“The past is steeped in shame
But tomorrow’s fair game
For a life that’s fit for living
Good morning Britain“
Aztec Camera: “Good Morning, Britain“
The Edinburgh Capitals are looking very different this season. There’s a new approach, a new optimism and a completely new mentality sweeping the Scottish capital. Riley Emmerson has come into his job as player-coach with all the impact of a locomotive going through a vase, smashing through the remnants of his predecessor’s roster and building something new and…well, galvanizing.
The Canadian has made it clear that this is his team from the very start, talking of the vision he has for how it will play, the culture in the locker room and the pride he has in being given the chance to coach in a historic British hockey town.
So what does this “New Capitals” look like? Can they bring Edinburgh back from the Fringes of the Elite League playoff race and back to prominence in the Gardiner Conference? Let’s take a look:
#1 Carsen Chubak, #31 Craig Mallinson, #33 Kevin Forshall
The Emmerson Era states its intentions almost immediately, as popular but volatile Slovak netminder Tomas Hiadlovsky is cast aside after three seasons in favour of the Canadian and former Belfast Giant Carsen Chubak. Chubak had a solid first season in the EIHL for Belfast when brought in as starter to cover for the injured Stephen Murphy – a save percentage of 90.2 over 39 games didn’t light any fires in Belfast, but was solid enough.
This year in Edinburgh, with a team he’ll settle in with from the start, could be a true breakout year – there is considerable puck-stopping talent in his 5’11, 170lb frame, as a 2.3 GAA and 92% SV in an 11-game AHL stint in 2013/14 demonstrate. “Chewie” will be expected to show that talent in Edinburgh as the unquestioned starter – Emmerson has already been glowing in his appraisal of the Prince Albert, SK’s abilities, and this season he’ll get plenty of chance to show them. Chubak is backed up by local SNL goalies Kevin Forshall and Craig Mallinson, who will likely not see any starts except in emergency situations…this is Chubak’s gig, pure and simple.
#7 Jay King, #24 Tyler Plews, #27 Nate Fleming, #28 James Wallace, #54 Kyle Flemington, #58 Jacob Johnston, #84 Kyle Bigos
The Caps defence is impressively balanced recruiting by Emmerson. Given the much-publicised budget disparity between Edinburgh and the “big” EIHL teams, the Caps often have to concentrate on finding hidden gems and diamonds in the rough, and this group has several of both.
Smooth-skating offensive D Jacob Johnston may be the brightest diamond among them – the 27-year-old from Sudbury has spent much of his career in the Canadian and US university systems but comes to the Caps off a 40-point ECHL season on the Greenville Road Warriors and Utah Grizzlies’ blue-lines last season, scoring at the rate of a point every other game from the blue-line during his time in the ECHL. He’ll be the main offensive driver from the blue, and will likely be partnered by one of the two massive Kyles (Bigos and Flemington) Emmerson has recruited to take care of business in front of their own net. Bigos, a former Edmonton draft pick who stands at 6’4 and 236lbs who comes to Edinburgh off a solid few years in the ECHL, will likely be used as the team’s premier defensive rock and punish opposition forwards while also contributing at the other end with his cannon from the point, while Flemington, who’s even taller at 6’7 but weighs in at a “mere” 216lbs, will be his back-up and probably handle the majority of policing duties for the team.
Joining one of them on the 2nd pair will be Nate Fleming – a calm and versatile player who can play both defence and centre according to need but will likely offer a 2nd offensive option on the blue for the Caps. This is Fleming’s first pro season after a solid four years in the Canadian university system with the UBC Thunderbirds.
Rounding out the defensive unit are the intriguing prospects James Wallace (who has signed a long-term deal in Edinburgh as a development project but had an injury-hit first season with the team), Jay King (a feisty, versatile youngster who is equally at home at D or forward) and the shining potential of 17-year-old Tyler Plews, one of GB’s hottest defensive prospects. At 6’1 and 212lbs at 17 Plews is massive for his age, and a very talented player indeed. Stolen from under the noses of Caps’ rivals in Fife, he’s a player GB fans would be well advised to monitor closely even if he only receives limited time on ice this season.
