Since it worked well last year, here, once again, are all of Chasing Dragon’s team previews in one place. Whether you’re a Star or a Storm chaser, a Giant or a Steeler, from Dundee to Cardiff and Belfast to Edinburgh, your team is here:
Since it worked well last year, here, once again, are all of Chasing Dragon’s team previews in one place. Whether you’re a Star or a Storm chaser, a Giant or a Steeler, from Dundee to Cardiff and Belfast to Edinburgh, your team is here:
“The fallen arise, a phoenix from the fire
Carried on the wind, a new crusade begins”
Unleash The Archers: “Dreamcrusher”
The Manchester Storm are back. After a decade & more in limbo & away from the British hockey landscape, this offseason saw the return of one of the best-loved identities in British hockey, as the Storm burst back into being on the same day as the Hull Stingrays died. In the eight weeks since, they’ve generated a heck of a buzz from social media thanks to the excellent work of staff like new GM Neil Russell & media host Clare Freeman. Coach Omar Pacha has bent to the task of building a new roster with a will, but on the eve of the season the Storm are still a work in progress. But what do the new Riders On The Storm look like so far, & what can fans expect?
#32 Zane Kalemba
At the time of writing, the Storm don’t, as yet, have a backup netminder-expect a rotating cast of netminders from the junior systems & the Altrincham Aces/Widnes Wild to do the duty.
The starter, however, will definitely be American Zane Kalemba-the 29-year-old from Saddle Creek, Wisconsin has spent the last few years in some of Europe’s better leagues, playing for Banska Bystrica in Slovakia & Rungsted in Denmark the past two seasons. He’s a smallish goalie who relies on speed & positioning to make saves & is very capable as an EIHL starter-Omar Pacha has found an excellent block to build the rest of his team upon.
#2 Omar Pacha, #4 Mike Folkes, #13 Davey Phillips, #15 Jamie Chilcott, #27 Paul Phillips, #53 Igor Bobcek
The first Manchester Storm defence of the new era has a very strong flavour of the Hull Stingrays about it-player coach Omar Pacha will likely also be relied upon as one of the main offensive thrusts from the blue-line-he is a smooth-skating, strong player with an excellent pass and shot, who scored 11 goals from defence in his first Hull season before a drop in production last season that can at least in part be attributed to his increased focus on other areas as a player coach. Pacha will likely par with GB international Davey Phillips on the top line-Phillips is one of Britain’s best defencemen and solid at both ends of the ice and revels in carrying a nasty streak that will show itself if challenged by opposition forwards. Pacha will be backed up in his offensive efforts by 24-year-old American Paul Phillips, who joins after a productive season in Norway for Lillehammer.
The next import on D is Mike Folkes, a strong, solid ECHL player who will calmly take care of business in his own zone-the American will never light up the scoreboard but does all the little things a D-man needs to. He’ll be join in the physical department by big Russian Igor Bobcek, who joins from Slovakia and will look to make the area in front of the net an inhospitable environment for opposition forwards as well as provide a big shot from the blueline. Finally, young Brit & another ex-Stingray, Jamie Chilcott, will complete a unit that, in Manchester’s best tradition, knows its job & will get on with it with the minimum of fuss & fanfare.
#9 Matt Paton, #15 Grant Toulmin, #20 Gal Koren, #22 Mat Sisca, #23 Vinny Scarsella, #26 Matty Davies, #42 Luke Salazar, #84 Matt Caria
This is a Storm forward group that is still very much a work in progress. With only two full lines currently signed, there is still work for Omar Pacha to do. However, what we can glean from this group already is Pacha’s philosophy-build a group that is young, hungry & fast. Also small-the majority of players are under 5’10 & 180lbs as Pacha relies on skill & guile rather than brute force.
Standouts in this group are the two Matts-Caria & Davies. Both skilled centres, they are two different types of player-Davies is a superb pass-first playmaker who is lethal when looking to set up a sniper linemate, while Caria is a player who can do it all-his 25 goals & 30 assists for Kalamazoo in the ECHL last season are proof of that.
Mat Sisca, Luke Salazar & Vinny Scarsella are wingers cut from the same mould-small, hard-working goalscorers with a nose for the net and workrates to shame a Trojan, while Matt Paton, Gal Koren & Grant Toulmin provide the two-way element and a different, slightly more physical & gritty element.
This is a group that still probably needs another player or two before it can be fully judged, but it’s an intriguing approach to go overwhelmingly with small, fast players in a league where balance among the forwards is key-Pacha is building a team that’s going to be exciting to watch but will have to find a way to neutralise any attempts to bully them.
PLAYER TO WATCH – MATT CARIA (F)
The 26-year-old from Sault Ste Marie will be the offensive lynchpin for the Storm this season. Small & fast with a vicious shot & an eye for a pass, the Canadian is great on faceoffs & will be relied upon to both score & create at the heart of the Storm’s top line-he’ll play in every situation & be a leader on this squad.
