Sheffield Steeldogs staying loyal and local as they return to ice for NIHL National Spring Cup

HEAD COACH Greg Wood insists Sheffield Steeldogs will not ‘sell their soul’ by stacking up with Elite League players for the forthcoming National League Spring Cup.

Action from last November's Streaming Series between Sheffield Steeldogs and MK Lightning. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.
Action from last November's Streaming Series between Sheffield Steeldogs and MK Lightning. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

The Steeldogs are one of five teams taking part in the second-tier competition, which will see all games played behind-closed-doors and, where possible, streamed online to a paying audience.

It is essentially an extended version of the Streaming Series staged in November which saw the Steeldogs take on fellow NIHL National teams Swindon Wildcats and Milton Keynes Lightning over three weekends.

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The Spring Cup sees Swindon return to face off against Wood’s team, although Milton Keynes will not be taking part.

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

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The three other teams involved – in a tournament spread over seven weekends and expected to start as early as Saturday, February 13 – are Raiders IHC, Bees IHC and Telford Tigers.

The Steeldogs’ Yorkshire rivals, Leeds Chiefs and Hull Pirates, are also not involved, with Peterborough Phantoms and Basingstoke Biison also missing. But while only half of the NIHL National teams will be involved in the tournament, the door has been left open for all 10 clubs to take to the ice in April and May, when it is hoped some kind of a league season - admittedly much-shortened - will be able to go ahead.

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

Leeds Chiefs and Hull Pirates are not taking part in the Spring Cup, but the door has been left open for their participation in a NIHL National season in April and May.

News of the Cup competition came on Tuesday evening, just hours after Elite League team owners admitted defeat in their bid to put together some kind of truncated competition when it transpired that £4m worth of government funding would only be made available in the form of loans.

As a result, the full-time EIHL will now focus on returning to action for its 2021-22 campaign, slated to start in September and when it is hoped the situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic has improved to the extent where fans will be allowed back to watch games again.

Shortly before Christmas, the English Ice Hockey Association, the governing body which oversees NIHL National, announced £1.2m worth of funding had been secured for the second tier, as well as North One and South One immediately beneath it.

It’s believed part of that funding will cover the costs of the weekly Covid testing of players which all teams will undertake.

In the meantime, the EIHL’s decision to wait until next season means there are is a bigger pool of British players than normal looking for ice time, including experienced GB internationals.

During the Streaming Series, all teams added EIHL experience, although the bulk of the rosters were made up of existing players.

Wood said the same Steeldogs’ roster used in the Streaming Series will be available to him, although he expects to add at least two more names to his squad.

“You’ve got to balance putting a product on the ice that people are going to want to watch and the fact that, when the dust has settled on all this, I’ve got to prepare a team to play for the next few seasons,” said Wood.

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

“Anybody else I bring has got to add value to the team, but we won’t sell our soul and stack up with EIHL guys for the sake of it.

“We’re keeping the same roster we had for the Streaming Series because those guys committed to us then, so they deserve a run out again and there will probably be two or three additions to that.”

A number of GB players, including Sheffield Steelers’ forward Rob Dowd, are currently plying their trade abroad.

Others, such as Steelers’ duo Davey Phillips and Jonathan Phillips, spent part of this season abroad before returning home before Christmas. They could now look to secure a spot on a second-tier roster in a bid to get ready for this year’s World Championships in May.

Pete Russell’s team, will now head to Riga for their second taste of life in the top tier after the IIHF decision to move the tournament away from original co-host Belarus because of safety concerns.

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