Why coach Greg Wood feels Sheffield Steeldogs can have the edge over their NIHL National rivals

Greg Wood believes the sky is the limit for his Sheffield Steeldogs team as they finalise preparations for the 2021-22 NIHL National season.

Greg Wood looks on as Sheffield Steeldogs take on Leeds Knights at Elland Road last Friday. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

Head coach Wood saw his team lose out in their two warm-up games last weekend, first going down 3-2 to Yorkshire rivals Leeds Knights on Friday before a 4-3 overtime defeat to 2019-20 league and cup double winners Telford Tigers on home ice 24 hours later.

As with all pre-season warm-up games, though, it is rarely about the results and Wood is confident he has put together a roster capable of challenging for silverware in the coming months.

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“It’s taken a few years to get to where we are now, and this has been an ongoing process, looking at certain areas that we needed to improve and certain guys that we needed to maybe move on,” said Wood, whose team open their season with a trip to Raiders in the NIHL Cup on Sunday.

Greg Wood, on the bench during the Spring Cup earlier this year, which the Sheffield Steeldogs won with a 100 per cent win record. Picture: Andy BOurke/Podium Prints.

“But it’s the closest possible line-up to what we’ve always wanted and the sky is the limit really. It all depends on how we buy into things and how much guys want to win.

“I’m really happy with the mentality of the team – there are a load of serial winners within this group. And that is the one thing that I was conscious of doing – bringing in guys that have won things consistently over the last three or four years, adding to what we already have.”

Wood is also confident that he he has the players capable of adapting to any given style of play and whatever is thrown at them.

““We’re a team that can play every single way,” added Wood. “We’ve got offensive threats all over and we can play nice hockey but, what I really like about my team, is that if people want to make it a war we can go into the trenches and we can win games that way as well.”

Wood masterminded success during the pandemic-affected 2020-21 season, leading them to victory in the behind-closed-doors Streaming Series last November, before returning to win the Spring Cup earlier this year with a 100 per cent win record.

Several members of the roster involved in the Spring Cup success - Jonathan Phillips, David Phillips, Ben O’Connor and Ben Lake - have returned to their Elite League berths, while others such as Alex Graham and Jack Brammer are attempting to further their careers in Canada and Sweden respectively.

Of course, Liam Kirk, another player to star for the Steeldogs in the Spring Cup, is currently at an Arizona Coyotes development camp after signing a three-year, entry level contract in July with the NHL team.

But, regardless of the outgoings, Wood has filled the gaps left with quality additions in the summer, a roster already boasting Jason Hewitt and Jonathan Kirk from last season being supplemented by the signings of fellow former Hull Pirates’ players in the shape of forwards Lee Bonner, Sam Towner and Matt Bissonnette.

“We’ve got a really solid, gritty group,” added Wood. “I want us to be that team that other teams know it is going to be tough to play against.”