SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ owner Tony Smith admits he is a big admirer of rivals Cardiff Devils – despite them being the Elite League’s current leading lights.
Andrew Lord’s side entered the 2018-19 season targetting a third straight regular season title, something never achieved in the EIHL era since it replaced Superleague in 2003.
Prior to Cardiff’s recent dominance – they have also won the Erhardt Conference title for the past three years, as well as a Challenge Cup and a play-off title – the Steelers were the team to beat, winning the league title in 2015 and 2016 as well as a play-off title last year.
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But after a barren season last time out under recently-departed head coach Paul Thompson, any hope of lifting silverware this time out seems remote given the Steelers – now under the stewardship of two-time Stanley Cup champion Tom Barrasso – sit second-bottom in the overall standings.
Tonight sees them take on current leaders Nottingham Panthers at Sheffield Arena (7pm), but Smith is fully aware of how much work needs to be done in the coming weeks and months to make his club a force again.
“I’ve every admiration for the Devils, they are a great side and this league needs great sides,” said Smith.
“I watched them recently in the Champions Hockey League when they took on one of the Swedish champions and it was a great hockey game. But we have been there before ourselves when we played the likes of Salzburg and Frolunda.
“We were at that level, we’ve slipped a little bit, but – with hard work, smart hockey and smart thinking – there’s no reason in the world why we can’t get back there.”
Maybe we don’t win everything in front of us, but we’ve got to put a show on for the fans, there’s got to be passion on the ice.Sheffield Steelers’ owner, Tony Smith
Smith refuted suggestions that the expectations were too great on the club, insisting that the Steelers should be competing for honours on a regular basis, given its size and stature within the UK top-flight over the last 20 or so years.
“The Steelers put themselves up there as one of the biggest and best clubs in the league and we do that for a reason because we are one of the biggest and best clubs in the league,” said Smith.
“With that comes a certain level of expectation, everything about the Steelers has to be the best it can possibly be and if we haven’t got it right at any time then we obviously have the resources there to make it better.
“(Winning) is very important to a club like ours. In the early days we were a little bit green when it came to running a hockey club, we didn’t quite understand everything that went around the success of the club.
“But, eight years into it, I for one certainly understand how important it is to win things. Maybe we don’t win everything in front of us, but we’ve got to put a show on for the fans, there’s got to be passion on the ice.”