All posts by Mike Rhodes

@SteelkingsSH; Sheffield Steelkings, Sheffield Steelers, the Detroit Lions and Sheffield United FC. Also loves films.

Steelkings win Kings Cup in 3-2 Overtime Thriller

Sheffield Steelkings won the first ever Kings Cup with a dramatic 3-2 Overtime win against France’s Para Ice Hockey HCCA Dahu 63 in front of around 200 spectators at IceSheffield on Sunday evening; with around 150 more watching a live stream.

Continue reading Steelkings win Kings Cup in 3-2 Overtime Thriller

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Steel Curtain: Steelkings to host International opponents, will compete for Kings Cup

Sheffield Steelkings host International opposition for the first time on February 10th, as they welcome HCCA Dahu 63, from Clermont-Ferrand to IceSheffield. The teams will be competing in the first ever Kings Cup.

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Steelkings Chairman Jake Oakley with the Kings Cup

“We are so excited for our first ever international friendly. HCCA Dahu will be the first team to take part in the Kings Cup and we are really looking forward to putting on a great show for everyone,” said Steelkings Chairman Jake Oakley. While the Kings Cup is a one-off game for now, the intention is to bring it back year-on-year and possibly expand the field, as Oakley continues: “We are very proud to be growing the sport of para ice hockey here at the Steelkings and cannot wait to start creating a lasting legacy with this competition.

“Everyone at the Sheffield Steelkings are very excited that we can finally announce this fixture against our friends from France. We’ve been working on the details since late summer and we can’t wait to face them now.”

HCCA Dahu chairman, Gillian Gorny also added: “We can’t wait to play against the Steelkings! It will be a great trip and one to remember.”

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The Kings Cup and mini trophy

The advent of the Kings Cup is the result of a partnership with Portland Trophies; who have kindly supplied both the main trophy which will remain the property of the Steelkings; and a mini trophy which Dahu will take back to France as a memento of their involvement. The lasting legacy of the partnership means that future teams who compete in the Kings Cup will receive a miniature as a record of their competition.

As always, this game will be completely free to all spectators as the Steelkings looked to defend the Kingdom and win the Kings Cup.

Sheffield Steelkings vs. HCCA Dahu 63 for the Kings Cup takes place on 10th February 2019 at IceSheffield. The fun begins at 18:00.

Islanders Mid Season Review

Just before the new season began, Deadspin ran a “preview of every team, from best to Islanders.” While no serious outfit had the Isles pegged as the 31st best team in Hockey, most Islanders fans would have expected the season to include a respectable tilt at a play-off spot, probably losing out.

What has happened so far is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

We’re slightly over halfway through the season, and the Islanders sit top of the Metropolitan, three points and a game in hand over the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. They are the best team in hockey since December 15th. And no one really knows how they’ve done it, not when Mat Barzal is the teams only bona fide star (okay, you could make a case for Anders Lee too); after John Tavares snaked off to Toronto in the summer; when the roster is mostly made up of reasonable but frankly unspectacular veterans; after last seasons defence was league worst and then lost Calvin De Haan.

With the league on a break for the all-star game, I’m taking a look at some of the key points of this remarkable season so far:

Lou and Barry

Last June, Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders President of Hockey Operations made himself the teams General Manager. The team had finished seventh in the Metropolitan and a long way outside of the playoffs. He lost Tavares in free agency and added veterans Valtteri Filppula, Tom Kuhnhackl and Leo Komarov. His only trade was bringing back fourth line forward Matt Martin. Everyone, everyone questioned his strategy, but Lamoriello stuck to his belief that individual players don’t win Championships, teams win championships. It’d be easy to point to where the Islanders sit now as vindication of his methods; but the key to his reign was getting the reigning Stanley Cup Champion coach Barry Trotz (pictured) to coach the team.

trotz

The Islanders defence last season stank,and getting a defensive minded coach to join the team was a must, but getting a coach of Trotz’s nous and experience was massive. The players have brought into his systems completely and have gone from worst to first in their own zone, currently having the fewest goals against in the league. They are giving up around seven fewer shots per-game than last season and are defending the slot much better. They’re denying entry to their zone much better too going from 27th to 4th in entry denial. For a team which is light on offensive firepower, stopping the goals going in at the other end is vital. Under Trotz the Islanders are supremely organised and excel at frustrating opponents, keeping them wide or against the boards, denying them many scoring chances and hoping to nick just enough at the other end to win games. And it’s working.

