“The fallen arise, a phoenix from the fire
Carried on the wind, a new crusade begins”
Unleash The Archers: “Dreamcrusher”
The Manchester Storm are back. After a decade & more in limbo & away from the British hockey landscape, this offseason saw the return of one of the best-loved identities in British hockey, as the Storm burst back into being on the same day as the Hull Stingrays died. In the eight weeks since, they’ve generated a heck of a buzz from social media thanks to the excellent work of staff like new GM Neil Russell & media host Clare Freeman. Coach Omar Pacha has bent to the task of building a new roster with a will, but on the eve of the season the Storm are still a work in progress. But what do the new Riders On The Storm look like so far, & what can fans expect?
#32 Zane Kalemba
At the time of writing, the Storm don’t, as yet, have a backup netminder-expect a rotating cast of netminders from the junior systems & the Altrincham Aces/Widnes Wild to do the duty.
The starter, however, will definitely be American Zane Kalemba-the 29-year-old from Saddle Creek, Wisconsin has spent the last few years in some of Europe’s better leagues, playing for Banska Bystrica in Slovakia & Rungsted in Denmark the past two seasons. He’s a smallish goalie who relies on speed & positioning to make saves & is very capable as an EIHL starter-Omar Pacha has found an excellent block to build the rest of his team upon.
#2 Omar Pacha, #4 Mike Folkes, #13 Davey Phillips, #15 Jamie Chilcott, #27 Paul Phillips, #53 Igor Bobcek
The first Manchester Storm defence of the new era has a very strong flavour of the Hull Stingrays about it-player coach Omar Pacha will likely also be relied upon as one of the main offensive thrusts from the blue-line-he is a smooth-skating, strong player with an excellent pass and shot, who scored 11 goals from defence in his first Hull season before a drop in production last season that can at least in part be attributed to his increased focus on other areas as a player coach. Pacha will likely par with GB international Davey Phillips on the top line-Phillips is one of Britain’s best defencemen and solid at both ends of the ice and revels in carrying a nasty streak that will show itself if challenged by opposition forwards. Pacha will be backed up in his offensive efforts by 24-year-old American Paul Phillips, who joins after a productive season in Norway for Lillehammer.
The next import on D is Mike Folkes, a strong, solid ECHL player who will calmly take care of business in his own zone-the American will never light up the scoreboard but does all the little things a D-man needs to. He’ll be join in the physical department by big Russian Igor Bobcek, who joins from Slovakia and will look to make the area in front of the net an inhospitable environment for opposition forwards as well as provide a big shot from the blueline. Finally, young Brit & another ex-Stingray, Jamie Chilcott, will complete a unit that, in Manchester’s best tradition, knows its job & will get on with it with the minimum of fuss & fanfare.
#9 Matt Paton, #15 Grant Toulmin, #20 Gal Koren, #22 Mat Sisca, #23 Vinny Scarsella, #26 Matty Davies, #42 Luke Salazar, #84 Matt Caria
This is a Storm forward group that is still very much a work in progress. With only two full lines currently signed, there is still work for Omar Pacha to do. However, what we can glean from this group already is Pacha’s philosophy-build a group that is young, hungry & fast. Also small-the majority of players are under 5’10 & 180lbs as Pacha relies on skill & guile rather than brute force.
Standouts in this group are the two Matts-Caria & Davies. Both skilled centres, they are two different types of player-Davies is a superb pass-first playmaker who is lethal when looking to set up a sniper linemate, while Caria is a player who can do it all-his 25 goals & 30 assists for Kalamazoo in the ECHL last season are proof of that.
Mat Sisca, Luke Salazar & Vinny Scarsella are wingers cut from the same mould-small, hard-working goalscorers with a nose for the net and workrates to shame a Trojan, while Matt Paton, Gal Koren & Grant Toulmin provide the two-way element and a different, slightly more physical & gritty element.
This is a group that still probably needs another player or two before it can be fully judged, but it’s an intriguing approach to go overwhelmingly with small, fast players in a league where balance among the forwards is key-Pacha is building a team that’s going to be exciting to watch but will have to find a way to neutralise any attempts to bully them.
PLAYER TO WATCH – MATT CARIA (F)
The 26-year-old from Sault Ste Marie will be the offensive lynchpin for the Storm this season. Small & fast with a vicious shot & an eye for a pass, the Canadian is great on faceoffs & will be relied upon to both score & create at the heart of the Storm’s top line-he’ll play in every situation & be a leader on this squad.
POTENTIAL LINES (F)
Mat Sisca-Matt Caria-Grant Toulmin
Luke Salazar-Matty Davies-Vinny Scarsella
Matt Paton-Gal Koren-TBA
POTENTIAL LINES (D)
Omar Pacha-Davey Phillips
Mike Folkes-Paul Phillips
COACH: Omar Pacha (1st season in Manchester, 2nd in EIHL)
Pacha has proved a very capable coach in a baptism of fire with Hull last season, building a gritty, hard-working squad that played as if its life was on the line night after night. This year in Manchester he’ll have the chance to set a tone for a new franchise-with low expectation, low pressure & carried on a wave of goodwill, the Storm job is a golden opportunity for Pacha to further make his mark on the EIHL landscape.
The simple truth about the Storm is that anything could happen this season and it would be considered a success after the frenetic summer in Manchester. But with the Storm’s recruitment this season Omar Pacha has shown that he wants to do more than just make up the numbers-he wants to put the Storm back on the map. This roster, while not complete yet, looks like an excellent beginning on the road to do that.
The EIHL can already hear the rumbling in the distance.
A Storm is coming.