Tim Smith confident Sheffield Steeldogs will emerge stronger from influence of GB internationals in NIHL National Spring Cup

A LOT has been made about the invaluable ice time Great Britain’s internationals are gaining from the Spring Series ahead of the World Championships in May - but Sheffield Steeldogs’ Tim Smith believes the benefits from the current situation are working both ways.

Sheffield Steeldogs' Tim Smith. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

Of course, in the past week or so, top-flight hockey - at least for four Elite League teams - has also been secured, with the behind-closed-doors Elite Series taking place immediately after the Spring Cup fires its last puck on March 28.

A number of Steeldogs’ current roster - Jonathan Phillips, Davey Phillips, Alex Graham, Ben Lake and Liam Kirk - will all take place in the five-week event between Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers, Coventry Blaze and Manchester Storm which at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre.

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There are also proposals for the NIHL National teams to stage a shortened league season after the Spring Cup, possibly across April and May, although that has yet to be confirmed.

GB captain Jonathan Phillips has joined the Steeldogs' roster for the Spring Cup and will return to Sheffield Steelers for the forthcoming Elite Series. Picture courtesy of Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

But whether the Steeldogs find themselves in action or not after the current tournament, veteral defenceman Smith hopes his team-mates have made the most of their time playing alongside such high-calibre players as those expected to head off to Latvia as part of head coach Pete Russell’s GB roster.

“You can see the calibre of player that has dropped down to play at this level for this competition,” said Smith. “I know it’s not ideal for those guys going to the World Championships, but at least they are feeling the pucks, feeling the ice and if these top British guys are slotting in and at least playing in a competitive environment and getting on the ice four or five times a week, then we’ve achieved what we’ve set out to accomplish.”

And while the GB internationals taking part in the Spring Cup are rightly grateful for getting ice time they otherwise wouldn’tt have, Smith believes there is also a golden opportunity for their new, albeit in most cases, temporary team-mates to seize hold of.

“I’ve never had an opportunity to play with guys of the calibre that are here at the moment,” added Smith, a product of the Sheffield junior system and now in his eighth season with the Steeldogs. “Personally, I feel I’m stepping my game up, I’ve upped my levels in training, I’m skating harder, I’m playing harder and I feel like I’m contributing when I’m on the ice.

WELCOME FACE: Ben O'Connor is one of a number of GB internationals who are on the Sheffield Steeldogs' roster. Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy.

“But nobody here is under any illusions, we weren’t born yesterday - these guys aren’t going to be here forever. But if the likes of Jonathan Philllips, Ben Lake, Ben O'Connor and the rest of the guys can come in, show us how a full-time professional trains, show us the tempo and the levels that need to be set, then this is an opportunity to take our club to another level.

“We’re not saying we’re going to be title contenders every year, but what I’m saying is that I believe we’re going to be a better organisation as a result of this - having these GB guys around for a few weeks is only going to have a positive knock-on effect.”

Smith hopes the younger members of the Steeldogs’ roster ensure they learn everything they can do from the GB internationals temporarily among their ranks.

“We need to understand, particularly the younger guys like your Jack Brammers and your Nathan Ripleys, that they need to be watching these guys and seeing what they are doing and if they have got any aspirations to move up, then they need to learn from it.

Ben Lake has been part of the Steeldogs' roster for both the Streaming Series in November and the ongoing Spring Cup. Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy.

“It's a brilliant opportunity to learn and that includes myself, despite how long I’ve been playing. Every time you step on the ice you want to get better, or you should do, it’s the same in any walk of life.”

Steeldogs currently top the Spring Cup standings having extended their winning start to the campaign to six games with two convincing victories over Bees IHC last weekend.

This weekend is regarded as the most pivotal in the Cup's schedule, bringing Greg Wood's team head-to-head in a double-header with Telford Tigers, the only other unbeaten team in the competition, with the South Yorkshire club ahead only on goal difference. The first clash takes place in Shropshire on Saturday afternoon (3pm) with the return match being at Ice Sheffield on Sunday (face-off 5pm).

Details on how to watch the behind-closed-doors games live online can be found HERE