The goatenders have benefitted from Trotz’s defensive strategies too. In Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, many believed the Islanders had two good but unspectacular goaltenders too, but both are doing well under Trotz, especially Lehner, who currently leads the league in Goals Against Average and Save %. Greiss is hovering around the top ten in both categories.

King of Coliseum

The return to the Islanders’ traditional home of 43 years at Nassau Coliseum on December 1st seems to have been the catalyst for their remarkable form over the past couple of months. As mentioned they have the league best record since the 15th and have some impressive victories in that timespan (see below). They’re still alternating home games between the Coliseum and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn; but returning part-time to the passion, energy and the volume of their original home seems to given everyone that extra spring in their skates; and most fans would now prefer to play playoff games – assuming the Isles make it – in Fort Never Lose, rather than the higher capacity Barclays.

Anthony Beauvillier New York Islanders

They Can Win Key Games

They handled the emotional return to Nassau and gave the fans a rousing come from behind victory, they showed they could handle the pressure of important games then, and they showed it once more with a huge 4-0 away win in Toronto at the end of December. Ever since Tavares went to the Leafs in the off-season the first game between the two teams was once Islanders fans were waiting for – and possibly slightly dreading – but instead they left with an emphatic victory and a hat-trick from Mat Barzal. The roster obviously badly wanted to win and played like it. Revenge was sweet.

But beating the Tampa Bay Lightning was a real statement win and showed that on their day, the Islanders can raise to anyone’s game. Tampa Bay boasted – still do, in fact – the best record in the NHL when they came to the Barclays Center on January 12th, and the Isles were 3-0 up inside five minutes before closing the game out superbly en-route to a 5-1 win. They killed penalties, were aggressive and disciplined – and what is more, it was the fourth line which did the damage…

That Fourth Line

Starting the game with Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin on the Islanders emotional return to the Coliseum was more than a statement of intent and a nod to the history of the building; it was an acknowledgement that the fourth line is the living, beating heart of this team. They are its identity, as much as Barzal is the face of the franchise. The Islanders continue to play a smash-mouth, hard-nosed, rough and tough brand of hockey, and the CCM line exemplify this more than any.

When Martin returned from his year in Toronto, fans were excited about the three reuniting, hoping for the excellent chemistry and the aggressive hits to return; but they’ve been productive in terms of scoring points too.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders

Martin already has more goals than last year and is on pace to break his personal best for points in a season, Clutterbuck could break his points barrier too, while Cizikas already is on a career high season, goals wise. As a recent example of what the line can contribute they combined for two goals and four assists in the pounding 5-1 win over Tampa Bay.

Four seasons on from being crowned the ‘Best fourth line in Hockey,’ they could well be again.

Youth Finds a Way (kind of)

At the beginning of the year the roster full of industrious and experienced veterans like Valtteri Filppula, Andrew Ladd, Leo Komarov and Cal Clutterbuck. There didn’t seem to be room for the likes of Josh Ho-Sang, Devon Toews, Kieffer Bellows and Michael Dal Colle. However, while we’re still waiting to see Bellows in the NHL the other three have all featured significantly in the last couple of months.

Toews has fully taken advantage of an injury to Thomas Hickey and his partnership on the blue-line with Scott Mayfield looks solid already. He looks like he belongs, has done since his first shift, and he’s contributed points too (5 in 15 games, good enough for a rookie defenceman), including a rocket in that Tampa Bay win and his first ever NHL goal was an overtime winner. It’d be a shock if he gets sent back down to the AHL once Hickey returns to fitness.

