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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Season Preview: – Sheffield Steelers

It’s been a difficult summer for the Steelers. Following a management walkout the club has had some financial issues, but the players signed by former coach Dave Matsos remain along with new player coach Ben Simon.

Its all change between the pipes with backup Dan Green moving down the M1 being replaced by Geoff Woolhouse. Woolhouse has already proven himself as a more than capable backup in this league and while he may not have what it takes to backstop a team for an entire season, in a one off game he will still give the Steelers a chance to win. Replacing Andrew Verner as the number one keeper is relative unknown Ervins Muskatovs.  In his limited ECHL experience, the Latvian has put up decent numbers and with a couple of games for Dinamo Riga in the KHL, he clearly has talent. Muskatovs has the potential to be one of the signings of the season.

On the blueline, Rod Sarich, Kevin Bolibruck and Mark Thomas all return. Sarich, who returns for his 5th season with the Steelers, is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league while Bolibruck, although not quite the player he was during his first stint with the Steelers was their most consistent defensemen last term, and will bring stability to the blueline.  Thomas, while not flashy gives the Steelers a solid and physical 5th defenseman capable a regular shift and also seeing time on the penalty kill.  These three are joined by Steve Munn, returning after a year in Japan. Munn was regarded as one of the best defensemen in the league in his previous two seasons with the club and will bring a no nonsense attitude and leadership to the team.  Completing the defence is the highly regarded Jerramie Domish, signed from Newcastle Vipers. Small for a defensemen, Domish should help solidify the defence while helping with the transition game.

Upfront the Steelers have a familiar look about them.  Joey Talbot and Jeff Legue both return and should provide plenty of offence, both capable of scoring over a point per game and 30 goals a season. The core Brit pack of Robert Dowd, captain Jonathan Phillips and ever improving Jason Hewitt are also back. Hewitt and Phillips provide grit and speed to help shutdown other teams, though Phillips will be hoping to feature a little more regularly on the scoreboard after failing to hit double figures last season.  Dowd will also be hoping to regain his scoring touch after a slight drop in production last year, and could be helped by the return of Ashley Tait with who he work so well a couple of seasons ago. Tait himself should help the Steelers in the scoring department, another player capable of 30 goals and a point per game. A new addition to the Steelers, but not new to the league is Derek Campbell. The feisty winger signed from last years champions, Coventry Blaze, will add some toughness and firepower to the Steelers roster.  New to these shores is Neil Clark. Not a big scorer, Clark will add size and toughness the the Steelers forwards. Completing the roster is player coach Ben Simon. Simon has excellent pedigree spending almost his entire career playing in the AHL and racking up nearly 100 games in the NHL. Having spent most of his role as more of a grinder, he isn’t a big scorer, but at this level should still put up very good numbers while helping keep the opposition of the score sheet.

At the back the Steelers look strong with Munn, Bolibruck and Domish all having AHL pedigree. Sarich has proven for the last few years he is one of the best defensemen in this league and Mark Thomas one of the better 5th defensemen. If Muskatovs shows his potential as one of the leagues best goalies the Steelers should be a difficult team to beat. Going forward Tait, Legue and Talbot will be the main goal threat, while Campbell, Simon and if he rediscovers his touch in front of goal Dowd would provide solid secondary scoring. If Phillips can also start lighting the lamp, along with Clark and Hewitt, the Steelers should be able to roll three lines all capable of finding the back of the net. And while they may not be the most prolific scorers, that threat along with a stingey defence should make the Steelers competitive every night, and possible outside contenders for the title.

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