Ten Teams, A Bit More Than Ten Days 9: Fife Flyers

Two teams to go in Chasing Dtagons’ team-by-team preview of the season, even though we’re three weeks into it…today, with their roster finally complete, it’s the turn of the Fife Flyers…

“You don’t say much of anything
When questioned of your whereabouts…”

Alkaline Trio: “Bloodied Up”

OVERVIEW

This is a season where Todd Dutiaume and Danny Stewart will want to go from the “nearly men” who came a few slightly questionable refereeing decisions away from kicking Nottingham out of the season ending playoff party at their house to pushing for the top five. They’ve built a roster this year catering once again to a style of hockey equal parts skilled and aggressive, as befits the playing style mix of their coaching squad. It’s a squad built to take advantage of arguably the most intimidating home venue in the league-the venerable Fife Ice Arena combines a large ice surface with a truly old-school atmosphere and hostile crowd to make a trip to the Kingdom on the banks of the Forth a daunting prospect no matter where you’re coming from. So what do they look like?

NETMINDERS: #29 Blair Daly, #32 Kevin Regan

The Flyers are one of the few teams in the league with a genuine netminder tandem-new arrival Kevin Regan will likely take the majority of starts with his decent AHL and European pedigree, as imports do in this league, but should injury problems flare as they have in the past (the 32-year-old American has injured both hips in the past) then local boy Blair Daly can step in and play solidly. So far Regan has a 2.74 GAA, bettered only by two netminders in the league, and he’ll need to keep that form up throughout the season for the Flyers to really make an impression on the upper reaches of the table. However, he’s settled in quickly in Fife, and made the transition from Bryan Pitton almost seamless.

DEFENCE

#2 Tom Muir, #4 Chris Wands, #5 Kyle Horne, #13 Euan Forsyth, #37 Tim Hartung, #50 Matt Nickerson, #64 Justin DaCosta

This is a defensive unit with a distinctly home-grown flavour…all four British players are proud Fifers born within walking distance of “the auld barn”-and their familiarity both with the rink and the fans is a massive point in their favour. Kyle Horne in particular seems to have been around forever, making his debut for the Flyers at 16-he’s 32 now and the old head leading a group that really doesn’t lack experience-the youngest, Chris Wands, is 25. Offensively the Flyers will be driven by the skilled hands of Justin DaCosta and Tim Hartung, both of whom (DaCosta in particular) have shown their capabilities well-DaCosta leads the team in points and is second in goals, while Hartung has had an injury setback but can play either D or forward-his versatility will be key. Matt Nickerson, meanwhile, has already shown that he won’t mess around, taking a four-game suspension for beating the snot out of Cardiff’s Andrew Lord and then carrying his retribution too far. With Nickerson looming Hartung and DaCosta can do their skilled thing, with the Brits providing a steady, no-nonsense group to back them up. It’s a well-balanced unit.

FORWARDS

#10 Stephen Gunn, #11 Todd Dutiaume, #15 Josh Scoon, #18 Allan Anderson, #20 Andy Contois, #21 Bobby Chaumont, #22 Matt Reber, #23 Jamie Wilson, #26 Jordan Fulton, #39 Danny Stewart, #44 Derek Roehl, #76 Rok Pajic

The Flyers, like their D, have gone for a group of forwards that aren’t especially flashy in the main but are more than capable of turning on the skill if necessary-Todd Dutiaume will probably spend most of his time as a coach but is available to play if needed, and has the wily old head of a decorated veteran of the British game-Danny Stewart will provide snap and snarl on the third line as well as assistant-coaching nous that’s still surprisingly underrated by some. The British contingent of Wilson, Scoon, Gunn and newbie Allan Anderson, like the defence, are all Fife locals and fan favourites, while the dangerous Bobby Chaumont, who’s scored at a rate of a point per game in his EIHL career, is the only other returning import. Andy Contois is a very useful scorer in his own right, while Matt Reber provides speed and two-way play, Jordan Fulton combines agitating ability with a nose for the net and Derek Roehl is young, eager and, based on early evidence, like Fulton a wind-up merchant par excellence.

