know how to collapse around Stewart and how to protect the right areas. They make it difficult to get the puck through on net and they make it difficult to get bodies in the right place fin front of the net. They are happy for you to have possession on the outside and they just protect the house really well.
Both the players and the coaches knew we needed a big performance on Tuesday at Belfast.
It’s never the easiest travel day to Northern Ireland, there’s sometimes a lot of waiting around, but everybody’s professionalism and work ethic really came through and we dug deep for a big team performance.
I think we can take a lot from that win at Belfast, we’ve done really well there this year, winning three out of our four visits and - most importantly - we delivered when it mattered.
And, of course, it’s always nice to score a game-winning goal - particular in overtime.
We face the same two teams this weekend, with Belfast coming to Sheffield Arena on Saturday (face-off, 7pm) followed by another trip to the SkyDome Arena on Sunday.
The more fans we can get down to our place on Saturday, the better - it really does make a difference to us as players when we see and hear a big crowd getting behind us.
It’s going to be tough on both nights, Belfast will be keen to do to us what we did to them on Tuesday and then, in Coventry again, we’re coming up against a goalie in Stewart who has stolen some games from us this year.
It’s about time we got the better of him but, before anything else, we need to concentrate on the two points that are up for grabs against Belfast on Saturday.
It’s been a good week in the Steelers camp, we had a great four-point weekend with wins over Cardiff and Dundee and then, in midweek, we had Jason Hewitt’s testimonial celebrations to enjoy.
Hewey is someone who fully deserves all the praise and love that came his way earlier this week. A few of us had to get up and say a few words about him at the dinner on Monday night and, for me, the one thing that stands out above everything else with him is how honest he is - both as a person and as a player.
He’s someone who gives you everything he’s got every single night, he knows exactly what kind of player he is and whatever needs to be done, he’s the person who is always willing to step up and do it.
He’s always chipping in whatever way he can and players like Hewy are tough to come by. They are not always the kind of players who get the most praise or make the most headlines, but they are the kind of people you need most on the team, especially to win trophies.
He’s not the biggest fella, but he’s never been afraid mixing it up and dropping the gloves. He’s always liked that physical side of the game and he will stand up for any of his team-mates, he never backs down, he likes to frustrate other players and he takes pride in his role.
He’s as big of a legend as they come in Sheffield, just with what he’s brought both on and off the ice - his personality, his leadership qualities and his actual playing skills. He’s always had a knack of scoring big goals for us, only last week he scored a huge goal for us against Cardiff Devils to tie the game up early in the third. That was a massive moment and when you look back at the end of the season and look back at the goals or moments where you won or lost the championship, that could easily be one of them.
As British players in this league, there is always a sense of responsibility on our shoulders to show younger players how to try and make their way in the game and Hewey sets a brilliant example.
If you look at what he did when he left Manchester mid-season to go to London, that was a big move and a big deal for somebody who didn’t even know whether he was going to carry on playing hockey.
He’s admitted that it wasn’t until he got to Sheffield that he finally decided that this was what he definitely wanted to do - to be a full-time professional hockey player.
And all the work that he has put into that - you’ve got to admire him for where he came from and how he went about becoming the player he has become.
This week it gets no easier as we face a double header against Coventry Blaze, the first match being at ours on Saturday night (7pm).
In the last two games we have found it difficult against the Blaze and we need to find a way to get the better of them like we did in the early part of the season.
With each week, there has been less and less room for error and it’s almost like every game is a Game 7 for us. It’s like a play-off scenario every time we step out on the ice - there’s always so much at stake.
We need these points and, in every game from now until the end of the season, the intensity is going to be huge.
IT’S good that we have an early chance to put right last Sunday’s result at Cardiff Devils when they visit our building this Saturday.
It was a disappointing trip down to South Wales and, I have to say, I think it’s great that they are going to be playing in a new rink - I just hope it’s ready for when we next go down there!
We’ll definitely be glad to see the back of the ‘Big Blue Tent’, I think if you ask anybody else in the league from any other team they would all say the same thing. I suppose even the Cardiff players would like to play in a nice building.
It’s never been easy playing down there over the years, the smaller ice surface is the biggest difference that you have to adjust to every time you are there, but there are other factors which make it difficult - not least because they have put together another great team this year.
