The Cardiff Devils currently sit second in the EIHL with 38 points, two points off top spot with two games in hand. That’s a very favourable position to be in.
There has been a lot of criticism of this team that I’m not going to get too into, What I am going to do is explain how the Devils have actually improved from last year, the issue is so has the league.
With Great Britain returning to the top group of International Ice Hockey for the first time since 1994, and Liam Kirk being drafted into the NHL, it’s an exciting time for British Ice Hockey, so what better time to examine each EIHL teams top prospect.
Now to define “top prospect” I’ll be looking at players who are on either a one-way or two-way deal with an EIHL team currently and are 23-years-old or younger, and British. If you want to see more about the top young stars of the EIHL from all nations, click here to see our countdown from 25 – 11, and here to see our countdown from 10 – 1 of our list of the top 25 players aged 25 or younger.
Episode 6 of Behind the Bench is here! And as I said last week, this interview is kinda festive despite being recorded a little while ago now at the Flames bowling night. By festive, I don’t mean that any of the players broke into a chorus of Jingle Bells, but thanks to the wonders of beer, we did get a bit of a Bad Santa impression!
With Manchester Storm announcing the departure of Brendan Brooks yesterday, the EIHL player departure headcount now sits at 24. In just 15 weeks, 7 of the 11 teams have lost at least 1 player, and in a couple of cases, also their coach. This week alone has seen 5 casualties – Is it poor recruitment, poor pay, or is the league just not a place players want to be?
There is an argument for all of the above, and hockey players getting gassed or moving mid-season certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. In season past, numerous EIHL players have changed teams, but to lose so many so soon? And alarmingly, the list of 24 does not include Danick Paquette or Tom Parisi, both who left their teams (Coventry & Cardiff respectively) before the season officially got underway.
CTP’s own Lucy Hamilton, has been tracking the movements for each club:
7/11 – Ben Blood
4/12 – Justin Faryna
4/12 – Miika Wiikmann
4/12 – Kelin Ainsworth
3/10 – Kevin Phillips
26/10 – Marcus Basara
20/11 – Jindrich Pacl
23/11 – Dylan Anderson
6/12 – Brendan Brooks
2/11 – Joonas Houvinen
14/11 – Head Coach Doug McKay
21/11 – Eric Neiley
1/12 – Rihards Grigors
18/11 – Jacob Doty
27/11 – Sam Gospel
29/11 – Tyler VanKleef
3/12 – Tyler Biggs
17/9 – Matt Rupert
17/9 – Ryan Rupert
1/10 – Head Coach Paul Thompson
24/10 – Brendan Brooks
28/10 Chris Lawrence
30/10 Jiri Gula
25/11 Bradley Day (loaned to Hull Pirates)
Despite dropping to 11 teams, the EIHL appears to be in good shape and is arguably more competitive than in recent times. The Devils have strengthened over the summer, but certainly do not look like they have the stranglehold on the league that they did last season. At the other end of the table, Dundee & MK have shown they can compete, and win, against anyone when on their game. The UK in general is still seen as a tourist destination, and is a big selling point for players who come to play in the league.
On our list of 24, not all have been gassed by their teams. Several have moved to take up opportunities elsewhere. Is it purely money? Are there greater opportunities outside of the game which prompts the move or is it simply career progression? Regardless of motive, Cardiff were open in saying they were compensated for the loss of Ben Blood, but were Coventry compensated for Ainsworth?
Poor Recruitment /Coaching?
The Rupert brothers immediately spring to mind, but both appear to be picking up points since their return to the ECHL. Of course, clubs rely on various methods to pick up players, such as word of mouth or their contacts from years past, but does the blame lie with the contacts, or with the coach making the signings? In the case of the Rupert’s, was it purely the coach not knowing how to play them?
One thing is for sure – The issue with the vast amount of roster changes head resulted in some fans feeling somewhat disconnected from their teams. Coventry have seen 5 netminders this season, Sheffield have lost 6 players already, MK lost arguably their best player, Guildford lost a loyal Brit who was loved by many and Cardiff have lost 2 fan favourites. All mid-season.
