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”
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.
#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.
#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.
#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
PROSPECTIVE LINES: DEFENCE
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.
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.