New Patton on the block

July 31, 2017

New Patton on the block

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With the start of the season just around the corner I thought it would be an idea to engage with some of the fans from around the league. So, I picked the Patton Conference as there was so much unknowns with 2 new team, Storm with new coach and the Blaze in rebuild mode after a disappointing season.

Starting by reaching out to each team using their official channels (Minus Milton Keynes Lightning who we had already received a volunteer, Go MK) what we found was that some team had great working communication paths others not so much.

I got great responses from all the fan bases each one eager to help. I asked them to provide a review of their teams below you will find their responses.

Guildford Flames – Provided by Phil Boyle

D14H: “What you think about joining the Elite league?”

I think most Flames fans were surprised when it was announced that we were stepping up as the Flames prides itself on being well run financially and not overcommitting financial resources.  Some of us were however more aware that several clubs in the English Premier League were not on such a good financial footing and this seemed to be getting worse with each season.  Given that there was some risk that there may not be enough teams to form a league, the decision was probably sensible.  The challenge for fans will be that we have gone from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a much bigger one.  With bigger attendances than almost all EPL clubs the Flames had income to spend on putting a competitive team on the ice and in the EIHL that will not hold as the Sheffields, Nottinghams, Cardiffs and Belfasts will have the resources to have the first choice on players which is a luxury the Flames have had in the past.  That said, the management of the team is solid and the guys are smart, I am sure that they will maximise investment and be competitive.

D14H: “How the fans feel the team is shaping up”

It is hard for us to know how the team is shaping up as we do not know most of the players were have signed other than from their stat sheets.  The club does however have some good contacts in Canada and having our former coach Stan Marple at the University of Alberta Golden Bears has been useful in scouting players who have played at the University in the recent past.  It does look as though the Flames have signed players who have played together before in many cases and this will allow us to hit the ground running.  I think the club will focus on younger players who perhaps do not have the extensive resume that attracts the big spenders, but we hope that this just means that we will be developing the next group of big names rather than buying them in.  Having so many imports is a new experience as is not having to sign them from Europe, so it will be interesting to see, but Guildford has always had the pick of the British players at EPL level and the fact that many of these guys are staying gives us continuity.  It certainly looks a young team so far as aside from Brian Stewart in net, our three returning British players are the oldest three on the roster!

D14H: “Call out any standout signing or returning plays you think will impact this year”

For the reasons above, it is difficult to pick out a single name.  Brian Stewart looks solid at the back and Kevin Phillips and Ben Campbell were way above average in the EPL and should be good EIHL Brits.  Ben won all our player of the season trophies last year so it will be good to see how he shapes up at this level and with better players around him. All in all, an exciting time and plenty to look forward to.

Milton Keynes Lightning – Provided by Scott Hopkins

D14H: “How the fans feel the team is shaping up”

I certainly wouldn’t speak for all the MKL fans. The whole move to Elite is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is a buzz about the prospect of watching Ice Hockey at the very best level available. On the other hand, the change has hit us all quite hard. My wife and I fell in love with watching Lightning nearly 3 years ago. We walked into a very family friendly atmosphere and a team with a core of players who had spent many seasons at the club. The first thing we noticed is how much the “old guard” (Carr, Farn, Emersic, Jamieson, McPherson, Christie) were adored by fans of all ages and genders. Roll that forward to the end of last season; a double winning season featuring all of that guard. When the big games came (notably the 2nd leg of the Cup final against Peterborough and the Coventry Playoff Weekend) they grafted and demonstrated just how much MKL meant to them. They were heroes and will always be heroes.

That being said, I would say some fans are more accepting of the change than others. A few of my close friends from MK have discussed how the biggest issue is the unknown. I personally feel relieved that we have taken players with EIHL experience such as Doucet, Nickerson, Hudson and Boxill. The rest of the players are spoken of highly by Pete Russell. This is a crucial time where we must put faith in the signings Pete has made as we move into a new era.

