JONATHAN PHILLIPS admits the expectancy levels are up at Sheffield Steelers again – but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
As he prepares to embark on his 14th campaign for the Steelers, Phillips believes there is an overdue buzz around the club as to what can possibly be achieved this season.
The last two campaigns have seen the Steelers forced to watch on from afar as Cardiff Devils and then Belfast Giants celebrated taking the major honours in the UK’s top flight and, with them, the European adventures that follow in the Champions Hockey League, a competition the South Yorkshire club are desperate to get return to.
Two barren seasons have tested the patience of the Steelers’ faithful but, given the calibre of signings made by head coach and GM Aaron Fox – together with promising performances in last week’s pre-season exhibition games against Slovakian side HK Poprad – there is a growing sense of expectation around the club once more.
And Phillips, who retained the captaincy earlier this week, says that is matched by the enthusiasm in the Steelers’ locker room.
“We all know, inside and outside the club, that there is always an expectation here but I think, more than anything, we’re just excited that we can expect again,” said the evergreen Phillips.
“We’ve put ourselves, or Aaron has with the team that he has signed, into a position that we can be expecting to win trophies and that’s the kind of club that you want to play for.
“I’ve heard it said elsewhere that this is the best Steelers team that’s been put together in recent years and, on paper, you’ve got to agree with that.”
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While the average of the Steelers’ roster is similar to that of last season, it is the level of experience coming into the revamped team that will be crucial going forward, believes Phillips.
“That experience we have in the room has gone up ten-fold,” added the 37-year-old winger. “And that is the most important thing, especially with the league being the biggest and most important trophy to win.
“It’s knowing how to handle each game and, as we’ve seen, in previous years each game and each point is absolutely massive, so you need that experience in your room and we’re pretty stacked with it this season.”
The Steelers are in action on Saturday night at the Fly DSA (Sheffield) Arena in a £5 all-ticket game against MAC Budapest. It will be their last scheduled warm-up game ahead of the season opener in the Challenge Cup the following weekend against Nottingham Panthers.