Photo: McGill Photography
As we hit the halfway stage in this seasons 10by10 preview series, we take a look at Milton Keynes Thunder. Forward Gareth O’Flaherty tells all!
This year is going to be an exciting one for everyone at the Thunder, but it’s sure to be a challenging one at the same time. Last season saw Cliff put together a competitive team and we were able to hold our own against the ‘old’ EPL teams on some nights, we definitely turned a few heads with a couple of the results we achieved, but that being said it was a disappointing year it terms of our inconsistency, it was a steep learning curve at times for everyone involved with the club.
This year is looking like it’s going to be another tough year, with most of the teams improving their rosters and we’re also faced with an increase in the number of games, having agreed to change to a 42 game schedule in order to maintain the league structure with 8 teams, but we’re definitely not here just to make up the numbers.
The summer has seen Cliff put together a team that is sure to be more competitive, consistent and to build on the foundations from last season. It’s obvious that Cliff had an idea of the team he wanted to put together, a mixture of youth, speed, energy and a good work ethic, with a couple of more experienced guys to keep the kids in check. Cliff has retained Tom Carlon & Grant McPherson, two guys who bring a wealth of experience, grit and skill and they’ll be looking to improve on last season from an offensive aspect, as will I. The three of us weren’t particularly happy with our offensive numbers last season, so that’s a focus for us moving forward, as well as leading by example. We’ve also retained a solid core of longer serving Thunder players with Bowers, Line, Green & Randall all returning for another year, they bring even more experience to the line up and it’ll be great for some of the younger guys to work with them.
Rio Grinell-Parke, Michael Stratford & Oliver Lord are all key signings for the squad. Rio had an excellent season last year, finishing as the team’s top point scorer and he’ll be wanting to improve on that this year. Strats only joined us part way through the season but immediately had an impact, he’s got a heavy shot, with good hands and can move well for a big guy, it’ll be exciting to see what he can do for a whole season with a bigger role to play. Lordy’s only 17 but the kid’s got a bright future ahead of him. He’s got the vision and composure of a seasoned veteran and he’ll no doubt benefit from being on a two-way with the Coventry Blaze. We’ve also retained Alex Whyte & Hallden Barnes-Garner who are two of our hardest working players and have unreal compete levels.
At the back, is probably our most important returnee from last season, Tommy Annetts. Our MVP from last year stood on his head every game and always gave us the chance to compete; I mean the guy posted a .914 save percentage after facing 50-60 shots most nights, what more can you say. Josh ‘Judith’ Crane also returns on a two-way with Coventry’s NIHL 2 side, it’s great for someone like Craney to work with Tommy, as an experience goal tender Tommy can share some wisdom and potentially seeing some more ice time with Coventry will really help him develop.
There are a couple of new faces on the team this year, which will bring more speed and skill to the line up. Lewis English joins the team having spent two years in Sweden and Oliver Stone joins from Swindon. Both guys have a great skill set and it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with the opportunity of playing bigger roles. Cliff has also managed to secure Jordan Lawday, who’ll be on a two-way with the Cardiff Devils. After an excellent year with the Fire last season it’s a massive signing for us, we know just from playing against him, Jordan is extremely talented and difficult to score against. We basically have two No. 1 goalies now, which will no doubt make Cliff’s job more difficult, but we’re definitely going to benefit as a team.
One of things we prided ourselves on last year was having an entirely British line up, but the times are changing and with that we’ve landed 6”6 Lithuanian international Ruslan Cernych and Czech forward Tomas Rubes. Both Cernych and Rubes will add a different dimension to the team this year, which we perhaps lacked at times last season. It’ll be exciting to see them in Thunder colours this year and we’re sure they’re going to have a big impact.
It’s going to be a tough year and some people might view as the underdogs this season, that’s absolutely fine with us, our room thrives off it. Credit to Cliff and Dave Fairhurst who have worked hard throughout the summer to put together a competitive roster to play in front of our great fan base, we’re definitely not going to be an easy team to play against and I know all the boys are looking forward to getting the season underway and I’m sure they’ll be a few spins on the wheel of fortune.
MK Thunder kick off their league season on Saturday 15th September when they travel to Streatham IHC. Their first home game will be played on Sunday 23rd September against Peterborough Phantoms.