We stand on the edge of the precipice…social lives on hold, or starting up again (depends how you look at it!), saving on the food shop to save for those all important away trips (you don’t really need milk anyway) and the cold sweats that will be brought about by third period rallies, going two goals down and any visit from those certain members of team striped we all love to hate on game nights!
As the eve of real hockey is upon us and the EIHL gets started in earnest, we asked Marty, Aaron and Dave to have a look at the three conferences in the league and to have a go at seeing where things may go down the stretch this season.
Another year of hockey is upon us and we are at the point where we as fans sit and ponder the coming season and dream of glory and silverware. But how will the season pan out for the big arena teams plus Cardiff (you can call it an arena but let’s settle for big ice rink) that make up the Erhdhart conference.
Under the new leadership of fan favourite Coach Adam Keefe the boys in teal finished last season walking away with silver wear in the form of the Challenge cup, the one championship that eluded Coach Adam Keefe during his playing career.
With a 5th place finish in the league the Giants qualified for the playoffs only to be knocked out in game two of the Quarter finals by the Nottingham Panthers but were still able to claim a spot in the continental cup this coming season thanks to a win by the Cardiff Devils and the final four weekend (Thank you Cardiff).
It’s been an interesting summer for the Giants which has seen some significant change of personnel, supposed media leaks (more on that later) and unceremonious departures which caused uproar among the fan base when the words “step up” were used to describe one players move from Belfast to Sheffield.
Looking at the year ahead we have to start with the explosive signing of ex NHL star Patrick Dwyer. With a history that includes 7 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes it would be hard to look past the impact he could have on the league this coming season.
The Giants also moved early to strengthen their core of Brit players adding quality signings Paul Swindlehurst, Lewis Hook and Jonathan Boxill to the returning familiar names of Shields, Garside and Towe. With GB Hockey promoted to top division this coming year the Brits throughout the league will be looking to make their presence felt.
With 11 new names in total the most notable difference is in the Giants blue line with Kendall McFaull, Guillaume Gelina and Curtis Leonard joining the previously mentioned Mark Garside and Paul Swindlehurst and returning vet Jim Vandermeer.
If the off season brought any drama it was around the Giants change in goaltending duties. With Jackson Whistle being announced for the Sheffield Steelers within minutes of the season ending (more on that later) the Giants moved to sign the 6ft 5 Ontario born Tyler Beskorowany as a tandem team alongside Stephen Murphy in what will be his testimonial year.
Predictions for the coming year? Well if you listened to the last episode of the Door 14 Hockey Podcast you will have heard my thoughts on this already. I believe the Giants could take the playoffs and retain the challenge cup but may fall at the last hurdle to clench the title. Let’s hope I’m proved wrong and we can have a clean sweep.
League : 2nd place
Challenge Cup: Winners
Continental Cup: Out after the first round
For the second year in a row the Devils secured the League title with a very consistent performance throughout the 2017/18 league campaign even with CHL games mixed in for good measure. While the GIA NT killers were unfortunately unable to complete a Grand Slam failing to win the Challenge Cup in the grand finale against the Belfast Giants, they were able to secure the Playoff championship for the first time since 1998/99 and the first time in the Elite League Era.
For the upcoming season the Devils look to be the team that has went with the least amount of change, why mess with something that doesn’t need fixed I guess is their thoughts. Returning between he pipes is the tested Brit goalie Ben Bowns. Bowns has proved this last few seasons why he is the GB number one with two back to back championships and a great performance at this year’s world championships where it could be argued he played a big part in the success of the Barmy Army.
Only one change in the Devils Defence this year with the addition of Ben Blood joining the ranks, while up front Mike Hedden, Stephen Dixon and Charles Linglet strengthen the Cardiff attacking lines with a mix of European experience going into their campaign in the CHL.
John put together his thoughts on the Devils CHL adventures this coming season in his recent blog so lets give you my thoughts on the domestic campaign. While they won’t want to admit it or utter the words, someone at the Devils (Begins with T ends with Kelman) will be thinking of the promotional material and income they could generate being the first 3-time Elite League champions in consecutive years. While other teams have been close to this, none to this point have succeeded.
