This is it, with only days to go to the official start to the Elite League season and our first podcast done and dusted, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the league this year with its new teams and new Conference structure.
While exhibition games play a part in helping the teams shake of some rink rust and build together as a team the real test and true make up of a team isn’t clear until they have a number of competitive games under their belt so let’s review.
Over the coming days each of us, myself, Dave and John will review one of the three conferences highlighting players to look out for in each team and more importantly our predictions.
So I will start things off by looking first at the Gardiner Conference now made up exclusively of the Scottish teams.
The BIG story of the off season is the departure of Ryan Finnerty. In a story book way the first competitive game for the clan will be against Finnerty’s new look Manchester Storm. How did the season end for the Clan last year? Well after coming off a strong season in the previous years campaign a lot of pressure was placed on the Clan for the 2016/17 season. Finishing in 5th place and a quarter final place in both the challenge cup and payoffs saw major changes to the Clan for the upcoming season.
This summer the Clan have recruited a new head coach in the form John Tripp. Tripp’s playing career includes spells at the New York Rangers and LA Kings which is a bonus for the Clan. The first signing of the season was to sign a new netminder between the pipes in Ryan Ni who comes to the Clan from German Del 2. The purple army have also bolstered the defence with the signing of offensive defenceman Cameron Burt who played primarily in North America’s ECHL. The clan have added further to their fire power with the signing of Mike Embach a 5’10” left winger with both ECHL and AHL experience.
What can we expect in the coming season? Well much of the same, the Clan will be expecting to finish strong in the conference while fighting to regain ground in the league stands. It will be worth keeping an eye on the Clan under new leadership and we can expect another good strong season of support from the boisterous Purple Army.
Prediction: Overall 5th place finish in the league and 1st place in conference.
Next up we have the Dundee stars, finishing 7th overall in the league, the Stars progressed to the final four weekend where they played arguably one of the best games of the weekend by almost defeating the league champions the Cardiff Devils.
The stars overall seemed to play just under the radar throughout the season stringing together wins and taking 2nd place in the Gardiner Conference. However, just like Braehead, the Dundee Stars have seen change at the top with the sudden departure of fan favourite Marc LeFebvre. The Stars haven’t rested though swooping in on a new coach in the form of Omar Pacha of Manchester Storm/Hull Stingrays fame.
Prior to his departure LeFebvre replaced the Star’s man between the pipes in the form of Travis Fullerton who comes from having a strong season at the Edinburgh Capitals. The notable difference for this years Dundee Stars comes in the form of their offensive play with the majority of new faces coming in this area. Of note, two players signed from Ligue Magnus, Johan Andersson and Jimmy Jensen will prove to be a tight unit if utilised on the same line and the signing of Taylor Dickin from the Storm adds to an already nice Brit core. Back on the blue line Riley Stadel looks to be an impressive pick up with 286 games in WHL with 31 goals and 84 assists.
So what does the 2017/18 season look like for the Dundee Stars? Expect a tough fighting team that will rack up the points consistently over the season. The change of a core number of players may mean a slower start for the Stars but a team that will be firing on all cylinders come mid season.
Prediction: Overall 10th place finish in the league and 2nd place in conference.
After coming off a strong performance at the tail end of the 15/16 season, the Flyers continued strong in their league campaign in 2016/17 but struggled during their challenge cup run. Despite reaching the final four weekend in the previous year, the flyers were unable to follow it up again last season.
The off season has seen very little change to the Fife Flyers line up, their core defensive unit pretty much goes unchanged with familiar faces Haines, Isaacs and Moyer returning for a second season. This has been bolstered by new signings Young and Birzins. Up front is where the majority of change can be seen with several players brought in to enhance the offensive units. The pick up of Danick Gauthier is a key signing this season with try outs for the Coyotes and eventual signing to Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate team Syracuse Crunch.
The biggest signing of the off season comes in goals with the departure of stand out goalie Shane Owen departing the club after 1 season. The Flyers have found a replacement in the form of Andy Iles.
How will 2017/18 pan out for the Flyers? With tough competition this year from the other Scottish teams and the changes to the conference groups, the key for the Flyers will be to utilise the strong returning contingent of players to create strong lines out of the gate. With the subtle changes in both the defensive and forward lines we could expect a team that gels quicker than the others. Having said that the other teams have made some big changes none more so that the capitals and we may see the Fife Flyers struggle come mid season.
Prediction: Overall 11th place finish in the league and 4th place in conference.
Last but certainly not least, we have the Edinburgh Capitals or rather the Edinburgh Ruskies. It has been a turbulent few years in the Scottish capital with more changes to the coaching and leadership of the team. This year has been no different, coming out of a poor season in 16/17 in which the team finished last place in both their Conference and also the league 2017/18 can only see things improve.
The capitals first signing of the off season was the move for a new bench coach for the first time since 2010 and what a coach they got in the form of ex KHL and NHL player Dmitri Khristich. The capitals team of 2017/18 is heavily loaded with big hitters with several players following Khristich from Russia. New recruits to the blue line Trakhanov and Teslyukevich (hopefully I won’t need to pronounce that to often on the podcast) join returning players Grigors, D’Orazio, Plews and King. The Russian influence doesn’t stop there. With the departure of Fullerton to the Stars, the caps have opted for young Russian netminder Patel Shegalo. Caps fans rejoiced at the resigning of fan favourite Pavel Vorobyev, joined by several new signings included former caps player Adam Stefishen’s brother Taylor coming off his season in France playing for Dijon.
And finally 2017/18 season for the Edinburgh Capitals? It’s an unknown quantity this year, with an experienced KHL coach and NHL player, fans will set expectations high. Like other coaches coming to the EIHL for the first time, it may take time for the coach to learn the pace of the game and the refereeing quality in comparison to other leagues. I still feel that the Caps fans can be excited for the season ahead with the quality of players that have been introduced to Murrayfield.
Prediction: Overall 8th place finish in the league and 3rd place in conference.
Up next John will share his thoughts on the Erdhart Conference and later in the week Dave will introduce not only the new Patton Conference but also the new teams to the league Guildford Flames and Milton Keynes Lightning
So what do you make of Marty’s predictions on the Gardiner Conference? Do you agree, disagree, or want to comment on anything? If so, let us know on Twitter @Door14Hockey or on Facebook or even just follow us there!