Sheffield Steelers’ Jonathan Phillips out to keep pace with Elite League rivals

CAPTAIN Jonathan Phillips is keen to help ensure Sheffield Steelers continue to be a match for their Elite League rivals when they return to action next season.

Jonathan Phillips, centre, celebrates winning the Challenge Cup against Cardiff. Picture: Dave Williams/EIHL.

The Steelers won the only piece of silverware available when beating Cardiff Devils 4-3 in the Challenge Cup Final almost three weeks ago, ending a 17-year wait for the trophy.

It was to prove one of the last matches of the 2019-20 season, however, as, within a week, the regular season was curtailed due to the growing coronavirus pandemic.

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It meant there was no conclusion to the league schedule, one which was suspended with Cardiff in pole position, with the Steelers, Coventry Blaze, Nottingham Panthers and Belfast Giants all chasing hard.

After much deliberation, the league decided earlier this week that there will be no regular season champion.

The Devils will be the league’s representative in the Champions Hockey League, however, due to them having the highest winning percentage of all teams.

Either way, GB international Phillips is simply pleased to have seen the Steelers become a force to be reckoned with once again over the past seven months, after a miserable 2018-19 campaign saw them scrape into the playoffs before suffering a first-round exit at the hands of Cardiff.

After being appointed to succeed Tom Barrasso last April, new Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox stated at the outset that his aim was to bridge the gap that had widened between the Steelers and the likes of Cardiff and Belfast, who were crowned last season’s regular season champions.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach and GM, Aaron Fox. Picture: Dave Williams/EIHL.

“It was always Aaron’s aim to make sure we bridged the gap between ourselves and the top teams like Belfast and Cardiff,” said Phillips.

“We won the first trophy on offer and even though we made hard work of the league, we were still in with a shout, which was the aim at the very start of the season – to make sure were in contention.

“We were an exciting team to watch, too, it was exciting to play in that team. The skill level on our team and the speed was, at times, unreal.”

On the decision to not have a league champion for 2019-20, EIHL head of hockey operations Mike Hicks said: ““With the title race as close as it was and five teams realistically ague, we felt that awarding a league trophy on the basis of probabilities just was not the correct thing to do.

Jonathan Phillips celebrates winning the Challenge Cup trophy in front of the Sheffield Steelers' fans in Cardiff. Picture: EIHL.

“This was especially so as a lot of the remaining games involved many of the teams still in contention being scheduled to play against each other.”