After eight months, several hundred games, controversy and arguments galore and some superbly exciting hockey, the EIHL season came to a close on Sunday with the presentation of the EIHL playoff trophy (in case you missed it, by the way, Coventry won it).
Focus now moves to the Great Britain team and their efforts in the World Championships in Eindhoven…and of course Chasing Dragons will be following that chase before it too, goes off on a summer break.
First of all, though, it’s time to bring the curtain down on the EIHL season with the season review. Today, the Gardiner Conference…tomorrow, the Erhardt Conference. Let’s take the teams one by one.
BRAEHEAD CLAN – WINNING WHILE LOSING
“.t’s not your fault,.
Oh, it’s not that you should care.
I just wanted you to know”
AWOLNATION: “Not Your Fault”
The Clan had everything in place this season for it to be a truly famous one. An excellent team, a passionate fanbase, and an organisation ready to take the step to title winners. And for most of the season, it looked like this could be a true dream season for the Clan, as they bulldozed through all comers and took a commanding lead at the top of the EIHL table. Then, slowly, they began to lose it, as losses against their title rivals, discipline problems to key players and the odd slightly-less-than-optimal performance in the second half of the season saw Sheffield overtake them in the league standings, a quarter-final exit in the Challenge Cup and a heartbreaking shock loss to Hull in the playoff quarter-finals. However, the Clan can’t be too disappointed. In five years they’ve gone from expansion franchise to 3,000+ attendances on a regular basis, sellouts aplenty and representing the Elite League in the Champions Hockey League, as well as unquestionably being the powerhouses of the Gardiner Conference. The Clan are here to stay, and there could well be more success ahead in the coming seasons, particularly with Coach Of the Year Ryan Finnerty signed up for another two years.
FIFE FLYERS – ONE STEP CLOSER
“I wanna walk up the side of the mountain
I wanna walk down the other side of the mountain…”
Granddaddy: “Nature Anthem”
Fife Flyers could be on the verge of something akin to what’s been achieved in Braehead. This season, once again under the careful stewardship of Todd Dutiaume and Danny Stewart, they’ve had a season that flirted with doing potentially great things but fell just short of ever really giving the “big boys” of the EIHL trouble. That’s not the fault of the team or the coaches, both of whom probably performed about to the expectations most in Kirkcaldy would expect from them. The question is, as UK hockey people like Dave Simms have already mentioned on Twitter to widespread agreement from Flyers fans, is that they could do more if the purse strings were loosened a little.
Certainly the foundations are there, with the fans regularly packing the FIA despite their team not really being in serious trophy contention this season. The question this offseason will be…is perennially finishing in the lower reaches of the playoffs and 2nd/3rd in the Conference enough, or do the Fife owners, having seen the rise of Braehead, want to commit to pushing their team over the mountain and into line with the big-budget EIHL teams?
HULL STINGRAYS – THE PLUCKY UNDERDOGS
“And when you decked me
You left me knocked out on the floor
I came to bloodied up, but you weren’t around
I picked my teeth off the ground like they’d been there before”
Alkaline Trio: “Bloodied Up”
It’s been another season where the Stingrays have teased their fans, and gone from sublime to ridiculous and back again. Not expect to have much of a impact on the season as a whole as they adjusted under rookie coach Omar Pacha, the Jellyfish have instead come together as a group of young players full of speed and energy, proving that the fearlessness of youth can take you a long way.
They were, however, helped in this regard immeasurably by the silky skills of Carl Lauzon, who is fast becoming a Stingrays legend…the Montrealer led the team in scoring ahead of lightning bolt Jordan Mayer and Cory Tanaka, brother of Coventry’s Cale. The Stingrays went on a playoff run full of shocks, beating Braehead in overtime of the second leg of the quarter finals before playing a pulsating game against Sheffield in the semis that they lost in heartbreaking fashion with 3.8 seconds to go thanks to a disputed Mathieu Roy goal.
However, with Pacha and Lauzon already signed up for next season, there is more optimism in Hull than we’ve seen in a few seasons – the Stingrays will always be one of the “smaller” teams in the EIHL but are slowly and steadily carving themselves a solid position in the Gardiner Conference reckoning. It’s up to Pacha and Lauzon now to build on a pleasing first season’s effort in 2015/16.
EDINBURGH CAPITALS – ALL CHANGE
“Josey, don’t you worry
It’s just a phase you’re going through
Some day you’ll know just what to do”
Hey Monday: “Josey”
The Richard Hartmann Euro Experiment has come to an end in Edinburgh this season, as the Caps took up their usual position in the “unlucky 9th” spot once again. The Caps are a team who could be so much more than they are given a little success – with the smallest crowds in the EIHL and a team that’s assembled on a relative shoestring despite the recruiting pull of the Scottish capital as a place to play, though, they’ll need one hell of a coach to get them towards it. In Richard Hartmann they had an accomplished player/coach and in Rene Jarolin they also had one of the most skilful and unfairly under-rated players in the league, but this year was the same song Caps fans had been used to for far too long…a team that showed flashes of competing and on its good nights was a joy to watch, but in the end simply didn’t have the depth or arguably the sustained quality to compete with the big boys.
This offseason, Hartmann has already paid with his job (although reading from the press release it seems maybe the man himself had decided it was time for someone else to take the problem of the sleeping giant in Murrayfield on to try and awaken it, and so next year will look very different in Edinburgh, at least in terms of the makeup of the roster and the men running it. But this year there’s a real need for the Caps to do something, anything to shake things up. The Edinburgh crowd don’t expect miracles, but they would like a little more competitiveness in their team – with the rest of the EIHL improving, the Caps could be in danger of undoing all the good work beginning to be done off-ice if this trend continues.
DUNDEE STARS – BEAUTIFUL DISASTER
“And this judgement day is growing near
And this confession is killing me again
This beautiful tragedy is crashing into me”
In This Moment: “Beautiful Tragedy”
Oh, Dundee. This is a season that Jeff Hutchins and everyone associated with the Stars will want to forget. A team that looked promising and capable of building on the success of last year simply didn’t, as Jeff Hutchins’ squad lurched from defeat to crisis to losing run in a 2014/15 campaign that never really got going in any shape or form. 14 points out of a playoff spot and 13 behind Edinburgh in 9th, with only 14 games won all season, the Stars fell from the sky pretty quickly and were further hampered by the loss of their top scorer John Mitchell and the fact that their top scorer, Chris Blight, only scored 42 points all season, while goalie Marc Cheverie had the worst save percentage in the league, and was only .01 behind Tomas Hiadlovsky for GAA.
In short, the Stars were awful. This was a season to forget, and probably the less said about it, the better for Dundee fans. Never was the phrase “there’s always next year” more apt than for this team.
And with that, we conclude the Gardiner Conference. 2014/15 was a year which saw steady improvement from four of the five teams, but also showed how far some of them still have to go.