Following his departure from Coventry in favour of Miroslav Kopřiva, Finnish netminder Miika Wiikman has signed for French tier two ice hockey team Anglet Hormandi Elite.
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
Following the announcement that Miika Wiikman has been released, The Coventry Blaze have announced the return of Miroslav Kopriva.
The 34 year old Czech native started the season with the Blaze but was released after picking up an injury. Now recovered, he is due to return to the UK tomorrow.
Head Coach Danny Stewart: “Getting ‘Miro’ back is vital to help us get through a rough patch. We know what he brings and he knows better what to expect second time around. He will get on the ice a couple times in preparation for a big weekend for us. We would like to thank ‘Wiiks’ (Miika Wiikman) for his time here. He battled through an injury early on, and when he came back was put in a tough spot. He’s a great professional and we wish him the best.”
Featured Image – CoventryBlaze.com/Scott Wiggins
The Coventry Blaze have announced that experienced netminder, Miika Wiikman, has been released from his contract with immediate effect.
The announcement comes the same day that centerman Kelin Ainsworth asked for his release to move to the Aalborg Pirates.
Wiikman was in his fourth season in the Elite League, starting life in the UK with the Nottingham Panthers. After a pair of seasons he moved to Elite League newcomers, the MK Lightning, and then made the jump to Coventry this summer.
The decision to release Wiikman was made by Blaze Head Coach, Danny Stewart, who commented: “We would like to thank ‘Wiiks’ for his time here. He battled through an injury early on, and when he came back was put in a tough spot. He’s a great professional and we wish him the best.”
Featured Image – CoventryBlaze.com/Scott Wiggins
The Coventry Blaze ‘Meet The Players’ night on Thursday 23rd gave a fascinating insight into the team for the upcoming season.
It has been a year and one day since the last team took up their sharpies and spent the evening crammed into Crosbys bar at the Skydome. Whilst in many respects, the evening was the same, but there was something different this year.
The news that many fans have been longing to hear comes off the back of some sad news. Coventry Blaze Netminder Kevin Nastiuk has sadly had to step down from his starting position due to illness and this has made way for Miika Wiikman to step in.
November 5th, Skydome Arena and I’m back in block 7. It’s my old stomping ground here, where I started out, cheering for the Steelers in 2015. Only this time I’m cheering on one of my favourites, Miika Wiikman and the rest of the MK Lightning.
Now, let me tell you. In the three seasons that I have been an EIHL fan I have cheered for most of the teams. I love the Elite League, there are no underdogs here. Any team can win on any given night
From the first game I was drawn to the netminders. Firstly, it was Tyler Plante of the Sheffield Steelers and then Brian Stewart, formerly of the Coventry Blaze and now playing for the Guildford Flames.
Last season, while playing for the Nottingham Panthers I found myself drawn to our starting goalie Miika. It was only after watching a good few games and with the rise of my own blog Chasing The Puck, I decided I wanted to interview as many of the Elite League goalies as I could. I wanted to try and break down some of the long held beliefs about them. Namely, that goalies are a bit weird and get to know the men behind the metal cages. Those guys who defend our pipes.
I find watching a goalies play fascinating. They have a way about them that no other outfield player has. Be it the pre-game preparation of Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby or the steely concentration caught on camera by the most talented of the league photographers or the slide – side to side across the goal line – to gauge the distance and the range of movement they’ll need or even the tap of the stick off each post before play begins. There is something I find truly mesmerising.
From Coventry to Cardiff, Belfast to Braehead I have yet to find a goalie who wasn’t open and honest about the pressures they feel when on or off the ice. Whether that be Wiikman discussing the importance of good coaching in his youth or Brython Preece discussing the scary move away from home aged 15 to go and join the Ontario Hockey Academy.
I have interviewed players of all nationalities and each have their own unique style of play that I believe it differs depending on the place they got their training.
I have spoken to eight different goalies in the EIHL, although Mike Clemente, Stewart and Wiikman all come to mind, especially when ‘knocking off the nets’ comes up on a fan forum on the web.
I asked Miika about it after a particularly heated debate on facebook. He sends me a laughing emoji and tells me that only twice in his career has he knocked the net off on purpose. Later the same evening, after the game he played (in which the net came off it’s moorings a couple of times) he tells me I must have jinxed it!
My own personal feeling is this; I believe it depends on the style of play. If a goalie has trained in North America and Canada, their style of play is such that they can lean more on the posts as they are deeper into the ice there than they are in our own league. It’s the nature of the way they are brought up and this possibly could explain why the American Clemente and Canadian Stewart, are considered to be the worst offenders. Though a recent incident with Clemente and a dive at his own goal could definitely be considered deliberate!
Away from the ice, these guys are family orientated. Clemente for example comes from a large family of six boys so he says family time is so precious. He’s also the goalie that spends much of his travelling time napping, reading or eating. Learning to sleep in noisy places is a valuable skill, probably learned while trying to sleep back home in a busy house.
Cardiff goalie Ben Bowns talks about his dog Stitch, who comes to the arena and is fussed by staff and players alike. Stitch loves nothing more than his time in the dressing room. He’ll even get grumpy if Ben walks the long way around so as to avoid the dressing room!
Gary Russell, told me how as a youngster he had a serious Irn Bru problem and likes his tea, Yorkshire style, with milk and two sugars. His celeb man crush is David Beckham and the first thing he picks up after an away game? A piece of pizza! If you meet Moose in a bar, don’t buy him a beer. He doesn’t like how it tastes. Instead buy him an apple juice and ask about his cats.
You learn really interesting things about each player if you ask the right questions. Nothing is too silly or too obvious. I have laughed and joked with a fair few of them. To say that interviewing them has brought me confidence as a journalist would be an understatement. Goalies are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and it’s why they will always be my absolute favourite.
This article was originally published in the December issue of MK Lightning’s matchnight program and has been republished here, with permission, now the magazine is no longer in print. All images are my own other than the photo of Ben Bowns, which belongs to its rightful owner and has not been used here for profit in any way.