But the most exciting arrival for Fifers (potentially) is the last one. Slovenian Rok Pajic comes from Pontebba in Italy, where he scored a point-per-game last year after extensive experience in the Czech league system, one of the best in Europe. We’re told he’s a skilled, creative forward who loves to make plays…the kind of player that will win teams games. He’s an excellent capture for Fife and will likely slot straight into the top six, probably allowing Reber to drop to a more comfortable 2nd-line role along with Derek Roehl. Pajic could, potentially, be one of the sleeper signings of the season if he settles, and may well be worth a look for fantasy teams everywhere. This is a forward collection that, while not quite as star-studded as some others in the league, is potentially a hidden diamond mine.

COACH: Todd Dutiaume (with Danny Stewart)

The Fife coaching team is one that has very clear goals this season-after winning the conference last year a repeat will be the target, along with an appearance at the playoff weekend and potentially a cup trophy. Todd Dutiaume is an institution in Kirkcaldy-he’s an honorary Fifer in the eyes of every fan in the Kingdom and many outside, joining the Flyers in early 1999 and simply never leaving…I remember marvelling at his skill on Fife’s first visit to Coventry ever in 2000 and many times since. Now, he’s moved behind the bench, and with several years cutting his teeth during Fife’s years in the SNL (aka the British hockey wilderness for such a storied club) and playing over 400 games in Flyers colours he’s part of the scenery at the Auld Barn. He and Danny Stewart have built a close and mutually beneficial working relationship which allows for stability at the top even during the nightmarish period last year that saw the tragic death of Dutiaume’s wife and newborn twins followed by a broken kneecap for the 39-year-old Canadian as he (amazingly) returned to playing towards the end of the season.

With Dutiaume and Stewart at the helm the Flyers have two of the British’s games strongest and most respected characters, and are well set for another season of competition.

LINES

Andy Contois-Rok Pajic-Bobby Chaumont

Derek Roehl-Matt Reber-Jordan Fulton

Danny Stewart-Stephen Gunn-Jamie Wilson

Allan Anderson

Matt Nickerson-Justin DaCosta

Kyle Horne-Tim Hartung

Tom Muir-Chris Wands

 

Kevin Regan/Blair Daly

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rok Pajic

We’ve already mentioned Pajic’s impressive pedigree in Italy and the Czech leagues, but not that he’s also an established Slovenian international, with 50 caps for his country. At 5’10 and 168lbs he may require a little while to adjust to the physicality of the EIHL but when he does-watch out. This guy could be the real deal and one of the top scorers in the Gardiner Conference if he settles.

SUMMARY

The Flyers are a team for whom a repeat of last season’s making the playoffs is now not something to aim for, but the minimum target. It will be a tricky ask as they’ve improved but so have all the other teams in the Gardiner Conference and indeed the league as a whole…you only have to look at the blistering start of Dundee to see that this year the Scottish teams, now fully established back and unwilling to occupy the “also-ran” status they were saddled with in their first few in the EIHL, are aiming much higher than just winning their own regional battles. In their 75th anniversary year, the Flyers are aiming to get back up to the top of the sport and continue the proud winning tradition that the ghosts haunting the historic Ice Arena set over many years. While they may not pull out a league title (although Dundee’s early heroics will have put fire in the bellies of all the Scottish teams) there is nothing to say they can’t challenge for a cup competition or go at least one step further in a playoff run.

However, with the Gardiner Conference looking tighter than a frightened mouse’s backside and the EIHL becoming more competitive not just by the season but by the week, like all the teams the Flyers will have to be on top of their game all night, every night to be sure of improving on last season.

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Feeding the Fire: #3 Mike Devin

Chasing Dragons takes a look at Blaze’s new D-man, Michael Devin, who joined the Blaze today. Blaze fans will be hoping Friday 13th is their lucky day.