D14H: “Call out any standout signing or returning plays you think will impact this year”

As far as returning players go, I am looking forward to seeing Przemyslaw Odrobny make the step up. Poland’s first choice netminder and adored by the MKL fans. We don’t call him “The Great Wall of Milton Keynes” for nothing and I think he could be pivotal, certainly in the first few games when we are adapting to life in the Elite. I am also excited to see how James Griffin and Lewis Hook progress now that they are training/playing full-time with experienced talent.

As for new signings, I had friends from teams in the Elite message me when we first signed Guillaume Doucet from Cardiff Devils. All of them told me about how big a signing that was and how it was a big “statement of intent” from us. I am personally looking forward to seeing Carl Hudson and Kevin King play as these sound like the types of player I enjoy watching most.

D14H: “How you see MK and Guildford impacting the Elite League”

I don’t want to jinx us here so I will simply say that I do not believe that we are here to make up the numbers. I expect there to be challenging nights ahead, but I can promise that the Barmy Army will be there to be the “extra man” and enjoy every second of the experience. I know a lot of the fans that travel to away games have already booked flights, hotels and arrange to travel to the same games. The people of Belfast experienced a small taste of this during the World Championships and if there is one thing we know how to do it is have fun!

As for Guildford, I know a few fans have expressed their concerns with their signings. It is unfortunate for them that they have made signings who now won’t be joining up with them for the new season. What I do know about Flames is that they have a very committed owner who is not afraid to make changes if things are not working out.

Coventry Blaze – Provided by Stuart Coles

D14H: “How the fans feel the team is shaping up? Could you all out any standout signing or returning plays you think will impact this year? How you see MK and Guildford impacting the Elite League?”

Before you look forwards, you have to first look back and learn from your experiences. The 2016-17 season for the Coventry Blaze is not one that will be viewed fondly in the memories of anyone involved with the club, both fans and staff. It therefore comes as absolutely no surprise that Head Coach Danny Stewart has undertaken a fairly radical rebuild of the roster as he looks to move the Blaze back up the Elite League table.

At the time of writing, the roster remains incomplete with three players (likely two defencemen and one forward) still to be signed. These players are also expected to be the top end players on the roster, so from reading online and speaking to fellow fans, my reading of how the fans feel right now is cautiously optimistic. Perhaps more so in previous years, the idea behind how the team is being built and what roles are expected of the players is being more clearly communicated to the fanbase, which translates to a more comfortable feeling for those of us who pay to see the team week in, week out.

Even though the roster is incomplete, I think the Blaze already have their standout new recruit of the summer. Netminder Kevin Nastiuk comes with an extremely impressive CV with experience in both the AHL and DEL, with two championships during his time with Eisbären Berlin. He led both the GAA (1.99) and save percentage (93.8%) stats categories as a starter in the well-regarded DEL2 last season, which is arguably a standard above the EIHL. If he can carry the heavy load expected of him here in the UK as a starter, he will be one of the top netminders in the country next season.

I am also particularly impressed with the potential depth at centre for the Blaze. Ryan Dingle has been brought in from the Fife Flyers alongside the returning captain Jordan Pietrus and new assistant coach Brett Robinson. Dingle has shown to be a top-tier centre in the EIHL during his two seasons in Fife and Coach Stewart clearly knows what he is getting, having shared the locker room with him during 2015-16. Robinson has also had a big hand in recruitment, bringing in former teammates who appear to complement his own game as well as the team as a whole. Given Robinson is fit and is now part of a system that truly understands the way British ice hockey works (specifically the focus on the league, not the playoffs), I predict a big year for the man who has a habit of turning up in the big games.

The Blaze line up in the newly-formed Patton conference against the two “new guys” in Milton Keynes & Guildford, as well as the Manchester Storm. I think MK and Guildford will pose a few surprises for some of the established sides, MK in particular have recruited a significant amount of EIHL experience from across the league for th33rve. It is not going to be a walkover for either the Blaze or the Storm this season, that is for sure.

