Video: Daunting start to Steelers’ European adventure doesn’t worry Thompson

PAUL THOMPSON insists he is under “no illusions” ahead of Sheffield Steelers daunting Champions Hockey League debut in Sweden on Thursday.

Paul Thompson, on the bench with his Sheffield Steelers' players during last weekend's games against Braehead Clan. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The Steelers take on Gothenburg’s Frolunda Indians, runners-up in the CHL’s inaugural season and considered by many to be among Europe’s top teams.

On paper, tonight’s contest at the Scandanavium Arena is clear-cut. The hosts - who also finished league runners-up in the SHL top-flight before being defeated in the semi-finals of the play-offs - are outright favourites.

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Last year’s entry by Nottingham Panthers will serve as a warning to the Steelers and fellow Elite League entrants Braehead Clan, with the gulf in class between the UK’s top flight representative and their European nations often all too clear, Corey Neilson’s side finishing bottom of their four-strong group with one win from six games.

But, while few people give the Steelers much hope of qualifying from Group N - they visit Finland’s JYP Jyväskylä on Saturday - Thompson, is confident his players are ready for the challenge.

“This is one of the main reasons I came to Sheffield - to be involved in the CHL,” said head coach Thompson, installed in April to succeed Gerad Adams, who had led the Steelers to a league championship and a play-off title in his 15-month spell in charge.

“This whole thing excites me, the team is excited and our fans are excited. We’re in the premier ice hockey tournament in the whole of Europe, so if you can’t get up for this kind of thing and enjoy these kind of games then you shouldn’t really be playing the game.

“Everybody is talking about Frolunda this, Frolunda that and they are absolutely right to do that because they are one of Europe’s top teams.

Paul Thompson, on the bench with his Sheffield Steelers' players during last weekend's games against Braehead Clan. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“All I will say is that we will go over there and give absolutely everything that we can and we’ll see where that gets us.”

Last weekend, Thompson’s players warmed up for their CHL campaign with two games at Ice Sheffield against Braehead - coached by former Steelers head coach Ryan Finnerty - winning the Holiday Inn Cup 7-3 on aggregate.

Add to that five on-ice training sessions before flying out on Wednesday morning and it pales in comparison with the weeks of preparation time their highly-regarded hosts will have enjoyed.

Click on the YouTube link to see Frolunda in last season’s CHL final

All the odds may be against Thompson and his team, but he insists that will not stop his players from attempting to hold their own over the next few days and in the return matches in Sheffield.

“We know it’s going to be tough,” added Thompson, who has plenty of experience of European hockey having spent a year coaching in Sweden’s second tier before becoming head coach of Danish side Aalborg last season.

Being head coach of the GB men’s team from 2006-2011 will also have given him a valuable insight into the continental game.

“In Frolunda, we are playing one of the best teams in Europe and we are under no illusions. We’ve watched loads of video, seen what they do and how they do it.

“It’s going to be a phenomenal test for us against a superb team. But we are not fearing it, we can’t fear it - we’ve just got to go over there and play hard and skate hard.

“It is a fantastic skating league in Sweden and it’s a hard-working league and we’ve got to match them in all departments.”

Tough as it will no doubt be to make any inroads into this season’s tournament, Thompson knows the experience of playing in the CHL will only benefit his players and the club as a whole in the long run.

“I think when you play any teams that are a level above you - and let’s not hide that fact, because they are - you can only get better yourself as a team and as players,” he added.

“By playing at their speed and their level, hopefully it will set the standards for what we want to achieve as a hockey club going forward.”