Patience should serve Sheffield Steelers well again in quest for Elite League success, says Robert Dowd

PATIENCE is more often than not one of the most important assets for any successful team and Robert Dowd says Sheffield Steelers will need it once again next season.

Robert Dowd, in action for Sheffield Steelers last season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The Steelers ended the 2019-20 Elite League season as the only team to lift silverware when they ended a 17-year wait for the Challenge Cup trophy after beating Cardiff Devils 4-3 in South Wales.

Within a week, however, the league season was cancelled as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, EIHL bosses later declaring that there was to be no regular season champion.

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As sport across the UK and the world waits to see when it can return to action, the EIHL has already stated its regular season will face-off a month later than normal at the beginning of October.

ATTACK-MINDED: Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox. Picture: Dean Woolley.

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Last summer, new head coach Aaron Fox completed a major overhaul of the Steelers roster, with 10 new imports arriving, plus young British goalie Will Kerlin.

As is often the case with such widespread change, there were inevitable teething problems, the Steelers losing eight of their first 20 league games.

But 31-year-old Great Britain international Dowd said that was only to be expected.

Robert Dowd, warming up with GB team-mate Ben O'Connor ahead of last year's World Championships opener against Germany in Slovakia. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“Whenever you have a new coach, it is always likely to be a bit of an up and down start,” said Dowd.

“New systems, a major overhaul of the team – there were only a few that stayed – you are going to have a team looking to find its identity.

“Any time a team brings in that many players in one go, you’re going to have teething problems because guys are trying to figure out what their role is on the team all at the same time.

“But eventually it clicks. Everybody found where they worked, we found a good balance and, at times, we were flying.”

There will be further changes this summer by Fox as he refines his roster, but – coronavirus pandemic permitting – it is unlikely to be anything like as wholesale as last year.

Dowd’s own season ended early when, after undergoing a shoulder operation before Christmas, he contracted an infection and required further surgery which killed any hopes of returning to action.

But despite the personal anguish, the winger – who still finished the campaign a 31-point haul, including 17 goals, from 33 games, was simply glad to get back to enjoying his hockey once again, following a disappointing 2018-19 campaign which brought a seventh-placed finish and a first round playoff exit at the hands of Cardiff.

“It was fun hockey, fun to be a part of and play,” he added.

“It was very offensive-minded hockey under Aaron and I obviously don’t mind that type of hockey, I enjoy being on the front foot.

“It was amazing, it was like being back in Sheffield again, even if that sounds a bit stupid.

“I’ve been very lucky in my career, where pretty much every season I’ve either won or been close to winning a trophy. But the previous season here was completely different, more than any other year I’ve been here.

“It was incredibly frustrating and once it ended it was a case of ‘thank goodness that is over’.

“It was one of the first seasons where I haven’t enjoyed it and that is mainly just because I like to win.

“And when you’re not winning, every day is a grind and when that’s happening over the course of nine months, that is what that season was, a grind.”

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