Great expectations no worry for Brendan Connolly at Sheffield Steelers

REST assured, any great expectations that may come with playing for Sheffield Steelers these days should not prove a problem for new signing Brendan Connolly.

IN YOUR FACE: Brendan Connolly gets to grips with Steelers' Jonas Westerling during last year's 6-1 win for Braehead Clan in Sheffield. Picture: Dean Woolley.
IN YOUR FACE: Brendan Connolly gets to grips with Steelers' Jonas Westerling during last year's 6-1 win for Braehead Clan in Sheffield. Picture: Dean Woolley.

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Brendan Connolly backed to be big hit after switch to Sheffield Steelers from Gl...

In his two previous seasons in the EIHL - first with Belfast Giants and then Glasgow Clan - Connolly has delivered in a big way, both in terms of points and his willingness to embrace the physical side of the game.

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In 133 games, the 33-year-old has proved impressively productive, amassing 164 points, including 65 goals. He also accumulated 296 minutes in penalties during that time, suggesting he has a true, all-round game.

DON'T I KNOW YOU? Brendan Connolly lines up against former Belfast Giants team-mate Colin Shields during an EIHL encounter in Glasgow last season. Picture: Al Goold/EIHL.

While under Adam Keefe in Belfast, Connolly also won silverware as part of the Giants team that denied Cardiff Devils a clean sweep of trophies when winning the Challenge Cup.

It is that winning mentality combined with an in-your-face playing style that has prompted Steelers' new head coach Aaron Fox to make the effort to persuade Connolly that his future was in South Yorkshire at a club desperate to rediscover a winning formula having not lifted a trophy since the 2016-17 play-offs.

"Obviously I know the track record and the history that the Steelers have," said Connolly. "They play with the expectation to win all the time and maybe haven’t had as much success as they would have liked since I’ve came into the league two years ago.

"I’m a player that likes to play with high expectations - I like that type of pressure. With me being an older player, for me it is about winning championships and I think Sheffield gives me a better opportunity to do that."

FAMILIAR FACE: Marc-Olivier Vallerand, seen above during his season at Coventry, will link up again with former Greenville team-mate Brendan Connolly at Sheffield Steelers in 2019-20. Picture: Scott Wiggins/EIHL.

When asked how the Steelers go about ending a two-year barren spell in terms of silverware, Connolly is convinced that his new head coach has already gone some way to bridging the gap between the five-time EIHL champions and the leading duo of Cardiff Devils and former club Belfast.

"You notice that those two teams have a really good core that they stick with and then they add some players around that. And I think Sheffield has that with the core Brits that they’ve had for quite a few years, with the Philips’s, Dowd and Ben O’Connor, as well as the likes of John Armstrong.

"They are all quality players and it’s just a matter of putting the pieces in that compliment those guys. I think the framework is set for us to be a really good team this season and I liked the direction that Aaron was taking the team."

One of those other 'pieces' that Connolly refers is one he is very familiar in the shape of fellow forward Marc-Olivier Vallerand, the former Coventry Blaze winger who was unveiled to fans on the same night Fox was announced as the new head coach.

Together, Connolly and Vallerand enjoyed a majorly productive three years when playing in the ECHL at Greenville, plundering 363 points between them, with the former Blaze winger edging out his team-mate by just five points overall.

The two have kept in touch ever since their time in South Carolina, with Connolly among the first to congratulate his former line-mate when he was unveiled by the Steelers in mid-April. After leaving Greenville in 2013, Connolly went on to win the Kelly Cup the following year with Alaska Aces, while Vallerand stayed for another season before heading to Europe, both eventually finding themselves facing off against each other in 2017-18 in the EIHL.

"We had good experiences playing together, we worked well together so he was probably a big part in me wanting to sign in Sheffield," said Connolly, who has also spent time in Europe in Germany, Austria and Denmark.

"I spoke to Mark a little bit when he signed and said congrats. He has already showed what he can do in this league at Coventry so it was a good decision for him and it got me excited about possibly playing in Sheffield too.

"We worked well together before in Greenville, had a really good relationship and good chemistry and we seemed to be able to work out things on the fly when we want to. HOpefully we can pick that up again in Sheffield."