BASICS

Mike Devin is a 25-year-old American defenceman from Scituate, Massachussetts, standing 6’2 and weighing in at 210lbs. He comes to the Blaze from SC Riessersee in the German DEL2, after a career that has also seen stops at the BCHL’s Nainamo Clippers, Cornell University and Elmira Jackals of the ECHL, as well as a training camp with the AHL’s Binghampton Senators.

PLAYING CAREER

Michael Devin started his playing career in the Massachusetts high-school system at Catholic Memorial High School, before heading to Western Canada to spend a successful year with the BCHL’s Nainamo Clippers, a year which saw him score 8+27 before heading to Cornell University in New York State to study sociology and play hockey. (The Big Red has seen another one of its alumni join the Blaze in netminder Ian Burt, way back in 2001/02). During his four years with the Big Red, Devin played with current NHL players like Colin Greening (Ottawa Senators) and Ben Scrivens of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as his twin brother Joe. He was part of a conference-champion team in his junior year (2009-10) and scored a combined total of 54 points (19+35) from the blue line in 132 games.

After his college career ended, Mike turned pro with the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals, and played 65 games, scoring four points as he was used mainly for his size and defensive ability, before heading to the DEL2 last season and sharing a team with Adam Henrich in SC Riessersee, as well as Cardiff Devils’ Andrew Lord-although he elected not to return this season, leading to him being signed by the Blaze as a free agent. This is his second season in Europe.

PLAYING STYLE

Devin’s signing comes on the recommendation of current Blaze forwards Adam Henrich and Kevin Harvey, and has already attracted the attention of another former EIHLer in the now-retired ex-Belfast Giant Mike Hoffman. He’s a big, rangy defenceman who, according to Hoffman on Twitter today, can play at both ends with a missile of a shot and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. Which makes it a little more surprising that he hasn’t been snapped up yet.

However, he may like to drop the gloves but on the evidence of this video at least, Blaze would prefer him to use his solid play and “missile shot”…the link below is Devin taking on current Nottingham Panthers forward Leigh Salters in the ECHL:

http://www.naplesnews.com/videos/detail/everblades-hockey-fight-leigh-salters-vs-mike-devi/

Devin is described by Blaze coach Matty Soderstrom as “a good all round dman-the kind we were looking for since we lost Mike Egener”, and his stats appear to bear this out…aside from 35 points in the BCHL he’s never scored more than 15 points in a season, and only one every ten games in the ECHL. Blaze fans shouldn’t expect him to light up the points charts but at a similar size to Mike Egener he’ll likely be expected to play the same role.

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

Devin comes recommended by two Blaze players who have already played with him, and an endorsement from Mike Hoffman is no mean praise either. He’s big and strong, and has played at a high level already, winning a championship at one of the best hockey colleges in North America and sticking a season in DEL2 last year. Above all else, he fills the gap left by Mike Egener and provides an extra option on D, allowing the likes of Sean Erickson to range forward much more and add balance to a very offensive Blaze D corps

FLIES IN THE OINTMENT

Many Blaze fans wanted a true marquee replacement for Egener, and Devin, with the best will in the world, is not a player to set the fans alight straight away. Also, the pressure of coming in and taking a number-1 D slot will either cause a reshuffle in the Blaze defensive order or, more likely, lead to all eyes being on him from the off. He has big skates to fill, does Mike Devin.

SO WHERE WILL HE FIT IN?

Honestly-only Matty Soderstrom knows right now. We’ll get our first glimpse of Devin next week, as he won’t arrive in time for this weekends meetings with Belfast and Fife. One would assume that he’ll be pencilled in for exactly the same role Mike Egener was-providing the solid defensive counterpart to the likes of Sean Erickson and James Griffin charging forward on either the first or second D-pair, as well as being expected to play a big role on the penalty-kill.

