It’s New Year’s Day, and the EIHL is halfway through its season. So, it’s time to run down the EIHL table and take a look at how the season has gone for every team as we move from the old year to the new, and see which teams hope for nothing to change and which hope a new year brings new hope:
1. SHEFFIELD STEELERS
“And I know that we’ve still got time
But I do not think we’re invincible”
Enter Shikari: “Juggernauts”
The Steelers have so far answered every question posed of them at the beginning of the season. Would the new players perform? Could they hold out under the pressure?
They have done in spades so far. The Mike Forney/Colton Fretter/Mathieu Roy line has lit up the EIHL, Frank Doyle has been solid in net and every curveball thrown at Sheffield (like the 7-2 loss to Nottingham) has seen them respond well and avoid any potential derailing factors.
However, a Christmas period that wasn’t ideal (two losses to big rivals Nottingham) mean that they enter 2015 looking to bounce back quickly against Belfast. They’ve had a truly superb first half of the year…the only question for the Steelers now is not “can they perform” but “can they keep perfoming this well?” They’ll have to, because this season in a five-way title race any weakness has four other teams waiting to seize upon it. It can’t be denied that they’re in the best position right now, though. 2015 looks very bright in South Yorkshire.
2. BRAEHEAD CLAN
“I’m ready for war. I’m ready for action, now watch me kick in the door“
Nico & Vinz: “When The Day Comes”
The Clan, like Sheffield, have had an ideal first half of the season. They’ve been very strong indeed at home, and have only lost four times in their own Conference. More importantly, they’ve been picking up points against the Erhardt-and sit only one point behind Sheffield. Come the second half of the season, it’s wins against their title rivals that will be key-it’s so tight at the top that they simply can’t afford to let themselves have a single night off-nor can they allow suspensions to creep in. Like the Steelers, it’s how this team deal with any adversity that may come that will ultimately decide where in the top five they finish.
3. CARDIFF DEVILS
“I’m gonna change you like a remix
Then I’ll raise you like a phoenix”
Fall Out Boy: “The Phoenix”
The Devils are the most dangerous team in the EIHL right now. Riding a wave of justified optimism, run by arguably the best ownership group in the league and with a unity between team and players not often seen in the EIHL, they’re climbing like homesick angels. From top to bottom the roster is filled with contributors, Andrew Lord has his team united, working together as one, going through walls for each other and in Joey Martin they have one of the most exciting players in the EIHL…some achievement in a team that’s truly glorious to watch right now whoever’s on the ice.
They’ve answered every single question in spades, they have the belief and fire of a twenty-hearted Welsh dragon, and oh yes…they’re on a 6 game win-streak and have nine wins in their last ten.
The Devils are well and truly back, and one point off the top of the table. They are a team to fear in 2015.
4. NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS
“I‘m selfish as selfish comes
You’re giving me a run for my money
Cute Is What We Aim For: “Tease to Please (Left Side, Strong Side)”I
The Panthers are a tough team to work out. When they’re good, they’re very good. When they’re not…they’re often not. They’re a team with some serious quality…Chris Lawrence is a heck of a signing, and any other team would probably kill for several of their players, particularly the Brit pack. But are they consistent enough? They’ve struggled against the Gardiner teams this season in particular despite Corey Neilson’s much publicised views about them. For the new year, the Panthers have to go on a run to make up the four point gap against three very good teams ahead of them…otherwise it could be another year where slight incornsistency means Cup competitions provide the best chance of silverware.
5. BELFAST GIANTS
“Great expectations…we had the greatest expectations”
The Gaslight Anthem: “Great Expectations”
Belfast have the same title-winning team as last year, but they’re one of the signal examples of what effect a coach can have on his squad. Despite undoubted quality the Giants haven’t looked quite the juggernaut they were last year, with inconsistent performances at home raising fears among Giants fans that perhaps the rest of the EIHL had caught up with them.
The Giants squad have the tools-but for whatever reason they’ve been blunted this season at times. Despite this Belfast are still well in the fight, but like Nottingham they need to go on a run quickly and can’t afford to concede any more ground to the teams above them.