There is no doubt the player merry-go-round will continue, but what can teams do to stop the better players in the league from leaving? Or does the EIHL in general need to do more to promote itself and make it more appealing in general?
Information correct at time of publication [12:00 07/12/18] will be updated as things change
Hello hockey fans and welcome back Behind the Bench! Continuing on from last week, we are currently on player interview number 3 of 7 from the Flames bowling night. The night started off with a chat with Kevin King (accompanied by Mike Will), followed by Jez Lundin, and following a break in proceedings to actually bowl… And grab another pint during the end of game raffle, it was time to once again find some players in amongst the crowd!
The decline of fighting within hockey is no secret, but does it still have a place in today’s game? For those that love the dropping of gloves and swinging of fists, the clock might already be ticking on the Elite League remaining Europe’s most physical league. The decision this off-season by many Head Coaches, within the league, to sign quicker and more skillful players rather than the traditional heavy-hitters could spell the end. The NHL trend (to get quicker) has had a slow trickle-down affect across the league’s in North America and Europe. As a result, the Top 10 Elite League Fighters might well be the least intimidating on record…
Three full months have now been completed in what is a seven month regular season. It seems absurd to think that time-wise we are nearly at the halfway point already! 26 competitive games have been played, and the Guildford Flames have matched results of the prior month as they registered 6 wins in 9 games.
All game highlights can be found in this article.
The Flames started the month with a fully fit, but bloated roster. With the addition of TJ Foster, the Flames had to sit 1 import skater, and after a bit of a slow start to the season, the undoubtedly talented Jamie Crooks was the man who found himself sat in the stands.
The first game of the month saw the Flames travel to MK Lightning, where with just 0.3 seconds left in overtime, Calle Ackered fired home a trademark rocket to pick up the 2 league points. The following night MK came to the Spectrum for the final Challenge Cup game – This time, the Flames were much more convincing and in winning 5-2, they eliminated MK from the competition.
The following weekend saw the Flames take a huge 6-5 win away from the Steelers at the FlyDSA Arena in what was one of the most entertaining games of the season, then fall short against a very well drilled Nottingham Panthers side, who were undoubtedly fired up after being shut out at home the night before by the Belfast Giants.
And then came the Storm double header…
The Storm marketing team went in hard on this one following the debacle at the Spectrum at the end of October. And Dixon’s opposite number was also keen to make his feelings known ahead of the weekend.
Storm Head Coach Ryan Finnerty:“We won’t need much motivation for this game. They provided that for us in the last minute of the game down in Guildford I know my guys will be fired up for this one…”
The Flames had to make changes to the lineup due to a groin injury picked up by Evan Janssen, and after a week of build-up, Saturday in the Storm Shelter saw the most disappointing result of the month. Not only did the Flames squander a 2 goal lead, Jordan Abt was on the receiving end of a big (but clean) hit, which saw him sit the rest of the month out with whiplash.
The following night saw the return leg at the Spectrum, and despite being down to just 5 players in defence, the Flames avenged the narrow loss with an 8-3 thrashing, scoring 6 powerplay goals to rub salt into the wounds of a Manchester team who once again failed to maintain discipline on Spectrum ice.
The final week of the month saw the Flames with another big win, this time live on Freesports, as 2 quick goals in the 3rd period saw the Spectrum side come away from the Skydome with 2 more league points.
3 days later they faced the Glasgow Clan for the second time this season as they took the long trip up to Clangus country and for the second time this season, the Flames shut out the Clan.
Finally, the red hot league leaders, the Belfast Giants came to town. It was a valiant effort which saw numerous chances close for the Flames but the luck of the bounce just wasn’t there. Trailing by just 1 goal in the final minutes, Fullerton was pulled twice, and both times the Giants scored. A 4-1 loss was most certainly not reflective of the game.
Another key change half way through the month saw the new King – Ferguson – Foster line split up, meaning that Davies would join King & Ferguson on the second line whilst the immensely skilled TJ Foster join Evan Ritt & Jamie Crooks on the third line.
