Following an impressive midweek performance from the Dundee Stars against the table topping Belfast Giants, they leapfrogged Manchester into 9th place (joint 8th in terms of points) which may well have set a few more alarm bells ringing in the Northern home of sport. Recent performances have lead to Finnerty running out of patience with the likes of Dylan Anderson & Brendan Brooks, whilst opting to bring in the big body of Chance Braid. This article will assess the performances of Manchester Storm’s forward group on an individual basis and predict who could be next for the chopping block if results don’t improve.
#9. Luke Moffat: a fan favourite in Altrincham, Moffat set the league on fire in his debut season with 66 points in 56 appearances, including the league high 34 goals. His all action style and effort on the ice furthered endeared him to the fanbase. A budding bromance, last season, with now captain Dane Byers saw them create opportunities with ease and regularity. This season 24 points (7G 17A) in 23 appearances on the surface appears mightily impressive and his play in recent weeks has been the rare bright-spark. However, currently sporting a +/- of -9, Moffat needs to tightening things up in the defensive zone as poor marking and positioning has seen him caught out on multiple occasions. This fragility has been recognised by Finnerty, who opted to move Moffat to the wing mid-way through Tuesday’s cup tie in an attempt to reduce the impact. Yet, despite all this, Moffat remains a Top 6 forward and will no doubt be at the forefront of any potential Storm resurgence.
#17. Logan MacMillan: frozen out in recent weeks and potentially one of the more expendable players on the roster. So far this season, MacMillan has been mostly utilised more on the blueline and as a result judgement on his abilities as a forward are therefore limited. The multifaceted aspect of his game might well be enough to see him last the year, but not without him sweating on it. A direct replacement for Nate Fleming, MacMillan is an upgrade in that comparison but has remained peripheral in terms of offensive output. Just 3 points (OG 3A) in his 17 outings will need to be improved upon soon, especially if brought into the line-up as a forward.
Rating: 3.5/10 (based on his games as a forward, with a very small sample size)
#21. Mike Hammond: a stop start season for Hammond, which has seen him sidelined through injury and personal reasons, has still seen him produce more points than any other Storm player with 24 points (9G 15A) in only 17 games. The best puckhandler in the line-up and potentially one of the best passers in the league, his absence has most definitely been felt. The length of his most recent lay-off is unknown, having returned to Canada last week to be with his family, but the only other hockey comparative I can come to is the Edmonton Oilers minus Connor McDavid (just watch their game against the Dallas Stars if you really want to watch how much one player can be missed). I am not saying Hammond is McDavid, but his importance to the Storm offensive is similar to McDavid and Edmonton. Whenever he is able to return to Manchester, the fanbase will immediately breathe a slight sigh of relief as the last years EIHL Top Points Scorer adds serious offensive firepower and his ability to collect points is unmatched by the majority of Elite League forwards.
#26. Rob Linsmayer: just four points in his last 11 appearances might ordinarily have seen his position under the spotlight. However, granted a university placement as part of his deal any potential movement would be extremely difficult and expensive. The blessing that is education might well be more of a hindrance in a few circumstances for the Storm (not naming any names just yet). An improved individual performance against Fife last Sunday (02/12) had many, myself included thinking Linsmayer had regained his early season form until his poor backchecking would allow Fife to steal the extra point. Linsmayer would then back this up with an abysmal showing (like most) against Nottingham on Tuesday and further frustrate with his inconsistent displays. After four impressive years in the ECHL with the Idaho Steelheads & San Francisco Bulls, Linsmayer was one of the bigger names brought in by Finnerty and his return so far will no doubt have been a major disappointment. Following the release of veteran forward Brendan Brooks, Linsmayer may soon get another opportunity on the powerplay and in the Top 6, which could define his season.
#34. Dane Byers: the natural successor for Jay Rosehill, Byers has gradually seen his form evaporate in recent matches. His recent drop-off in form has no doubt coincided with Storm’s poor run of results. The combination of ill discipline (currently leading the EIHL in PIM’s with 126), poor defensive positioning and aberrant decision-making in the last few games has visibly frustrated Finnerty. Its worthy noting that during his illustrious career Byers holds a regular season career record of 203-116-35 (.573) as a captain before entering this season. This win percentage highlights Byers is a winner and he will be one of many desperate to turn things around. After reversing his retirement decision in the summer, Byers and Co. will want their last hurrah’s to be more memorable than this. Although if this is to happen, his perennial linemate Luke Moffat might well need to find another partner in crime for the time being at least.