It would be hard not to look past the Cardiff Devils to successfully retain the title, but I will stand by what I said; as long as returning players don’t become complacent and the CHL schedule doesn’t take its toll the Devils should be in the running to clench the title for a third time in a row.
So my predictions are as follows:
Challenge Cup: Put out in the semi finals
Playoffs: Final Four weekend (3rd place)
CHL: Out after the first round
The new Era for the Nottingham, Nottingham panthers has begun I think……. It feels like it has been a very quiet off season in the East Midlands. The Corey Neilson era came to an unceremonious ending in the 2017/18 campaign. While the Panthers performed honourably in last seasons CHL becoming the first UK team to reach the knockout stages, but I think its fair to say the remained of the season didn’t improve. With a 4th place finish in the league, last place finish in the Erhardt conference, “3rd“ place finish in the playoffs a new Era was definitely a welcome for Panthers fans.
That new Era starts with a new coach for the first time since 2008/09 in the form of Hungary international, DEL and DEL2 head coach Rich Chernomaz (I really don’t want to pronounce that name on the podcast). The new Era continues with a new sponsorship deal which sees the Panthers using the name Nottingham, Nottingham Panthers rather than the GMB Nottingham Panthers.
In terms of players Nottingham have made 11 changes looking toward ECHL, AHL and European leagues to fill this years spaces. The majority of the changes come in the forward lines with the additions of Tyler Biggs, Justin Kovacs, Mark Hurtubise, Jon Rheault, Alexander Guptill, Jacob Doty, Luke Pither and Kevin Henderson.
An interesting off-season note was that of a player “on loan” to another EIHL team in the form of Jordan Kelsall being borrowed by the Dundee Stars. Just how that will work in practise is still to be seen but surely a player belonging to one team playing against said team can be impartial right?
My final predications are based on what I mentioned on the last recording. A new coach to this league takes time to settle into the structure and flow and of the league taking this into account I predict:
Challenge Cup: 2nd
Playoffs: Quarter-final finish
Sheffield, Sheffield, Sheffield……… Where do I even start? The off season has been an eventful one, well from a Steelers point of view, with leaked signings, will they won’t they signings and reports on signs that weren’t signing at all and lets not mention the Instagram incident with the scantily clad lady or the calling out of your own fans (WRONG).
Lets start then with the first big piece of news coming out of Sheffield and that was of the signing of Brit goalie and ex Belfast Giant Jackson Whistle. If rumours are to be believed this was a forgone conclusion since even before the season ended with the rumours running riff at playoff weekend that Whis’ had already made an agreement to join the Steelers for the 2018/19 season. Even the outgoing Ervins Mustukovs reported that he was well aware of the signing even before he was put out to pasture.
Then we had the dramatic Belfast Telegraph “LEAK” when it was announced that another Giant would be joining the boys in Orange this time in the form of fan favourite Ryan Martinelli, to say this is a great pick up for the Steelers would be an understatement as the Martinelli had been a decisive figure for the giants over the previous two seasons.
All in all the Steelers have probably made the most changes of any team this off season with a total of 16 new players being signed (Should note Ontario must have no players left as 10 out of the 16 hail from that region). For a Sheffield fan this season there is a lot of unknown and adjusting to a brand new team, while it will be exciting in some ways those that struggle with change will be looking for the Steelers to impress early on adding more pressure on Thommo to produce.
This is an interesting one to predict, with a relatively new team you would expect a bit longer for them to gel and get the lines working correctly. Having watched Jackson Whistle for the last few seasons we know he can stand up when the big games count, however we have seen him struggle on back to back games, the Steelers defence will be key this season and with the addition of ex NHL’er Aaron Johnson joining the blue line the Steelers will hope that they have done enough.
League : 4th Place finish
Challenge Cup: Out in the Semi finals
Playoffs: 2nd place
So that time of the year again, where each member of the Door 14 Hockey team take a conference and complete a “professional” review. I will do my best, as this year John has set me to work on the now diminished Gardener Conference!