POTENTIAL LINES (F)
Mat Sisca-Matt Caria-Grant Toulmin
Luke Salazar-Matty Davies-Vinny Scarsella
Matt Paton-Gal Koren-TBA
POTENTIAL LINES (D)
Omar Pacha-Davey Phillips
Mike Folkes-Paul Phillips
COACH: Omar Pacha (1st season in Manchester, 2nd in EIHL)
Pacha has proved a very capable coach in a baptism of fire with Hull last season, building a gritty, hard-working squad that played as if its life was on the line night after night. This year in Manchester he’ll have the chance to set a tone for a new franchise-with low expectation, low pressure & carried on a wave of goodwill, the Storm job is a golden opportunity for Pacha to further make his mark on the EIHL landscape.
The simple truth about the Storm is that anything could happen this season and it would be considered a success after the frenetic summer in Manchester. But with the Storm’s recruitment this season Omar Pacha has shown that he wants to do more than just make up the numbers-he wants to put the Storm back on the map. This roster, while not complete yet, looks like an excellent beginning on the road to do that.
The EIHL can already hear the rumbling in the distance.
A Storm is coming.
“Am I beautiful
As I tear you to pieces?”
In This Moment: “Sick Like Me”
The Belfast Giants have once again gone through an offseason of change. Last offseason it was a change of coach and ownership from the all-conquering 2013/14 team of Paul Adey, which ran roughshod over the league, to the organisational system that saw Steve Thornton take over the reins of running the club both on the ice (as coach) and off (as GM). A strong but ultimately fruitless season followed.
So the Giants went back to the drawing board again. After a season last year that saw evolution rather than revolution, this season saw the opposite, starting at the top.
They changed their structure to move Steve Thornton back into his GM role, and brought in a new man at the helm as player-coach. That man is Derrick Walser, a Canadian who’s become something of a European hockey superstar and an Eisbaren Berlin legend as well as one of the most skilled defencemen the EIHL has ever seen. But can he build a team to take the Giants back to the top of the mountain?
#31 Stephen Murphy, #35 Andrew Dickson
After all that talk about change, we come to the most settled netminder pairing in the EIHL. Familiar faces in net for the Belfast Giants, as they go with the same netminder pairing to start the season as they have for the past five seasons, and the same starter they have for the past seven…consistency that isn’t just rare in the EIHL era…it’s unheard of. Murphy, at 33, seems to have been around the British game forever since bursting onto the scene as an 18-year-old prodigy with Fife – the Scot has been GB starter for years, although he’s recently faced a new challenger in Ben Bowns and missed the majority of last season with injury…a lot will depend on if he can regain the sharpness that has seen him so dominant in seasons past.
Behind him is perennial backup, crowd favourite and Ballymoney’s finest Andrew Dickson, who’ll once again take the thankless backup role and hope for his moment in the sun to make the Kilraughts Road and Church Street proud.
#3 Jeff Mason, #8 Johan Ejdepalm, #17 Mike Wilson, #23 Mitch Ganzak, #43 Derrick Walser, #50 Matt Nickerson
The first word that comes to mind when you look at the Giants’ defence this season is “experienced”. There’s only one player under 30 in this group (Mike Wilson, at 28) and the average age of the six d-men is 32, the oldest defensive group in the EIHL.
However, while some have focused on the age of the group, we’re going to focus on the sheer all-round quality that this six provide. The Giants, like Braehead, have eschewed the traditional EIHL thinking of “defence-first” or “roles”, ensuring that this is a fast, mobile unit that’s still more than capable of taking care of business in its own end, sometimes in the same shift with the same player.
Player-coach Derrick Walser is a gifted offensive defenceman who’s lit up leagues at far higher levels than the EIHL – even at 37 his passing and shot are sublime, combined with a hockey brain that can see chances before they happen – he’s without doubt better than Neal Martin, still seen by many as the standard to which EIHL offensive D should aspire. He’s backed up in the offensive stakes by the speedy and talented Mike Wilson and Giants stalwart (and former EIHL All-Star) Jeff Mason. Any defensive group that runs Jeff Mason as its third offensive D has some serious talent on it.
On the other side of the ice, the more defensive side of things will be taken care of by three solid two-way players with no mean size to them – Johan Ejdepalm comes to the EIHL after extensive experience in the DEL and Austria as a shutdown D, while Mitch Ganzak is a tank of a player who is equally comfortable at both ends of the ice and more than capable of either throwing a hit or a hard accurate shot on net, depending on what’s required.
Certainly the most noticeable signing though is Matt Nickerson – the bearded beast of a defenceman has become a cult hero in Fife and elsewhere during his time in the EIHL with his unashamed willingness to play physically, a guided-missile approach to smash anything that moves in an enemy jersey on-ice and his warm and friendly off-ice persona. He’ll provide the stay-at-home snarl in this group along with the will to deal with some of the more pugilistic sides of the game.
This is a D-group built to be equally initimidating going forward and retreating to hold its own fort, and it should accomplish that role with the minimum of fuss-attacking there is the potential for some serious fireworks and surgical play, too, as well as arguably the best offensive D the EIHL has ever seen. A tantalising prospect that’s sure to excite the SSE Arena crowd.
