AS baptisms of fire go tonight’s trip to the National Ice Centre for Sheffield Steelers’ new head coach Tom Barrasso is perhaps as hot as it could possibly get.
But do not expect the 53-year-old American to be fazed when his debut behind the bench for the five-time Elite League champions brings them up against their long-time arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers.
This is, after all, a man who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early Nineties for the Pittsburgh Penguins alongside the likes of Mario Lemiuex and Jaromir Jagr.
On that basis tonight’s short trip down the M1 should be a walk in the park for the former NHL goaltender.
But everything is relative and, despite the confident manner in which he has carried himself since walking through the doors at Sheffield Arena on Tuesday night, it would be understandable if there were, maybe,a few nerves as he prepares for his first-taste of UK top-flight hockey.
Since being appointed following the resignation of predecessor Paul Thompson eight days earlier it is obvious Barrasso has had an immediate impact in South Yorkshire, both on and off the ice.
There is a buzz among the club’s supporters again given such a high-profile appointment and there is sure to be an added spring in the step of the Steelers’ players, who have been made fully aware that they are under constant evaluation by their new coach, a process that got underway from the first team meeting Barrasso held on Wednesday morning – less than 12 hours after he arrived in the UK.
Having studied videos of recent Steelers games Barrasso quickly spotted where changes needed to be made, if not immediately to the roster certainly to the style of hockey he wants to implement.
Before Thursday morning’s press conference Barrasso had clearly been made aware of the importance of tonight’s encounter, particularly to the club’s fans.
What was also clear was that he thrives on such big occasions although, going forward, he insists he will treat every game the same way, regardless of the opponent.
“It’s the best way to start,” said Barrasso. “There’s no sense in tip-toeing around this, let’s jump right in and see how we do.
“We’ll have the players’ attention because of the rivalry and they’ll certainly have mine regardless of who we’re playing. Either way it’s going to be a fun atmosphere.
“I don’t want to focus necessarily on saying it is a must-win, because we could play great and still lose.
“And that is fine, but what I want to do is make sure they have a grasp of what I’m trying to teach them and that we have a good basis of that in the game on Saturday.
What I want to do is make sure they have a grasp of what I’m trying to teach them and that we have a good basis of that in the game. If we do that then I’m confident we’ll get better moving forward.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Tom Barrasso
“If we do that then I’m confident we’ll get better moving forward.
“Right now it is absolutely the case that we don’t look or think any further ahead than the next game.
“I’ve got a lot of teaching to do in a very short period of time. We will be playing some new systems, we will be adjusting how we play in the offensive zone and the defensive zone.
“So there’s a lot to teach the players and there will be a lot for them to absorb, the idea being that there is no sense in looking too far down the road until we’re confident that we have those skill-sets established.”
With only nine games gone there remains plenty of time for the Steelers to turn around their ailing season and, even though some have written off their chances of silverware this season, owner Tony Smith is keeping an open mind.
“We’ve got a very direct coach, who is very passionate about his job, he’s been up there with the very best for a long time and we’re very fortunate to have him in Sheffield,” said Smith, now into his eighth season as owner.
“There are no specific targets, but let’s not kid ourselves, everybody has a target to win the league at the end of the season – and we still want to do that.
“We don’t want to be where we are in 10th spot, that’s an unusual position for us, but we will all be doing everything we possibly can to improve this hockey club and there is still plenty of time for us to go on and achieve some success this season.”