COACH Tom Barrasso and Sheffield Steelers are a perfect match, according to club legend Ken Priestlay.
Barrasso began his tenure as the Steelers' new head coach on Wednesday morning, taking his first practice session with his new charges at Sheffield Arena as the build-up continues towards his first game in charge against arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers at the National Ice Centre this Saturday.
The appointment of Barrasso as the man to succeed Paul Thompson, who resigned last week following a poor start to the season, has caused quite a stir in hockey circles, with the 53-year-old American considered a high-profile capture for the five-time Elite League champions.
Barrasso was a two-time NHL Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 1990s, his path crossing for a second time with Priestlay, who he had originally played alongside at Buffalo Sabres, where both players had been drafted in the 1980s.
Priestlay is well known to Steelers' fans, of course, for his memorable five-year spell at the club in the mid to late 90s, eventually departing at the end of the 1998-99 season.
And the 51-year-old, who now works in the lumber industry back home in Vancouver, Canada, believes his former team-mate Barrasso - who as head coach won the AlpsHL title with Italian club Asiago last season - is a smart appointment as the Steelers' as they look to kick-start what has so far been a poor 2018-19 campaign.
"It's definitely a big fish that Sheffield have landed," said Priestlay. "Sheffield is the best place to play hockey in the UK. I haven't been there in a long time, but it is a top-notch organisation. Now they have a top-notch coach to go with a top-notch club.
"The personality they are getting in Tommy is fantastic. I have nothing but the highest praise for him he’s a leader and how he treated me when I was a young guy coming up into a team that he was playing for was just fantastic.
"To take his personality and put it behind the bench means that all the Steelers' players will have to stand up and be counted because his pedigree deserves that and if everything goes as I think it will do, Sheffield are going to be very pleased they brought in Tom Barrasso.
"He commands instant respect and with a guy who has been involved with the game like he has and had the success that he has, he deserves that respect. He was an intense, serious guy when he played and I can’t see it being any different with him being behind the bench."
Having played together at both Buffalo and Pittsburgh, Priestlay was not enitirely surprised when his former goaltending colleague eventually made the switch to behind the bench.
"For Tommy to go over there with his experience and teaching of the North American game, the Steelers have landed arguably one of the biggest names they have ever had as a coach," added Priestlay.
"I’m sure there will be some growing pains and it won’t always be a bed of roses, but I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic experience for both coach and club.
"Knowing Tommy the way I do and the student of the game in the way that he was as a goalie, he’s going to bring a wealth of knowledge to the Steelers and be a very intense coach, which is only going to be good for the hockey in Sheffield."