#7 Mark Garside, #14 Mike Forney, #15 Kris Beech, #19 Colin Shields, #26 Brandon Benedict, #29 Mike Radja, #47 Adam Keefe, #68 Chris Higgins, #71 Craig Peacock, #72 Daryl Lloyd, #79 James Desmarais, #89 Jonathan Boxill
This forward group is built for speed and skating, with a side of pure aggression. In the best traditions of Giants and EIHL forward packs, it combines a mix of creative wow-factor and the rapier-sharp goalscoring teams require to capitalise on it with the workrate, grit and sandpaper of what is still the most effective agitating/grinding pairing in the league in Adam Keefe and Daryl Lloyd-two players who forecheck with the hunger and tenacity of a pair of starving dogs hunting down the last sausage in town.
Adding Nottingham’s Jonathan Boxill to that group creates a line that will be an absolute nightmare to play against every single night and wear down opposition defences. There is a savage beauty in the way they seek and destroy opposition defencemen.
Speaking of “seek and destroy”, the Giants have more than their fair share of goalscoring forwards who can capitalise on those tired opposition players and contribute their own brand of hunting, only they’re after goals, not bodies. Standouts of the group are Sheffield goal machine Mike Forney (42 goals last season), and the centre he’ll likely be paired with, former Washington Capital and Pittsburgh Penguin Kris Beech. The 34-year-old is a skilled playmaker who loves to play the role of setting others up for scores, and is also an excellent faceoff winner.
He’ll be joined in the creative role by another veteran centre, James Desmarais, who is a little small at 5’10 and 174lbs but a superb playmaker (44 assists in the Swiss NLB last season – a league in which he’s scored at a rate of nearly two points a game as well as scoring at over a point a game in Austria). He’ll likely pair with American scorer Mike Radja, who’s been prolific in the Asia League the past few seasons, for a similar pairing to Forney & Beech on the 2nd unit.
Providing the skilled wing-play are the “Belfast Datsyuk” Chris Higgins, who returns to the Giants after a season away in Nottingham, British playmaking’s finest Colin Shields, and sniper Craig Peacock, along with the grit and sandpaper of Mark Garside and extra forward/assistant coach Brandon Benedict to round the group off.
This is a forward group that may be somewhat lacking in raw power, but it’ll attempt to beat you with skill and skating. It’s very similar, in fact, to the Coventry Blaze’s group in terms of sheer creativity, but unlike them it also has the assassin in the shape of Forney to finish off the bullets his team-mates load for him, and the grinding wheel in the shape of arguably the best checking line in the EIHL. It’s a very, VERY good group indeed-a deep one, too. It’s a group that can wear you down with hitting, pull you all over the ice with creative play and then drive a dagger into your heart.
In that way, like Cardiff and Braehead (two teams the Belfast group resemble strongly) it has a surgical, clinical beauty about it.
PLAYER TO WATCH – Kris Beech (C)
Much of the attention may be focused on Mike Forney as the goalscoring star of this group, but Forney is a pure sniper whose success came to a large part last season because he had Mathieu Roy alongside him to both score and feed him the puck. Beech will be the player expected to do that this season – he’s a skilled passer whose faceoff ability will be key all year and will be the pivot Forney will look to to load his rifle of a shot. The 34-year-old from Salmon Arm, BC is no mean scorer himself given the chance, but in this team he’ll be expected to play the role of provider extraordinaire to whoever he’s paired with-and if he can, then the Giants could be lighting the lamp a lot more this season..
POTENTIAL LINES (F)
Mike Forney-Kris Beech-Chris Higgins
Mike Radja-James Desmarais-Craig Peacock
Jonathan Boxill-Adam Keefe-Daryl Lloyd
Mark Garside)-Colin Shields
Brandon Benedict (spare)
POTENTIAL LINES (D)
Johan Ejdepalm-Derrick Walser
Mitch Ganzak-Mike Wilson
Matt Nickerson-Jeff Mason
Stephen Murphy/Andrew Dickson
COACH – Derrick Walser (1st season)
Walser is a Euro hockey/minor league legend – a gifted offensive defenceman who now gets the chance to implement his coaching philosophy and start on a new career.
And an exciting philosophy it is, too. In interviews the 37-year-old comes across incredibly well and speaks of his wish to play speedy, skilled hockey with an emphasis on skating – a refreshing change to the usual “hard work, solid, gritty” stereotypes you usually get from “traditional” EIHL coaches. He speaks a lot of “accountability” – a concept that according to some in the EIHL didn’t exist in hockey before Chuck Weber mentioned it last season.
Perhaps most refreshingly, though, Walser is focused on giving his team a killer instinct. He wants his squads to be ruthless, to rip opposition teams apart. To break them.
That’s the kind of killer instinct many coaches are afraid of expressing so openly, and it’s refreshing to see an EIHL coach relaxed about saying “no, I want to win, and win handsomely”.
He’s started beautifully. Now to deliver.