CONCLUSION

Devin was a signing that had to be made-not necessarily him, but the type of player we’re told he is. Soderstrom has gone the route of searching out such a new player on personal recommendation from those he already has at the club rather than swinging for the fences on a big-name signing-a move which has been greeted with mixed reactions already by the Blaze faithful, many of whom expected a player with a more impressive CV and indeed one equal to Egener’s-with only two years of pro experience Devin will be young and hungry, but not perhaps as proven as some of the other dmen in the league.

However, Mike Devin has a chance to come in and make a name for himself-and the Blaze will be hoping he takes it with both hands, because they need him to fill some big skates, very quickly.

 

Ten Teams, A Little More Than Ten Days 8: Dundee Stars

With the season coming close, it’s time to finish off Chasing Dragons’ team-by-team preview of the EIHL, with three Scottish teams remaining. Fife and Edinburgh are to come, but first…the Dundee Stars.

“Take a chance
They don’t come much bigger than this”

In Flames: “Reflect the Storm”

OVERVIEW

Quietly, Tayside is once again becoming one of the strongholds of Scotland for the EIHL. The Stars are slowly building year on year and finding their feet in the EIHL, and with Jeff Hutchins having another year of experience and the Taysiders now entering their fourth EIHL season, they’ve begun to move beyond the workmanlike-but-not-earthshaking signing template to pick up some very good players indeed, with Hutchins searching far and wide to bring a roster together that’ll, at minimum, be aiming to challenge Braehead for Scottish dominance in the tooth-and-nail Gardiner Conference scrap. Let’s take a look at them.

GOALTENDERS

#39 Dan Bakala, #1 Craig Chalmers

There’s no question here-Calgary native Dan Bakala will have the starting job all season and will probably start every game, barring injury-the 18-year-old Chalmers is useful enough but not ready for sustained EIHL action yet. The 25-year-old is a under-the-radar signing that could be a coup or a nightmare-nobody quite seems to know yet. Like Nic Riopel, he’s another player plucked from North America relatively early in his career after an impressive college career with Bemidji State Uni in Minnesota…however, with a pro experience limited to 12 games with the Tulsa Oilers (and an impressive playoff run in the Chinook Hockey League) it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll do with a full season of starts. However, those who’ve seen him play have praised Bakala’s ability widely, so now it’s time for him to prove it. If not, expect the Stars to be shopping for a replacement.

 

DEFENCE

#4 Tysen Dowzak, #5 Andreas Persson (tryout), #8 Rory Rawlyk, #19 Sam McCluskey, #23 Paul Swindlehurst

Like all the Scottish teams apart from Braehead, as this is written the Stars are still not finalised roster-wise, although they’re very close to being so. The watchword on this blueline is size…Dowzak, Persson and Rawlyk are all 6’5 and 210lbs plus. Rory Rawlyk in particular has an impressive CV, scoring at a point every other game in 272 ECHL games and an astonishing 3 points a game in Romania and a point-a-game Poland last season from the blueline. American Dowzak is a big man indeed at 6’5, 227lbs and will be expected to perform the physical defenceman duties along with (potentially) Persson. Sam McCluskey is an underrated British Dman but the most exciting name on this blueline is Swindlehurst, who steps up to the EIHL after several impressive development seasons with Slough and Swindon in the EPL-he’s one of the top British offensive D prospects and could be the next Steve Lee or Mark Richardson-expect him to have a breakout year this season. Persson’s status is unsure as he joined the squad for preseason but with Allsvenskan and Division 1 experience in Sweden he’s no slouch, either. This is a unit that should be among the strongest (certainly the most physical) in its conference.