Both Carrozzi and Fullerton have seen significant runs in the team over the month, and both have been in great form, playing their part in each of the Flames victories over the month.
The return of Jamie Crooks has been a huge positive – 4 points in his last 5 games is the form so many expected. TJ Foster has been even more impressive with 8 points in his last 5: A tally only matched by John Dunbar. Evan Ritt & Kruise Reddick have both picked up 6 points in the last 5 and Calle Ackered is still firing them in.
And once again, Waller & Krogh have looked good despite being limited on ice time. Waller picked up an assist and both he and Krogh have shown no fear whatsoever as they mixed it up along the boards with some irate Storm players, and despite taking some big hits, they remain undeterred and are more than willing to get straight back into the tussle. The fact that Richard Krogh got bumped by a Storm player in the handshake line says all you need to know about how effective he was.
So, despite the Belfast loss, the Flames are looking better as each week goes on, and the team now looks like it has real depth.
And now we come to the Flames fan’s voted Player of the Month award. In September, this man was voted 3rd overall. In October, 2nd overall, and this month he goes one better once again and takes a well deserved win with 42.78% of the votes. He has arguably been the player of the season so far:
Congratulations, Calle! It goes without saying, you were a firm fan favourite coming into this season off the back of an incredible first year with the Flames. It seems like you have not only picked up where you left off last season, but many feel you have been even more impressive this season – How do you feel the season is going for you so far?
“Thank you very much! Yeah I feel that I have got a good start so far and hope we can continue to win games and be successful as a team. After a good summer with a lot training I feel stronger on the ice and that really help me to develop my game. I have such a big passion for hockey so I just want to be better every day!”
December is going to be a real busy month with 13 games. The team is in a good position in the league, plus the Challenge Cup quarter finals are just around the corner – How is the mood in the camp, and given your extended minutes on the ice, how are you feeling physically? Are there any games in particular that you are looking forward to in December?
“December is really busy as you say but we are prepared and looking forward to it. I’m feeling good physically and mentally but of course it’s very tough with all the travel we do. I’m looking forward to the Belfast game on December 8th a the Spectrum. I have friends coming that weekend so it’s always extra fun to play in front of your friends and family when they are here. And of course the challenge cup games.”
Once again you are averaging over a point per game this year. Your trademark slapshot has been leaving numerous opposition players in a lot of pain; some of which have even missed games after being hit – Given your points return, do you find that you are getting more attention, or are you getting a little more room when you wind up a shot these days? Some players look terrified when you’re about to shoot!
“I love to shoot the puck and I actually don’t feel that I get more space. The other teams always try to be very close to me so sometimes it’s hard to get an open spot.
“To all Flames fans – I really appreciate your support and involvement during the games! Love to play in front of you and keep going! Hopefully we will have another successful year together.
This month is the big one. With 13 games in December which sees the 5th placed Flames take on the teams currently occupying the rest of the top 7, it will be a month which will make or break the season for them.
The Panthers visit the Spectrum on the 1st to kick the month off, followed by a trip to the Blaze on the 2nd. A tough midweek trip to Cardiff is then followed by the return of the Giants to the Spectrum on Saturday 8th.
Six games in eleven days then follow for the Flames – Firstly, midweek Challenge Cup action at the FlyDSA, then it’s up to Scotland to face the Fife Flyers on Saturday 15th, then they drop into Nottingham on their way home for another tough game. Wednesday 19th sees the second leg of the Challenge Cup game at the Spectrum against the Steelers, and then there’s more Steelers action as the Flames once again return to the FlyDSA on Saturday 22nd. And if that’s not enough of a challenge, the Cardiff Devils then come to the Spectrum on the 23rd.
And there is no break for Christmas as such – Boxing day is the start of an MK double header (away, then back home the next night).
The last game of the year is the 30th December as the Cardiff Devils visit the Spectrum once more to complete a gruelling schedule.
December will be tough for all the Elite League teams. The league cannot be won, but a poor month could well see teams out of the running. And amongst that – The first trophy up for grabs is in the knock out stages. For fans of the Guildford Flames, such a stern test will without doubt be season defining one way or another.