Panic On The Streets Of London: Why an EIHL Team In London Is Unlikely To Ever Happen

“…she stumbles down by a river
Screams calling “London”
None of us heard her coming
I guess the carpet weren’t rolled out”

Jamie T: “Sheila”

So, another off-season, another rumour about EIHL ice-hockey returning to London surfaces. According to British Ice Hockey, there is a plan to run a team out of Wembley Arena, starting in the 2014/15 season. BIH mentions Nottingham Panthers owner Neil Black as the major mover and shaker behind this, in the way that Neil Black tends to be mentioned whenever new teams are rumoured to be being set up, and also hints that the massive Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner of the NHL’s LA Kings amongst other interests, may be interested.

London is not, traditionally, a venue where pro top-level ice hockey has really taken root, at least not recently. Of the 15 non-recreational-level teams set up in London itself (as opposed to Romford, who have moved rinks after the loss of theirs this season), only four currently survive (all at English National League level), and two of those are at the same rink, in Streatham. The last top-level team to play in London before the late 90’s were the Richmond Flyers of the British Hockey League in 1987, before two short-lived attempts with the London Knights and London Racers in the late 90’s/2000s.

Of those 15 teams, another 5 played in the early part of the century when British ice hockey was in its infancy. Wembley Arena itself, the mooted home of the new team, hasn’t hosted its own team since 1963 and last hosted hockey at all in 1996. The last top-level team in London, the Racers, played at a converted bike-shed in Lee Valley and only lasted two seasons.

Even the financial muscle of one of the biggest sports-entertainment groups in the world, the Anschutz Group (owners of the NHLs LA Kings and several other European teams) couldn’t save the London Knights, who battled an arena out in the Docklands and general apathy from Londoners used to football that meant that, despite a brave fight and hundreds of thousands of pounds being pumped into the team, the fanbase was left without a team at the end of 2003.

London is, of course, a city which every ice hockey fan in the country would love to see a successful EIHL franchise in-the lower-league squads in Haringey, Lee Valley and Streatham rinks would suddenly have a pathway for their young players to aspire to climb, and the EIHL would undoubtedly benefit hugely from the media attention gained from being in the nation’s capital.

But history is against a London team, as shown above.

Granted, if there’s anyone in the Elite League owner’s cabal who is capable of overcoming such odds, it’s Neil Black-the man who’s made Nottingham the most stable club in the EIHL as well as one of the most successful, and carved out a niche for ice hockey in Glasgow faced a) by a city that didn’t have a history of the sport and b) had the two biggest sports clubs in Scotland (two of the biggest in Britain, in fact) along with a huge amount of other competing attractions to compete with.

However, the problem of Glasgow, while an impressive achievement, is almost a cakewalk compared to the hurdles Neil Black or any other ownership group will face if they do attempt to rejeuvenate a top-league hockey team in England’s capital.

Firstly, while Glasgow had two major competing top-flight football teams, London has, at last count, fifteen football teams in the top four divisions, six of which are currently in the Premiership, and amongst those six are some of the best football teams in the world. 

It also has several top-flight rugby teams, cricket teams, other sporting squads, some of the most active nightlife and concert venues in the world and a population that has traditionally failed to embrace any “London” sports team, preferring to support their areas of the city.

Then there’s the problem of getting the fans in. Proponents of a London team claim that there’s a “massive” latent fanbase in London. However, is there enough to even half-fill a 12,500-seat arena on a consistent basis without a massive subsidy in ticket costs or prices so low an owner will lose money on every home game? Especially when there are already four other “local” teams in London itself and any number of EPL/ENL teams in the surrounding area? It seems the only way for Mr Black or any other owner to ensure such a crowd is either run at a loss due to subsidies, attempt to “steal” other teams fanbases or have a team that is simply unmissable/stupidly successful. Which will cost a lot of money. And that’s even before we start looking at housing costs in London, London weighting on the wages of the backroom staff (the employees will need to earn enough to eat) etc-all the “hidden” expenses of a top-flight ice hockey team.