You may or may not be aware the Gardiner Conference is named after Edinburgh born Charlie Gardiner, 1945 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and netminder for the Chicago Blackhawks, so I expect the netminders for the team to live up the its namesake’s legacy.
With all that all out of the way let get stuck into this!
Coming off another abysmal EIHL season in Edinburgh we had been promised improvement for the Capitals with more engagement with the fans and new initiatives to make the team more accountable. This all looked good but out of the blue a bidder for Murrayfield ice time: The Murrayfield Racers, under the ownership of Edinburgh alum Tony Hand and brother David, who won the bid for rink rights which left the Capital without any ice causing them to homeless and subsequently, leave the EIHL with a whimper.
The Murrayfield Racers’ application for Elite League membership was unsuccessful they will play their hockey across both the SNL and NIHL North Cup under coaches Tony Hand and Martin Cingel. It’s a real same that the Caps we all used to know and love (and occasionally wanted to try our hardest to ignore when they beat you in your own building) are no longer around as it was an iconic team and a historic venue for top flight hockey in the UK.
It will always hold a special place in my heart. So long Caps.
The Gardener Conference has been dominated by the Glasgow Clan, formerly known as the Braehead Clan. Ever since the teams’ inception in 2012, they have been conference champions 4 times.
Let have a look at this year, and the best place to start are the changes made at the top. Head Coach John Tripp is gone after a somewhat uneventful season for the Clan ending up in 9th position in the league and not qualifying for the playoffs. His replacement: the man, the legend, the two time gold medal UK and outgoing MK Lightening coach, Peter ‘Pete’ Russell.
Russell is coming in as Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations, the same combination of roles he covered in MK for the last three seasons, taking that club to the EPL title and on the journey into the Elite League last season. He didn’t have the worlds’ most impressive domestic season but he was able to make waves with the GB campaign in the world championships leading them to the Gold medal which will undoubtedly go down in history, as they will progress to the top flight of international hockey for the first time in a good few years, but there will be plenty of time to talk about that later in the season!
On the player front, the clan have made a number of changes to try and improve on last season, bringing familiar names back to the Braehead Arena, Zack Fitzgerald and Matt Beca.
Zack Fitzgerald – well what can I say? He’ not one of my personal favourite players, but I can understand the appeal. He has racked up 879 Penalty minutes in 4 Season and still hold the Clan’s recorded for most penalty minutes in a single season. He is returning after 3 seasons with the Sheffield Steelers, where he earned the “A”, but this time around he will be adorned with the “C” for the Clan.
Matt Beca, now he is more my type of player! In my option what you have here is an over a point a game player, a tried and tested producer who will put numbers on the board. He is a player who know how to win and the Clan will be hoping that he can continue that in Scotland’s second city.
What about all the standout returning players from last season for the Clan though?
Gary Russell is one of the best British netminders in the game at the moment who will give Coach Russell options in any game. Under Tripp he didn’t get huge ice time but I believe he is still a solid backup.
Craig Peacock, well – as a Giants fan it always hard to see his name on the Clan roster. This lad can put up big numbers, however he seems to have has struggled to find his form since his move to Scotland with injury problems. He will always be a legend in Belfast and I’m sure he will be in Glasgow at some point.
There are some more new faces for the Clan as well as Fitzy and Beca too:
Josh Gratton is going to be amazing with the clan coming in with 86 NHL game from Phoenix Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers . He will be a leader on the ice who will want to win every game at this level.
What about this new netminder I hear you scream?! They’ve gone for a new face to the EIHL in Joel Rumpel and he is a netminder with a winning record in the ECHL, being part of Kelly Cup Championship sides twice.
With that all said, I think he the Clan have improved greatly from last season but I think a lot of this comes from having a known EIHL coach behind the bench. Can they finally shake the chokes?
It’s 2017/18, and another season were the Stars failed to make the post season, however onward and upward for the Taysiders! They will be coached once again by arguably one of my favourite coaches in the EIHL Omar Pacha . He always recruits well with high tempo team which is always entertaining.