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No love for Ho-Sang

But it wouldn’t be the first shock roster decision of the season. Josh Ho-Sang has been up and down between the NHL and AHL over the last couple of years, but the recent decision to send him down again was a real surprise. Ho-Sang only had one goal in his ten game stint; but he was good for the team. Each of the forwards he played with registered higher points per game averages with Ho-Sang as a line mate; he had quality puck possession and made space for his partners to flourish. You can argue with a relatively weak defensive game he has to be a top-six player and the Isles might not have had room but that’s questionable. It’s the one baffling decision of the Lamoriello/Trotz regime so far. The management team stuck with Anthony Beauvillier with a one point in 16 game start to the season, and were rewarded with a purple patch in late November/early December; with that and the fact that Ho-Sang is blatantly too good for the AHL and you begin to wonder if he will ever get a fair shot in New York.

Dal Colle has quietly become a solid contributor to the third line, and has his first NHL goal now. While turning a fifth overall pick into a solid third line forward is poor value and will be enough to label Dal Colle a flop of that is all he is; after five years you take what you can get; and Dal Colle, in credit has certainly taken his latest chance and has played himself onto the regular gameday roster.

Powerplay Issues

The Islanders power-play is horrible. It is currently the 24th in the NHL and the Isles go through long periods of games with no goals to show when they have a man advantage, at one point being 1/28 and 5/54 on Powerplay opportunities.

People have criticised giving solid fourth line forward Cal Clutterbuck so much ice time on the powerplay, but in reality their aren’t really many better options for his spot, certainly not when Josh Ho-Sang is down in the AHL. The Islanders lack of offensive play-making spark really shows when they have a two minute window to make something happen.

Can it last?

Honestly…probably not. At least not at this level. The Islanders’ detractors point to a team which has poor puck possession, always comes out low on expected chances per-game and has a roster which, whilst experienced and very hard-working and undeniably well coached is pretty average, talent wise. They don’t tend to score highly and if they get into a hole they may lack the firepower to get out of it. They’ve rode their luck at times and have gotten away with it, and that is something they can’t do forever. They do have a league high PDO, which people normally attribute to a sign of a lucky rather than a good team: their policy of filling a roster with solid veterans might sound Moneyballian; but for those who are into their metrics – and defensive improvements aside – the Islanders success doesn’t really make much sense at all, when you look at the numbers.

I’d be very surprised (but delighted) if the Isles still top the Metro at the end of the year. But they should make the play-offs now, barring a significant collapse. Once there, they might not have enough to worry an opponent in a best-of-seven; but getting there would be beyond the expectations of fans at the start of the year.

We beat the Maple Leafs 4-0 in Toronto
Enjoy that, John?

Stand on Guard: A Growlers Recap #4

I was planning to write this Growlers recap when I got home the other night; but instead was shocked to discover that Head Coach Ryane Clowne had stepped down from his post for medical reasons. Obviously his health must come first but that doesn’t change the disappointment many Growlers fans must feel at losing their first ever Head Coach. He has done a remarkable job of leading the brand new team, gelling a new roster and installing a winning habit as the Growlers sit third in the ECHL.

Continue reading Stand on Guard: A Growlers Recap #4

Stand on Guard: Clowne steps down as Head Coach

Ryane Clowne has stepped down as the Head Coach of the Newfoundland Growlers for medical reasons.

The Toronto Maple Leafs today announced that the Newfoundland native and first ever Head Coach of the Growlers organisation would be leaving his post immediately; with assistant John Snowden taking over as Head Coach.

Growlers owner Dean MacDonald said in a statement, “We were honoured to have Ryane serve as the Growlers first Head Coach in franchise history but ultimately Ryane’s health is a priority, to not only him, but the entire organization. We have confidence that the strong foundation and winning culture established by Ryane and John this season will continue under the leadership of John Snowden.”

“I’d like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs for the opportunity to become the first head coach in Newfoundland Growlers history,” said Clowe. “As a St. John’s native, I was extremely honoured and proud to have held this position but my health is first priority for both my family and I.”

Clowne leaves the Growlers with a 27-11-2 record; good for third in the entire ECHL. The newcomers are second in their conference to the Florida EverBlades but boast a seven point lead at the top of their division after 40 games.

Clowne will remain with the Maple Leafs in an unspecified role.

 

Picture Credit: Newfoundland Growlers

KalPa win Spengler Cup

Kalpa oneKalPa Kuopio became the first Finnish team to win the prestigious Spengler Cup with a shootout win over Team Canada on New Years Eve. The game had finished 1-1.

