Is there anybody out there still?
Three weeks ago, life got in my way as far as hockey blogging went, in a BIG way. I started a new job, and found out I had a month to find a house for me and my Northern Irish fiancée to live in. Because of that, I stopped Chasing Dragons for a little while, thinking “y’know, it’s December, teams are settled for a while, there won’t be a huge amount to discuss when I get back”…
I return, all the above issues sorted, on the day when there was supposed to be an apocalypse that didn’t happen, to look at an EIHL that looks nothing like it did before. An EIHL where empires have been laid low, stars have risen and fallen and rosters have been radically changed.
An EIHL that this December appears to have gone through its own “dawning of a new era”.
Dumping And Changing:
There’s been roster changes galore: Over the past 20 days, eight of the ten teams have lost or gained players. Only Fife and Dundee still have a roster that looks the same as it did the last time I wrote. Nottingham and Sheffield have lost their much-trumpeted NHLers, who both left not with a bang but with a whimper as they decided that maybe they couldn’t be arsed to battle for two teams who considered them superstars but didn’t deliver. Steelers have further compounded their problems as Ryan Finnerty continues to cause discord in the dressing room…Colin Shields following Cory Pecker and Tom Sestito out of the door and being followed by the same passive-aggressive accusations of disloyalty that seem to come out of Sheffield every time someone decides there are pastures greener than the hallowed ice of South Yorkshire. Nottingham have bade farewell to the disinterested Anthony Stewart and welcomed Kelsey Wilson from the ECHL as they look to add the same physical spark to their forwards that Guillaume Lepine adds to their D.
Cardiff have welcomed back Mark Richardson and said farewell (at least for Christmas) to Paul Bissonnette. They’ve also said farewell to Devin DiDiomete as the Mouth Of South Wales returned to North America for personal reasons. But they’ve welcomed Jesse Gimblett as an energy forward as one tries to (at least temporarily) fill the role of two agitators.
Coventry have said farewell to Gerome Giudice in a more amicable parting as the Italian-Canadian pest decided regular ice-time for Pontebba was preferable to fighting for a place in Coventry with Mike Bayrack. Belfast, too, have welcomed the impressive-looking Kevin Saurette as a replacement for the injured Andrew Fournier, and are currently playing Coventry without seemingly missing a beat.
Even Hull have said farewell to Chris Sykes, who’s headed for the ENL.
But in some places, the more things change the more they remain the same. Braehead have released Mitch Maunu and Jesse Schultz never arrived, and still they struggle in the middle reaches of the Gardiner Conference…surely there must be time for changes galore this Christmas as Jordan Krestanovich asks Santa for a defence and goalie on the same page in his stocking.
Shocks and Stirs
Never mind Christmas miracles. Edinburgh have already pulled off two, beating Sheffield and Nottingham away in the space of five days earlier this month, much to the joy of the rest of the league. The Capitals are climbing slowly towards the light once again after a tricky start, with Curtis Leinweber so far looking to be one of the signings of the season, having scored 12 points in 8 games so far, seven of them goals. The Caps are a team whose 2013 could be very different to their 2012, in a good way. Certainly, the feel-good factor is slowly returning in Murrayfield, and a Hockey Hogmanay on New Years’ Eve v Fife could be a hot ticket this year even if not all the seats are filled.
Lords Of The North
Fife are flying. After finding their feet in the league last season the Flyers have built strongly this one, and with the likes of Casey Haines and the Pitton brothers playing out of their skins recently, their league position belies a team who are much better than 8th place shows them to be. Braehead may be top of the Gardiner conference, but they are NOT the best team in that group by a long way…just lucky up until now.
While the Conference system is ideal for creating rivalries, once again the Elite League have managed to screw up a good thing by making it too complicated…a point that surprises no-one.
Teams can be bottom of their conference, but somehow still ahead of other teams in the league who have more conference points. This means no-one actually knows if Conference standings mean anything in the greater scheme of things-certainly in terms of playoff qualification. Conference games count towards league AND conference points, but games against the other conference don’t-which leads to the basic problem whereby a team can be in a playoff spot and beat a higher-placed team in the other conference into the playoffs…completely negating the point of a conference-based playoff system in the first place.
Why the EIHL couldn’t have arranged a system whereby one team from each conference misses out, all points count to all games. and the PO QF’s are 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 in each conference, in a modified version of the NHL system, is, frankly, a mystery.
And don’t even get me started again on the Challenge Cup…that’s for another time.
After The Apocalypse
So, where do we go now the dust appears to have settled? Jordan Krestanovich and Ryan Finnerty must be beginning to feel the hot breaths of the Reaper on their coaching tenures in both Glasgow and Sheffield…where next for them? Is this, possibly, the year for Nottingham to break their league title drought? What about Coventry-who are strong at home but seem to need just a little more killer instinct against the big teams…can they turn team spirit and skill into a 2013 tear for the title or are cup competitions their best chance? Can Braehead turn it around? Those are just some of the questions floating around EIHL fans, still, in day one of this post-apocalyptic world as they eat, drink and be merry for Christmas 2012.
We’re nearly halfway through the EIHL season, and, just like a doomsday cult member waking up tomorrow, the major question is still…
What happens next?
Chasing Dragons is back again after its break to deal with life outside hockey, and like every EIHL fan, I can’t wait to see what happens as the year changes and 2013 unfolds.
There’s nearly four months of exciting and intriguing hockey behind us…and if this month is anything to go by, it’s just starting to get good.
Bring it on.