Let get straight to it, Pontus Sjögren what can I say he is one of the best netminders to sign to the elite league in the last 5 – 10 years in my opinion. He has frequently played more than 40 games in a season, keeping his save parentage high. I think I will be one of the standout players to watch this season in the Gardiner Conference, and perhaps the whole league.
Returning this season to back him up is Craig Holland , I don’t feel like I need to write anything here at only 25 he is moving into his tenth season in the EIHL!
Dundee have a number of players with North American experience in 578 games in thAHL across 3 players. Matt Marquardt is a known entity, having played for both the Sheffield and Coventry. He is a great pick up by Pacha. Matt has the ability to score goals in this league and is a proven leader being the former Florida Everblades Capitan.
François Bouchard…if Matt is the known quantity, François is the unknown having not played last season. That being said he looks like the real deal. He’s played good number of games in the AHL and is a personal friend of Omar Pacha. I would expect him to perform well for the Stars.
My biggest concern with the Stars’ is their lack of a full number of players signed for the season ahead, currently only 19 as of writing. They may find themselves out numbered and outworked by their rivals who are all rolling four line hockey….
So, Fife then. What to say about the Flyers? Since joining the Elite League they have only missed out on playoff qualification once, whod’ve thunk it?! Last years’ Gardiner Conference Champions, they have lot to be proud of and they will be planning to add to that success by looking to bigger, better and shinier things.
With a number of retirements from last years’ team, the Flyers will be looking to new faces to make an immediate impact. This being Fife you can always rely on Scottish players to fill some of that space.
Bari McKenzie and Jordan Buesa from Braehead, Calum Robertson from now defunct Caps can add a new element to the Fife side’s roster, meanwhile Craig Douglas and Andrew Little on two-ways deals with the Kirkcaldy Kestrels can inject youth and vitality to the team.
Most importantly however is that there are no changes in the back-room staff at Kirkcaldy Ice Arena, with both Todd Dutiaume and Jeff Hutchins returning for another season at the wheelhouse.
A big, but welcome surprise to me was the return of Shane Owen as the starting netminder having previously backstopping the club in 2016-17 with a Save percentage of .908 over all 52 games . He bounced about leagues last year and I hope he settles back into Fife.
Brett Bulmer; let’s take the time to look at one of the players that I am most looking forward to seeing play in the Elite League this season. Brett has had a solidcareer in the AHL staying mainly within the Wild career program going between the NHL’s Minnesota and AHL’s Iowa Wild (Houston Aeros before the move in 2013). He will be an asset to the Flyers campaign this year, and could be a real leader in the locker room.
As we are talking about North American experience we need to talk about a big pick up from the Cardiff Devils in the shape of Paul Crowder. Coming off the back of two EIHL titles and a conference win, he is not going to want to take a step backwards. Before he moved to Cardiff last season he had a great run through both the AHL and ECHL putting good numbers up as well as keeping his +/- firmly in the black.
Fife have reinforced their defensive core with a number of new players, two of them, namely; Evan Stoflet and Rick Pinkston stand out to me.
Evan Stoflet coming in from MK Lightning where he didn’t have a stand out season but if he can find his form from a number of seasons’ ago, he will be one to watch but; Rick Pinkston is a different story – top class from top to bottom. Almost always in the positive with his +/-, I think he will fly under the radar in Fife (in a good way) as he looks like he does the little thing right – exactly what you want from a big D-man, and we know Fife likes a big D-man!
So, with all that info in mind, here are my predictions for the season ahead in the Gardiner Conference!
So John assigned the D14 team all a task: to write a blog post looking at the conferences for the season ahead.
So, apologies to the Patton Conference, as you got stuck with me…so task one…who’s in the Patton Conference?!
A quick Google and boom:
Milton Keynes Lightning
Also, the Patton conference is named after Major Bethune Minet “Peter” Patton. He is credited with bringing ice hockey to the
UK. This guy was the real deal, click here to find out more, and educate yourself on a true pioneer of hockey!
Previous years Prediction: Overall 7th place finish in the league and 2nd place in conference.
Boy, were we wrong. Ryan Finnerty, formerly of the Clan, stepped in as their new coach in May 2017 and with him he bought Jay Rosehill. Continuing to make a number of changes, just to name a few, he brought on Dane Byers and Luke Moffatt.
