SHEFFIELD STEELDOGS’ player-coach Greg Wood is a happy man, and with good reason.
After 12 games into the 2016-17 English Premier League campaign, the South Yorkshire club may occupy a relatively anonymous mid-table position, having won half of their matches.
But the reason Wood is so relaxed about that situation is because his team have managed to stay in touch with those above them despite having key players missing for the majority of the campaign so far.
In the first game of the season, Wood lost two of his key import forwards - Donatas Kumeliauskas and Adrian Palak - to injury and has subsequently seen a third European arrival go missing due to suspension in the shape of Pavel Mrna.
Despite those setbacks - Kumeliauskas returned to action last weekend - the Steeldogs have remained resolute and impressive, bouncing back from a three-game losing streak to take seven points out of eight from the last two weekends.
And with it not being long until his team are operating at full strength, Wood is optimistic about the Steeldogs’ chances in 2016-17.
“Every team is going to go through a sticky patch whether it be through injuries or loss of form,” said 29-year-old Wood. “And I would have snapped your hand off if you’d told me at the start of the season that, given what has happened injury-wise, we would be at this point after 12 games.
“Because we’ve been up to three imports down at various times, we’ve lacked a bit of offensive punch but we’ve still taken seven out of the last eight points over the last two weekends. That’s because everybody has been buying in and stepping up to the plate.”
Sheffield-born Wood played more than 180 games in the Elite League, largely with Basingstoke Bison but also including a season at Coventry Blaze under Paul Thompson, now head coach at neighbouring Sheffield Steelers.
He admits he has been on a steep learning curve ever since taking on the player-coach role shortly before the 2015-16 campaign, which saw the Steeldogs finish seventh before suffering a first-round play-off exit at the hands of Peterborough.
Expectations - not least from himself - are higher this season and, as Wood prepares to hit the road with his players this weekend to take on 2015-16 champions Basingstoke before hosting Milton Keynes Lightning 24 hours later, he is convinced this could be the most competitive campaign the league has ever seen.
“The league is very congested and I think this year is probably going to be the lowest points total that wins the regular season title in EPL history,” he said.
“All season teams have been taking points off each other week in, week out and that will only continue.
“As an advert for hockey and for the league that is fantastic but, as a coach, you just have to be on the ball even more and make sure you’re ready every single weekend.”