Then, there’s Wembley Arena itself. It currently has no ice-plant (one will need to be installed-somehow I can’t see the arena doing that without a few quic), faces MASSIVE competition for dates due to it being one of the premier live music venues in Britain, and while it has decent transport links, is located in an area which may require some serious travelling even from those on the other side of London.

It also has, on average, two Saturdays of four booked for every month in the coming ice hockey season-which means teams may struggle for dates in a similar way to the likes of Sheffield, who already play some of their “less glamorous” games at the much smaller IceSheffield to avoid clashes. A Wembley team wouldn’t have that flexibility.

Ah-but what about sponsors, you say. Surely attracting top-flight sponsorship cash is easier in a big market like London?

Well, the Knights were sponsored by Associated Newspapers, one of the biggest media companies in Britain (in the guise of the London Evening Standard) and owner of two national daily UK newspapers including the 12th most profitable in the world-a tie-up that you’d assume gave them an “in” on media coverage and a pretty secure investor willing to throw a few quid in even if they weren’t owned by AEG. Did it help them? Did it heck.

So, what we have here is the task of starting up an EIHL team in an arena which is no longer set up for it (likely causing a ton of initial investment to be required just to get it fit for purpose), where it may well struggle to get icetime (by the way, there’s no realistic backup plan if it does), in a location which is one of the most crowded leisure environments on earth, one of the most expensive to live in AND also has a long history of failure to sustain top-level franchises in the chosen sport.

On top of that, this is a team that realistically HAS to win/be moderately successful right from the off in order to create any buzz around it and keep crowds up, and incidentally, it’s a minority sport whose competitors include some of the biggest teams on the planet in the country’s national sport.

Compared to that, even setting up the Braehead Clan sounds like an absolute cakewalk. Present that idea on Dragon’s Den with those facts and you’d be laughed out of court.

Now, I have no doubt in Neil Black’s and the Black family’s ability to run, fund and sustain any “normal” EIHL ice-hockey team-after all, they’re currently doing it with two of them, including the most financially successful club in the Elite League. And this is not meant in any way to disparage the work (and no doubt investment) that has been done with both the Nottingham Panthers AND the Braehead Clan.

But starting an EIHL team at Wembley and more to the point keeping it going will be, as shown above, on an entirely different planet of difficulty as a task. It’ll also be on an entirely different planet of cost.

And realistically (although I’d love to be proved wrong) I’m not sure that even Neil Black has any hope of pulling this one off, even if he’s considering it. I don’t think anyone can pull this off without being willing to lose not just thousands, not hundreds of thousands, but millions of pounds. At least not in the current UK hockey environment. And even if there are, it’d be touch and go.

Sorry, EIHL-it’s a nice dream, but dreams don’t come true that often. Especially not in UK hockey.

 

Advertisements

“Team Toughness”-Myth or Must For Success?

“Team Toughness”.

Defined by most fans as “having a team willing to play physical and all stick up for each other”, it’s become one of those watchwords for both fans and coaches in modern hockey when they talk about what you need on a squad. How many times have you seen a team praised as “one that’s not going to be pushed around“, one that “won’t take any nonsense” or “a team that has toughness all the way through“. Conversely, how many times have you seen a fan look at a roster and say “one thing I’m worried about is that it looks a bit lightweight” or “can we be sure they’ll stick up for each other?”

But is “team toughness”, “physicality”, “strength in depth” etc really as important as it’s made out to be? As someone who thinks that there’s nothing wrong with the odd hard hit but that this “team toughness” phrase is given far too much importance by fans to the point it’s become a cliché, I decided to conduct a (somewhat) scientific examination to find out, using all ten seasons of the EIHL as a statistics source.

Firstly, though-how do you measure “team toughness”? For the purposes of this investigation, we’re using the following definition:

team toughness (n): a team that is made of of players who are physically strong, plays hard in an attempt to dominate the opposition physically and with several players willing to drop the gloves if necessary.

Having established that definition, we then needed to find a possible measurement. This is where subjectivity comes in, since “toughness” isn’t a stat that shows up on a game sheet. However, it’s a logical hypothesis that teams who have several players willing to drop the gloves and play physically will likely take more penalties than one that isn’t as a result, so of the available statistics, team PIMs would seem to be a decent measure.

