Ten Teams, Ten Days #2: Braehead Clan

Ten Teams in Ten Days is the 2013/14 Chasing Dragons EIHL season preview, looking in depth at one EIHL team a day from now up until the August Bank Holiday weekend-the last weekend before the start of EIHL preseason. Today, we move north for a look at the first Gardiner Conference team we’ll preview-the Braehead Clan.

“Can’t you hear us coming?
The fight has only just begun
Can’t you see we’re coming?”

Creed: “Freedom Fighter”

OVERVIEW

2012/13 was a year of turmoil, regret and broken promises for the Clan. After establishing themselves in the EIHL over the previous few seasons, there was a lot of talk that the new Conference system would play right into the Glasgow club’s hands and allow them to make a push for the top of the table, with some even tipping them as unlikely champions. That didn’t happen-in fact the Purple Army didn’t even come close, using 31 total players and struggling for consistency throughout the season before (barely) winning the Conference. Clearly, changes were needed and in this off-season they got them, with Ryan Finnerty taking the Clan job after being dismissed by Sheffield and promising no repeat of the troubles of last season. This offseason the Clan have built and recruited like a team with a point to prove-a team with ambition. Merely solid finishes aren’t enough-they want to shake up the status quo in the EIHL this season. Let’s take a look at them position by position.

NETMINDERS

#29 Kyle Jones, #33 Michael Will

After the much-publicised struggles of great goalie hope Garret Zemlak last season, Ryan Finnerty has looked outside of the EIHL for his starter this season, picking up 29-year-old Canadian Kyle Jones from the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles. The North Delta, BC native is both well-built at 6′ and 203lbs, and experienced as a starter, and is coming to the UK looking to prove just how good he is after being squeezed out of the role in Colorado by a younger goalie last season. Youtube highlights have shown him to have a very fast glove hand and be agile for a bigger goalie, but there will be a big weight on his shoulders after the Clan’s struggle with consistent netminding last season-however, Jones has the pedigree to be a solid EIHL netminder. Behind him Michael Will once again performs backup duties, and may have an eye on continuing to increase his own icetime after playing a career-high 13 EIHL games last season. However, Jones is the clear starter and will likely take the vast majority of games, as long as he performs.

DEFENCE

#4 Sam Zajac, #Scott Aarssen, #8 Craig Mitchell, #22 Chris Frank, #25 Kevin Bergin, #28 Ray Macias

The Clan defence has a new look once again this season, with only Zajac returning from last season’s unit-the diminutive 25-year-old from Whitley Bay is a fan favourite with the Purple Army and continues to get better season upon season. However, all attention will be focused on Ray Macias, who has spent the vast majority of his career in the AHL and two games in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche…Macias will be expected to provide the main offensive thrust to the blue-line unit. Behind him, Chris Frank, who knows the EIHL well having spent time with Sheffield (under the coaching of Finnerty) and Cardiff, along with another player who knows the EIHL in Kevin Bergin, converting to defence after spending his previous EIHL spell with Basingstoke and Nottingham as a forward. Canadian university product Scott Aarssen (who comes to the EIHL from the same Austrian team as Coventry Blaze new recruit Michael Henrich) and young Scot Craig Mitchell round out the unit.

This isn’t the strongest D-unit in the EIHL on paper, and a lot will depend on the play of Macias and, to a lesser degree, Frank, Aarssen and Bergin. That top four will have to be on its game or Kyle Jones may be seeing a lot of rubber this season. Several questions hang over the unit-can Bergin play defence as well in the EIHL as he did in the (slightly lower standard) French league? Can Chris Frank adjust to the probable responsibility of being a number 2 defenceman when other EIHL teams have used him as a #4 or even a forward?

However, in Zajac they have a very under-rated British defenceman and Aarssen is an unknown quantity who could be the X-factor in this unit. The simple statement is-this D unit will be as good as they want to be. It’s simply that no-one knows how they’ll compare to far more heralded units like those of several Erhardt Conference teams yet.