In most buildings, as soon as you get the puck, you’ve got a second just to look around to see what support is with you or who is bearing down on you.
But it’s a lot different in Cardiff.
The puck is blowing up, the ice is bad and it’s a smaller surface compared to most other rinks, but they play it very well, as you’d expect given it’s their rink. They are in your face and they come at you wave after wave.
So it becomes a case of being safe with the puck first and foremost, so you’re not giving them any kind of turnover, then you take it from there but, to be honest, pretty much all basic hockey which you’ve learned over the years kind of goes out of the window when you’re the away team down there.
But it’s not always been bad news when we’ve been down there, we’ve had some success over the years. Last season we won a couple of games down there, one was early on when we won 3-2 in the Challenge Cup and then, after the turn of the year, I think we beat them 6-0 or something like that in the league.
Even this year, I think we’ve actually played well down there overall. The score on Sunday certainly didn’t suggest that with us losing 7-3, but I have to admit that we were a bit indisciplined and they scored four powerplay goals and a ‘shorty’ but, 5-on-5, we actually played quite well and more than matched them.
And then there was a game just before Christmas down there where we outshot them by quite a lot which is very rare - they are always pretty much guaranteed 40-odd shots in their barn, but I think we kept them to just 20 or so shots which is pretty good.
As we expected, it proved an incredibly tough night in the second leg of the Challenge Cup against Fife Flyers. We lost 4-3 but, thanks to our two-goal lead from the first leg, we were able to make it through to the semi-finals on aggregate.
But there’s not much time to rest up as we’ve got an early chance to get our own back on Cardiff this Saturday.
It’s an obvious thing to say I guess, given it’s the top two, but this Saturday will be a big, big game. You can’t afford to give a good team like Cardiff that much of an advantage at the top. We’ve got two games in hand, we’re six points behind and, including Saturday, we have to play them three more times. But we can’t rely on all that going for us so we need to make sure that we close the gap on them in terms of points again.
The series between us and Cardiff will be crucial to our season - obviously - but I don’t think you can afford to write any team in the top six off at this stage.
The league positions will flip-flop between now and the end of the regular season because of how tight it is. I’m convinced it will remain like that and go down to the wire.
IT’S been a busy few days and we’ve had to do a fair bit of travelling recently but, as the results show, it has all been worth it.
It can tire you out when, like on Wednesday, you’re not getting back into Sheffield until about 6am after travelling down from Scotland, but we’ve been doing this sort of thing long enough to know that it’s part of the job and, after all these years, we’re used to it.
We knew they were two huge games in Belfast last weekend and, deep down, realised that if we’d have come away from there with nothing it would have hurt us a lot going into this final stretch of the season.
So to come away with four points from there, and the way we did it, was huge - because they are such a good team and so well-stacked offensively. But I think we played two perfect games.
Everybody, to a man, brought their ‘A’ game and Pincy (goaltender Marek Pinc) was in great form all weekend, but then he has been for a while now.
Obviously we wanted to start well in that first game, but we didn’t necessarily plan to go out and score as many goals as possible.
I think it was just that everybody stuck to the gameplan from the first second and did what was expected of them and executed their roles well. Then, when we had our chances, we managed to take them and I think we caught them on the backfoot a bit and didn’t really give them a chance to recover after that.
There wasn’t much time before we found ourselves travelling up to Scotland on Monday for the first leg of our Challenge Cup quarter-final against Fife Flyers.
We did well in coming back to ours for next Wednesday’s second leg at Ice Sheffield with a 4-2 lead, but there’s still a long way to go.
We haven’t won this competition during the Elite League era, which is proving really frustrating, particularly for those of us who have been here a while.
This is the first one of four trophies that are up for grabs during the course of the season and there’s no doubt that we want to get our hands on it and get this kind of monkey off our backs.
I think in the 10 years I’ve been here we’ve made it to the final three times and just come out on the wrong side. Last year was perhaps the hardest to take because the final was in Sheffield and we just lost out to Cardiff. We need to make sure we go one better this time around.
I have to admit it was a bit of a shock when I heard the great news on Wednesday about us signing Ryan Hayes from Edinburgh Capitals.
If you’re going to bring somebody in at this stage then it’s good that we can bring in someone like Ryan with his kind of skillset and obvious talent. His numbers speak for themselves really.
