Sheffield Steeldogs forward Matt Bissonnette 'is the best import' in NIHL National
As far as Sheffield Steeldogs’ head coach Greg Wood is concerned, though, he is the lucky guy, possessing the import player he believes stands head and shoulders above anyone else in the second tier.
On paper, Matt Bissonnette doesn’t possess the points haul of, say, Leeds Knights’ Grant Cooper, or Swindon’s Tomasz Malasinski.
But there are other qualities such as leadership, competitiveness, that count as much if not more for Wood.
In a season where injury has robbed the Steeldogs of their most prolific scorer for the majority of games so far - Jason Hewitt posted 130 points last season - it has been left to the likes of Bissonnette and, to a slightly lesser extent, young Alex Graham to step up to the plate.
Bissonnette leads the scoring for the Steeldogs, with 40 points in 29 games, 16 of them goals.
At his current production rate, Graham will likely surpass his more experienced team-mate, although that will depend how often he is called up by parent club Sheffield Steelers.
In just 18 games for the Steeldogs, the 20-year-old has put up 33 points, 18 of them lighting the lamp.
It has helped the fourth-placed Steeldogs remain hot on the heels of the teams immediately between them and leaders Leeds in the standings, a four-point haul last weekend leaving them just seven points of Milton Keynes Lightning and Peterborough Phantoms with two games in hand on both.
With Hewitt set to return in the next couple of weeks from an upper-body injury sustained in mid-October, there is every reason to believe the Steeldogs will have a big say in the title race between now and early April. Don’t yet rule them out of lifting the trophy themselves.
In the absence of regular line-mate Hewitt, Bissonnette - who followed his former Hull Pirates’ player-coach over to Ice Sheffield to continue their highly-effective partnership - has proved to be a man for all occasions.
“Matt is so important for us,” said Wood. “He’s the best import in this league by quite a fair way as far as I’m concerned.
“He’s incredible, he does everything we need him to and is a leader on the team.
“He comes up with goals, his playmaking ability is immense, he runs our power play, he competes and he’s immense on the penalty kill, there’s not enough I can say about the man.
"He’s a fantastic asset to the club and we’re really lucky to have him.”
The Steeldogs’ 8-4 win at Peterborough on Saturday stands out as one of the more remarkable scorelines of the season, with Leeds and Milton Keynes the only two other teams to have won there in regulation.
Wood acknowledges overturning the 11-point deficit between his team and Leeds represents a major challenge but believes his team will prove a good match for the top three during the run-in.
“For Leeds to drop 11 points … it looks on paper as if it is a done deal,” added Wood. “But stranger things have happened and we’ve got to play those teams a few more times each and so if you have three games against them that’s a six-point swing and then Leeds MK and Peterborough have all got to play each other again a couple more times, so it’s definitely there or thereabouts.
“Look, we just need to take care of ourselves. First of all, we need to get healthy and get bodies back to give us any realistic chance of winning anything.”