As the Steelers prepare to return to action for the first time in almost 13 months, GB international Phillips is the only familiar face from last season’s defensive group
Head coach Aaron Fox is still to announce one more defenceman in the coming days, so that situation could yet change but, either way, Phillips is prepared to adapt.
The Steelers yesterday announced their sixth defenceman, with Canadian Jérémy Beaudry coming on board after spending his 2020-21 season in France and Denmark. It follows Saturday’s announcement of American D-man Kevin Schulze.
Fellow GB hopeful Sam Jones, signed from Fife Flyers last summer, and his brother Adam help make up the blue line, along with Norwegian international, Adrian Saxrud Danielsen.
Goaltender John Muse was also announced by Fox yesterday as the Steelers continue preparations for the behind-closed-doors tournament at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre from April 3.
In recent years, Phillips has enjoyed a fruitful defensive partnership for the Steelers with fellow GB international Ben O’Connor, something he has been able to rekindle in the ongoing Spring Cup in which both are playing for Sheffield Steeldogs.
O’Connor left the Steelers last summer and will not be taking part in the Elite Series, meaning Phillips – one of a number of Steelers players hoping to make it on the plane for May’s World Championships in Latvia – will find himself with a new partner from next week onwards, not that that is anything new for the 33-year-old.
“It’s all looking good in terms of the roster Aaron is putting together,” said Phillips. “I’m not sure how it is going to work in terms of pairings, so we’ll just have to see when I get there.
“It will be a bit different not playing with Ben, we really enjoy playing alongside each other – but there is always a period of adjustment when you have a new D pairing, you just learn to adapt – it’s something I’ve done plenty of times before.”
Having spent the last few months training and playing with the Steeldogs, Phillips should arrive at the Steelers’ training camp in good shape, the Elite Series enabling him to maintain that momentum ahead of – hopefully – hooking up with GB head coach Pete Russell and his squad.
Given the lack of available hockey generally over the past few months, for Phillips and a number of other GB hopefuls, the Spring Cup has been crucial in helping prepare them to face the likes of Russia and Sweden, with the Elite Series offering a further opportunity to do so.
Having moved up to the Elite League with hometown Hull Stingrays in 2006, it is the first time Phillips has played at the second tier of the British game since. He is grateful to the Steeldogs for adding him to their roster for a competition which has impressed in terms of both quality and competitiveness.
The Steeldogs have already secured the title with two games to spare and will look to extend their winning run to 11 at Telford Tigers tonight. Phillips insists there is a determination to stay ‘perfect’ until the final buzzer sounds on Sunday.
“I’ve really enjoyed this past few weeks,” added Phillips. “A lot of people have remarked on how strong our roster looked and, on paper, we did look really strong.
“But how strong you look doesn’t guarantee anything and that’s a credit to the coach Greg Wood and all of the players for coming together as a unit.
“Greg’s expectations are to go hard every shift, every game, so although we have already won the competition, it’s not like we’re going into these last two games taking our foot off the gas or taking it easy – we want to keep winning.”
On his new acquisitions, Steelers’ coach Fox said Beaudry, who has spent the past season in France and Denmark, offered an adaptable all-round game.
“Jeremy is a two-way defencemen, who plays on both sides of the puck and plays in all situations,” said Fox. “This season he has averaged a point per game as a defenceman and he is a key power play contributor who is not afraid to mix it up.”
On goaltender Muse, Fox said despite a wish to bring back Tomas Duba from the 2019-20 campaign, he felt it necessary to go with somebody who had played some hockey this past season.
“The goaltending position was always going to be a tough one,” said Fox. “I felt we needed to go with someone who had played some competitive hockey this year and when John became available I definitely thought he would be a good fit.”
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