Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox keen to ditch the desk for ice time as Elite Series preparations step up

Aaron Fox admits he is glad to wave goodbye to a frenetic few weeks of recruitment in order to finally concentrate on the coaching side of his dual role at Sheffield Steelers.

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

In recent years, Fox has built up a reputation of being one of the best recruiters around, brokering deals and terms with players and agents all over Europe and North America, more recently with the Steelers but also in his previous role as sporting director at Medvescak Zagreb where he oversaw their four-year stint in the KHL.

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Along with assistant coach Carter Beston-Will and Steelers’ back office staff, Fox will first put his 23-strong roster through the traditional training camp induction, before going through the Covid-19 protocols that will be in place for the five-week tournament. Some players will get on the ice in the afternoon but, for the majority, on-ice preparations will begin in earnest on Tuesday.

WELCOME RETURN: Brendan Connolly is expected to land back in the UK over the weekend after being released by ECHL greenville Swamp Rabbits. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“It’s been a long time to get to this point and it is nice to get back to some kind of normalcy here,” said Minnesota-born Fox, who led the Steelers to their first Challenge Cup triumph last March in his first season at the helm.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone and watching video on guys and doing the recruitment side of things these past couple of weeks, so it’s good that I’m done with that and I can focus on some of the stuff we’re going to implement on the ice – get back to the coaching side which we’ve not had chance to do any of since last March.

“I’m happy with the group we’ve put together here. None of these guys are coming in for a holiday, we want to put a good product on the ice, we want to be entertaining and, also, – I believe we have a great chance to win.”

Fox received a timely boost on Friday morning when it was confirmed Robert Dowd and Brendan Connolly – two of his ‘protected five’ players for the Elite Series – will be arriving in the UK this weekend in time for training camp.

Czech Republic-born centre Josef Mikyska, right, was one of two signings revealed on Friday by Sheffield Steelers. Picture: Monika Majer/Getty Images

Connolly was released by ECHL outfit Greenville Swamp Frogs on Thursday, where he has been playing under former Cardiff Devils head coach Andrew Lord, enabling the poipular centre to return to South Yorkshire to rejoin the Steelers and stake his claim for a place in GB head coach PEte Russell’s World Championship squad that will head to latvia in May.

Dowd, meanwhile, is heading home after Eppan Pirates, the second-tier Italian club where he has spent the 2020-21 campaign, were eliminated by rivals Varese 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs.

Robert Dowd’s season in Italy ended last night when his side Eppan lost 7-2 to Varese in the first round of the play off’s.

“Conns was a big-time impact player for us last year and I expect he will be for this five weeks as well,” added Fox. “He plays the game on the edge every night and is a guy that hates to lose. He brings that leadership and accountability that every locker room needs.

Robert Dowd is heading home from Italy in time for the start of Sheffield Steelers' Elite Series training camp which starts on Monday at Ice Sheffield. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“We were monitoring the scores coming from Italy and have mixed emotions because, of course, we wanted Dowdy to do well in that series but we are happy that he is on his way home. We all know Dowdy’s strengths and what he means to this organisation. He will be a major cog in our wheel moving forward.”

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