“I hear the sounds of marching feet in the distance
and there’s a bloody revolution in the air”
Dropkick Murphys: “21 Guitar Salute”
This, for the Braehead Clan, is a crossroads year. In their fifth season as an EIHL team, the Glasgow squad are poised to make the leap from “perennial borderline conte, nder” to “EIHL powerhouse” and take their seat at the top table of British hockey. With crowds approaching 3,000 on average, clever and consistent growth off-ice and patient, intelligent growth and marketing strategies, the Clan are, in many respects, the model for how to build a successful franchise over time in Britain. The market they’ve carved out in Glasgow (a city dominated by the two biggest football clubs in Scotland) and the work they’ve done in cultivating a loyal, passionate fanbase is, this year more than any other, ready to pay off. Ryan Finnerty enters his second season as Clan coach with an experienced assistant in Zack Fitzgerald and with arguably the strongest roster the Purple Army have had to date. So, what’s it look like?
#29 Kyle Jones, #15 Joseph Myers
No unknown faces here. Kyle Jones returns in net as the starter, but he’s backed up this time by arguably the strongest backup in the EIHL. Joe Myers comes to the Clan after many years in his home city of Cardiff, and the 27-year-old Welshman is rivalled only by Nottingham’s Dan Green and Cardiff (and former Clan) backup Mike Will in terms of experience.
However, his main role will be to push Jones hard for the starting spot-the 30-year-old from British Columbia was solid if unspectacular last year in the Clan net, and is arguably the weakest part of a very strong Clan roster. the Clan will be hoping he can continue this season closer to his playoff form, which saw him pull off a 95% save percentage. His regular 50-game season saw him sitting solidly in the middle for GAA but towards the lower end of the EIHL in save percentage-he’ll need to improve that this season for the Clan to really challenge for honours, although he does have the benefit of a stronger team in front of him this time…
#2 Jamie Fritsch, #6 Scott Aarssen, #13 Zack Fitzgerald, #21 Zach Sullivan, #22 Chris Frank, #91 Ryan Kavanagh
Ryan Finnerty has clearly thought very carefully indeed about the makeup of his defence, deciding to go with five imports of six to give his team a solid foundation in front of Jones. Only two players return from last season’s unit, in Scott Aarssen and Chris Frank-the rest of the group is very much built on a clearly-defined mix of tough, no-nonsense play in their own end and solid attacking play. Aarssen (33 assists last season) and smooth-moving youngster Ryan Kavanagh will provide the offensive push, with career AHLer Jamie Fritsch expected to do it all as the number-1 defenceman while Zack Fitzgerald and Chris Frank make life hell for opposition forwards and deal with the majority of the physical work. The Clan have also shown some foresight in the pickup of 20-year-old British prospect Zach Sullivan from the EPL’s Basingstoke-the GB u20 star is making the step up to the top level in a unit which is more than experienced enough to ensure he continues his development well. This is a very strong, well-rounded unit indeed, with the only possible question-mark over the young Kavanagh-can he produce enough offensively to make up a little for the perceived defensive shortcomings in a league where defencemen HAVE to be good at both ends of the ice?
#5 Ben Davies, #8 Matt Keith, #10 Stefan Meyer, #11 Matthew Haywood, #14 Derek Roehl, #17 Lee Esders, #19 Neil Trimm, #24 Leigh Salters, #26 Tristan Harper, #61 Scott Pitt
Looking at this forward group will make opposition defencemen wince. Not so much because of the prospect of them being dangled out of their shoes (although, let’s be clear, there is no mean amount of skill amongst this group) but because it’s possibly the most bruising, blue-collar group of forwards assembled in the EIHL this season. With the potential to send out a top line where the SMALLEST player (Stefan Meyer) is 6’2 and 201lbs, the word “bruising” hardly seems to do this group justice. However, there’s some serious quality here too. Neil Trimm throws set-up passes around for fun, picking up 44 assists in 48 games last season, Scott Pitt comes to Scotland off a high-scoring year in Germany’s second tier, and Ben Davies is one of the premier British players in the game and a creative force in his own right.
Once again, though, it’s in the physical battles and dirty work in front of the net where this team will shine-Leigh Salters, Matt Keith and Stefan Meyer are all the type of top-tier power forwards who teams would be delighted to have one of-the fact that the Clan have three is almost an embarrassment of riches (there is no clearer illustration of this than in the fact that Salters and Meyer combined scored 51 EIHL goals and over 110 points last season-add 20-goal AHL scorer Keith to that and you have a hell of a trio). In Derek Roehl, Matt Haywood, Lee Esders and Tristan Harper, too, the Clan have four players who are relentless in their pursuit of opposition bodies to hit and opposition skins to work themselves under.
Make no mistake, this is a forward group opposition defencemen will absolutely despise playing against. The “Clydeside Killers” are coming.
COACH: Ryan Finnerty (4th year)
Ryan Finnerty is one of those coaches who, ever since he was fired by Sheffield, has looked like he’s coaching with a fire in his belly. The 33-year-old from Lethbridge, Alberta is one of the most passionate men in the EIHL…but also one of the best with people (I interviewed him several times last year and I’ve rarely met a man more passionate and willing to share his passion in a sport than Finner). Known for always demanding the best from his teams and with a coaching knowledge that’s growing every year, Finnerty is fast becoming one of the most valuable coaches in the EIHL-now all he needs to do to take the step to the next level is lead a very talented Clan roster to fulfil its potential.
Stefan Meyer-Matt Keith-Neil Trimm
Leigh Salters-Ben Davies-Scott Pitt
Tristan Harper-Derek Roehl-Matt Haywood
Jamie Fritsch-Scott Aarssen
Zack Fitzgerald-Ryan Kavanagh
Chris Frank-Zach Sullivan
PLAYER TO WATCH: #10 Stefan Meyer (LW)
The big Canadian was one of the signings of the season last year, finding his form later in the year after a slow start, and pulling off an explosive four-goal night against Coventry in February in the process. Now, brought in as one of the marquee signings for a Braehead squad determined to challenge for honours, he’ll be expected to match that production in a different setting. Can he do it? Those in Glasgow will be hoping he can, because they’ve no doubt committed a good portion of their budget and ambition to him doing so…
This has to be the year Braehead finally take the step up to the top table, right? With expectations probably higher than they’ve been for a long time, a shrewdly-recruited roster and arguably the strongest off-ice team in the business, all the stars have aligned for the Clan to make the leap. Finnerty has clearly decided that he’ll turn the Clan into one of the most ornery, hard-working squads in the league-a team built very much in his own image as a player. There is no reason to assume the Clan can’t take a trophy this season-after four seasons of constant improvement, this could finally be the year their hard work begins to pay some serious dividends.
It could also be a banner year in Braehead for fan favourites-this team is built in a way that the Purple Army will love, and every opponent will hate. Obviously, the EIHL couldn’t get anywhere near the famous intimidation factor and sheer nastiness of the famous “Broad Street Bullies” in Philadelphia, but this Clan team will revel in the nickname of the “Clydeside Killers” by the end of the season if all goes to plan.
One things for sure-they are one hell of a team this year, and when the Purple Army come to town, teams had better be prepared for an all-out war.