In the games we’ve played against Edinburgh this season, he’s often had a big impact on the game and he’s a very dangerous player offensively.
When you’re playing against players like Ryan out on the ice, you can see their obvious quality right away. You give someone like that half a chance and he takes it. And that tends to have been our problem when playing Edinburgh this year, we’ve given them these half chances and they’ve had the players - especially Ryan - to hurt us.
His arrival couldn’t have been timed better in many ways, as his first game will be this Saturday at home against Nottingham Panthers before we head down to leaders Cardiff on Sunday - talk about being thrown in at the deep end!
We seem to be saying it most weeks lately but this is another massive weekend coming up. In fact, this whole month is crucial for us to be honest.
We’ve got to make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves by thinking about Cardiff until we’ve got Nottingham out of the way first on Saturday - believe me, that game will be difficult enough.
Going down to Cardiff’s building has never been easy for years and now - more than ever, given the great team they currently have - it’s even tougher to get a result there. Any time you can get both points there is always a big bonus over the course of the season.
First of all, Happy New Year to everyone, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote this blog for The YP and a lot has happened.
It was honours even against Nottingham over the Christmas period which was the least we had hoped for and then we had our three games in as many nights on the weekend just gone.
While it was disappointing to finish the weekend losing in a shoot-out in Edinburgh, the fact we had won the two games against Manchester Storm and took five points out of six across the three nights was still, I believe, a big positive for us.
You definitely notice the difference on a Monday morning after playing three in three.
Normally on a Monday after playing a regular, two-game weekend, you wake up and your legs are burning, you’re tired and you feel like you need to stretch all day long.
So when you’ve played that extra game on a Friday, you’ve then got to deal with that on a Sunday - knowing there’s another game still to come later that day.
So it then becomes more of a mental thing and you just have to keep telling yourself that you’re not tired and you’re not sore and I guess it is the adrenaline that gets you through it more than anything else, because you’re expecting to play that game and you know you’ve got to go out and put in another full-on performance.
It’s at times like this and at this stage of the season where all the hard work you put in during the pre-season starts to pay off.
We’re not going to get any fitter than we already are at this stage and it’s about now where we’re hitting our peak physical condition and, if anything, you’re just getting a little tired from all the games because they are coming thick and fast.
This week, we had Monday and Tuesday off after the three in three, just to help get rid of all those little aches and pains that you pick up over a weekend like we’ve just had. And it’s also good to get away from the rink for a couple of days, it’s sometimes nice not to see an ice rink and just get away from it all for a short while before getting back on it ready for the next weekend.
We’ve got a new face with us at the Arena this week in the shape of Conny Stromberg from Sweden. At the time of writing this I hadn’t had chance to meet Conny but we’ve heard nothing but good things about him.
Whenever you can get a kind of player who has played at the kind of level he has over in Sweden, it automatically raises your game.
We’ve already seen the kind of work that our other Swedish player, Freddie Vestberg, does out there and we certainly appreciate the kind of player he is.
And I think Conny is more of an offensive guy and you only have to look at his numbers and there are some clips on youtube that you can watch and you can see the obvious skill that he has. So having him in is definitely going to give us an added dimension.
He joins us just in time for two big, big games for us this weekend in Belfast.
The Giants are flying right now and I think points-wise and games-wise they are looking best-placed at the moment, so each game is like a four-point game really so we don’t want to let them too far ahead.
And when you play games like this, one after each other on the road, at somewhere like Belfast, you really do have to take it - and I know it’s a cliche - one period at a time and look no further ahead than that.
Whereas last season there were about three teams in with a chance of the overall league title going into the last weekend, this year I think it could be as many as five and it will probably swing from any direction right up until the last weekend again, maybe even the last game.
You can’t underestimate how important these two games are for us.
December 23, 2015
AT the moment, it’s looking really good for me to make my comeback on Boxing Day against Nottingham Panthers.
It’s been a difficult time being out injured - it always is - but I couldn’t ask for a bigger or better game to come back to.
Games against Nottingham are - more often than not - very intense and it is perhaps even more the case when we meet them at this time of year.
You look at all the history that goes with it - the bench clearances and all the other stuff - then it is bound to be a big occasion when we play them.
