Summer rebuild begins early at Sheffield Steelers as nine imports depart

GOING< Zack Fitzgerald, pictured during a brawl during a match against Nottingham Panthers earlier this season, will not be returning for the 2018-19 campaign. Picture: Dean Woolley.
GOING< Zack Fitzgerald, pictured during a brawl during a match against Nottingham Panthers earlier this season, will not be returning for the 2018-19 campaign. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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WHILE there was pride taken in performances during Sunday's EIHL play-off final loss, there was no room for sentiment less than 24 hours later as Sheffield Steelers boss Paul Thompson released nine of his imports.

After enduring his first season without silverware since his arrival in 2015, head coach Thompson has been ruthless as he sets out on the rebuilding job he talked of in the immediate aftermath of the 3-1 defeat to the Cardiff Devils in Nottingham.

The players who will not be returning are goaltender Ervins Mustukovs, defencemen Zack Fitzgerald and Joonas Ronnberg, along with forwards Jonas Westerling, Andreas Valdix, Colton Fretter, Tim Wallace, Matt Marquardt and Andreas Jamtin.

Of those, Thompson singled out just two players, in order to praise their service to the Steelers in recent years, Fretter and Fitzgerald.

“Today has been a tough day,” said Thompson. “We wish every one of these players all the best for the future. Some will go on to find new clubs and serve them well and some may call it a day after fantastic careers that they should be very proud of.

“I do have to single two players out. Colton Fretter and Zack Fitzgerald, both have been outstanding servants to me and the club in my time. They have been both leaders and warriors and you will not find two better men anywhere."

THANKS: Colton Fretter will not be back with Sheffield Steelers for the 2017-18 campaign. Picture: Dean Woolley.

THANKS: Colton Fretter will not be back with Sheffield Steelers for the 2017-18 campaign. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Mustukovs, who has had two spells with the club, wasted no time in beginning his search for new employment on Monday, advertising his services on his Twitter account.

He wrote: "As I became FREE AGENT today,I am looking for a new Team for 2018/19 season. If anyone is interested to sign me,contact me please DM. Remember-in any league I played for last 10 years,I always been top goaltender.RT plz Thank You."

The future of the remaining imports will become clear in the next few days, although the outcome of some of those players' futures may take longer. Only forward Mathieu Roy, who first arrived at the club in 2014, still has another year on his deal and he is expected to see out that contract.

Forwards John Armstrong, Levi Nelson and Eric Neiley, along with defencemen Mark Matheson, Scott Aarssen and Miika Franssila will be talking with Thompson this week, although it may be some time before it becomes clear who the Steelers boss wishes to invite back.

Goalie Ervins Mustukovs has been told he is not required next season by Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley

Goalie Ervins Mustukovs has been told he is not required next season by Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley