Sidelined Mark Matheson still planning to contribute for Sheffield Steelers

WHEN Mark Matheson signed up to return to Sheffield Steelers last summer as player-assistant coach to Paul Thompson he would not have envisaged the season unfolding as it has.

SIDELINED: Sheffield Steelers' player-assistant coach Mark Matheson, left, is ruled out for up to six weeks. Picture: Dean Woolley.

After overseeing a drastic overhaul of playing staff in the close season, head coach Thompson lasted barely a month into the 2018-19 Elite League campaign before resigning following a poor start that produced just one regulation win in seven league games.

Matheson stepped up to fill the coaching gap for losses against Glasgow Clan and Fife Flyers before twice Stanley Cup champion Tom Barrasso arrived to take over full-time coaching duties.

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Since then 35-year-old defenceman Matheson has reverted to his original role of player-assistant, with particular responsbility for the team’s defence, an area which has struggled with injuries for most of the season.

While results have improved under Barrasso it has still been an arduous campaign for both club and supporters.

With 13 regular season games remaining, the five-time EIHL league champions find themselves embroiled in a dogfight with seven other teams to claim one of the six remaining play-off spots.

The Steelers will look to build on last week’s wins over Nottingham Panthers and Coventry Blaze against the same two opponents this weekend, which sees them away from Sheffield Arena on both nights.

But they will have to do so without the experienced Matheson, however, who sustained a serious foot injury in the 3-1 win over the Panthers and is out for up to six weeks.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Tom barrasso. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Should the Steelers somehow fail to reach the post-season it could mean Matheson’s campaign is effectively over.

Matheson is still hopeful of playing some part in the campaign but – despite the many issues to arise on and off the ice over the last six months – has found adapting to his new joint role an enjoyable experience.

“Obviously the season has been a bit up and down regarding results, but I have enjoyed being more involved on the coaching side of the game, learning a lot from Tom and contributing where I can,” said Matheson.

“Tom is obviously the major figurehead behind the bench and holds people accountable as you can do through being a head coach. In a player-assistant coach role, during the games you just have to focus more on your own game and being a player.

Former Sheffield Steelers head coach, Paul Thompson, who resigned just a month into the 2018-19 season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“From working with both coaches I’ve learned about the little details of the job that maybe you don’t realise need to be done every week when you are just a player – the video, the scouting and the pre-game work.

“That has been an enjoyable aspect and it has been an invaluable learning experience.”

With the future of Barrasso uncertain after the current campaign – the 53-year-old has made no secret of his desire to return to coaching in the KHL should an opportunity arise – Matheson may be one option for the Steelers to consider for the 2019-20 campaign.

His current injury aside, the Calgary-born D-man does not appear quite ready to make the switch to behind the bench on a full-time basis and admits he would consider returning to the Steelers for a third season if an offer was forthcoming.

This desire to remain out on the ice is hardly surprising given his contribution to the team since arriving from Rouen in 2017.

Last season saw Matheson come second only to fellow defenceman Ben O’Connor in terms of points production for the Steelers, while the current campaign has again seen him make a significant contribution, his 11 goals and 24 assists in 52 games making him the team’s third-most productive player.

“When I first came to Europe (in 2013) I thought that it might be my last year of playing,” he added. “But me and my family have really enjoyed it over here and I take more of a year-on-year approach these days – see how the body is feeling and where I’m at mentally. And, this injury aside, I’ve felt pretty good this year.

“So I haven’t made any decisions over another year or years to come (playing) – I still feel as if I can play and will probably continue to do that.”