Whatever they are doing over there seems to working for them, they were last years’ Conference Champions (15W, 8L,1OTL) and finished off 2nd overall (75points, 35W, 16L, 6OTL).
This is a major step-up for the Storm, in previous years finishing 9th (2015/2016) and 8th (2016/2017).
In last weeks podcast I was a bit dismissive of the Storm, but revisiting the information, I will have to retract it. If the Storm continue to do this work, then they are a serious contender. One area that wasn’t as picture perfect was play-offs. Of course they made it, but they were put out by the Fife Flyers in the first round. Fife are a good team, but seeing Manchester’s’ other results, they should have at least made the final.
Looking at some of the “Top 10s”, they had four of the 10 goal scorers for 2017/2018:
Mike Hammond 1st, with 83 points
Matt Beca 3rd, with 75 points
Dane Byers 7th, with 70 points
Luke Moffatt 8th, with 66 points
In 2018/2019 they move forward with Mike Hammond, Dane Byers and Luke Moffatt, but lose Matt Beca back to Glasgow’s Clan.
Along side those retentions and losses across their roster, a total of 11 new players move in to fill the gaps in the Storm’s lines;
Goalies: Two New: Matt Ginn
3.81 GAA .889 SVS%
(previously Atlanta Gladiators)
4.14 GAA .903 SVS%
(previously Milton Keynes Lightning)
Defence: Three New;
Felix-Antoine Poulin (previously Breahead Clan)
Riley Stadel (previously Dundee Stars)
Harrison Ruopp (previously Balgonie Bisons)
Forwards: Six new;
Rob Linsmayer (previously Rapaces de Gap)
Adam Barnes (previously New England Wolves)
Evan Richardson (previously Tulsa Oilers)
Logan MacMillan (previously ASC Corona Brasov)
Duncan Speirs (previously Solway Sharks)
Marcus Basara (previously Fort Wayne Komets)
Yes they have brought on a lot of new players, but a number of quality players.
My prediction, I’m going against what I said previously, this could be the Storms’ year!
League: 1st Place
Conference: 1st Place
Previous years Prediction: Overall 12th place finish in the league and 4th place in conference.
This was inaugural season for the Flames, after the move from the defunct EPL to the EIHL. They started in 1992 in the English League Division One and from then had claimed themselves six league championships, five league cups and were champions of five playoffs.
They signed a number of EIHL familiar faces on the build-up to their first season in the EIHL, and it seems to have worked. Yes they didn’t have the near Hollywood style finish of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, but in they finished their inaugural year 2nd in their conference, 6th overall and even made it to the playoffs! Ok, so they were put out in the first round by Sheffield, but they went down fighting!
If I was a Flames player or fan, I would be holding my head up high with that finish. The problem is, you wouldn’t be able to tell who was a fan, as they wouldn’t have any jerseys! I would be gutted not being able to wear my teams jersey, and I hope the Flames get this sorted soon…oops, back to the season preview!
Looking at some of the “Top 10s”, they had two of the 10 goalscorers for 2017/2018:
John Dunbar, 2nd, with 81 points
Kruise Reddick 9th, with 66 points
One of the top five leading goaltenders:
Chris Carrozzi with a GAA of 2.76
Of course they have other talent in the team that will remain in red and white, but they havent rested on their laurels over the summer, and have brought on a few more to add to their arsenal:
Goalies: One New:
Travis Fullerton (previously Dundee Stars)
Defence: Two New:
Jordan Abt (previously Norfolk Admirals)
Corbin Baldwin, (previously Idaho Steelheads)
Forwards: Five New:
Kevin King (previously Milton Keynes Lighting)
Evan Janssen (previously Rapid City Rush)
Evan Ritt (previously Rapaces de Gap)
Jamie Crooks (previously Universiy of Alberta)
Joshua Waller (previously HC Dukla Jihlava)
Eric Linghagen (previously Nottingham Panthers)
Prediction this year: onwards and upwards!
