Sheffield Steelers’ Josh Waller benefitting from experience and wisdom of those around him

WHEREVER he ends up playing his hockey next season Josh Waller will hit the ice an improved player.

STAND OUT: Josh Waller has earned many admirers during his stint in the Elite Series with Sheffield Steelers. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The 21-year-old winger has caught the eye during the Elite Series with Sheffield Steelers, taking him close to his first call-up for the Great Britain senior team.

Injuries to others may yet open the door for Waller to make it onto the plane to Latvia as part of Pete Russell’s squad competing at the World Championships, the GB head coach acknowledging how close the young forward to making the cut this time around.

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But whether he finds himself in Riga facing off against Russia on May 22 or not, Waller believes his short time in Sheffield after being picked by head coach Aaron Fox in the Brit-Draft will prove to be hugely beneficial for his career.

VETERAN PRESENCE: Sheffield Steelers' captain Jonathan Phillips. Picture: Dean Woolley.

For the past two seasons, Waller has faced off against the Steelers in the Elite League, playing for Guildford Flames. But with no deal currently agreed for him to return there for the 2021-22 campaign, it leaves open the possibility he could end up elsewhere, with a return to South Yorkshire an obvious option.

A big reason behind his continued development will be down to playing alongside veterans Jonathan Phillips and Jason Hewitt, both Steelers legends, the latter having returned to the fold five years after leaving.

“You learn so much, they have been playing in this league for such a long time - they’ve done it all,” said Waller. “And you can just soak up anything they tell you - it’s really easy playing with both of them because they are both so experienced, it has helped a lot.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here - it’s a really great organisation the way they’ve got it set up and the way that they play is great and suits my game.”

PACE OPTION: Josh Waller has impressed for Steelers so far in the Elite Series. Picture: Dean Woolley.

While naturally disappointed to miss out on being picked for the GB squad, Waller says all he can do is work hard and make sure it impossible for Russell to leave him out next time around.

“It’s just the way it is,” added Waller. “They are obviously going to take the team they think is the best one. I would have loved to have been there and had the opportunity but now I’ve just got to knuckle down and try to make it for next year.

“I’m not going to say whether I should have been picked or not, it’s not my decision. All I’ve got to worry about is the way that I play and just make sure I keep playing well.”

Steelers’ boss Fox feels his decision to make Waller his third overall pick in the Draft has been fully vindicated.

Aaron Fox catches a stray puck on the Sheffield Steelers' bench. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“Josh has been great since he came in to us,” said Fox. “When we lost Robert Dowd on a fighting penalty (in Thursday’s win over Coventry Blaze) I moved Josh up in our line-up to play with Sondre Olden and Brendan Connolly.

“He plays with such nice pace, he is very reliable defensively as well, if I’m being perfectly honest with you, I thought he would be on that GB team.

“He’s definitely benefitted from playing on the same line as Hewey and Jonno, the way he and Jonno go up and down those wings either side of Jason has been such a great asset for us.”

Boasting two goals and four assists in his 10 appearances so far, Waller will look to add to his tally when he takes to the ice this weekend for the final two games of the group stage. The Steelers could potentially have won the first phase of the competition before they have even hit the ice to face Nottingham Panthers, should Coventry Blaze beat Manchester Storm in the earlier game at the National Ice Centre.

STILL GOT IT: Jason Hewitt has impressed since returning to the Sheffield Steelers' fold for the Elite Series. Picture: Dean Woolley.

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