Sheffield Steelers' Thompson happy with summer rebuild as Rupert twins boost forward options

HEAD COACH Paul Thompson admits he's given himself a busier summer than usual in terms of recruitment for Sheffield Steelers '“ but believes there is a growing sense of excitement and anticipation about the 2018-19 Elite League season as a result.

HAPPY FACES: Sheffield Steelers will be seeing double with twins Matt Rupert and Ryan Rupert. Picture courtesy of Sheffield Steelers.
HAPPY FACES: Sheffield Steelers will be seeing double with twins Matt Rupert and Ryan Rupert. Picture courtesy of Sheffield Steelers.

Today sees the Steelers announce the signing of identical twins Matt and Ryan Rupert from the Indy Fuel in the ECHL – taking the number of new faces at Sheffield Arena this summer to 14. And there are still two more to come.

Thompson began the clearout of his roster within 48 hours of ending the 2017-18 campaign empty-handed following a play-off final defeat at the hands of double winners Cardiff Devils.

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Nine players found themselves lacking an invite to return for another year and, coupled with the retirements of key players Colton Fretter, Mathieu Roy and Levi Nelson – as well as the departure to Austria of centre John Armstrong, Thompson has had his work cut out in attempting to close the gap on the currently dominant Devils.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson Picture: Dean Woolley.

He has also had to cope with losing NHL-drafted winger Liam Kirk and defenceman Ben O’Connor, who has joined Swediesh club Leksands.

That ithe rebuild has all been done without help from his assistant coach for the last two years – Jerry Andersson left at the end of last season – makes it all the more impressive.

Of course, the fans will only be impresssed if the team Thompson puts together delivers the desired results on the ice. But the 53-year-old former GB coach is happy with the way the summer has gone so far.

“I knew it was going to be a long, long summer and probably the toughest of my career from a recruitment standpoint because it has been such a big turnaround in terms of what we have been looking for,” said Thompson.

“We had guys retiring, we had guys that we chose not to re-sign, and, yes, there is always a risk with bringing in new players, but I would argue that there is more excitement than risk.

“We’re happy where we are so far. We’ve got a couple more signings that we need to sort and we like the mix and the balance that we have.

“I think we’re going to have a competitive team again and I think everybody is excited and I know the players coming in are excited to be part of it.”

On his two latest recruits, Thompson said the Rupert twins ticked a number of boxes. Of the two, centre Ryan has more experience at a higher level, being a sixth round draft pick for the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2012, when he was selected 157th overall.

He never got to play in the NHL, but scored regularly for the Toronto Marlies and Binghamton Senators in the AHL with 31 goals and 27 assists in 149 appearances. His winger brother Matt made two appearances for the Marlies, but has spent the majority of his pro career in the ECHL, starting with the Orlando Solar Bears before two seasons with the Indy Fuel, from where he and his brother have joined the Steelers.

Last season Matt posted 20 goals and 21 assists in 75 games, while brother Ryan registered 18 goals and 34 assists in 69 games.

“I’m really excited to land the pair of them,” added Thompson. “They’ve got so much of what we were looking for. They are young, talented, skate extremely well and they play the game with some jam.

“Ryan has about 150 AHL games under his belt – an excellent centre who seems to win the vast majority of face-off’s he takes. He sees the ice really well and makes some great plays.

“This summer we have wanted to bring the age level down, but we didn’t want to lose the quality. I don’t think we have in our other signings so far, and I certainly don’t think we have with these two either.”