While many coaches will build their squads to be either brutally ugly or sophisticated but ultimately clinically simple and easily replicated given the right tools-Derrick Walser’s first EIHL squad is, by contrast, elegant, savagely pretty, but still ultimately put together with one aim in mind-to kill an opponent stone-dead.
It’s a squad designed to look good and catch the eye even as it’s ripping the heart out of an opponent.
While the traditional EIHL approach is to build a battering ram, an assault rifle or at best a machine gun, what Walser has fashioned is more of a handmade rapier fashioned by a master swordsmith. A work of carefully-fashioned art, with an ugly purpose.
A thing filled with the savage joy of hunting down the opposition’s weak spot, wearing down their defences and then ruthlessly dispatching them with a perfect thrust.
It is a lethal weapon, but one with a terrible, perfect beauty about it that could make the heart sing even as it tears it out.
And that makes it a very attractive prospect for fans in Belfast indeed.
“Now I’ve got you where you need to be
and the dark has left your eyes…”
Marmozets: “Move, Shake, Hide”
The EIHL’s oldest team are preparing for another season in Kirkcaldy – and this season, like the last few, is one where they’re trying to break out from their perennial position treading water towards the lower reaches of the EIHL playoff race and begin to climb up the table. They’re always fun to watch and the Fife Ice Arena crowd love to roar their team on whatever the performance…but who are the players who’ll be making the Kirkcaldy Roar take the roof off this season?
#30 David Brown, #35 Craig Douglas
An offseason of major change in Fife starts in net, as Kevin Regan retires and Blair Daly is forced to give up his backup role due to an off-ice work transfer to London after originally re-signing with the team once again. This means two new faces in net, and they’re both sure to sp hasn’ark some interest.
Starting will be Canadian David Brown, who joins from the defunct Hull Stingrays, where he had an up-and-down year in net for a Hull team that did the same thing. He showed flashes of real brilliance, particularly in the truly epic playoff semi-final against the Sheffield Steelers, but also had nights where he appeared to be very beatable indeed.
A stocky netminder with an unconventional style that often makes it appear he’s fighting the puck off with every save rather than controlling it, the Stoney Creek, Ontario native can have fans with their hearts in their mouths but is also very effective at stopping pucks when on his game.
Backing him up is local netminder and ex-Kirkcaldy Kestrel Craig Douglas – the 25-year-old hasn’t seen much game action recently as backup to Renny Marr at SNL level – like most EIHL goalies he’ll only be used in spot relief.
#2 Tom Muir, #4 Chris Wands, #5 Nicolas Rioux, #7 Phillipe Paquet, #24 Matt Delahey, #55 Kyle Haines
Fife’s defence returns only three players from last years defence and only one import, with Jamie Milam and Matt Nickerson moving away to pastures new (Nickerson to Belfast and Milam to Slovakia’s HK Nitra) which means that it’s a unit boasting very different names. However, the key player in last year’s unit, Kyle Haines, returns, which is big news…the man from Saskatchewan was their top offensive D and also captain last season, and is a cultured offensive defenceman with no mean amount of skill.
Among the new faces, the standout is Quebecer Nicolas Rioux, who joins from the ECHL’s Quad City Mallards and also spent some time with the AHL’s Iowa Wild last season – he’s a solid two-way defenceman with a useful amount of attacking ability.
The Nickerson-sized-hole in the defence will likely be filled by Phillipe Paquet-a 6’3, 214lbs Quebecer with a strong playing style who spent last year in Denmark with Rungsted and has also played with Fredrikshavn when they finished 2nd in 2012/13. Joining him on the “strong, physical” side of the Flyers D is Canadian Matt Delahey, who at 6’1 and 212lbs comes from a solid career in junior and the CIS and figures to be the 2nd pairing equivalent of Paquet.
The defence corps is completed by Fife stalwarts Tom Muir and Chris Wands, who are both quiet, no-nonsense defencemen more than capable of eating up some time and holding up their own end.
This isn’t a flashy group, but it’s an effective one and will likely give David Brown some strong protection in front of him.
#9 Justin Fox, #10 Stephen Gunn, #15 Josh Scoon, #18 Allan Anderson, #19 Ryan Dingle, #20 Michael Dorr, #22 Jeff Lee, #23 Jamie Wilson, #27 Shayne Stockton, #39 Danny Stewart, #61 TJ Caig, #67 Patrick Cullen
This forward group may be the most impressive both in strength and in depth that Fife have assembled in the EIHL era. It’s one that sees a wholesale clearout of imports (only assistant coach Danny Stewart survives among them) as coach Todd Dutiaume goes for a whole new group among his forwards.
They’re a strong group that are very likely to trouble opposition goalies, too…containing a mix of imports who’ve been prolific in some very good European leagues and NA minor league scorers-as even a cursory look will prove. Todd Dutiaume and Danny Stewart know that goals win games, and they’ve got them here.
