Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox turns his sights on imports after picking his Brit pack

SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ head coach Aaron Fox declared himself happy with his lot after making his British picks in last night’s EIHL Series Draft.

COME AGAIN? Sheffield Steelers' head coach Aaron Fox hopes to see Brendan Connolly on the ice for the EIHL Series next month. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The Steelers will contest the behind-closed-doors tournament next month with Elite League rivals Nottingham Panthers, Manchester Storm and Coventry Blaze.

In drawing up their respective rosters for the one-off event – the regular 2020-21 EIHL season was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic – each team was allowed to protect five British players already signed last season or for next season before going on to pick seven more GB names from a unique Draft process.

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Head coach Fox’s revelation that he had locked-in former Steelers’ winger Liam Kirk for the five-week event was perhaps the biggest talking point of the day, with the 21-year-old still hoping to achieve his dream of playing in the NHL having been a seventh round pick for the Arizona Coyotes in 2018 after initially catching the eye with the South Yorkshire team.

GOING NOWHERE: Jonathan Phillips was one of five British players 'locked in' by Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Kirk has signed a deal with the Steelers for the 2021-22 season, but with a get-out clause inserted which would allow him to return to North America were he to be offered an NHL entry-level contract or some other professional deal which he feels may help him achieve his aim.

Fox also named defenceman Davey Phillips, along with forwards Jonathan Phillips, Brendan Connolly and Robert Dowd, although the latter two’s participation in the Elite Series is up-in-the-air due to the ongoing commitments they have with their current clubs in the USA and Italy respectively.

Having revealed his preferred choices, the Steelers boss then joined his rival coaches for the main draft.

Picking fourth in the first round and first in the second, Fox added Cardiff Devils’ GB international centre Matthew Myers and defenceman Sam Jones, who had been signed last summer by the Steelers for the 2020-21 campaign.

SOLID PICK: Davey Phillips will line up for Sheffield Steelers in next month's EIHL Series. Picture: Dean Woolley.

With his next two picks, Fox added Guildford Flames’ forward Joshua Waller, before immediately retaining Steelers’ teenage winger Alex Graham at 13th.

Fox then kept faith with netminder Ben Churchfield who he signed last summer, before handing a return to the club after five years away for veteran forward Jason Hewitt, who won four league titles and three playoff championships with the Steelers between 2006-16.

His last pick saw him add Jones’s fellow defenceman brother Adam, who was initially signed by Fife Flyers to replace his sibling after his decision to move to the Steelers.

“I had some players earmarked that I wanted to make sure we got and I really like the group we’ve put together a lot already,” said Fox, who also added forward Jack Musil and netminder Curtis Warburton to a so-called ‘Taxi Squad’, effectively a reserve list of players to provide cover for injuries or if players need to sit out under COVID-19 Protocols.

2018 NHL Draft pick Liam Kirk will be back in a Steelers' shirt next month. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Fox, who won the Challenge Cup last March during his first season in charge, said he anticipated a busy few days as he began to sift through the names of imports that had come his way.

“It’s going well. I’ve got a lot of names, had some preliminary conversations,” he added. “We’ll get a good group here in I’m sure.”

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