Sheffield Steelers Robert Dowd keen to make up for lost time when hockey returns

IT’S probably fair to say that 2019-20 proved the most frustrating season of Rob Dowd’s career.

IN THE THICK OF IT: Robert Dowd battles with Guildford Flames’ Corbin Baldwin at Sheffield Arena last season. The 31-year-old Sheffield Steelers' winger saw his season ended early because of a serious shoulder injury. Picture: Dean Woolley.
IN THE THICK OF IT: Robert Dowd battles with Guildford Flames’ Corbin Baldwin at Sheffield Arena last season. The 31-year-old Sheffield Steelers' winger saw his season ended early because of a serious shoulder injury. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Clearly, in an impact sport like ice hockey, the Sheffield Steelers and GB forward has suffered numerous injuries over the years, missing a couple of games here, a handful of matches there.

But last season saw the 31-year-old winger benched for half of the campaign, undergoing shoulder surgery on Christmas Eve following a heavy collision with unforgiving boards at Sheffield Arena and then seeing his hopes of a return to action scuppered by a subsequent infection.

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Dowd’s frustrations began during the first shift of the third period of the Steelers’ home game against Glasgow Clan on December 21, a game the hosts won 5-3 in the midst of a seven-game winning streak but which was marred by the injury suffered by their leading goalscorer.

Dowd was bearing down on goal and about to fire a shot on Clan goalie Patrick Killeen when his back leg was clipped by an opponent and he was sent spinning into the boards.

The speed of the fresh ice meant there was not enough time for Dowd to ready himself for the impact, forcing him out of the game.

It was later, after being taken to hospital, that he discovered he had dislocated his shoulder, severely damaged his AC joint and would need surgery.

ON TARGET: Robert Dowd celebrates scoring during a Challenge Cup group game last season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Crucially, he made it back in time to spend Christmas with his family and with a projected six-eight week recovery period, he was planning on returning to action around mid-late February for the Steelers, giving him chance to also build up towards Great Britain’s world championship campaign in Switzerland.

But a subsequent visit to hospital revealed that Dowd had suffered an infection in the area he had been operated on and that he would need to go under the knife once again. His season was over.

“It was immensely frustrating – it killed me,” said Dowd. “All my previous injuries have been when somebody has targeted my knee or contacted me. It’s not as if I’m out of shape and pulling groins or hamstrings or anything like that, they’ve always been impact injuries.

“I guess it is also down to the way I play, I don’t shy away from that type of stuff. So those type of injuries happen, I’m pretty full on as a player, I don’t hold back. For a skilled guy I don’t really hide.”

WINNING END: Robert Dowd (third from right, back row), celebrates Sheffield Steelers' Challenge Cup triumph over Cardiff Devils in march. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The injury could not have come at a worse time for both player and team. Dowd was flying, leading the league in goal-scoring and primed for a career-best season.

“For it to happen when it did, was a gut punch because I felt like I was on course for a standout season in terms of points,” added Dowd. “I was leading the league in goals, not just the team. In terms of all competitions, I finished the season on 17 goals and that was in mid-December.

“So there was still about half of the season to go and I felt like I was just hotting up, too – two or three months into the season and you’re really getting into your groove.

“Even if I went through the rest of the season just cruising, I was probably still looking at 35-40 goals which would have been something special for a British player. It was incredibly frustrating.”

NO HOLDING BACK: Sheffield Steelers' Robert Dowd gets to grips with Guildford Flames’ Brett Ferguson at Sheffield Arena last season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Before the season ended early for everybody in early March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Aaron Fox’s Steelers managed to lift the one piece of silverware available when they ended their 17-year wait for the Challenge Cup by beating arch-rivals Cardiff Devils 4-3.

That brought some welcome joy for the recovering Dowd, who was in the stands at Cardiff’s Viola Arena for the game but, as is the case for all athletes, it was tempered by the fact that he wasn’t involved.

“I just want to avoid a repeat of this season – it was just one of those freak injuries,” he said,

“It was tough, especially the first few weeks. I had to sleep on a chair because I couldn’t lie down, I was on a lot of medication, so it was tough mentally, as well as physically.

“It was a few weeks before I could get down to a game. It is absolutely horrible, every player will tell you the same – you hate watching your team when you feel you could be contributing.

“It’s not as hard when they win because everything is good and everybody is happy, but when they lose and you feel like you could have made a difference that is when it is the most frustrating. Being out on the sidelines really, really sucks.

GAME FACE: Robert Dowd carries out pre-match preparations ahead of an Elite League game last season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“It was amazing to watch them win the final and be a part of it, but it was also very frustrating at the same time because I wanted to be out there. As a player, you don’t want to be watching, you want to be involved.”

It remains to be seen how and when hockey, indeed sport the world over, returns but, when it does, Dowd – now well on the road to a full recovery – will be desperate to make up for what he considers too much lost time.

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WINNER: Head coach and GM Aaron Fox, second left, led Sheffield Steelers' to their first Challenge Cup triumph in 17 years when his team beat Cardiff Devils 4-3 at the Viola Arena. Picture: Dean Woolley.