Value of Mikko Kuukka appreciated by Sheffield Steelers

KEY MAN: Defenceman Mikko Kuukka. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.
KEY MAN: Defenceman Mikko Kuukka. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.
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AARON FOX would love nothing more than to keep hold of veteran defenceman Mikko Kuukka for the rest of the season - but acknowledges that decision is largely out of his hands, at least for now.

The 34-year-old Finnish blue liner has proved a big hit with head coach Fox, as well as his team-mates and fans, since coming on board in South Yorkshire in October, initially to help provide injury cover on a short-term deal.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

That deal came to an end last week but was quickly extended for another fortnight after the luckless Aaron Johnson was forced to undergo further surgery after suffering a repeat of the same hand injury which had kept him out for most of the first two months of the campaign.

"I would love to extend Mikko's time with us for the whole year," said Fox, whose team prepare host Cardiff Devils tonight (7pm). "But he still has aspirations to finish the year in the Liiga and while there has been interest from teams, there has been nothing concrete to develop.

"He is just one of those guys you don't have to worry about. He has been awesome for us and he's like the Tanner Eberle of our D-corps - he's a physical presence and you know he's going to leave it all out there."

Johnson, who had surgery on Wednesday after his all-too-brief comeback was ended in the defeat at Glasgow Clan on November 17, is out for at least another eight weeks, meaning Fox will be wishing that the vague interest shown in Kuukka by Liiga teams remains nothing more than that.

Forward Marc-Olivier Vallerand, who missed Wednesday's 5-0 win over Belfast Giants, could make a return this weekend, although Fox said it would have to be a game-day decision on whether he was ready to return.

Two previous encounters with the Devils have both ended in defeat for the Steelers this year, a 3-2 home defeat in September followed by a 4-3 loss in South Wales earlier this month.

Andrew Lord brings his team into Sheffield still smarting from last week's two losses at home to Belfast Giants, the single point gained from the overtime defeat on Saturday, far from the return they would have been hoping for.

"I feel we've played really, really well against them this season in the two previous games but we just haven't found a way" said Fox. "They are a good hockey team, they are a veteran hockey team and I know they are going to be ready to go."

After tonight, the Steelers make the short trip down the M1 to take on Nottingham Panthers, looking to repeat last week's 5-4 overtime win over them.