#14 Luke Judson, #18 Sean Beattie, #19 Ryan Hayes, #23 Craig McCallum, #26 Riley Emmerson, #37 Everett Sheen, #81 Taylor Dickin, #83 Trevor Gerling, #89 Callum Boyd, #91 Paul Zanette
This forward group is built very much on an emphasis of skill and endeavour in equal measure. It’s a group that is very much aimed at being more than the sum of its parts, and also a hungry one – Riley Emmerson has placed an emphasis, intentionally or otherwise, on players looking to prove themselves in the pro ranks after college careers, or players who are looking for a place to break out and show what they can do as go-to players on a team.
The shining light in this forward group, though, is probably Ryan Hayes – the 26-year-old from Syracuse, NY is a small, speedy sniper with a lethal eye for goal, having regularly scored over 20 and on several occasions 30 goals in an ECHL season. If Hayes can find a man to feed him, he’ll be a good outside bet to be among the top goalscorers in the league.
That player could be Everett Sheen, a skilled playmaking centre who has impressive NCAA stats and scored well in relatively limited time for the Ontario Reign last season, or Paul Zanette, a Canadian-Italian winger who’s been a useful playmaker in Italy’s Serie A for Asiago and Bolzano and is just coming into his prime as a player. Emmerson himself found a decent scoring touch last year and will provide size and power once again on the left wing, while Taylor Dickin, Trevor Gerling and (currently-injured) Luke Judson provide enough work-rate and effort to push a bus up Arthur’s Seat and back down again.
The most intriguing among them, perhaps, is Craig McCallum, who joins from the University of Saskatchewan – another player on his first pro team. McCallum is fast, skilled and named as a “difference maker” by Edinburgh staff, and comes with a recommendation from Carsen Chubak as a dangerous scorer. McCallum himself is also likely to be popular in the community – he prides himself on being a role-model to fans both young and old, and takes great pride in his Canadian First Nations heritage.
British talent is in the form of promising locals Callum Boyd and Sean Beattie – Beattie in particular will look to continue his growing into a third-line role, while Boyd will hope to improve his scoring touch once again as he works
Riley Emmerson has built a forward group with all the qualities EIHL fans are known to love, and it could pay dividends for Edinburgh both on and off ice this year.
POTENTIAL LINES (F)
Riley Emmerson – Paul Zanette – Ryan Hayes
Craig McCallum – Trevor Gerling – Everett Sheen
Taylor Dickin – Luke Judson – Callum Boyd/Sean Beattie
POTENTIAL LINES (D)
Kyle Bigos – Jacob Johnston
Kyle Flemington – Nate Fleming
Jay King – James Wallace
COACH – RILEY EMMERSON (1st season)
I wrote recently that Emmerson was arguably the perfect coach for Edinburgh right now. In that piece I say this in summing up:
“Nobody knows how Riley Emmerson’s first season in charge in Edinburgh will go – and nobody is expecting miracles. However, in building his roster the 29-year-old Burnaby native has shown himself to be a savvy recruiter with an astute mind and sharp awareness of how to get the most bang for his buck. That alone, coupled with the fact the man himself is a PR natural, means that the Caps are arguably in a better position to begin building than they have been in a long time.”
Looking at this roster with a critical eye, it’s hard to change that opinion one iota. Yes, the Caps roster may not have the “star power” of the rich teams and yes, this is Emmerson’s first season in charge, but he’s hit the ground running and shown an aptitude for the role that promises good things to come. In the EIHL we’ve seen rookie coaches rise to the occasion spectacularly before and achieve way above expectation, and we’ve also seen them flame out spectacularly. But in the case of Emmerson, his own structured and meticulously planned approach and an ability to built what looks a pretty useful roster on a tight budget bode incredibly well.
There is a lot of potential here.
When looking at a roster, you have to take into account what its (realistic) objectives are likely to be. Edinburgh’s roster is built to compete. It’s built to make sure teams have to work incredibly hard to beat it and it’s built to be able to match rosters with far more illustrious names on them. That objective, it achieves.
The Riley Emmerson era has begun with a lot of promise – a roster that could make those disenchanted with the Caps’ style under Richard Hartmann fall in love with their team again.
It’s a group built to make Edinburgh Capitals a team that’s tough to beat every single night and make them able to compete with honour and pride against very tough competition.
That it will do very well indeed.
Riley Emmerson and this Caps team has the potential to do its city proud this year.