Ryan Dingle is an excellent top-line centre, fast and creative, excellent on faceoffs and with a very strong scoring record indeed in Italy. He’ll likely be flanked by veteran sniper TJ Caig, who has played his whole pro career in Europe, with the exception of two widely-separated seasons in North America with Tulsa Oilers. He’s scored 246 goals in just over 300 games in Europe, and only had one season in which he didn’t score at least 20 in a ten year pro-career. Now that’s consistency.
Continuing the scoring theme are strong wingers Justin Fox and Jeff Lee-Fox scored 58 points in 71 games for the ECHL’s Quad City last year, while Lee was a team-mate and scored 12+31. Diminutive sniper Michael Dorr, who didn’t play much last season but in his last full season in 13/14 scored 32 goals in Germany’s DEL2, will likely provide a major secondary scoring threat on the 2nd line, which will probably be centred by big power-centre Shayne Stockton, who comes to the EIHL after a strong season with Amiens in France’s Ligue Magnus.
Patrick Cullen is an intriguing signing on the 3rd line – the winger is described as a dynamo with relentless workrate who will be a perfect partner for Danny Stewart on a grinding, agitating line that will see locals Jamie Wilson, Stephen Gunn and Josh Scoon fight for the third spot (although Gunn is likely to get the majority of the time).
This is a group geared more to goals than grit, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t mix it up where required – they’re one of the bigger groups in the EIHL and in Cullen and Stewart they potentially have two of the best pests in the league on their third line. This will not be a fun group to face, and could surprise a few teams…certainly the goalscoring potential and pedigree is very impressive in this group and more than comparable to the vast majority of other EIHL squads.
PLAYER TO WATCH – #61 TJ Caig (RW)
Any time you have a player who’s only scored less than 20 goals once in a ten-year pro career, you have to figure he’s going to be very good at what he does. Caig is a strong, experienced goalscorer who at 34 knows every goalscoring trick in the book. If he forms a partnership with Ryan Dingle early in the season than it could be another prolific season in Fife for him…which can help carry the Flyers a long way.
POTENTIAL LINES (F)
Justin Fox-Ryan Dingle-TJ Caig
Jeff Lee-Shayne Stockton-Michael Dorr
Patrick Cullen-Danny Stewart-Stephen Gunn
Josh Scoon/Allan Anderson
POTENTIAL LINES (D)
Phillipe Paquet-Nicolas Rioux
Kyle Haines-Matt Delahey
Chris Wands-Tom Muir
David Brown/Craig Douglas
COACH: Todd Dutiaume (10th season)
At this point, it seems that the only way Todd Dutiaume will leave the Fife coaching job is when he decides to – the Canadian is part of the fabric in Kirkcaldy and as solid and constant a presence as the biting wind coming in off the North Sea that rattles the Auld Barn’s rafters on winter nights. Along with his assistant Danny Stewart, he’s quietly put together what is probably the best roster seen at Kirkcaldy in years-and he’s done it with almost no fanfare. The EIHL has improved again this offseason, but Fife have done so right along with it.
Fife fans have a lot to be optimistic about this season. The Flyers are a club who traditionally love to fly a little under the EIHL radar, often leaving long gaps between signing announcements and taking their time building their roster.
With this season, that has paid off greatly. Todd Dutiaum and Danny Stewart have taken last years Fife roster, taken the blows of some of their best players leaving, and still built a roster that looks even better, particularly in the forwards – it’s deeper, stronger and more rounded. There may still be questions over David Brown in the minds of some after his struggles for Hull early last season, but if the Flyers can get their forward lines firing, watch out.
The Flyers way isn’t to make big promises and shout about how good they are, but perhaps they should be. This Fife team is the best the EIHL has ever seen in Flyers jerseys, and it has some serious potential.
If they’re beating the big guns later on this season and making some waves in the EIHL come midseason, don’t say you weren’t warned.
“Won’t you help to sing, this song of freedom.
Cause all I ever had….redemption songs.
Bob Marley & The Wailers: “Redemption Song”
Sometimes it’s hard to find a song lyric for these previews that sums up the thrust of an article. But in Dundee this season, there’s only one word that sums up the aim of both the team and their new coach this season – and luckily it’s also the title of one of the greatest songs of all time.
This season in Dundee sees Marc Lefebvre, a coach who had a nightmare year (at least while in the EIHL) last season, pair with a team for whom 2014/15 couldn’t have gone any worse, as they both bid to repair reputations that might have taken something of a kicking recently. A coach and a team both looking to write their own Redemption Songs, if you will.
So who are the players Marc Lefebvre has chosen for the job, and what does this Dundee team look like?
#33 Vlastimil Lakosil, #31 Craig Holland
The Dundee Stars under Lefebvre bear almost no relation whatsoever to that of last season, starting in net, where the beleaguered Marc Cheverie is gently and firmly taken out behind the back of the barn and disposed of in favour of Czech veteran Vlastimil Lakosil. The 36-year-old will be one of the oldest players in the league this year and by far the oldest netminder, but comes with a strong pedigree after playing his whole career in Eastern Europe.
