Next up are the holders of the (also badly-named) Autumn Cup and the National League Cup, Swindon Wildcats. Import Forward Max Birbraer takes us through his thoughts on the upcoming season.
It’s was a mixed bag for us last season, we knew we were starting the season as one of the favourites due to the way we managed to pull our line up together. Unfortunately we didn’t start the way we wanted to, which I think cost us the league in the end. The second half of the season we added extra bodies, and finished on a really good note! We were unfortunate to lose Sam Zajac, who had an opportunity to pursue another career, but then it perhaps ended up being good for us. Our defence managed to do without him and instead we brought in Edgars Bebris who made a huge impact for us and it almost felt like he was the final piece of the jigsaw. We started to play exactly the way we wanted to and the results were coming our way again in the second half of the season. Obviously, we had a hiccup at the end! But overall for the season, we were pretty happy with what we had achieved and how far we came.
We’re really looking forward to the start of the season now. Our ambitions for the season are simply to ‘go further’. When you are in a professionally run organisation like Swindon, which I honestly believe is one of the best clubs to play for in the league, you always want to go a step further. We want to pick up where we left off last season. The main thing was always the league, and obviously we didn’t achieve that, so that that’s our main goal this year. But of course, we want to compete for every trophy. We just want to be that much better every year.
Again, we’ve managed to put together a tremendous line-up. We’ve managed to keep most of the guys and we’ve added a couple more to give us a great line-up!.
Of the players we have to say ‘goodbye’ to: Ollie Stone is a young player who is going to do really well. Unfortunately with us, because we are so deep, he wasn’t getting the ice time he needed. The move to MK should mean he gets more ice time so I hope that works out well for him. Obviously Phil Hill is a huge loss for us. But you can’t turn down that sort of opportunity outside hockey, to lecture at a really good university, it’s just not a question. We absolutely gave him our blessing and thank him for all the effort he put in last year – he was a core guy for us. Matt Smital was a great sport for us last season, but because Renny Marr was playing brilliantly, he just didn’t get the ice time that he should be getting at his age. It’s like with Ollie Stone: there’s no point for these super young guys to sit around, it won’t help them progress. If they have the opportunity to have more ice time and get the minutes in, then they should! There is always time to move back up in later seasons.
Coming into the squad, Adam Harding is obviously a guy I know very well from playing with him in Cardiff. He’s had a couple of years now playing in the EIHL and he’s a big signing for us. He also somewhat of a replacement for Phil Hill in terms of the way he plays – and hopefully he can fill Phil’s boots.
Tyler Plews is not a player I knew much about before, but in the two training sessions and two games I’ve now seen him in, I’m extremely excited about him as well. Our other new young defenceman, Sam Jones, who played previously for MK Lightning in their final EPL season (before heading for a year in Canada playing junior hockey) is also looking really good.
These two guys have really added some stability for our d-corp. Losing Zajac last year left a little bit of a hole at the back end which we hopefully seem to have solved. With these two guys we might be even deeper at the back now.
Up front, we also have such a lot of depth. It’s exciting to be playing for teams like that. As a player it’s definitely more fun to be in a team which is not battling to survive and instead are hopefully going to be competing for trophies. Whether we win them or not, we’ll find out in a few months of course, but we are really happy with where we are right now.
There are a few guys who I think are in for a big season. I think if they can pick up where they left off then I think they may be in for a breakout year. Floyd Taylor for example, really came on strongly in the back end of last season and I think he’s going to play a big part this year. Not just offensively, but defensively too. He’s a big PK killer for us, who is now also starting to put up some serious numbers going forward.
Ben Nethersell is another one I think is really coming on. Last season he was a third line D man for us, but he showed his merit by stepping up on the PP and I’m expecting good things from him as well.
The warm-up games we had were really important. At this level, we don’t have the funds to bring in the guys for a month’s training camp before the season starts – so we all literally just had a couple of training sessions and then hit the ground running with these games. I believe we played a team who are going to be one of our major contenders this season. Bracknell look like they have built a really good roster as well, so it was a good to have a look and see how we measured up. Obviously we were really happy with taking the wins in both games against one of our main rivals. It’s hard to describe pre-season – because you don’t want to go too hard and pick up injuries and so you don’t know 100% of where you are in terms of what the team can do. But we had a really good feel to the team this weekend.
If we can learn from the mistakes of last year and don’t repeat them, then I think we’re really in which a shot of winning that league trophy.
Swindon Wildcats are in action this weekend with a home and away challenge series against Streatham IHC.
They start their competitive season with the Autumn Cup as they play all six of their group games back to back over the first 3 weekends, starting with Hull Pirates on 15/16 September.
Their first NIHL1 league fixtures also start with a home and away series – this one against Invicta Dynamos on the weekend of 6/7 October.