So what we’re going to do, essentially, is take a look at team PIMs and see if there’s a relationship between the number of PIMs a team takes and their success in the league, using the ten seasons of the UK’s EIHL (considered by its fans and coaches, for context, to be a very “North American” style league where toughness is a major asset) as a statistical basis.

In order to do this, we’re going to consider the teams with most PIMs and their position in the league and number of competitions won per season, versus the league champs each year and their number of PiMs. We’re also going to consider the “average” position for the “most PiM” teams, and assess how many of the available trophies the PIM leaders have won each season.

Logically, if “team toughness” is a thing and we assume that “team tough” squads are likely to be among the higher PIM takers if not the highest, then using our definition the teams with the most PiMs (or for the sake of argument, top three) should automatically be the ones finishing as league champs each season, and there should be a very close relationship between the average number of PIMs taken by league winners each year and the “high” average within the league right? Furthermore, a high proportion of league winners should be around or above the “average” league-winning PiMs, and teams who take the most PiMs should win a significant proportion of the trophies on offer.

The  list of most penalised players below is taken from the “most penalised players” on eliteprospects.com, while the team PIM figures, finishing positions etc are taken either from hockeydb.com standings, (since eliteprospects don’t list team PiMs), or for the seasons after 2010/11, from the EIHL’s own website.

Got that? Right. Let’s beg…ah, wait, we have another issue to deal with, so let’s get that out of the way first.

Some of you are already saying-“what about teams that have one player who takes the most penalties-won’t that unfairly skew it? So, first of all, let’s take a look at the PiM leaders from each EIHL season and how their teams did both in league positions and total trophies won, to see if having the most active enforcer automatically wins you titles.

EIHL Season

Player

Club

Final League Position

Number of trophies won/total
03/04 Paxton Schulte Belfast Giants 4th 0/3
04/05 Andre Payette Coventry Blaze 1st 3/3
05/06 Brad Voth Cardiff Devils 5th 1/4
06/07 Brad Voth Cardiff Devils 3rd 1/4
07/08 Andre Payette Newcastle Vipers 5th 0/4
08/09 Brad Voth Cardiff Devils 5th 0/4
09/10 Brad Voth Cardiff Devils 4th 0/4
10/11 Alex Penner* Derek Campbell Nottingham Panthers Sheffield Steelers 4th, 1st 2/3, 1/3
11/12 Chris Frank Cardiff Devils 4th 0/3
12/13 Benn Olson Coventry Blaze 4th 0/3

We can see from the above that only one team had the outright PiM leading player and still managed to win the EIHL league title (Coventry in their all-conquering 2004/05 season, although some could argue it’s two with Sheffield in 10/11-see below) and the PiM leaders’ teams ended up trophyless in six of the ten seasons. However, in 10/11, as you can seem there are two players…Alex Penner didn’t finish the season with Nottingham, was not present for either of their title wins, yet still managed to lead the PIM table, so for the sake of argument Penner is listed, but in terms of data collection, we’re using the highest PiM taker who remained with his team all season-that player being Derek Campbell of the Sheffield Steelers.

We can see that no team with the single highest full-season PiM taker has finished lower than 5th in the EIHL era, but, conversely, they’ve only won the league title twice, and out of a title of 36 possible competitions, the highest PIM taker’s team has only won six, or just over 12% half of which were in one season on a Treble-winning squad. . Only twice has a PiM leader finished in the top three, with 4th being the most common position.

From this evidence, we can conclude that the “traditional” hockey coach strategy of having a designated guy to handle the rough-stuff/intimidate the opposition (the “enforcer” strategy) more than likely won’t win you a title in the EIHL, of any kind. The statistics bear that out.

So then…the “you need a designated enforcer to win” argument is, nowadays, not applicable to the EIHL-statistical evidence shows, in fact, that it just doesn’t work.

But what about having several people sharing the load? We’ve had a look at how having a PiM leader seems to relate to a teams’ on-ice success in the EIHL-what about if you try and spread them throughout a team?