Last year the 5’11, 180lb native of Uherske Hradiste backstopped his HK Nitra team to 2nd in the Slovakian Tipsport Extraliga while also playing in the Champions’ Hockey League – Lakosil has also won the Continental Cup with MHC Martin in his career, too. He’s small and strong and plays a somewhat unorthodox scrambling style which isn’t always the prettiest but is very effective indeed.
He’ll be backed up by the Sheepdog, Craig Holland, who, like all EIHL backups, will be expected to be injury cover and spot duty but will likely not play much outside that.
#2 Kevin Hart, #14 David Turon, #17 Jason Gray, #19 Sam McCluskey, #27 Cory Pritz, #65 Craig Moore.
The Stars D is the kind of D you’d expect built by a team that’s not able to go out and recruit the stars the big-budget teams can…like Edinburgh and to a slightly lesser degree Fife Marc Lefebvre has had to concentrate on finding solid players and the odd hidden gem to staff the Stars blueline.
In Czech D David Turon he might have found one-the 6’2, 195lb offensive blueliner scored 12 goals with KH Sanok in Poland last season and has split his time between North American minor leagues and European leagues comparable to the EIHL, performing consistently wherever he’s played. He’ll likely be the key offensive producer.
Behind Turon is a mix of solid but slightly unspectacular North Americans and eager young British players…Kevin Hart is probably the pick of the bunch among them with one season in the ECHL with the Elmira Jackals and a solid NCAA career in Providence. Jason Gray and Cory Pritz come from the Canadian university system looking to make their mark on the pro ranks, although Gray has shown flashes of offensive ability too with the SPHL’s Columbus Cottonmouths.
The young Brits are the most intriguing on this team though – Sam McCluskey has been on the edge of making the leap to the top rank of Brit D the past few seasons, while Craig Moore returns to the EIHL from North America, where he was a team-mate of Coventry’s David Clements and part of the leadership group there, as well as captain of GB u20s, too. Not a bad resumé for a youngster. Expect to see him look to make a mark this year, too.
#11 Curtis Leinweber, #16 John Dolan, #18 Justin Faryna, #20 Mikael Lidhammar, #21 Bobby Chaumont, #25 Brett Switzer, #28 Riley Wetmore, #54 Lou Dickenson, #93 Doug Clarkson
This is a workmanlike forward group for the Stars, although the top line has been assembled from the ghost of Scottish EIHL teams past, with Curtis Leinweber and Bobby Chaumont, who’ve both been free-scoring players in their EIHL careers, joining the lightning-quick Lou Dickenson in a reunion of two former Edinburgh Capitals and one Fife Flyer/Braehead player for a full set of Scottish hockey team bingo on the top line. Dickenson in particular is an impressive pickup for Dundee – a big sniper who has been prolific in Denmark, Italy, Finland and Norway since his brief stay with Edinburgh in 2006/07.
Leinweber, too, comes back to the EIHL hoping to repeat his form with the Edinburgh Capitals which saw him score 28 goals in 13/14-he’ll act as the playmaker to Dickenson and player/assistant-coach Bobby Chaumont, who is a consistent 25-goal-scorer in the EIHL.
Behind this top three is Doug Clarkson, one of the more impressive stories in Cardiff last season, hoping he doesn’t suffer 2nd-season-syndrome in Dundee, with Dundee’s perennial stalwart, the quietly effective John Dolan, joining him. An intriguing signing is Mikael Lidhammar, a speedy Swede who’s played SHL hockey with his hometown Lulea squad and spent the past few years in the Allsvenskan with Oskarshamn. North Americans Brett Switzer and Riley Wetmore provide a mix of creativity and speed at the centre position, while gritty forward Justin Faryna will handle the pugilistic duties where required and hope to add a little scoring touch, too.
This is not the most star-studded forward group – however it is a very intriguing one – that top line has the potential to be one of the better ones in the league and the emphasis appears to be aimed towards speed rather than size – although Clarkson and Faryna will be more than capable of bringing the gritty play where required. It’s very much a case of seeing what hidden diamonds Lefebvre can coax into the light, and whether or not the likes of Leinweber, Dickenson and Clarkson can continue their impressive showings in the EIHL so far. If they can, then the Stars could be an enticing prospect to watch next year.
PLAYER TO WATCH – Lou Dickenson (F)
The British-Canadian forward is one of the more exciting signings to hit the EIHL this season – he’s a speedy, exciting sniper with good size and skill and a lightning shot, and will be the Stats’ go-to forward. In his last visit to the EPL he scored 23 points in 22 games, and Marc Lefebvre will be hoping he can score at a similar rate this season. If he can, then it will take the Stars a long way to ensuring they’re no longer the EIHL’s basement club.
POTENTIAL LINES (F)
Lou Dickenson – Curtis Leinweber – Bobby Chaumont
Doug Clarkson – Riley Wetmore – Mikael Lidhammar
John Dolan – Brett Switzer – Justin Faryna
POTENTIAL LINES (D)
David Turon – Jason Gray
Kevin Hart – Cory Pritz
Sam McCluskey – Craig Moore
COACH – Marc Lefebvre (2nd season)
Last year was one to forget for Lefebvre. Given the keys to his own EIHL team for the first time in Coventry, the Canadian found a star in Brian Stewart but couldn’t find the consistency or performance expected of a coach at one of the EIHL’s more demanding jobs expectation-wise, and found himself out of the EIHL by December. This year he has his chance to change the script and build at a team and environment arguably more suited to his development – the expectations are lower and the fans slightly more forgiving.