6. FIFE FLYERS
“I know I’m not perfect
But baby maybe I’m the best of the worst”
Charm City Devils: “Best Of The Worst”
The Flyers sit at the top of the bottom-that is to say they’re currently leading the bottom five of a league currently split into two clear groups (the gap separating the top five EIHL teams is only five points, but there’s a 7-point gap between the Flyers and Belfast above them). They have flaws…they will occasionally struggle v the top five and barring a run to dwarf that into the playoffs last season they won’t challenge at the top of the table…but the Flyers can beat anyone at home, and more than a few teams away this season-they’ve already proved that. Expect them to have a good second half.
7. EDINBURGH CAPITALS
“We don’t do it now we’ll never make it
Lose this crowd
Oh break me out”
The Rescues: “Break Me Out”
The Caps have had a first half of…well, two halves. The nightmarish start to the season which led to Richard Hartmann publicly reading his team the riot act has been followed by a run similar to that of Fife last season to see the Caps climb out of the basement. They’re a team slowly growing on and off the ice and their off-ice activities in particular have improved massively this season. In 2015, though, they need to keep the momentum going…now they’ve taken the first steps and have momentum of sorts, with crowds growing slowly, it would be the ideal chance to bring hockey in Edinburgh back to prominence.
8. HULL STINGRAYS
“besides did you ever stop to think
that we could keep this up living like thieves”
Taking Back Sunday: “Number Five With A Bullet”
The Stingrays have been better than anyone had a right to expect. With Omar Pacha as a first-year coach and a team made up of young imports with CVs nowhere near as gaudy as others in the EIHL, Stingrays fans could’ve been forgiven for expecting a long, tough year.
Instead, they’ve ridden the superb offensive play of Corey Tanaka, Jordan Mayer and Zach Hervato for some impressive victories. Cory Tanaka in particular has been a revelation, outperforming his brother by a massive margin. Defensively, as well, there’s quiet strength in performances from the likes of Yan Turcotte. Again, they’re a team that will probably be hoping for success in a cup competition or possibly the playoffs-which makes their early January Challenge Cup game against Cardiff (which they need to win to qualify) an absolutely huge one.. But the Stingrays could keep this up and against the odds have a season to remember.
9. COVENTRY BLAZE
“Call it a safe bet, I’m betting it’s not
I’m glad that you can forgive, only hoping as time goes, you can forget”
Brand New: “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot”
The Blaze are in trouble. For all the rhetoric of “OK is not good enough”, this has been a season of one poor decision after another, from the hiring of Marc Lefebvre to the team recruitment to interactions with fans to star players publicly deciding to leave. This has been the worst season of the EIHL era for the Blaze so far and probably the worst in Coventry-they currently sit in their lowest-ever position in the table, and questions about the ownership haven’t been allayed in the slightest by the (very good) hiring of Chuck Weber in an attempt to sort out the horrendous tire-fire in Coventry this season.
The New Year has to bring change of truly epic proportions. About the only defence the Blaze can have is that they have had players injured and so Weber hasn’t yet had any chance to work with a full team. His credentials are superb. However, he’s currently trying to drag the team back up and keep their heads above water with an anchor tied to his leg, and only the Blaze ownership can cut the chain. Either that or Weber will need to drag a superhuman effort from his players.
Otherwise it could be a painful New Year in the West Midlands.
“The only way is up, baby, for you and me now”
Yazz: “The Only Way Is Up”
Oh, Dundee. Currently the only team keeping the soap-opera in Coventry off the bottom, by being even worse. The effort is there, but Jeff Hutchins has struggled to get any consistency from his squad, Marc Cheverie has not had a good time in net and the loss of top scorer John Mitchell was a bodyblow.
The Stars need to return to this time last season, when they sat high in the EIHL and the northeasternmost EIHL town was full of optimism.
One thing’s for certain in Dundee-the second half of the season can’t be any worse than the first in the Jute City.
That’s your half-term report. With a five-team title race and stories galore, it’s going to be an interesting 2nd half for sure…