WHEN casting an eye around the Sheffield Steelers locker room, there are not too many wiser, older heads to be found than that of defenceman David Phillips.
He may not be the oldest – at 37 his fellow GB international Jonathan Phillips has five years on him in that particular department – but he possesses a wealth of experience not many can match.
But, despite a career that has seen him play in the UK, Sweden, and North America – as well as countless campaigns with the GB men’s team – Phillips is happy to admit he is never too old to learn.
Every day, as far as he is concerned, is a learning day.
And that is why he believes the Steelers are starting to put together the kind of performances that have enabled Aaron Fox’s team to establish a three-point lead at the top of the Elite League regular season standings ahead of tonight’s first game in a key away double-header against defending champions Belfast Giants. The Steelers are fast establishing a name for themselves as the most potent attacking force in the league. They have scored 26 more goals than any other team.
In recent weeks they seem to have allied that potent, attacking style with a more successful defensive game, something clearly evident in the 5-0 win at home to Belfast 10 days ago.
Successful teams are solid defensively, that’s the same in any sport, not just hockey – you start from the back and build from there.David Phillips
A 7-3 defeat at home to Cardiff Devils may have quickly followed, but Steelers were at their miserly best again against Nottingham Panthers for a 3-1 away win 24 hours later. Phillips is convinced the Steelers will only be successful if they can continue to get the balance right.
“Earlier in the season, we were playing some good games, but we seemed to have a couple of good games and then a really bad one – we looked like a completely different team,” said Phillips.
“Successful teams are solid defensively, that’s the same in any sport, not just hockey – you start from the back and build from there. You can’t just run and gun with other teams and think you’re going to win 7-6 all the time – winning a league championship is not going to happen like that.”
Phillips said intensive off-ice work, including video analysis on their laptops, was paying off with the whole team buying into the defensive systems that head coach Fox – who added forward Janne Kolehmainen to his roster as injury cover on Wednesday – is drilling into them. “It is a game of mistakes and it is about trying to limit your mistakes,” he added.
“As a player, it’s all about learning - no matter what age you are - whether you are a young kid coming through or an older experienced player, you’ve got to avoid thinking that you know it all.
“The game is always changing, there are different systems, you’re playing against different teams who play different ways.
“You’ve got to be a sponge and not be too arrogant to think that you are above learning something new or different.”
The arrival of Kolehmainen will allow Fox to drop utility player Eric Meland back into the defence, which is missing long-term injured Aaron Johnson, Jonas Liwing and, more recently, James Bettauer.
Forward Robert Dowd is an injury doubt for Friday’s clash in Belfast.