IF there is one thing that has come as no surprise to Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox this season, it is the contribution from his British core.
Upon accepting the job as head coach last winter, Fox wasted no time in poring over videos of every Steelers game in order to assess what he was inheriting from outgoing coach Tom Barrasso, whose team stuttered to a seventh-place regular season finish before exiting the play-offs at the first hurdle over two legs to eventual winners Cardiff Devils.
The hours spent in front of his TV screen and computer largely informed his decisions on who to retain for his first season in charge, but also gave him an insight into the various qualities offered by the likes of forwards Robert Dowd and Jonathan Phillips, as well as defencemen David Phillips and Ben O’Connor.
And, so far, none of those four British players have disappointed Fox, who has overseen a remarkable transformation at the FlyDSA Arena, one which has the Steelers sitting pretty at the top of the Elite League standings, seven points clear of second-placed Cardiff.
The Devils have four games in hand, with Nottingham Panthers and defending champions Belfast Giants two points further back, but all Fox ever wanted to be at this stage of the season was in the title race, something made possible by the contribution from his leading British quartet.
“After taking the job, I watched every single game of last season, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting, what guys we had,” said Fox, whose team host Manchester Storm tonight (7pm) before heading to Coventry Blaze tomorrow.
“I’d never had any British guys playing for me before, but Jonno, Benny, Dowdy and Davey have all come as advertised to be fair – they’re all playing really good hockey right now.
“We’ve lost Dowdy for the season, which is tough to take, but Benny is playing a much simpler, safer game right now and is dialled in defensively and then Davey and Jonno are just those workhorse guys that have both been excellent.
“Benny hasn’t been scoring goals but, especially the last couple of months, he’s been playing pretty-much mistake-free hockey which is what you want all your defenceman to do.
“You want them to be able to add that offensive side to their game when they can but not try to make something if it is not there and he’s been awesome in that way.”
Benny hasn’t been scoring goals but, especially the last couple of months, he’s been playing pretty-much mistake-free hockey which is what you want all your defenceman to do.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Aaron Fox
Saturday night’s game against Manchester will form part of the Elite League’s first-ever Pride Weekend. Every team will be celebrating the inclusivity and diversity of hockey fans, as well as promoting the message that our game is a safe space for LGBTQ+ athletes and fans alike.
All 10 teams will wear specially-themed Pride Jerseys during the weekend.