Here’s another table. This time, it looks at the teams who led the EIHL in combined PiMs, and compares them with the league champions…it also looks at the number of trophies won once again.

Season Most Team PIMs League pos/trophies Champion (PIMs) PIM rank/other Cups won
03/04 Cardiff (1210) 5th/0 Sheffield (1105) 3rd, 1/2
04/05 Coventry (1231) 1st/3 Coventry (1231) 1st, 2/2
05/06 Belfast (1139) 1st/1 Belfast (1139) 1st, 0/3
06/07 Newcastle (1403) 8th/0 Coventry (1316) 4th, 1/3
07/08 Newcastle (1314) 5th/0 Coventry (842) 9th, 0/3
08/09 Cardiff (1385) 4th/0 Sheffield (1326) 2nd, 1/3 
09/10 Coventry (1336) 1st/1 Coventry (1336) 1st, 0/3
10/11 Nottingham (1539) 4th/2 Sheffield (1415) 4th, 0/3
11/12 Hull (1265) 8th/0 Belfast (1095) 4th, 0/2
12/13 Coventry (1208) 4th/0 Nottingham (999) 4th, 2/2

This provides a much less clear cut conclusion than the “most penalized player” table…although it does seem to back up that if you go for true “team toughness”, at least as defined by fans, you’re not going to be successful in the EIHL. Aside from Coventry (twice) and Belfast bucking the trend by winning the title, it’s noticeable that no team leading the league in PIMs has ever finished in the top three. The PIM-leading teams have also only won 7 trophies of the 36 available in 10 years-again, six of which were won in two seasons, and two more in another. So…using that measure alone, “team toughness” is way over-rated as a trophy-winning need.

However, when you look at the champions’ PIM ranking within the league, a slightly more optimistic picture emerges. Sheffield have twice won the league title while being in the top 3 of PiMs, and only three times has the league title winner been under 1100 PIMs (however, it’s noticeable that they’re an average of 100 PiMs a season or so behind the “goon teams). The trophy numbers are perhaps a little less representative as the EIHL champions tend to be the best teams in playing ability so we can expect a “higher” number…also they tend to be the “bigger budget” teams also, so roster playing quality as well as toughness comes heavily into play.

HOWEVER, when we look at “non-league” titles won by the champions, they’ve won 7 of a possible 26, or less than a quarter. Even when the PiM leaders have managed to win the league, only Coventry managed to win anything else.

Granted, it appears that if you want to win things in the EIHL you need at least a modicum of toughness…only Coventry (842) in 2009/10 and Nottingham (999) last season have won anything with less than 1000 total PiMs in a season, and the average number of PiMs of a league winner in the EIHL era is 1180 (although that’s still a long way behind the average highest). That said, five have won while above that average and five below it, so statistically, despite the fans’ and to some degree the coaches claiming that “team-tough squads are more likely to win the league” it’s statistically a coin-flip.

So basically, what we’ve learned from all of this analysis is that while a little toughness is good to have, you don’t want anywhere near too much if you want to be successful on-ice in the Elite League. Certainly, the statistics at least don’t bear out the huge emphasis placed on “team toughness” as a soundbite by fans nor the theory that “old-time hockey’s the best hockey”-it’s seemingly no more important or less so than any other factor.

In fact, the trend the past few years has actually seen both total and title-winning PiMs drop in the EIHL, perhaps signalling a move away from the “toughness” model by coaches and towards more emphasis on squads that need to be able to play first and second and (maybe) fight third.

So it seems that the era of “team toughness” as a buzzword has had its moment. While there’s been a lot of talk about the power-forwards such as Leigh Salters in Nottingham who’ve been signed this season, there’s also been scepticism at the Steelers signing of Tim Spencer, who appears to be the very epitome of a “team toughness” player. The “new” ideal EIHLer is someone like Adam Keefe, who doesn’t fight unless he absolutely has to and is far more well-known for his hard work and great effort. Perhaps it’s time for fans to stop obssessing with tired buzzwords and see the EIHL appears to be moving away from the “tough” era and embracing a still hardnosed but far more skilful style such as that played in Scandinavian leagues.

