Six teams started their NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) league campaigns last weekend, with four more sides – Invicta, Oxford, Raiders and Slough – playing their first league game this upcoming weekend.
While we already looked at Raiders and Slough in part 1 of our season preview last week as both sides have been in pre-season action, this week we take a look at Invicta and Oxford as well as the other five sides in the division who will start their league campaigns a little later.
The Buffalo finished last season in 11th place, missing the playoffs by six points. However the biggest news out of Basingstoke probably came off the ice; in November it was announced that the NIHL2 Buffalo side had officially become a part of the Basingstoke Ice Hockey Development Club, providing a clear pathway from juniors all the way up to senior hockey.
The aim of the partnership is to “ensure that whenever possible 30% of the roster of Basingstoke’s NIHL2 team the Basingstoke Buffalo will be filled by players from our Junior U18 program”, as per chairman Stewart Tempest.
And this strategy can already be seen in the club’s recruitment; of the nine players announced by the team at the time of writing, only one is over the age of 20, with five of them directly graduating from the Basingstoke U18 side and two more being former Basingstoke juniors.
In goal, the club has secured the signature of 19-year-old Aaron Burton, a former Oxford junior who has also made three NIHL2 appearances for Bristol and spent last year playing in the US. it is currently unclear whether last season’s star goalie Aaron Craft – voted Player of the Month for March by the EIHA – is returning to the club.
On the blueline, both Thomas Banner and Oliver Bower graduate from the Basingstoke U18 side while former Basingstoke and Bracknell junior Matthew Byrom returns to the sport after nine years away. From last year’s side, Samuel Compton has moved on to Solent but it is not clear which of the other blueliners will stay put this season.
The five forwards announced by the club so far have an average age of 16.8(!) with William Birch (who already played one NIHL2 game for the Buffalo last season), Jack Peacock and Lucas Swierc also all graduating from the U18 side, while Jason Newman joins from Bracknell and former Basingstoke junior Christian Han returns to the sport after a year away.
Again, no returnees have been announced up front. The only confirmed departure is Daniel Lackey to Solent, so we will have to see which of the experienced forwards such as Blair Dubyk, Mark Austen, Warren Jones, Neil Leary, Gregory Martyn and Marcus Russell stay on from last season. Their first game is not until the 23rd of September against Cardiff, so there is still time for more players to be confirmed.
With only nine players announced and such a low average age in the side so far, it is hard to predict how the Buffalo’s season will go. They are likely to be in a battle for a top ten place as they were last year, but if they are able to elevate a significant number of junior players into senior hockey – and perhaps even see them graduate to the NIHL1 Bison side – then they will have done a good job and stayed true to their junior development motto.
As one of four sides that dropped down from NIHL1 prior to last season, a lot was expected of the Hornets. They started the season well, but didn’t quite have enough in the tank to take the league title as they finished in third place, three points behind champions Oxford and two behind Solent. In the playoffs, they were then surprisingly dumped out by Guildford at the quarter final stage, ending their season on a low note.
The Hornets have managed to keep almost the same side together this season as they look to go one step further and win silverware this time around. The trusted partnership of Will Sanderson and James Richardson will remain in goal, while on the blueline the Hornets can still boast players with significant EPL/NIHL1 experience such as Jack Tarczycki, Carl Graham and Matt Jordan. They have also added two blueliners from the NIHL1 Bracknell Bees, as 27-year-old Tom Avery adds more experience to the defensive corps and 19-year-old Luke Jackson looks to take the next step forward in his career.
Up front, the Hornets have kept hold of six of their top seven scoring forwards from last season; captain Steve Fisher stays on, as do the Ealey-Newman brothers Ben and Josh, while player-coach Danny Hughes, 20-year-old Will Stead and EPL veteran Adam Bicknell have all also re-signed.
The Hornets have also added Daniel Clayton from Haringey, who is a proven scorer at NIHL2 level, whilst also reactivating Liam Rasmussen after a year out of the sport. Rasmussen has tons of NIHL1 experience, and will bolster the ex-Streatham contingent in the squad alongside the likes of Sanderson, Tarczycki, Fisher and Clayton.
