Sheffield Steelers will take to the ice for the first time in over a year, with the Elite Series announced yesterday.
They will play the Nottingham Panthers, Manchester Storm and Coventry Blaze in the tournament and focus now turns to recruitment ahead of the opening game.
The 24-match tournament will be held behind closed doors at National Ice Centre in Nottingham, with daily Covid tests taking place. Every match will be streamed online.
Steelers Head Coach Aaron Fox said: “The phone is red hot right now, players are excited and want to play in this series.
“I’ve already made contacts with lots of players both here in Sheffield and overseas. We won’t have an issue filling our roster that’s for sure.”
Part of the roster will be made up of Great Britain national team players not already involved with one of the four teams, to be ‘draft picked’ as GB look to use the competition as preparation for the upcoming World Championships in Latvia.
🍊📽️ Every game live on @steelerstvlive
Proffessional Ice Hockey returns with the Elite Series – 4 Teams, 24 Games plus play off semi finals and a best of 3 play off final.
— Sheffield Steelers | #2021EliteSeries (@steelershockey) March 3, 2021
Fans were quick to provide their wishlists for returning players from last year’s Challenge Cup-winning Steelers side. Forwards Marc-Olivier Vallerand and Robert Dowd, who contributed a combined 39 goals and 36 assists last year, featuring heavily.
Fox added: “I’m guessing that the team will be made up from existing Steelers players that we were hoping to bring back this season together with others from around the country, Europe and North America.”
The news comes after weeks of talks with the government about the feasibility of a tournament remaining Covid-secure. Sheffield Steeldogs, of the National Ice Hockey League, are four matches into the Spring Cup and currently top that four-team competition.
The Steelers will look to emulate that, having good recent experience of playoff hockey as they beat Cardiff Devils 4-3 to win the 2019/20 Challenge Cup – after finishing runners up six times.
They were the highest-placed team when last year’s EIHL season was curtailed due to Covid, sitting second behind only Cardiff. The Elite Series will include play-off semi-finals and a best-of-three final.
Steelers owner Tony Smith said: “I’ve asked Aaron to put a smile back on the faces of all our fans by putting a team together that will excite & entertain us. I don’t know whether we will see familiar faces in our line up or not.”