FORWARDS

#9 Ed McGrane, #10 Nathan Moon, #11 Matt Haywood, #15 Ash Goldie, #17 Lee Esders, #18 Julien Corriveau, #23 Shane Lust, #26 Tristan Harper, #64 Joel Champagne, #74 Matt Towe, #93 Aidan Fulton

While there’s a little uncertainty over the strength in depth of the Clan’s defensive unit, the forward group in the West of Scotland will likely be the best in the Gardiner Conference and amongst the best in the EIHL. Ash Goldie is a HUGE returnee for the team after being the linchpin of their offence last season-this time round though he’s got the kind of scoring help many Erhardt teams will envy. The major characteristic of this group is that, with the exception of Goldie and experienced playmaker Ed McGrane they are to a man a young and hungry group-only three players (McGrane, Goldie and Shane Lust) are over the age of 25. Lack of years should not be confused with lack of skill, however…in Nathan Moon, Joel Champagne and Julien Corriveau the Clan have three very talented and dangerous forwards indeed. Moon and Champagne in particular look like they have the potential to be true stars in the EIHL-Moon scored a point a game in the OHL and nearly matched that in the ECHL while Champagne is an ECHL Kelly Cup champion from last season and carries some serious size and skill at 6’4 and 218lbs. Corriveau, too, may be something of a hidden gem, scoring at a clip of a point-per-game in the French Ligue Magnus last season as a team-mate of Kevin Bergin. McGrane and Goldie have been there and done it and will provide the wise heads to the youthful impetuosity of the Clan attack. In the Brit group of Lee Esders, Matt Haywood, Matt Towe and Tristan Harper the Clan have one of the better third lines in the EIHL, too, with Aidan Fulton ready to step in where needed. If there were question marks over the Clan defence, the only question over this group of forwards is “just how good can they be?”. If they click as a group, then both Gardiner and Erhardt defences will be in for some nervy and torrid trips to the West of Scotland this season.

COACH: Ryan Finnerty (with Kevin Bergin)

Finnerty was much maligned for his lack of trophies won with a big budget in Sheffield, and it still remains to be seen just how good a coach he can be, but with the Clan this season he’s certainly recruited well, particularly on the forward lines. He’ll also no doubt be a much wiser coach after his time with the Steelers. Bergin is also a relatively inexperienced assistant, but both men have been quick to state that they’ve formed an excellent working relationship, and it’ll be interesting to see how Finnerty does in a role which arguably has far less pressure than that of his first coaching job, and just how much influence Bergin has as an assistant coach. This move could be the making of Finnerty as an EIHL coach.

PROSPECTIVE LINES-FORWARDS

Ash Goldie-Ed-McGrane-Nathan Moon

Julien Corriveau-Joel Champagne-Shane Lust

Matt Haywood-Matt Towe-Tristan Harper

Lee Esders

Aidan Fulton

PROSPECTIVE LINES-DEFENCE

Ray Macias-Chris Frank

Scott Aarssen-Kevin Bergin

Craig Mitchell-Sam Zajac

GOALIES: Kyle Jones/Michael Will

PLAYER TO WATCH: JOEL CHAMPAGNE

We’ve already touched upon Champagne’s physical gifts in the preview, but whilst many have focused on fellow young import Nathan Moon, it’ll be Champagne who has the chance to be Braehead’s real star. Friends in Reading tell me that during their Kelly Cup run he was their standout player, solid in his own end, physical and able to create chances for both himself and his linemates out of nothing. It’s a tough pick between Champagne and Nathan Moon with a nod also to Julien Corriveau, but if I could take one player off the Clan roster who I thought would be an EIHL star it would be the native of Chateauguay, Quebec. This kid will be a good one.

PREDICTION

The Clan have the potential to be an offensive powerhouse, particularly in the Gardiner Conference. However, there remain a few question-marks over their defensive unit, which may be exposed and leave Kyle Jones facing a lot of rubber, particularly against Erhardt teams-the Clan will have to develop a responsible system in order to avoid that happening. Questions over the defence coupled with the debacle of last season and the fact that other Gardiner teams have yet to complete their roster mean it’s tricky to predict just where the Clan will end up-they could finish anywhere from top three to sixth.in the league. However, it’s not out of the question that there will be silverware coming to Glasgow this season-however, I think the best chance of it doing so will be in the cup competitions. If the Clan can dominate their conference and the Erhardt teams take points off each other all season, though, who knows how far they can go? The Clan are probably the hardest team to predict for in the entire EIHL. The only thing for sure is-it’s going to be one hell of an interesting ride for the Purple Army this season, and it has the potential to end up anywhere.

Prediction-Gardiner Conference winners. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

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