Jaako Rissanen scored the decisive goal in a lengthy shoot-out, before Denis Godla made a pad save from Canadian Captain Andrew Ebbett. In victory KalPa denied Team Canada what would have been a fourth successive win and a record 15th overall success.

Team Canada outshot KalPa 36-21; but a well organised and efficient KalPa defence limited these to mostly efforts from tight angles and the Canadians found Godla was in excellent form, making 35 saves in regulation time and several highlight reel stops in the shootout. KalPa game planned smartly and looked lively on the counter-attack, especially through Alexandre Texier.

The game was scoreless until the early third period, and with both teams playing good defence with strong goaltending it became increasingly likely that a scrappy goal would open the scoring. Daniel Winnick got it for Canada, barrelling home a rebound from Torrey Mitchell’s breakaway effort.

KalPa were not behind for long, equalising when Eetu Luostarinen – a 2017 draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes – took a rebound in his stomach and tapped home at the back post at 11:24.

After a frantic overtime period which saw Zac Dalpe hit a post for the Canadians; the teams were tied 2-2 after the first three shooters in the shootout, resulting in a sudden death situation. Rissanen’s effort was the eighth overall for his team as Godla made five straight saves for his side.

Team Canada made the final with a 4-2 semi-final win over the Nürnberg Ice Tigers; whilst KalPa eliminated the hosts Davos 2-1.

Stand on Guard: A Growlers Recap #3

The Growlers began the month with a six game home stand. They defeated the Brampton Beast 7-4 on the 1st of December, and 5-2 the night after; but then suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time ever, going down 7-5 and 5-3 to the Reading Royals on the 7th and 8th. The Growlers bounced back, beating another new expansion team, the Maine Mariners 6-3 and 5-2 on the 11th and 12th; meaning that across the stretch of home games they won 2/3 series with a 4-2 record.
Since the homestand the Growlers have played one road game, scoring four straight goals on the way to earning a 4-3 victory against the Beast on December 16th. The victory also meant that goalie Mario Culina is still undefeated as a Growler, with 5 wins.

The Growlers impressive run of form has been noticed too. Winger Scott Pooley was the ECHL player of the week after his hat-trick in the 7-4 win over the Beast and another tally the night after and has since been recalled to the AHL with the Toronto Marlies.
Michael Garteig
Michael Garteig (pictured) was the ECHL’s goaltender of the month for November; and this earned him a one-night Marlies recall; starting a 5-1 win over the Manitoba Moose. Garteig would make 26/27 saves in the victory.

In lighter news, the Growlers won the Creamer award for Primary Sports Logo of the Year on December 20th. From judge Greg Wyshynski, “This logo is just a masterpiece. The Growlers managed to create a logo that somehow looks gruff and cuddly like this pooch is going to guard the house at all costs unless you distract it with delightful ear scratches.”

A few statistics (amongst current roster only):

Points (Goals-Assists-Total)
Giorgio Estephan (C) 13-16-29
Brady Ferguson (LW) 12-13-25
Josh Kestner (RW) 11-10-21

PIM: James Melindy – 73

+/-: Brady Ferguson – 9

Goalies

Mario Culina – 5 Games – 5 Wins – GAA: 2.20 – SV%: 0.930
Michael Garteig – 21 Games – 13 Wins – GAA: 282 – SV%: 0.910

Standings wise, the Growlers are five points clear of the Adirondack Thunder in the Eastern Conference’s Northern Division; and are a win behind top spot in the entire conference, trailing the Florida EverBlades. They have a game in hand on their rivals too. The Growlers currently sit 4th in the combined league rankings; topped by the Cincinnati Cyclones and with the EverBlades and the Toledo Walleye ahead of them.

Coming up, the Growlers have a chance to avenge those losses to the Royals, with a double-header in Reading on the 29th and 30th, and they will spend New Years Eve on the road against the Adirondack Thunder. They then begin another six game home run on January 4th with three two-game series as the Jacksonville Icemen, the Mariners and the Thunder all come to the rock.

All that is left for me to say is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year; and I’ll be checking in on the Growlers again in the new year.