“But we’ve been sweating while you slept so calm,
In the safety of your home.
We’ve been pulling out the nails that hold up
Everything you’ve known.”
Rise Against: “Prayer Of The Refugee”
The Dundee Stars are another example of Scotland’s return to ice hockey prominence in the EIHL. Their story, along with Fife and Braehead in the EIHL, are clear examples of what can happen when a team builds itself slowly, learns from mistakes and became better and better each year. Last season they surprised the EIHL by riding a hot goalie (Dan Bakala) and some excellent team play to a Gardiner Conference win, although they disappointed a little in the playoffs as they ran into the juggernauts of Fife, who were almost unstoppable in the final month of the regular season and playoff quarter-finals.
This year, after last year’s Conference title, Jeff Hutchins has been forced to rebuild his squad once again as key players like Nico Sacchetti and Rory Rawlyk have been poached by squads offering more riches and promises of silverware. But he has done. Let’s have a look at the 14/15 Stars as they prepare to rise:
#39 Marc Cheverie, #31 Craig Holland
After Dan Bakala left for pastures knew, there must have been some wondering how the Stars would manage to find a goalie of equal calibre in a tricky market. In Marc Cheverie (brother of longtime EIHL stalwart and current Belfast forward Evan) Jeff Hutchins may well have done so-the 27-year-old Nova Scotian is a proven ECHL-level goalie coming into the prime of his career at 27, and has stats equal to or better than more-heralded signings like Coventry’s Brian Stewart. On paper alone, he’s an idea replacement for the highly impressive Bakala and has a good chance of being among the top goalies in the EIHL next season.
Backing him up is the “Sheepdog” Craig Holland, making the move up from Edinburgh. It’s an interesting move for the young Scot-he’ll very much play second fiddle to Cheverie but should get some excellent experience once again..
(players on PS try-out contracts in italics)
#3 Ziga Svete, #19 Sam McCluskey, #20 Brad Plumton, #23 Paul Swindlehurst, #27 Kevin Quick, #37 Sam Waller, #51 Jan Markelj, #64 Robbie Hill
The Stars defence is a tricky one to figure, simply because it, by Jeff Hutchins’ own admission, won’t be complete until after pre-season. Let’s look at the players we do know are permanent signings first of all. In Sam McCluskey and Paul Swindlehurst the Stars have two of the best young up-and-coming British d-men in the EIHL..McCluskey is a steady, calm player and Swindlehurst stepped up from the EPL last year and instantly became a hit, playing like a player beyond his tender years. This year, they’re going to be joined by two no-nonsense import defencemen…Brad Plumton was popular in Cardiff last season with his solid physical play and willingness to block shots, and Kevin Quick joins from a career which has seen him play 6 times in the NHL and nearly 200 AHL games by the age of 26 as well as be an ECHL captain in South Carolina…an impressive resumé and a sign that Dundee are really out to make waves once again this year. Hows rever, behind those four it gets a little bit confused for now…Hutchins has said there is likely at least one more import spot to be battled for in PS and Slovenians Ziga Svete (ex of Cardiff) and youngster Jan Markelj will be the ones fighting for that spot…Svete is possibly slightly ahead due to his previous EIHL experience, but the 29-year-old and the 23-year-old Markelj may well be fighting for a “third pair” or “fifth D” spot based on the players ahead of them. Young British players Sam Waller and local lad Robbie Hill round out the group-again, these are likely going to be depth defencemen at best.
#10 Shane Lust, #’12 Lewis McIntosh, #13 Jade Galbraith, #16 John Dolan, #17 Matt Ryan, #18 Igor Gongalsky, #24 John Mitchell, #29 Martin Cingel, #71 Jeff Hutchins, #74 Rob Ricci, #86 Bari McKenzie
This, make no mistake about it, is a group of forwards with some serious quality. It’s also a group of forwards that Jeff Hutchins has clearly built to be all things to all men-there’s snipers, creative players and power forwards in equal measure, such that you could have three perfectly balanced lines even without the use of try-out contract veteran Martin Cingel. More to the point, it’s a forward group with a very high level of skill…no import player has spent their career much below ECHL level, and the Brits, with the exception of youngster Lewis McIntosh, are highly experienced. The creative quotient is filled by former Nottingham Panther Matt Ryan, former Cardiff assist machine Chris Blight and arguably one of the most skilful players to grace EIHL ice ever in the mesmerising stickwork of Jade Galbraith, while sniping is provided by former Braehead Clan sharpshooter Shane Lust and pure goalscorer Rob Ricci. You want some physicality? 6’5 American John Mitchell and the 225lb Ukrainian battle tank Igor Gongalsky have you covered, while there’s always the agitation/hard work of Jeff Hutchins, Bari McKenzie and John Dolan to provide what is one hell of a third trio. This group is put together beautifully, and if Hutchins can get his players to mesh in the way he hopes, then it could run like a Swiss watch. Attacking is not going to be a problem for this Stars squad-they have the kind of explosive talent that many squads would envy.
COACH: Jeff Hutchins (3rd year)
Hutchins has grown as a coach year on year-now into his 3rd season, the 36-year-old Torontonian has clearly relished his task and embraced it with a will..his recruitment this year shows a very definite plan, and as we all know, plans often make prizes in the EIHL. With an experienced squad (the average age of around 27 is among the highest in the EIHL this season), Hutchins has recruited players who know what it takes to perform and keep jobs at a high level. Expectations will be very high this year.
Jade Galbraith-Rob Ricci-John Mitchell
Chris Blight-Matt Ryan-Shane Lust
Igor Gongalsky-Jeff Hutchins-John Dolan
Bari McKenzie-Lewis McIntosh-(Martin Cingel)
Kevin Quick-Sam McCluskey
Brad Plumton-Paul Swindlehurst
Ziga Svete/Jan Markelj
Robbie Hill-Sam Waller
PLAYER TO WATCH: #13 Jade Galbraith/#74 Rob Ricci
Picking these two players as a pair because, frankly, there was no way that Jade Galbraith was ever NOT going to be picked-anyone who’s seen him play in the EIHL knows that there has rarely been a more skilful player to step onto EIHL ice. Rob Ricci looks to be created as his ideal partner in crime-reports from Denmark have the diminutive Canadian from Brampton, Ontario as a gifted goalscorer who needs linemates who’ll set him up and make space for him. Basically, Jade Galbraith’s perfect role. They may need a physical player to do the dirty work with them but Jeff Hutchins has several options on his roster for that-Stars fans should be licking their lips at the prospects of seeing these two together.
The Stars are, if you’ll forgive the very obvious pun, very much still rising. Not resting on his laurels after the conference win last year, Jeff Hutchins has clearly approached this season deciding that solid goaltending and an explosive forward corps are the priority, and he’s very definitely achieved both of those objectives. Much will depend on how Hutchy completes his defence-it’s not the biggest, but this is more then compensated for by the size and physical depth of the forward group. As this squad has been built, every signing has been made with a clear plan in mind and a clear role, and perhaps the most glowing testimony about their forward depth is that you could have any combination of forwards in the top nine and it would look like a very good set indeed (youngster Lewis McIntosh is very much the 10th)
Stars fans, be excited. Your team has improved another big step on last years, and we all know what they achieved in terms of surprising the rest of the league. The question was asked “can they repeat last years’ success, or was it a fluke? The answer is a very definite one. Last year was no fluke, and to prove it, our team will be better this year.
It could be a very exciting year in the far north for Hutchy’s Heroes.