The last addition up front is Czech import forward Jakub Fojtik, who has the unenviable task of replacing popular American import forward Sean Scarbrough. The California native Scarbrough bagged 23 goals and 21 assists in just 16 games last season, but didn’t play for the Hornets after the 24th of February – his absence could be seen as one of the main reasons that the Hornets didn’t win a trophy last year. 31-year-old Fojtik has played in the 3rd and 4th Czech leagues, however has been out of hockey since 2012 – so his signing is a risky one. However if he performs well, it could be an inspired addition.
If the relatively few new signings for the Hornets can be bedded into the team quickly, and if Fojtik proves to be an adequate replacement for Scarbrough, this season could be a good one for the Hornets. Whether they can win a trophy, only time will tell. Their first game will be against Haringey on the 22nd of September.
The Cardiff Fire ran two separate teams last season, entering sides in both NIHL South 1 and South 2. While the NIHL1 side struggled and finished in last place, the NIHL2 squad finished level on points with eighth-placed Bristol, only missing the playoffs on a tiebreak.
This season they have gone back down to one side “following a series on unforeseen circumstances”, and will only field a team in NIHL2. After their baptism of fire in the league above last season, that is probably no bad thing for the Fire – who can now focus their efforts solely on building a winning team at this level, and growing their fanbase.
The big move for the new season is the signing of veteran netminder Chris “Disco” Douglas as player-coach. Disco rolled back the years last season with some sensational performances in the Slough Jets net, bagging him a first-line spot in the end of season ‘All-star’ team, and now makes the move to Wales where his experience will undoubtedly help the team both on and off the ice. Re-signing in net are junior starlet Lewis Davies, who impressed last season for both the NIHL1 and NIHL2 fire at the age of 17, and long-time Cardiff NIHL netminder James Whiting.
At the time of writing, five d-men had been confirmed; four of them being returnees from last season. 34-year-old Phil Manny has tons of experience from the EIHL, EPL and NIHL1 and will once again be an important veteran presence at the back, while 23-year-old Joe Morris has been a member of various Cardiff sides for many years now. Combative 21-year-old Elis Sheppard and 19-year-old Iwan Davies will hope to develop further under Douglas’ tutelage, while former Cardiff NIHL Devils player Tom Smith returns to Wales after four years in Canada. In terms of departures, 17-year-old blueliner Sam Smith has moved to the NIHL1’s Basingstoke Bison, but apart from that it is currently not known which other defencemen from last season’s Cardiff sides will leave or return.
Up front, six forwards have been announced to date – also all returnees. The most popular of those is probably 42-year-old Alan Armour, who enters his 28th(!) season of senior hockey, the last four of those coming with the Fire. The other returnees are Hungarian-born Tamás Éliás and 20-year-old quartet Samual Bryant, Elliott Murdoch, Ben Smith and Lewis Stevens. Again it is not known at the moment which other players will return from last season, with Australian utility man David Manning the only confirmed forward departure.
Cardiff’s success this season will partly depend on how the rest of their squad looks; however if it is anything like previous years, we can expect an interesting mix of locally-based veteran players and junior players stepping up to senior hockey. If coach Douglas can get the team all singing from the same hymn sheet, they could be dangerous opposition for any side in the league this season, with a spot in the top eight looking like a realistic aim. Their first game comes against Basingstoke on the 23rd of September.
The Invicta Mustangs have always been one of the smaller sides in NIHL South 2, with the Kent side finishing last season seven points adrift from the playoff places in 12th position.
However the success of the Mustangs isn’t solely measured on results on the ice; the club always does a great job of bringing young players through from the Invicta junior system and giving them a first taste of senior hockey. A good example of this is forward Jake Stedman, who played three seasons in NIHL2 with the Mustangs before last season stepping up to the NIHL1 Invicta Dynamos on a two-way deal.