And frankly, it’s about time. Because as the stats show, “team toughness” might win you a game, but it doesn’t have much influence as fans think on winning a title. At least not any more.

Feeding The Fire: #23 Kenny Kallstrom

Feeding The Fire is a Chasing Dragons series providing a scouting report on Blaze’s new arrivals this season. Today, we look at their new young gun on defence, Kenny Kallstrom

BASICS

20130716-223348.jpg

Kenny Kallstrom is a 23-year-old, 6’3, 194lb defenceman from Avesta in the Dalarna province of Sweden. He joins the Blaze from Black Star Strasbourg of the French Ligue Magnus, having spent his first season outside his home country there last year after spending the rest of his career playing for Leksands JuniorElit squad, Leksands IF in the Allsvenskan (Swedish 2nd Division) and Karlskrona at the 3rd level of Swedish hockey.

PLAYING CAREER

At first glance, Kallstrom appears a little less experience than some…only four years ago he was still playing Swedish junior hockey in the JuniorElit division. However, he’s been performing on a national stage in the Swedish system since the age of 15, when he played for his province in the TV-Pucken, one of the top children’s hockey competitions in Europe. From there, he made his way through the Leksands Junior SuperElit teams, playing with and against some of the best young players in the world. The SuperElit is one of the top junior hockey divisions in the world, and Kenny performed well enough to be called up to the full Leksand men’s team, making his debut in the Allsvenskan at the age of 18. By 2009/10 he was playing full-time in one of the best second-tier leagues in Europe, and considered good enough to pair and indeed mentor NHL draft-pick and current Phoenix Coyote Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the best young dmen in Europe, as well as being trusted to cover for the team’s top d-men when injury struck.

The next two years saw Kenny continue to rise through the ranks, playing 41 games in 2009/10 and 49 in 2010/11. Let’s not mince words here-you don’t play for (and stick with) an Allsvenskan team as a teenager and 20-year-old unless you’re very good indeed-during his time in Leksand Kenny played in the Kvalserien (promotion playoffs) twice, meaning he’s played against SEL opposition-some of the best outside the NHL.

He scored 17 points that season in the league from defence (for comparison, Rob Dowd scored 24 points as a forward the following season)

However, in 2011/12 Leksand strengthened for a run at promotion and Kallstrom was loaned to Karlskrona in Swedish Div 1 (third tier)-where he helped them gain promotion.

2012/13 saw Kenny leave Sweden for France’s Strasbourg…however, an injury-shortened season saw him play only 11 games in the Ligue Magnus, where he was used as the team’s top offensive D and still managed to score 8 points on a struggling squad (they finished 12th of 14), He comes to Coventry to be coached by fellow Swede Matty Soderstrom, for his first season in the EIHL.

PLAYING STYLE

Kallstrom is a big, skilled offensive defenceman. He can skate very well indeed and has excellent vision-in Leksands and Karlskrona he was used primarily for his offensive instincts. He has a hard shot and can think and react quickly…indeed all of the attributes that Blaze desperately needed to replace with the departure of Mike Schutte. Sadly, it’s difficult to find any suitably-edited clips (Allsvenskan and Ligue Magnus teams tend to provide game highlights in bursts rather than player-focused ones) but watching him, he LOVES to go forward…expect him to pop up in space in the offensive zone all the time to provide another shooting threat and be key in starting rushes.

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

Kallstrom has hands and skating many forwards in the EIHL would envy. Being good enough to play regularly in the Allsvenskan as a teenager is hard enough-being able to stick there and contribute as a teenager means you’ve got some serious skill. He’s a big lad at 6’3 & 194lbs too, which is always useful-if you’re big and mobile as Kallstrom is, you’re suddenly a very big handful as an offensive D indeed.

FLIES IN THE OINTMENT

Scout reports on Kallstrom emphasise that while he’s an excellent offensive D, his youth means that his defensive skills and nous are still developing and he loves to go forward-so pairing him with a solid defensive D would be an advantage. It’s also mentioned that he may need to use his size more in the EIHL-but both are minor worries when compared with his upside.

