Sheffield Steelers’ Jon Phillips hails return of fans for new season

IT may be tonight that the Elite League season get underway properly for Sheffield Steelers, but last weekend’s exhibition double-header against Nottingham Panthers was still a watershed moment..

NICE TO SEE YOU, TO SEE YOU, NICE: Sheffield Steelers' captain, Jonathan Phillips was delighted to be playing in front of fans once again. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley

The long-time rivals each took a win across the two days - the Steelers unable to back up their 3-2 win at the National Ice Centre when they went down 5-3 at home the following night.

But, for Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips, it was what took place off the ice that was just as important.

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Around 7,000 fans were in Nottingham on Saturday but 24 hours later, almost 9,000 were inside Sheffield Arena to celebrate the Steelers’ overdue homecoming.

Sheffield Steelers celebrate a goal in their 5-3 defeat to Nottingham at Sheffield Arena last Sunday, a night when Steelers' fans poured back into the venue for the first time since February 2020. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media

For Phillips and his team-mates, deprived of such an atmosphere for 20 months, it was a special occasion.

“It was pretty surreal and a little intimidating,” admitted Phillips. “We hadn’t had fans for so long - about 40 games for some of us I think we worked out with the World Championships and everything else. It was brilliant and great to see.

“It was just another massive step in terms of getting back to normal – it was definitely needed. In all walks of life, everybody has been so fed up and to get some kind of normality back was mentally important.”

After splitting the weekend with the Panthers, the Steelers head across the Pennines tonight to take on Manchester Storm in the Challenge Cup.

Tomorrow, Aaron Fox’s team – at full strength following the arrivals earlier this week of goaltender Barry Brust and defenceman Kevin Schulze – will host Cardiff in the first regular season league game.

In the second-tier, Sheffield Steeldogs play host to Swindon Wildcats at Ice Sheffield (7.30pm) in the NIHL Autun Cup, before heading to Slough tomorrow to take on Bees IHC.

Leeds Knights take a night off after last night’s 7-3 win in Swindon but return to the fray on home ice tomorrow when they host Telford Tigers (5.15pm).

Kieran Brown was the leading light for the Knights in Wiltshire, posting four assists in addition to his two goals.

Adam Barnes also grabbed a double, while Lewis Houston, Cole Shudra and Matty Davies also got in on the scoresheet in a dominant performance.