#61. Chris Auger: the most surprising returnee from last years squad, Auger spent the majority of the campaign out injured and again began the 2018/9 season on the sidelines, this time recovering from off-season surgery. So far this year, Auger only has 6 points (4G 2A) in 17 matches despite ample powerplay opportunities and minutes on the ice. After gleefully accepting a university placement from Finnerty in July, Auger has often felt the wrath of supporters after a string of lackluster performances now very much coming under the microscope. This one is very much a quandary and without a university spot would he really have outlasted some of the departed or more to the point would he be sitting as comfortably?
#63. Chance Braid: added to the line-up to provide further grit and determination, but with only three games any judgement would be futile and unrepresentative. However, from what I have seen so far his style is simple but effective, Braid is difficult to move off the puck and likes to stay within close proximity to the net.
#79. Shane Bakker: the workhouse of the team, Bakker has been continually rolled out on the PK and bottom line during his stint in Manchester. His impressive early season form saw him picking up Man of the Match awards on an almost nightly basis at points, as the 6ft4 grinder went to work at both ends of the ice. The Storm PK, headed by Bakker, was until late November the best in the EIHL peaking at just under 90% but inline with the overall team performances it has dipped. Bakker has been extremely busy on the PK, with Storm taking a league high 130 penalties his efforts cannot be faulted. A dependable third-line centre will mostly likely see his linemates jump around him, after the brief experiment of on the top-line wasn’t productive, rather than Bakker moving into the Top 6. One of Finnerty’s most trusted skaters, expect Bakker to eat up the PK minutes and layout his body for the cause.
#88. Adam Barnes: the young Brit hasn’t be afforded the opportunities to leave his mark on the EIHL game, but in four games with the Blackburn Hawks (NIHL) Barnes has 9 goals and three helpers. These numbers are promising and could help give a glimpse of what talents Barnes possesses, after benefiting from three years in the North American junior system. If the season is to peter-out, Barnes’ development curve could well be advanced if additional ice time in Britain’s top league is handed to the 19-year-old. However, having seen very little gametime so far this season no judgement can be made, but from what I have seen I like.
#89. Ciaran Long: after seamlessly making the transition from EPIHL to EIHL, Long was the first to be awarded a contract extension last season by Ryan Finnerty. In 2018/9, Long remains the highest scoring British skater in the Elite League (excluding dual national and teammate Mike Hammond) with 21 points (6G 15A) in 23 games, despite a recent slowdown in his offensive output. The calculated risk from Finnerty has been more than repaid with Long’s eyes now firmly set on making the GB plane to Slovakia come May. The faith shown in Long is best exemplified by his position on the first powerplay unit as the pivot man and use within the Top 6. A solid performer across both his years in Manchester, Long has massively outperformed some of the higher paid players on his team and within the league. Lastly, a team best +/- of 10 perfectly illustrates his impact on the ice.
#91. Evan Richardson: the diminutive forward had a slow start to the season with just 9 points in his first 14 EIHL games, but a good response of 10 points in his last 9 outings could be a sign of things to come. Lightning quick and willing to sacrifice his body to maintain puck possession, Richardson has been the standout performer through this losing streak. Lured to rainy Manchester by the combination of a years professional hockey and university education, Richardson could be one of the few imports that Finnerty would want to keep around next season(especially if his current form continues). My initially thoughts were that he’d struggle to create space against the bigger teams on the smaller-ice surface, at home, which he has to some extent. Yet, his above-average skating speed has seen flourish on the road and this play might well turn the head of other EIHL sides.
Recently Released Player Ratings:
Brendan Brooks: ever-willing and still faster than most on the ice, Brooks just never really got going for either Sheffield or Manchester with only 6 assists in 20 games across both sides. Perhaps the unusually long off-season was a factor in this, but the more likely it was age. Now at the big 40, Brooks was mightily impressive during his time in the UK and might well hang around long enough to see if any other teams want to take a chance on a veteran guy. (Rating: 4/10)
Dylan Anderson: the odd-man out for the most part, Anderson never really got going in Manchester and his last chance in pro hockey might well have faded into the distance (unless a smaller European league comes calling). His time was probably best summed up with his only attempted fight, one which ultimately never got going and ended up in a disappointment heap on the ice. For all parties it was best to send him back home and given him the chance to sign elsewhere, as of 06/12 Anderson signed for Tours in the French second tier. (Rating: 2/10)
The promise of changes from Finnerty was fulfilled less than 48 hours after a crushing home defeat to the Nottingham Panthers. Having trimmed the roster down from 17 imports to 15 (excluding Pacl who is still registered but no longer in the country), positions remain under threat. The outstanding second place finish from last year will most likely never happen again, but finding the winning combinations and reigniting the buzz are both a necessity and achievable. Further changes might be harder to come by with multiple forwards tied into university deals that will most likely see them remain on the roster. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ryan Finnerty won’t get his fingered burned again on these deals and will be very selective on who warrants this luxury in the coming seasons.