SO WHERE WILL HE FIT IN?

Kallstrom will likely step into Mike Schutte’s role of leading the offense from the blue-line along with Sean Erickson. Expect him to be paired with the calm and steady influence of Mike Egener or the defensive Benn Olson and given free licence to roam forward, using his hands and vision to create plays. He’ll also be one of the keys to the Blaze powerplay, giving a creative touch from the blueline that means the Blaze can run two creative dmen on the PP unit should they wish, with both left and right-handed shots from the point.

CONCLUSION

With this signing, Matt Soderstrom has moved away a little from the “traditional” Blaze template and has reached back into his native country (and even his old junior club-Soderstrom played SuperElit J20 for Leksands between 1994 and 1997) to sign only the first Swede since Erik Hjalmarsson in 08/09 & only the seventh ever to play for the Blaze-and he may have pulled out an absolute gem.

Kallstrom is young, hungry and already tested at a level equal or higher than the EIHL in the Allsvenskan. He’s perhaps less experienced than Schutte, who he’ll be seen as replacing, but he’s a very talented kid indeed.

To me, this signing is yet more clear evidence, if any were still needed, that the Blaze are now truly Matt Soderstrom’s team. It’s also evidence that this is a team that will look to entertain as much through fast, flowing Euro-style hockey as through big hits-this is a team that will play but can hit if needed, not a team that will hit and can occasionally play a bit.

And that, frankly, is one hell of an exciting prospect.

Raising Hell?: Why The Cardiff Devils Are Ready To Challenge For The Title This Season

Predictions are both the bane of a sportswriter’s life and one of its necessary evils. Most of my time covering hockey in the EIHL isn’t actually spent covering or even watching “my” team in Coventry-it’s spent hunting around for the raw data of player signings across the EIHL, hunting through and memorising statistics, watching any footage I can of particularly juicy signings in any league I can to learn more about them, and having got hold of the raw data, trying to work out what it means. I spend the off-season looking at obscure stats like average heights of teams, trying to relate a players’ points-per-game, plus minus or save percentage both to the relative standard of the league they were achieved in and players they were achieved alongside, and speadsheet after spreadsheet of results. Then I try and put them into some sort of logical conclusion and spot trends to give me something to write about and give me an idea of what we can expect to see during the offseason.

This offseason, watching all the activity in the EIHL and trying to make sense of it keeps resulting in me coming back to one nagging thought:

This could be the year the Cardiff Devils rejoin the big boys with an Elite League title.

Granted, it’s difficult (and indeed foolish) to make any solid predictions in mid-July, especially as we see some teams close to completion (like Coventry) and others barely begun on their announced recruitment. However, what one CAN do is assess the likely strength of the rosters and form a gut feeling about them.

Gerard Adams has quietly become one of the EIHL’s best recruiters during his time as player/coach in South Wales…regularly picking out star players like Scott Matzka and Mac Faulkner on a budget not quite the level of the “top” EIHL squads. He’s continued the proud tradition the Devils have of reaching the EIHL playoff final weekend every year since the league came into being…and despite finishing second in the EIHL two years ago and coming within a game of being champions, he and his partner-in-crime Neil Francis somehow never really come up in discussion of best coaches of the EIHL era.
Looking at the Devils roster this season, though, I keep getting the feeling that this will be the season the Devils truly make the leap from “strong squad” to “genuine title contenders”.
The Devils have always had a very strong identity under Adams and Francis-the coaching team have built a succession of hard-working, defensively responsible squads. They have contained the odd genuine league star-names like Jon Pelle and Scott Matzka come immediately to mind-but if there HAS been a flaw in the squad it’s been that they’ve seemed to be built to a compromise, whether intentionally or not, as Adams has tried to walk the line between the small ice surface of their home rink and the bigger ice surfaces elsewhere. They’ve also always seemingly had one Achilles heel that harmed them-whether it be in net, discipline problems or elsewhere.
Look at this year’s team, though, and you see a team that’s strong in every department. It has goalscoring (Mac Faulkner is one of the best forwards in the EIHL and scored at a clip of over a point a game before his injury last year-his partner-in-crime Chris Blight is an able foil), defensive strength (Adam Ross, Josh Batch, Mark Smith and Brad Plumton all provide a nice balance of bulk and ability, while Mark Richardson is the heir apparent to Jonathan Weaver for the “Brit offensive dman” crown) and grit (the two Andrews Conboy and Lord are going to be making opposition d-men’s lives hell on the forecheck all year).
In net, too, Adams and Francis have pulled off a coup. Losing their first choice in Frank Doyle was seen by some as a blow, but in allowing the recruitment of former NHL backup Dan LaCosta I’d argue it’s been the best thing to happen to South Wales hockey this offseason-LaCosta is younger and has the potential to be better than both Doyle and last season’s EIHL leader Craig Kowalski in net-his career path has been somewhat unorthodox but there is no disputing his talent.

