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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sheffield Steelers roster takes shape

With the signings of Jason Hewitt and Mark Thomas this week, the shape of the 2010/11 Sheffield Steelers rosters is now starting to take place. But will it see an improvement on last seasons 5th place finish?

Towards the end of last season, the Steelers management were saying how big changes were needed for next season in the make up of the squad following a poor 2009/10, where following the Steelers league and play-offs double winning season, the team came 5th in the eight team EIHL and failed to make the last four in the playoffs. The only bright points were a decent European run in the Continental Cup and winning the Hockoberfest tournament which no-one else seemed to care about. Hell, Nottingham coach Corey Neilson left half of his team out of their first game and let his kids pick the players that did play. So is Dave Matsos keeping good on the teams promises by ringing in the changes to make the club competitive again? Not if the signings so far are anything to go by.

Thomas and Hewitt join fellow Brits from last year Robert Dowd and captain Jonathon Phillips, while Ashley Tait returns after a year in Italy as player/assistant coach. On defence Thomas is also rejoined by Kevin Bolibruck and Rod Sarich from last year while like Tait, Steve Munn returns after spending last year in foreign climes. They are joined by the only ‘new’ signing so far, the highly rate Jerramie Domish from Newcastle, to complete the defensive line-up. So with 9 of what is likely to be 17 signings now confirmed, only one of them is new. So much for the big changes we were promised. Looking in a bit more detail though, and perhaps things aren’t shaping up to badly after all.

The problem with the EIHL is it creates an artificial demand for British trained players by limiting the number of imports to 11 per team. Most teams run with at least 9 forwards, 5 defensemen and 2 goalies, a total of 16 players. As only 11 can be imports that means at least 5 Brits per team, which with a 10 team league next year means at least 50 Brits in total. The problem is their aren’t enough British players of significant quality to meet this demand, so many are just their to make up the numbers. The biggest difference between the top teams and those near the bottom is the quality of their British players rather than their imports. Sheffield’s British contingent has been pretty good for the last few years, and the options to upgrade it are limited. With top Brits such as Jonathan Weaver, David Clarke and Colin Shields already being signed elsewhere, potential for upgrades is limited. So despite signing much of last years Brit corps, with the addition of Tait, Matsos has probably done as well as he could in this area. And if Robert Dowd can rediscover his form of two seasons ago and Jonathon Phillips find his scoring touch, the Steelers could have the best Brit pack in the league next year, a strong building block for success.

Of the other re-signings, Sarich is one of the best defensemen in the league, Bolibruck was perhaps the Steelers best defenseman last year (and was on a two year contract anyway) while Munn (a leading defensemen in his previous stint with the Steelers) will bring some much needed toughness to the blue line that was lacking last year. So despite there being a lack of new signings for the team so far, with most of the roster already signed, the building blocks are certainly in place to a much improved season. The key is in the signings of the number one goalie (with Green gone to Nottingham, the backup while new will be doing little more than collecting splinters and opening the bench door) and the remaining 6 import forwards.

According to the Sheffield Star, Mike Sgroi won’t be one of those forwards. I’m sure most fans would welcome back both Joey Talbot and Jeff Legue. But the question then is, would 6 new players (4 forwards, 1 goalie & 1 defenseman) plus a couple of returnees from a championship winning team, be enough to turn a 5th place team in to a championship contender? Finding out who those new signings are might give us a clue, but until the puck drops for the start of the new season, we will just have to wait and see.

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