September 15 is closing. With the stoppage of further talks, it is getting to be 2004 all over again. Regardless of which side you are looking to blame, this really SUCKS!
We all know what we as hockey fans did in the 2004-05 season. For me, I spent a lot of time crossing the Long Island Sound, and getting over to see the Sound Tigers. It was not the Islanders, but hey, it was Orange and Blue. It got me through some of those weekends, where I was wishing to scream, “Let’s go Islanders!”
But let me offer you a different scenario, should you so desire. Again, I am hoping that the NHL is not locked out; I am wishing that we do not lose OUR game. But should this happen, let me introduce you to a team in a part of the world, you would not expect to see professional hockey thrive in.
Welcome fans to the SHEFFIELD STEELERS!
A city about 200 or so miles north of London, this steel town, began supporting hockey in the early 1990s. The following is a link from Wikipedia.
Ice Hockey existed in amateur form in Sheffield, but the sport began its return to an era of arenas and stadium size crowds with the opening of the Sheffield Arena in 1991 and the creation of the Sheffield Steelers — the ice hockey team that was to occupy the new arena. The Sheffield Arena was built as part of the city’s facilities for the staging of the World Student Games, and is a sizeable stadium originally seating 8,500 and located close to the city centre.Ronnie Wood and David Gardener-Brown were at the helm as the MarketingDirector at the club and set about promoting ice hockey to a city raised on the footballing success of Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. Wood had a specific target, seeking to attract children and families to the city’s new sporting Arena. As he stated in an interview in Liam Sluyter’s A Game of Three Halves (Mainstream Publishing, 1998) “we were sending guys around schools. We wrote to all the schools in Sheffield and said “Bring the kids, see the Arena, sit down, experience the whole thing” “. They also began taking players to local football matches and parading them around the ground with mascots in an attempt to pull in football fans too. Another marketing ploy was to give certain players nicknames to help the crowd associate with the new (and as yet unknown) players. This was an idea hatched by the announcer Dave Simms.
My interest in British hockey happened by an e-mail. In late 1999, I was the President of the New York Islanders Booster Club. I got an note from a UK E-mail address, and it was written by a man from Doncaster named Peter Taylor. He and his wife Karen were heading to New York for a holiday. They had plans to attend hockey games at the Meadowlands, and MSG. They wanted to come to the Islander/Red Wing game on the President’s Day matinee. The problem that they had, was how to get back and from from Manhattan to the Coliseum. Well, after reading the note, and a discussion with my wife, I wrote back to Peter, and suggested that he should take the Long Island Rail Road, and I would meet him at the Hicksville station.
Despite the Islander loss that day, we had a great time, and a friendship grew. Shortly after that game, we made plans to head over to England. During this season, the Steelers were at the top of the league, and in the process of winning the “Grand Slam”; which is winning all four trophies that are able to be won in a season. When my wife and I arrived there, not only were we welcomed, but were asked to drop the opening face-off. (I will add the picture of that – as soon as I find it.) We were treated like pop-stars, and we even got the chance to drink from the winning cup, and was one of the most exciting nights of my hockey fan life. The 7,000 in attendance were louder than the Nassau Coliseum - and that is a FACT!
The Steelers have had former Islanders on their roster, such as Brad Lauer (who got the league clinching goal in 2002) and Paul Kruse (who was a Steeler captain). Eric Cairns also
played in England for the London Racers (don’t ask him about how he got kicked out of the league). Theo Fleury also played in this league in Belfast (and yes – I told all the Sheffield fans how to address him when he played there). They also had a former Long Islander named Jason Sessa play for them (the picture of me and him with the jersey that I sponsored the year he played in England). Sessa was also a Sound Tiger, and is now a NYPD officer (and when he was with the Steelers, he led the league in Misconducts… sheesh). Last season, Steve Birnstill, from Commack, was a Steeler, and did a nice job with the team…
The one thing that impressed me the most about the Steelers are the fans themselves. The chants, the passion out of these folks is addictive. They do not sit still from the time you arrive, until you leave. Check out the site, and find out about their great fans.
This season, the team is looking to win some silverware. Coach Ryan Finnerty (who last season was a player/coach) will lead a young bunch of North Americans and home grown Brits to the top of the Elite League. Former Islander Drew Fata, will also be a part of this team. John DeCaro – a goaltender from Washington, is one of the best netminders in the league. Jeff Legue, from Cornwall, Ontario, lead the team with 91 points in 58 games last season, will be counted on to provide the main offensive spark.
The main competition for the Steelers will come from the Belfast Giants, the Coventry Blaze (their opponents in their ‘friendly’
game today), and of course, the Nottingham Panthers. The Panthers, about an hour or so drive from Sheffield are the Rangers to the Steelers. They are the bitter rivals, and in the case of the Panthers, they have not won a league title since about 1954, or something like that (I am sure my friends over there can correct that).
Since that first trip to England, I have been totally hooked. I have been over to England four times. I have seen games in Sheffield, Nottingham, and in Manchester (dont ask me about a lady named ‘Saggy Sue’). The fans are great, and they really know the game. Both in their country and they really know the NHL so well.
No matter what – I bleed Steeler Orange and Black. And you know what – I hope you would too. Check out their site http://www.sheffieldsteelers.co.uk. Go onto the forums, and let them know that Long Island supports the Steelers.