With an average age as things stand of 22.38 years old, the Invicta squad is the fourth youngest in the league out of 15 teams – and that average is skewed upwards by a couple of veterans in the team. It is mostly a youthful team with the majority of players coming through the ranks of the Invicta junior system, and a lot of the players have been playing together for many years meaning that the core of the team has been together for quite a few seasons now.
In goal, 25-year-old Matthew Passmore will play his third season in a row – and fourth in total – with the club, and will look to be the undisputed #1 in net this season with fellow netminder John Abbott not (yet) confirmed as returning this year. Providing further goaltending backup will be the versatile Lucy Gruber, who can play both in net and as a skater.
At the back, the club has kept hold of all five of their defencemen who finished last season; as captain Tom Dennis, fellow team veteran Michael Stokes, former NIHL1 Dynamos blueliner Jarvis Mewett, 19-year-old Regan O’Neil, and Ashley Bushell – who returned to the sport last season after nine seasons away – all sign up for the new campaign.
Up front, the main departure is that of tricky forward Jake Luton, who departs the Mustangs after six seasons to play for Chelmsford. Also not announced as re-signing at the time of writing are fellow forwards Loyde Fuller, Luke Gonzalez, Kwame Holt and Chris Norris.
Other than that, the majority of the forward group has stuck together; seven of last season’s eight top scoring forwards will return as former Dynamos forward Bradley Gutridge and the aforementioned Stedman – who will once again be on a two-way deal with the Dynamos – both stay on for the new campaign, as do Aaron Ferris, James Laming, Anthony Baskerville, Thomas Mallett and Richard Harris. A potentially exciting signing is that of 16-year-old Owen Dell, who will also be on a two-way deal with the Dynamos.
With a similar roster to last season, we can expect the Mustangs to once again be in the scrap for a top ten place, but probably not too much more. But if they can produce a few more players like Jake Stedman who go on to play in the league above, then they can be proud of their efforts as a true development club – after all, the NIHL is defined as a development league.
Oxford City Stars
After dropping down from NIHL South 1 last summer, the City Stars were the cream of the crop in the 2017-18 campaign – winning the South 2 league title as well as beating the Sutton Sting of the NIHL North 2 in the NIHL2 Championship Game in Coventry.
The only blot on their copybook was the playoffs, in which they went down 5-3 to fourth placed side Chelmsford at the semi-final stage. Nonetheless, the 2017-18 season could be considered a big success for the Oxford side, not only on the ice but also off it; as the club saw several impressive attendances for their home games.
Worryingly for their league rivals, the Stars look to have strengthened several areas of their side during the off-season; with a few key additions that should make them even more dangerous – certainly up front.
Starting in goal, Oxford have retained the title-winning duo of 22-year-old Hungarian-born Milan Ronai and 30-year-old former Bracknell keeper Mark Duffy. There were a few question marks surrounding the goaltending going into the season with neither netminder being a proven starter in the league at that point, but both keepers soon proved that they could get the job done as both Ronai and Duffy posted identical .913 save percentages in the regular season.
Defensively, the Stars have lost long-serving blueliner Andy Cox to retirement, while at the time of writing they have also not retained Jason Ikin or veterans Paul Gore and Andrew Shurmer. They have not brought any new d-men in either, meaning they retain the remaining six defencemen who played for them last season. This means that the duo of Alex Staples and Dominic Hopkins – both voted on the first line of the NIHL South 2 All-Star Team in last season’s End of Season Awards.- have both re-signed for the upcoming campaign, as have Stewart Tait, Martyn Gray, Jake Florey and Will Harrison. Whether Oxford bring in any more defencemen, or rely on the six that they have, remains to be seen.
It is up front where the Stars have made all their additions so far, with three players in particular standing out. Michal Oravec joins the club as their non-British trained forward this season, with the man from Slovakia already having played for Solihull, Streatham, Invicta, Raiders, Bracknell and Chelmsford on these shores. He will be tasked with replacing the points scored by Kamil Kinkor, who departed mid-way through last season and will now play for Raiders 2. Another big addition is that of Tom Davis, the power forward moving down to NIHL2 after spending the majority of his career with the Romford/London Raiders – the last four of those as captain. Finally, Oxford have tempted Swindon Wildcats EPL forward Lee Richardson out of retirement to bolster their ranks. In the case of both Davis and Richardson, they can also play on the blueline if required.
