Jason Hewitt backing Jonathan Phillips to prosper for Sheffield Steeldogs in NIHL National Spring Cup

THERE ARE many reasons for Jason Hewitt to look forward to the forthcoming Spring Cup with the Sheffield Steeldogs - none more so than being able to skate out alongside former team-mate and close friend Jonathan Phillips.

GOOD OLD DAYS: Jonathan Phillips and Jason Hewitt, in action for Sheffield Steelers against Dundee Stars in November 2013. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.
GOOD OLD DAYS: Jonathan Phillips and Jason Hewitt, in action for Sheffield Steelers against Dundee Stars in November 2013. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

For over 10 years, Hewitt and Phillips were a pivotal piece of the Sheffield Steelers’ success, winning four regular season league championships and three play-off titles. They also played alongside each other on many occasions for Great Britain.

Hewitt left the Steelers as a league champion under head coach Paul Thompson at the end of the 2015-16 season, switching to the Hull Pirates in the English Premier League, what was, at the time, the country’s second tier.

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CRASH, BANG WALLOP, WHAT A PICTURE: Sheffield Steeldogs' Jason Hewitt lands a hit on a Swindon player during November's Streaming Series. Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy.

A year later, Hewitt became the Pirates’ player-coach, going on to lead them to a memorable treble in the 2018-19 season. Phillips, meanwhile, has remained as captain at the Steelers, last season being his 14th in South Yorkshire since switching from his hometown of Cardiff.

Given the Elite League was unable to operate without crowds, something made impossible by the government’s social distancing rules to combat Covid-19, Phillips - like a number of other Steelers’ players - tried his luck in Europe.

After a few weeks in Germany’s third tier, he returned home when it looked promising that a number of EIHL clubs - including the Steelers - would stage a mini-series.

But those plans were torpedoed last week when Sport England, administering the government’s £300m-plus Winter Sports Survival Package within which £4m had been allocated for the English-based EIHL teams, revealed the funding would only be available in the form of loans.

INTERNATIONAL AMBITIONS: Jonathan Phillips, left, pictured during the 2019 World Championships against Finland, with Steelers' team-mate Robert Dowd. Picture: Dean Woolley.

To book your pay-per-view online ticket to watch the Steeldogs take on Swindon Wildcats on Sunday (5pm) head HERE

As a result, Phillips was quickly signed up by the Steeldogs for the Spring Cup, bringing him back alongside Hewitt, who has remained on the roster following his appearances in November’s Streaming Series.

When asked if he ever expected to line up alongside his former team-mate in a competitive sense ever again, Hewitt replied. “No, probably not. All things being equal I don’t think we would normally see him at this level, but obviously circumstances have brought him in and I’m glad. It’s great.

“Sometimes when you have all these top-end players it can be a bit too much, but the people that we have brought in are a good fit. For example Jonna has always been so much about the team, throughout his entire career, he was always going to fit in.”

LEADING MAN: Jason Hewitt, in action as player-coach of Hull Pirates against Leeds Chiefs last season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Following the Streaming Series, Hewitt and Phillips - since his return from Germany in early December - have been part of the Steeldogs’ weekly practise sessions, something allowed due to them having been granted ‘elite sport’ status by the government.

Phillips, like a number of other GB internationals, will now use the Spring Cup - and possibly the NIHL National league campaign which could be staged afterwards - to help him prepare for the World Championships in Riga this May.

Greg Wood, Sheffield Steeldogs head coach. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

And, in Phillips, Hewitt believes GB head coach Pete Russell will get a player arriving for training camp in late April brimming with confidence.

“He brings such a work rate and he skates so well,” added Hewitt. “With the kind of resume he has, he’s a guy who could afford to take a night off, but you’ll never see him do that.

“At this level he is going to scare a lot of defencemen with his speed and I dare say he’ll have a lot of success on the scoreboard too.

“And that will be a good thing for him too, just to build some confidence to go back to whatever he is going to go back to, be it the national team or the Steelers - they will be getting a very confident player back.”

Given the scarcity of top-flight hockey for GB internationals over the past year, there are concerns that the Spring Cup will not provide adequate preparation for the World Championships, given Russell’s team will be playing the likes of Russia and Sweden in Group A in Riga.

To book your pay-per-view online ticket to watch the Steeldogs take on Swindon Wildcats on Sunday (5pm) head HERE

Hewitt, who made more than 30 GB appearances himself, understands those concerns, but says there really is no alternative for some expected to be on the GB roster. He is confident, however, that the addition of regular EIHL players across all five teams will lift the quality of hockey on offer.

“It’s a terrible situation for a lot of the GB players, it really shouldn’t be happening,” said Hewitt. “There probably would have been opportunities for some of them to go abroad but with the new travel rules and restrictions, it’s so cloudy and somewhat dangerous for these guys to go away at the moment, so this is really their only option.

“I know there has been a lot of talk back and forth from certain people saying things but, essentially, it is a good job this is happening for the national team, it really is.

“It looks like some of the other teams will be stacked up with some of the other GB players, so we will probably see an even better level of hockey than we saw in the Streaming Series, which can only be a good thing.”

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