NO matter how many times he has been through it in the course of his long career, Aaron Johnson still gets excited about the first day of pre-season training camp.
Tomorrow sees the 36-year-old veteran back at Ice Sheffield for the first time since he left in early summer following what turned out to be a tough first year with Sheffield Steelers.
While Johnson impressed during his first season of top-flight UK ice hockey, it was not a memorable campaign for the team, stumbling to a seventh-place regular season finish before suffering a first-round play-off exit at the hands of the Cardiff Devils.
But, this time around, Johnson has a number of reasons to be excited, as well as optimistic given the talented and experienced roster put together by new head coach and GM Aaron Fox.
On top of that, Johnson has been given additional responsibilities after being appointed player assistant-coach.
There seems to be a feelgood factor about the coming season among supporters given the signings Fox has made during the summer, although Johnson said there was plenty more to do in order to transfer that talent into a team of genuine contenders.
It is exciting, but there is still a lot of hard work to be done. You can’t just put a group of good players together and expect them to win championships – you need to make sure they work together.Sheffield Steelers’ Aaron Johnson
“On paper, there’s no question we have a strong team so it is very exciting,” said Johnson. “But in saying that we need to make sure we gel as a team and as a group and play the right way.
“It is exciting, but there is still a lot of hard work to be done. You can’t just put a group of good players together and expect them to win championships – you need to make sure they work together.”
Fox’s main remit is to ensure the Steelers close the gap on leading teams Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants, who have dominated when it comes to lifting trophies in the past two seasons. Johnson is confident that can be achieved.
“We have the skills, we have the names, we have the talent, we have the experience,” he added. “Now it is just a matter of putting that out there on the ice.
“There’s no secret recipe other than just working as a team. Our goal is to close that gap and, you never know, maybe at the end of this season, they are looking at taking tips from us on how we succeeded in Sheffield.”