John Armstrong confident Sheffield Steelers can end wait for Elite League regular season title

AS far as John Armstrong is concerned, he has unfinished business at Sheffield Steelers.

In his four seasons so far with the Elite League club, the 33-year-old Canadian-born centre has tasted success in both the Challenge Cup and the playoffs. Now, after confirming he will be returning for a fifth term in South Yorkshire for the 2021-22 season, the 2006 NHL draft third round pick is looking to add the UK game’s most treasured prize to his collection.

The Steelers haven’t won the regular season title since Paul Thompson – the man who first brought Armstrong to the UK – steered the team to success in his first season in charge back in 2016.

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Armstrong played a pivotal role in the team’s playoff triumph the following season and, after after a short return trip to Zagreb, was back to help end the club’s 17-year wait for a Challenge Cup triumph.

John Armstrong is back with Sheffield Steelers for the 2021-22 Elite League season. Picture by Dean Woolley.

That was during head coach Aaron Fox’s first season in charge in Sheffield a campaign that was abruptly halted by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, after fellow forwards Anthony DeLuca and Tanner Eberle, Armstrong is the third player announced as returning to Sheffield Arena in less than 24 hours.

Armstrong, who played 177 games in the AHL as well as having stints in Norway and Denmark before first coming to Sheffield in the autumn of 2016, believes the Steelers were close to taking the league title before coronavirus began to wreak havoc around the world.

And he believes that with Fox having brought back a solid core from that season’s team – together with a couple of notable additions in the shape of centre Justin Hodgman and defenceman Adrian Saxrud Danielsen – the Steelers are in a good position to end their wait for the top prize.

“It was always in the back of my head that I did want to play again, it felt like I had some unfinished business and I missed it a lot,” said Armstrong, whose last game was that Challenge Cup Final win over Cardiff Devils in March last year.

John Armstrong has not played since March 2020 when the pandemic brought an end to Sheffield Steelers' Elite league campaign.

“My wife and I really missed just living in Sheffield, we’re always talking about it, we’re always bringing up the city and my team-mates and the fans and playing in that arena, so it’s something that we had in the back of our minds and that we were thinking about.

“I was a little bit concerned that I’d not played hockey in a year or so but I would say that’s actually a big positive because normally every summer I’d have some kind of injury that I’m recovering from and then it’s sometimes hard to get ready for the next season.

“But this is probably the first time my body has had chance to to relax and rest and I guess the 12 years of professional hockey and the four years in the OHL before that, it’s just been go-go-go.

“So I feel mentally more excited to play, which I believe is important, and I also feel like my body has had time to properly recover.

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

“And winning that regular season league title always been the goal every year, coming into Sheffield. I felt we were getting pretty close last time out and a couple more tweaks and I think we’ll have the team that can do it.

“I’m looking forward to it, I wanted to come back to Sheffield because, I love the city and the people and, also, I also want to win. And for me, Sheffield has a good chance of coming home with some hardware this year.”

In all, Amrstrong has played 212 games for the Steelers, is 29th in the all-time appearance list and having scored 81 goals and 193 points since arriving from Denmark in 2016.

Fox was happy to work out a deal to get the 6ft 2ins centre back to South Yorkshire, in part due to the leadership qualities he beings to the Steelers’ locker room on and off the ice.

“John plays such an important role for us playing in all key situations and he gives you his best games against the best teams,” said Fox. “He is also a great character and leader in our dressing room. He’s chomping at the bit to get back and I am extremely happy he will be back.

“This is a guy, after all, who we didn’t know if we could get back, but when he called and said he’s working out hard and motivated to play it was just a matter of us working out the details.”