Add to that how much we are battling for every single point this season and how close we are in the table - obviously Cardiff and Belfast are in it too - then everything is building up nicely to a very intense weekend.
It is so very close between us and it’s going to be a significant swing if either one of us can win both games. These are four absolutely huge points.
I think their coach Corey Neilson definitely still favours a more offensive-minded team and they have a very good balance throughout - they never have just the one line that you have to look out, all their lines are strong.
They are like us in that they have got a lot of depth, so that makes it more crucial for you concentrate on getting your own game right and doing all the little things right in order to make life more difficult for them.
And if you don’t do that and mistakes do creep in, they are exactly the kind of team to make you pay for those mistakes.
I’ve known games in the past against Nottingham where, in the space of just a few minutes, they’ve scored two or three goals on us and the game has just got away from us and you just can’t claw it back.
But we’ve got belief in the talent that we have in our group and that that can carry us through.
On a slightly different note, it’s never nice seeing a team-mate leave during the season, but our original first-choice goalie, Tyler Plante did just that this week.
Thankfully, he’s got himself sorted with another club in Germany but, at this time of year, especially so close to Christmas, Planter had to get his family packed up very quickly and over to Germany just so they could have some kind of Christmas.
It’s always tough and we’re all sorry to see him go because he was a great guy and a good team-mate.
But, it is the nature of this sport and Planter had to do what was best for him in that situation and, at the end of the day, you’ve got to look after your family.
Talking of which, before the Nottingham game, I’m looking forward to some great family time of my own like most other people on Christmas Day.
For me, Christmas Day is pure family time and it’s nice to just get away from things.
And nothing is going to get in the way of my Christmas dinner, I wait 12 months for it. I’ve even got my own special, big plate that I bring out once a year - it’s platter-size!
Obviously, with playing the following day, we’re not drinking or doing anything daft. I’ll perhaps have one glass of wine, just to be sociable, of course …. it is Christmas after all!
And, on that note, I’d just like to finish this entry off by wishing you all a Merry Christmas and, hopefully, we can make it a couple of days to remember for Steelers fans this weekend.
December 18, 2015
LIKE most sportsmen, I’m a terrible spectator when watching a game from the sidelines.
You just want to do something - you don’t lose that competitive nature when you’re off the ice injured. I guess, it is the same with any sport really, you just want to get out there and help your team-mates.
Our goaltender Tyler Plante and me both went up to Fife Flyers for the game there and we were both sat on the end of the bench. We got pretty vocal while we were there and were banging the glass and doing anything we could to get nbehind the boys - I think we could have passed for being the team’s supporters club!
It was a good win in Fife, as it was back home against Belfast the following night and I think in the last four games we’ve found our way again. It was a bit up and down before this little run we’re on and I think that it just proves how good this league is nowadays.
No game is easy and you can’t go into any games expecting to win. Maybe that has been our problem at times.
You look at teams going into Edinburgh - which I think has always been a tough place to play anyway - and you know you are going into a hard game and you have to be switched on otherwise you’ll pay for it.
This weekend sees us heading back to Scotland to take on Braehead Clan. Even though I’m still coming back from an injury, I’ll be going. I like to be around the boys, even when I’m injured. It’s tough when you’re injured and you don’t hang around with them and you’re not involved in a lot of the day-to-day stuff.
When you come back, you feel a little left out at times, so I always try and go on these road trips when possible, just to keep involved.
Of course a lot of us know Ryan (Finnerty, Braehead head coach) very well from over the years - I’ve both played and been coached by him.
You have to say, he’s done a great job up there and while they’ve had a bit of a rough patch like we have until recently, they do have a few games in hand right now and if they can put a little run together, it will put them right up there.
It’s going to be a massive game for both teams but, then again, it will be the following night when we host Coventry.
They’ve had a poor start and are definitely finding their way. Their goaltender Brian Stewart is showing once again why he is one of the best goalies in the league. They are starting to protect the house around him and the game we lost 2-0 at their place recently was because they made it tough for us to get to the net. Then, when they got their chances at the other end, they took them.
It would be nice to get an early goal against them this Sunday and put them on the back-foot from the off. With regard to myself, my recovery is going well following the surgery on the sports hernia. It’s still too early to say when I might be back in contention. They initially said it was likely to be in the New Year when I would be ready to return. But, fingers crossed, it will be sooner rather than later.