AARON FOX said the challenge of attempting to bring back the glory days to Sheffield Steelers was one he simply couldn’t turn down.
The 42-year-old American was tonight unveiled as the new head coach and general manager of the five-time Elite League champion at a special fans’ forum chaired by owner Tony Smith.
He arrives in South Yorkshire having spent the last six years at Medvescak Zagreb, the first four seasons seeing him operate as Sporting Director while they played in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) before the Croatian club returned to the EBEL where he added coaching duties before resigning in December last year after the club hit financial troubles.
Two players on Steelers 2018-19 roster will know Fox well – forwards John Armstrong and Tom Zanoski – having both been there at the start of the season before switching to the Steelers, Armstrong returning for a second stint on a deal which sees him already in place for the 2019-20 campaign.
It is two years since the Steelers last tasted success, beating Cardiff Devils in a memorable play-off final at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre, and Fox is determined to end that trophy drought.
“The decision to come to Sheffield was built around being at a top organisation that expects to win on a yearly basis,” said Fox. “I love the idea of being able to build a team that has high aspirations and to find a way to create a new identity and culture moving forward that will give us an opportunity to compete for winning championships again.
“I understand that last year was not good enough for the ownership or the fans and I am looking forward to turning things around.”
Following a disappointed campaign which saw Tom Barrasso succeed Paul Thompson as head coach in October and the Steelers muster only a seventh-place finish in the regular season before exiting in the first round of the play-offs against Cardiff Devils, there are expected to be wholesale changes again to the Steelers’ roster.
That was something carried out last summer by Thompson but something which did not have the desired effect, eventually seeing the Steelers go through a second successive campaign without silverware.
To that end, Fox aims to use his renowned recruitment skills to put a new-look roster together.
“We will have a lot of new faces in the dressing room next year,” added Fox, who spent the majority of his playing career in Europe, too, enjoying stints in Austria Germany, Slovakia before one season with Medvescak Zagreb in 2009-10, three years before he returned as sporting director. “Finding that team identity and creating that chemistry in training camp, and being ready to go from the opening night, will be the biggest challenge facing us.”
Steelers’ owner Tony Smith said once Fox came on to the club’s radar, they were immediately impressed with what they saw and heard.
“His recruitment skills are exceptional,” said Smith when asked why Fox had been given a three-year deal. “He’s had several years in the KHL as a sporting director which means his sole job was recruiting players for a top team in that league.
I love the idea of being able to build a team that has high aspirations and to find a way to create a new identity and culture moving forward that will give us an opportunity to compete for winning championships again.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Aaron Fox.
“His strength there was recruiting but in the last 12 months or so in Zagreb, he jumped on to do some coaching for the team and decided that this was the way forward for him.
“We had three or four top guys that we were looking at for a few weeks but then Aaron threw his hat in the ring - or rather his agent did, who told us that this was the guy we should be looking at because his recruitment skills were second to none. And we believe he will recruit what we hope will be a very good team. We interviewed him in depth and we liked what we saw – he really does fit the bill.”