I’m very much excited for the start of the new season and renewing some old rivalries back from when I first started watching the Blaze. I hope many of you are able to make the trip to the Skydome this year, but if you can’t, you can join myself and Ed Kimberley on the Blaze webcast, Blaze TV Live. Here’s to a good season ahead!

Manchester Storm – Provided Nick Barlow

D14H: “How the fans feel the team is shaping up”

Without a shadow of doubt the Manchester Storm have put together their most rounded and competitive team since their resurrection, specifically recruiting experienced and specialised individuals. The signing of 4 centres gives depth and options when lines aren’t producing during the season.

There is a strong belief that the Storm Shelter will this season become a fortress with the size and power of the players secured to date.

However, everyone is looking forward to hearing who the last two import signings will be as these final signings could be the key to how successful our season will be!

D14H: “Call out any standout signing or returning plays you think will impact this year”

As for the new signings, the acquisition of former NHL heavyweight, Jay Rosehill, and former NHLer Dane Byers could both prove to be a superb addition to the 2017/18 Storm Roster if they both arrive hungry and motivated.

Other signings which demonstrate that the Storm mean business this season under our new ownership include Matt Beca (who enjoyed an outstanding 16/17 season in Glasgow with the Braehead Clan, where he amassed 75 points, 27 of which were goals, from 52 games; the best in the EIHL), and Mike Hammond (who again had an outstanding 16/17 season at the Clan where he amassed 46 points, 25 of which were goals, from 43 games).

All our returning players (Mike Clemente, Dallas Ehrhardt, Paul Swindlehurst and Matt Bissonnette) are all seen as critical to the coming season. Maybe no coincidence therefore at the 2016/17 end off season awards ceremony, Dallas was voted Defenceman of the Season, Matt was voted Coach’s Player of the Season, Mike was voted Players’ Player of the Season and Paul was voted Fan’s Player of the Season.

Arguably the most important signing for the Storm is the returning Mike Clemente who proved to a solid and dependable goal tender in 2015/16.  Perhaps the biggest miss and disappointment for the Storm is the retiring Jack Prince who had an outstanding debut pro season for the Storm.

D14H: “How you see MK and Guildford impacting the Elite League”

It is great to see Milton Keynes and Guilford Flames joining the league and the majority of the Manchester fans are eagerly waiting to see both of these teams in action at the Storm Shelter next season.

From our perspective, it looks like Guildford and Milton Keynes have endured an offseason of differing fortunes regarding their recruitment process.

Milton Keynes looked to have arrived on the back of months of planning and preparation, showing their cards of intention early with the arrivals of Elite League Championship winning Denny Kearney and Guiliamme Doucet plus the powerhouse Matt Nickerson and the experienced Jonathan Boxill both from the Belfast Giants. Plus, a special shout out to Ex Manchester Storm fans favourite Paul Phillips.

Guildford look to be the weakest team in the Patton conference despite their impressive and early recruitment of previous EIHL MVP Brian Stewart, the industrious Liam Stewart plus speedy centreman Ben Davies who works hard and gets into good scoring areas.

Patton round up David Eaton Door 14 Hockey

So, I just couldn’t help myself and had to have the last word, in my option the Patton Conference is going to be the one to watch so much change nice mix of experience and excitement. This will be the conference where the league might be decided. Some epic names already set to be EIHL super stars with a fan base to match.

Patton Con is a shot in the arm for the the league to step up. 2 new team which look to be putting it all on the line to succeed at all levels. Manchester Storm under Finnerty look to be make one of the hardest team in the elite league reminding me of the Cardiff big blue tent team which made that place a fortress. Then you have Coventry Blaze with everything to prove with still names to sign they could be back in their winning ways.

Hope you will all join me in thanking Phil Boyle, Scott Hopkins, Stuart Coles and Nick Barlow for all their hard work pulling to gather this review of each of the Patton conference team