Crucially, though, what this Devils squad has more than any other I can remember is depth-and the feel of being built to a template that is perfect for the cramped claustrophobic ice of the Big Blue Tent. Matt Myers was superb in Nottingham but learned his craft on the tight surface of the WNIR, and his return to his home city is a statement of intent.
Coupled with the size of Phil Hill, a maturing Ben Davies and the raw energy of Adam Harding, Chris Jones and Luke Piggott, the Devils Brit-pack is amongst the better in the EIHL.
The sheer size of the squad (the team are on average 5lbs or nearly half a stone heavier a man than any other team) coupled with the scouting reports on the likes of Ross, Lord and Conboy show that Adams has built a team with the small ice of the Tent and a Devils crowd that LOVE smash-and-grab grinding hockey in mind, and they’ll be licking their lips at playing half their fixtures on a rink seemingly tailored for them to punish opponents physically.

My feeling is that Adams and Francis have a gameplan that involves turning their home rink into a House Of Pain this year-a template that has been proven to work in the past so effectively by Coventry and to a lesser degree Newcastle. In fact, this Devils squad reminds me already of nothing so much as the all-conquering Blaze squad of 04/05…and we all know what they did.

Coupling a fearsome fire-breathing forecheck with a top goalie and adding a side of skill in a rink that will reward it while managing to keep it effective for away rinks is a recipe that Adams and Francis have been trying to get right for years, but somehow they’ve never quite found the perfect blend, or depth.
With this squad, I think they have. It remains to be seen how other teams respond but I think in this Devils season we’ll see the patient work of the Devils management in blooding local youngsters and sticking to a template finally bear fruit.

This Devils team is coming for the big boys as well as the rest of the EIHL. And this time, I have a feeling they’ll be bringing hell with them.

As an opposition fan (of one of their big rivals) the 2013/14 Cardiff Devils scare the hell out of me.

As a hockey fan, I can’t wait to see what they, Gerard Adams, Neil Francis and the Red Army can do this year.

Feeding the Fire: #37 Kevin Harvey

Feeding the Fire is a new series welcoming the newest arrivals to the 2013 Coventry Blaze and providing your very own scouting report on all new arrivals in Coventry the day they’re signed. Today, it’s the turn of the Blaze’s new sparkplug, ex-Elmira Jackal forward Kevin Harvey.

BASICS

Kevin Harvey, with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch

Kevin Harvey is a 28-year-old 6’2, 200lb left winger from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

PLAYING CAREER

Kevin first came to the hockey world’s notice in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League (OPJHL) with 146 games split between Kingston, Oakville and Georgetown, before moving up to the Ontario Hockey League with Kingston Frontenacs and Owen Sound Attack. He was drafted 270th by the Calgary Flames in 2003, 236 spots below his current Blaze captain Mike Egener, but never got close to the NHL-indeed taking a year away from hockey at the end of his junior career in 2005/06.

However, he returned to pro hockey with the Central Hockey Leagues New Mexico Scorpions in 2006/07, working his way up to the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch over the next few years via stops in the ECHL with Reading and back to the CHL with Rapid City. After a few games with the Springfield Falcons and a season with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye he spent last year with the Elmira Jackals in the same league, along with a brief stint in Europe’s top hockey league (the KHL) with Slovan Bratislava. This is his first full season in Europe.