League: 5th Place
Conference: 2nd Place
Playoffs: Semi Finals
Pervious years Prediction: Overall 6th place finish in the league and 1st place in conference.
We had all hoped for a return to form for the Blaze, they struggled in 2016/17 not even making the playoffs. This years wasn’t much better, finishing 3rd in Conference and 8th overall. On the up side they did make it to the playoffs but where put out by the Devils. Something we can probably forgive and last year the Devils were on fire.
One of the top 10 2017/2018 Top Goal Scorers was a Blaze player (just):
Marc-Olivier Vallerand 10th, with 65 points
Goalies: Two New:
Mika Wiikman (previously with Milton Keynes Lighting)
Jordan Hedley (previously with Milton Keynes Lighting)
Defence: four new:
Trey Lewis (previously University of New Brunswick)
Chris Joyaux (previously Tulsa Oilers)
Justin Hache (previously Sonderjyske)
Nicolai Bryhnisveen (previously HC Dukla Jihlava)
Forwards: seven new:
Alex Forbes (previously Milton Keynes Lightning)
Kelin Ainsworth (previously Alba Volán Székesfehérvár)
Kevin Morris (previously Manchester Monarchs)
Alex Nikiforuk (previously Gamyo d’Epinal)
Jake Hansen (previously Rungsted Seier Capiral)
Shawn Pauly (previously Kansas City Mavericks)
Dillon Lawrence (previously Edinburgh Capitals)
Previous years Prediction: Overall 9th place finish in the league and 3rd place in conference.
Another team playing their inaugural season in 2017 – 2018, after the move from the defunct EPL to the EIHL, and for once looking at our 2017-18 season predictions, it looks like we know what we’re talking about! The Lightening ended 4th in the Patton Conference (8W, 15L, 1OTL), 11th overall in the EIHL after a second half of the season collapse somewhat brought about by injury woes and of course, this meant they did not make it to playoffs in their inaugural season.
Matt Nickerson had his contract terminated in January, after an altercation with a Guildford Flames fan which EIHL DoPS took great pleasure in throwing the book at – but if you recall, we had our own issues with the whole situation on the podcast…
Head coach Peter Russel left the club at the end of the season to take the top job in Glasgow, and is replaced by new face to the league, Doug McKay (eventually, following some major visa issues!).
How does the team stack up then for this season coming?
Goalies: Two New:
Patrick Killeen (previously Ritten Sport)
Adam Goss (previously Mercyhurst Lakers)
Defence: four new:
Ryan Lannon (previously Atlanta Gladiators)
Clay Anderson (previously Aalborg Pirates)
Martin Mazanec (previously MsHK Zilina)
Nelson Armstrong (previously Florida Everblades)
Forwards: 11 new:
Trevor Morbeck (previously Guelph Gryphons)
Andreas Valdix (previously Sheffield Steelers)
Georgs Golovkovs (previously Liepaja)
David Norris (previously Arizona State Sun Devils)
Cole Shudra (previously Sheffield Steelers/On Loan)
Tim Wallace (previously Sheffield Steelers)
Michael Fine (previously Esbjerg Energy)
Joonas Huovinen (previously GKS Tychy)
Eric Neiley (previously Sheffield Steelers)
Owen Griffiths (previously Peterborough Phantoms)
Radek Meidl (previously Orlik Opole)
Callum Buglass (previously Peterborough Phantoms)
Doug McKay has certainly put his own stamp on this team, picking up a lot of seasoned EIHL experience in the former Steelers group heading south to MK, but a huge amount of European talent is on it’s way, but so are the young Brits too – and it’s great to see more clubs buying in (forced or not by the EIHL’s rules) to youth development and bringing new blood in from the NIHL in the shape of Buglass and Griffiths stepping up from the Phantoms.
There you have it!
Marty, Dave and Aaron have all given their accounts for the season ahead across the EIHL, but we’re just a bunch of uninformed eejits with access to a website!
What do you all think? Are MK going to surge to the top and stay there? Will the Steelers finish 11th? Will the Giants win the Continental Cup and smash it with a Grand Slam (of course they will!)?
Let us know what you think! Smash those social buttons and get involved!