That’s not to say that he won’t be wanting to take the Stars as far as he possibly can – indeed now more than ever he has the motivation not only of wanting to prove the doubters wrong but repay the faith shown by the Stars owners in what some have seen as a risky appointment – after receiving a bloody nose in his first EIHL coaching role this is a chance for Lefebvre to pick himself back up off the canvas and get back into the fight.
For the Stars, nothing can be as bad as last year’s horror-show of a season. In Marc Lefebvre they have a coach motivated to come back from his own personal bad year, and leading the Stars back up the table would be an excellent way to do that.
In fact, the Stars and Lefebvre are a perfect fit this year-both looking for redemption after a struggle-filled 14/15. In the roster he’s built Lefebvre has certainly given Stars fans cause for hope.
This will certainly be a year where Dundee and Lefebvre will come together at the perfect time. Just how fruitful that pairing will be in the East of Scotland, only time will tell.
“No mercy, no quarter
They’ll pay for their sins
Now lower the cannons the battle begins”
Dropkick Murphys: “Hang ‘Em High“
The Nottingham Panthers last year were a team constantly in a state of flux-a team not quite sure what it wanted to be. Corey Neilson attempted to juggle the competing demands of the CHL early on and the EIHL later. His Panthers team, like many others, showed flashes of brilliance but was too inconsistent to mount a serious title challenge – the highlight of the season came early on with a win over the DEL’s Hamburg Freezers, and culminated in the Panthers not even making the playoff weekend in their own rink after a loss to the eventual champions, the Coventry Blaze.
This year sees a Panthers team reloaded, rearmed and built to bulldoze their way through the EIHL with a barrage of firepower rather than dance through it as Corey Neilson changes approach slightly. But what does it look like?
#20 Miika Wiikman, #34 Dan Green
The Panthers have another new face in net this season – the first in some while after Craig Kowalski has finally stepped away from the team with which he became an EIHL legend. The work-permit rules and changes with EIHL goalies have meant something of a change in the EIHL netminding landscape, with the predominantly North American group beginning to change a little and add slightly more of a European flavour. Miika Wiikman is a relatively small (6′ and 176lbs) Swedish-Finn who has played extensively in the Finnish Liiga and also in the AHL, but whose career has seen a recent slide downhill, first into the Finnish 2nd Division and then Slovakia.
He’s an agile goalie who relies on positioning and movement to cover his net, although his style does lead to a lot of rebounds, most of which are controlled pretty well. In the EIHL he should be a more than serviceable goalie if allowed to see the shots and seeing his crease kept clear-something that, as we’ll see, Corey Neilson has taken strongly into account.
Wiikman will be backed up once again by perennial Panthers backup Dan Green, who is among the better EIHL backups, but once again will only be called upon when Wiikman is injured.
#4 Bryan Schmidt, #6 Jeff Dimmen, #23 Paul Swindlehurst, #24 Theo Peckham, #27 Sam Oakford, #44 Geoff Waugh, #45 Stephen Lee
The Panthers defensive group is built first and foremost with the intention of making the Panthers zone a punishing place to be for opposition forwards. The undoubted star of this group is former Edmonton Oiler Theo Peckham, once considered one of the brightest prospects in the Oilers system. Peckham has the potential to be a beast – at 6’2 and 216lbs he’s a punishing hitter who loves to make opposition forwards’ lives hell on earth in front of his net – a task in which he’ll be backed strongly by Croatian-Canadian Geoff Waugh, who is the same weight but two inches taller. American Bryan Schmidt is a steady, calm two-way player who’ll likely be anchoring the third pairing.
The main offensive drive from this blue-line will be provided by American Jeff Dimmen, who comes to Nottingham off a stellar few offensive seasons in the Asia League with Anyang Halla, including a 40-assist-in-42-game performance in 2012/13.
The British contingent, meanwhile, has Stephen Lee and Paul Swindlehurst as its anchors with Sam Oakford as a strong backup option. This is a defensive unit that’s not the prettiest, but it’s built to do a job of making the Panthers zone an unwelcoming place for forwards, and it does that very well while not skimping too much on the offensive side.
#5 David Clarke, #7 Rob Lachowicz, #8 Matthew Myers, #9 Andy Bohmbach, #13 Juraj Kolnik, #14 Stephen Schulz, #17 Evan Mosey, #19 Rob Farmer, #20 Brad Moran, #39 Logan MacMillan, #55 Cam Janssen, #74 Oliver Betteridge
Corey Neilson’s forward group is built with an equal mix of skill, scoring and power, but the power it contains will, in some cases, have to be very carefully managed. However, while the defence is built with protection of its own zone in mind, the emphasis on the offence is about shock-and-awe and withering firepower.