PLAYING STYLE

One look at Kevin’s career statistics should give you a clue as to what type of player he is…he’s only dropped under 200 PiM’s in one pro regular season (last year, where he got 191) and has had a total of 154 fights in his career. However, he can also put the puck in the net where necessary…12 goals in the ECHL last season (his first double-digit pro season) and 30 in 42 with the Georgetown Raiders in his last junior season suggest that there is a scoring touch there…however, it’s clear that Harvey is either a large pest or a mid-sized power-forward, depending on who’s doing the classifying. He appears to me from reviews and watching him to be a very similar type of player to Belfast’s Adam Keefe-and we all know what effect Keefe has in Belfast.

Another thing that should tell you about Harvey’s temperament…despite two days of searching I can’t find a clip of him playing hockey on youtube apart from a missed penalty shot and a monumental hit…ironically shortly after a fight. But I can find a bunch of his 154 scraps.

Here’s a particularly impressive one, where the 6’2, 200lb Harvey knocks out Riley Emmerson, who is 6’8 and 250lbs. That whole “Brent Henley as toughest in the EIHL” thing isn’t looking so sure now:

And here’s that aforementioned “fight and hit” clip….Harvey takes on the (again bigger at 6’3, 212lb) Martin Baca of HK Nitra while playing for Slovan Bratislava, beats him, then in the next clip lands a monumental hit on the forecheck (on ex-Nottingham Panther/Braehead Clan dman Martin Tuma), leading to a goal. (fight stars at 26 seconds, the hit is at 2:26 but you see it best at 3:29 and 3:36:

He seems to be the kind of player who crowds enjoy watching as well…watch him after winning this scrap with Aaron Gagnon:

Certainly, he’s going to be the type of forward who will make d-men look over their shoulder in their own zone, and be expected to be one of the most physical players on the team, if not the EIHL.

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

Harvey hits like a train. Blaze haven’t had a forward who genuinely does that for several seasons.

He’s more than handy in a scrap…which means maybe Benn Olson won’t be expected to hold up the physical side of things this season-also allowing the D-unit not to be left one down due to scrapping penalties (necessary or not)

He adds some real bite to the forward lines-certainly up until now the top-six forward signings have focused on skill, scoring and/or two-way play…in Harvey we have a pit-bull that adds balance to the lineup and will be the battering ram that opens the door for the likes of Ryan Ginand and Ashley Tait to do their thing.

The guy can play-despite spending 200+ minutes in the penalty box he still got 31 points in 53 games last year. That speaks of a nasty sod who can score goals…which is the type of player Blaze have been crying out for ever since they lost Sylvain Cloutier and Danny Stewart.

He’s already seemingly nailed-on as a fan favourite-Blaze finally have their own version of Adam Keefe that they’ve needed the past two seasons.

FLIES IN THE OINTMENT

200 PiM’s a season is a lot…and when the coach of the team signing him says that “he’s a looney tune, but in a good way!” you do wonder whether there may be a little too much fighting and not playing. But at the same time, I’ve noticed some Blaze fans already focusing a little too much on this and not his ECHL numbers as mentioned above. Frankly, this is a small fly for me.

SO WHERE WILL HE FIT IN?

Take your pick. First line with the Henrichs to give Michael and Adam space to play, 2nd line to give Ginand and McMillin the same, or third line to provide some snarl and let Tait play, Harvey could legitimately be a great fit on all three Blaze lines. His signing gives Matty Soderstrom a ton of options, as well as a big body on both the powerplay and (more likely) the penalty kill. Harvey’s skillset means he could be dropped in on any line in any situation and asked to do several different jobs.

One thing we can expect is that if there’s a dirty glove-dropping job to be done next year, there’s a good chance Harvey will do it. And on the evidence of his fight card/role thus far, he’ll do it well.

Welcome to the Blaze for the “Hamilton Hellcat”. Watching him looks like it could be fun…