The off-season saw the departure of blueliners: Ryan Trenz, Matt Stanisz, Paul Swindlehurt & utility-man Nate Fleming, and with Manchester Storm currently languishing in 9th position we will take a closer look at this years blueline.
Harrison Ruopp: 6ft3/87kg/R
The former NHL 3rd round draft pick (84th overall) hit the ground running with an impressive off-season, which demonstrated his willingness to take the body and ability to clear the zone with ease. However, 13 games into the season his early season form has all but evaporated- particularly away from the Storm shelter. The instant transition from the ‘small-ice’ in Altrincham to ‘Olympic-size’ pads across a weekend has thus far proven difficult for Ruopp. Despite still being relatively young (25-years-old) and the only right-handed defencemen signed, coach Finnerty will have to persist with Ruopp in the hope he can learn on the job. Although, his willingness to drop the gloves has subsequently endeared him to large sways of the home support and many hope he can rekindle that off-season ‘swagger’ the Storm so desperately need.
Riley Stadel: 5ft10/84kg/L
The former Dundee Stars defencemen was mostly likely signed by Ryan Finnerty for his offensive prowess rather than his blueline presence, being significantly undersized for an EIHL dman. When Matt Stainsz elected to sign for the Glasgow Clan, the Storm blueline immediately looked devoid of point scoring. After an injury tarnished first season in the EIHL, Stadel still produced impressive figures, 21 points (10G 11A) in just 37 appearances, on a distinctly average Dundee roster. So far this season his offensive capabilities have largely been contained to just one game (ironically against Dundee), in which he scored a hat-trick- that included an overtime game-winner. The early-season injuries to Poulin & Springer have forced Stadel to put point-scoring on the back-burner, with defensive zone starts hindering his ability to produce. Once the blueline has returned to full-strength, Stadel’s point production should increase and look for him to form a powerplay partnership with Poulin.
Stats: 14GP/4G/ 2A/15PIM’s/-1
Felix-Antoine Poulin: 6ft2/92kg/L
At just 28-years-old Poulin is surprisingly the elder statesmen, on a youthful Storm blueline. Although, injury has so far curtailed his impact on the ice- after making the decision to leave in Glasgow in the summer. His debut season in the EIHL was mightily impressive, 50 points (17G 33A) in 51 appearances. That form saw him offered a contract in Slovakia with MsHK Zilina, where he dressed on 36 occasions, but mid-way through the season he decided to return to the Elite League. Once fully fit, Poulin should expect to slot into the Top 4 and be given plenty of opportunities on a failing powerplay (7.94%). To date, only three league appearances make an judgement notwithstanding.
Dallas Ehrhardt: 6ft4/102kg/L
Last weekend saw Ehrhardt overtake Paul Swindlehurst for the most league appearances in a Manchester Storm jersey. Ehrhardt’s large frame, physical play and ‘trademark’ moustache have made him synonymous with the franchise. The dual-national is now into his third EIHL season and is often used by Finnerty in all situations (Top 2, PK, PP). After a break-out 2017-18 season, which saw him regularly logging close to 30 mins TOI, Storm made his signature an off-season priority (rightly so). However this season, sluggish play, mostly on-the-road, has handicapped his development and predicted blueline dominance. Despite all this, Ehrhardt remains the ‘number 1’ defencemen on the roster and will no doubt continue to be a disruptive blueline figure for the remainder of the season.
Linden Springer: 6ft1/86kg/L
After initially being brought to the UK on a trial-basis, Springer’s passion and commitment consequently earned him a three-year contract (a rarity in the Elite League). Potentially one of the toughest players in the league, Springer has gone toe-to-toe with heavyweight enforcers throughout his time here. After an eventful first campaign, which saw him tally 163 PIM’s, Springer’s defensive capabilities have gradually improved- vindicating the faith shown in him by Ryan Finnerty. Currently sidelined through injury (shoulder), his competitive nature and physical presence will be a welcome return to the side, when he recovers. Furthermore, Springer’s EIHL experience will prove invaluable during the busy Christmas period and his return should solidify the blueline.
Declan Balmer: 6ft3, 89kg, L
This young British defencemen was originally brought in by Finnerty, from the Basingstoke Bison, and re-signed this off-season. After largely fulfilling a bottom-pairing and 7th defencemen role during his first season in the EIHL, Balmer was afforded the time to mature and improve. However, injuries on the blueline, this season, meant Balmer was thrust into action and judging by his performance to date, not quite ready. His inability to clear the zone and stay close enough to opposition forwards to affect plays have proven costly for the Storm. Currently sporting the worst +/-, -7, amongst Storm defencemen- this young British player is now in a battle for his spot on the blueline next season. Added size during the off-season was seen as a positive, but it has also brought about unnecessary penalty taking- best exemplified by his current three game suspension. Although, with many games remaining Balmer has plenty of time to turn things around, but the clock is definitely ticking.
Logan MacMillan: 6ft1/80kg/L
This utility-player was brought in to replace fellow multi-purpose skater Nate Fleming. After being drafted 17th overall in 2007, MacMillan’s career has taken him all around North America and Europe- including two seasons with the Nottingham Panthers. This addition to the roster, was seen as a crude piece of business by Ryan Finnerty and has proven worthwhile so far after the blueline injuries. However, despite his best efforts MacMillan’s defensive play has fallen short so far and below-average skating speed exploited away from the Shelter. Moreover, once the blueline returns to full strength his position in the line-up may well be compromised- with quicker and more skillful forwards likely to maintain their position. Yet, the unique depth he provides on the roster should be enough to see him stay for the seasons entirety.
Feature image: Mark Ferriss/Manchester Storm