FORWARDS

#5 Nikita Kashirsky, #9 Mike Wirll, #16 John Dolan, #24 Billy Bagron, #27 Brock MacPherson, #29 Nico Sachetti, #37 Jerry Pollastrone, #55 Vince Connon, #71 Jeff Hutchins, #86 Bari McKenzie

This is by far the strongest forward group the Stars have ever assembled-John Dolan is one of the most underrated forwards in the league, import or Brit, Mike Wirll can pop goals away for fun if he’s in the mood, and Billy Bagron scored 57 points last season as a two-way centre. But it’s the new arrivals that are most intriguing-Nico Sachetti was drafted in the 2nd round by Dallas in 2007 but was plucked from the Dutch league along with Jerry Pollastrone after the two had prolific seasons there last year, while Bari McKenzie joins from a split season between Cardiff and the EPL’s Manchester to give the EIHL another crack and Brock MacPherson adds size and power to the group, hoping to recapture the touch that saw him score 33 goals in his first season with Braehead. But the most notable name here is the Stars’ new assistant coach Nikita Kashirsky-the skilled Russian forward scored 44 points including 17 goals in the ECHL last season and has been a consistent scorer wherever he’s played…he could be one of the sleeper signings of the season by Hutchins, who will likely anchor the third line with Dolan and McKenzie. Vince Connon also returns to reprise his role as tenth forward.

COACH: Jeff Hutchins (with Nik Kashirsky)

Hutchins is into his fourth player-coaching season with Dundee now-he’s settled by the Tay and is familiar with the rink and fan expectations. His teams have been getting stronger every season and this season the Canadian will be hoping for a Conference title as he’s got more and more settled into a coaching role-although they’ll face a tough task as all teams in the Gardiner have become much stronger. Hutchins will be up for the challenge, though…

PROSPECTIVE LINES: FORWARDS

Kashirsky-Sacchetti-Wirll

Pollastrone-Bagron-Dolan

MacPherson-Hutchins-McKenzie

Connon

PROSPECTIVE LINES: DEFENCE

Dowzak-Swindlehurst

McCluskey-Rawlyk

Persson*

Goalies: Bakala/Chalmers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: NIKITA KASHIRSKY/NICO SACCHETTI/JERRY POLLASTRONE/BROCK MACPHERSON

We’ve tipped the Russian as one of the stars among the Stars already this season-but it’s hard not to pick him out again as one of the key players on Tayside-as a player with consistent scoring in the ECHL (nearly a point a game, in fact) it’s easy to tell that he’ll be one of the major offensive weapons for the Stars this year. However, the other three are all lumped together for a similar reason-they’re amongst the most intriguing players in the EIHL. Sacchetti is a 2nd-round-pick that never got near the NHL, Pollastrone is a player who had a fairly quiet scoring record in college apart from one 15-goal season and then scored relatively little before a big year in Holland (similar to Sacchetti, in fact) and MacPherson lit up the goalscoring charts in his first EIHL season before falling off a cliff in the season. The question with these three is-which is the real player-the prolific scorer or the unimpressively-statted forward? Jeff Hutchins has gambled on all three to a bigger or lesser degree, and he’ll need them all to be offensive producers if the Stars are to make noise this season in the Gardiner Conference and beyond.

SUMMARY

The only thing we can say for sure about the Dundee Stars this season is that we can’t say anything for sure about the Dundee Stars this season. A team with an untried goalie (although to be fair that didn’t work out too badly for them last year), several enigmas as forwards and a roster heavily changed from the pattern of the previous two seasons (only 5 players return with another stepping up for his first fulltime season) means that the Taysiders are an unknown quantity to fans, pundits and opposition alike. However, after a preseason in which they scored 28 goals (although admittedly nearly half of those were in one game against a nowhere-near-full-strength Edinburgh) it appears that if the early season evidence is anything to go by the Stars are poised for a strong year. A lot rests on the shoulders of Dan Bakala in net, and with another two imports (potentially) to sign it’s difficult to assess just how strong the Stars will get. However, they have the makings of a strong Gardiner Conference squad who could push hard for the upper reaches of the table, although if they did break into the top five it would be something of a surprise at this stage.

Simply put-nobody, probably not even the Stars fans, knows how far this team can climb up the table this season-although if Braehead falter then a Gardiner title dogfight with Fife, Edinburgh and Hull will be something worth watching.

What the Stars have to do this season is show further progress towards narrowing the gap between themselves and the top teams in the EIHL. And at this early stage, it looks like they’ve done that.

It’s going to be an interesting season on the shores of the Tay.