There are many names that stand out when looking at this group-the sheer offensive potential it contains in particular is extremely impressive-in fact, it may be among the most impressive collections of firepower ever assembled on an EIHL squad.
Brad Moran is a top-line centre many EIHL teams would kill for, providing an equal mix of scoring and playmaking ability that will be perfect to feed accomplished snipers like Juraj Kolnik and Andy Bohmbach the bullets for them to fire, while more than capable of pulling the trigger himself when needed. Deal with that line, and there’s players like Stephen Schulz, Rob Farmer and David Clarke to contend with. Rob Lachowicz and Evan Mosey provide even more speed and scoring, while Logan MacMillan and Matt Myers provide the two-way savvy and balance that this group needs, and young talent Ollie Betteridge will have the chance to develop once again.
The most curious name on that list, though, is the last one. The Panthers have made a lot of fanfare about signing NHL tough-guy Cam Janssen, but he’s not a goalscorer or a playmaker…the man himself says he sees his role as to “go out there and hurt people, put the fear of God into them”. He’s supposed to be the toughness on this Panthers squad…but does he really represent the best use of their resources when even in the EIHL he’s likely to be a 3rd/4th-line “energy” player?
The EIHL’s moving away from the “beat the crap out of teams and fight a lot” template…and one-dimensional players like Janssen (23 points in 500+ pro games but 1400 PIMs over that same span) are slowly being eased down the pyramid – there was no place found for him in the NHL, AHL or ECHL this season and no team in Europe really fancied him either.
It’s all very well the Panthers trumpeting “toughness”, “grit” and “hitting” but they already have that in the likes of Peckham & Waugh on D and Myers, Farmer and MacMillan in the forwards. Neilson will have to keep a very tight rein on a player known to have rushes of blood to the head and as one of the dirtiest players in every league he’s played in. Failing that, the Panthers will need to do a whole lot of work on their penalty kill.
When even one of the Panthers management team is saying they expect Janssen to play a fourth-line role and hit things:
you have to wonder just how much he’ll actually contribute in a league where even now imports have to have a more rounded role. It’s even money right now whether or not Janssen’s antics will harm the team more than it helps it.
Leaving that issue aside and returning to the positives, this Panthers forward group has firepower to burn. That’s their biggest asset, and should see them become a contender in the EIHL this season once again.
PLAYER TO WATCH – BRAD MORAN (C)
Much as attention will be focused on ex-NHLers and physical cornerstones of this team Peckham and Janssen, the key to this team and the player whose performance will really make this team tick is the ex-Columbus Blue Jacket Moran. A silky-smooth playmaker who arguably should still be playing at a much higher level, Moran will be the player who’ll make sure the Panthers snipers have the bullets to fire. His passing and vision are superb, and he can create chances out of nothing-which makes him particularly dangerous on the PP. Opposition teams won’t be able to give him an inch of space or a second of time, or he’ll punish them.
Fans and indeed the Panthers themselves can talk all they like about Janssen’s hits being crucial and how they love to see physical play, but they’re not what the scoreboard counts. It counts goals, and Moran will be one of the best creators of the chances to score them in the EIHL.
POTENTIAL LINES (F)
Andy Bohmbach-Brad Moran-Juraj Kolnik
David Clarke-Matt Myers-Stephen Schulz
Rob Lachowicz-Logan MacMillan-Rob Farmer
Oliver Betteridge-Evan Mosey-Cam Janssen
POTENTIAL LINES (D)
Theo Peckham-Jeff Dimmen
Geoff Waugh-Stephen Lee
Bryan Schmidt-Paul Swindlehurst
THE COACH: Corey Neilson (8th season)
Now the longest-tenured coach in the EIHL, with the exception of Todd Dutiaume, Neilson has matured from a slightly rocky beginning into a career that’s seen him become the most successful coach in the EIHL era. He is an intelligent man who is very much in the “thinking hockey” mould of coaching – no fire and brimstone, just systems and carefully-thought-out lineups (which makes the signing of someone like Cam Janssen more surprising).
Neilson and his assistant Rick Strachan have given themselves arguably he most talented roster they’ve ever had this season – it’ll be very interesting indeed to see what they can make of it and if they can get it to fulfil its potential.
The Nottingham Panthers this year look like a team determined to make a mark on an Erhardt Conference that has become an arms race of talent. While some teams have gone with organisation, the Panthers have taken the approach of trying to build a team that will be a threat whoever is on the ice, much like Cardiff and Braehead, whether that be a threat to the scoreboard (particularly the first two lines) or to the opposition’s physical safety (whenever Cam Janssen is on the ice).
The potential firepower this team carries is shock-and-awe level impressive, while the defensive unit should ensure that any team crossing the Panthers blue-line is going to have to work very hard to put the puck past Miika Wiikman. However, question marks remain over one thing…can the “unsavoury” element in this team be controlled well enough to enable the component parts to do their work, or in the quest to react to criticisms of the Panthers being “too soft”, have they committed to a signing that will hurt their team more than help it?
We shall see.