The Stars have also retained the likes of Josh Oliver, Joe Edwards, Conor Redmond, Josh Florey, Matthew Lawday, Dax Hedges and Darren Elliott – all proven forwards at this level and all of whom put up big points last season. The main departure up front is that of Michael Whillock, who moves to Svenstaviks HK in the Swedish fourth tier to play for former Stars head coach Simon Anderson.
With most of their key players retained, as well as some dangerous new players joining the club, the Stars will be targeting the league title again this season – and will hope to go one better in the playoffs and win that piece of silverware, too. Their first game is at home to Slough on Saturday.
In their five seasons in NIHL South 1 between 2012 and 2017, the Devils made an art form out of punching above their weight. It was quite astounding what they were able to achieve as a small-budget team in a rink that isn’t loved by everyone.
After the league re-organisation last season, the south coast side decided to drop down to a level at which they felt they could be competitive, and returned to NIHL South 2. What followed was a successful season in which they missed out on the league title by one solitary point, but made up for that by taking the playoff crown at the finals weekend in Bracknell – winning 6-1 in both the semi-final against Guildford, and in the final against Chelmsford.
This season, the aim is to go one better and take the league crown too. And the Devils definitely have a good chance at that, retaining most of last season’s side and making a few interesting additions.
Starting in goal, the Devils retain star netminder Christian “Chico” Cole, and add a big name in former Wightlink and Streatham goalie in NIHL South 1, Matt Colclough. This gives them probably the strongest goaltending duo in the whole league, with both netminders boasting significant experience at a higher level.
Defensively speaking, the Devils have held on to captain Alex Cole as well as Kieran Annis, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Ben Lock and Mason Wild – the latter was originally announced as moving to Streatham in NIHL1 but will now stay with the Devils. 19-year-old Samuel Compton arrives from Basingstoke while Calumn Perella-Fox returns to the sport after almost five years away. Kyle Goddard to Chelmsford is the only confirmed departure from the blueline to date.
Up front, a big blow could be the retirement of talismanic Canadian forward Drew Campbell, who was still lighting up the league last season at the age of 42 – scoring 57 points in just 26 league games, and following that up with nine points in three playoff games. To date, the Devils have not announced a non-British trained forward to replace Campbell – if they are unable to adequately replace him, that could be a blow to their title chances. Also not announced as re-signing at the time of writing is forward Mitchell Murray, who returned from a long suspension in January of this year and banged in 19 points in just nine games at the back end of the season.
Mitchell’s brother Alex does return as player-coach and will look to maintain or even beat the 76 points he bagged in 29 league and playoff games last campaign; and of course the man voted as NIHL South 2 Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season, Richard Facey, has also re-signed off the back of a barely believable 95(!) point season last time out. Other returning faces up front include Evan Crockford, Rhys McCormick (on a two-way deal with the NIHL1 Basingstoke Bison), Christopher Hocquigny, Mark Pitts, Daniel Shier and Alexander Trendall.
As of now, the Devils roster looks a bit thin on numbers with only seven defencemen and ten forwards confirmed; however their first game is not until the 22nd of September against Invicta so they have time to add a few bodies to the lineup. if they can find a replacement for Campbell and also get Mitchell Murray back, there’s nothing to say that the Devils won’t go all the way and win the league this time around.
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
The aim of the NIHL2 Wildcats side has always been to bring through young players from the Swindon junior ranks and give them a first taste of senior hockey. This also means that the NIHL2 Wildcats often have a changeable line-up depending on which players are available for any given game. This instability in the line-up seemed to hurt them last season, as they finished in 13th place with only winless Lee Valley behind.
That’s not to say the NIHL2 Wildcats didn’t have talent in the side; but with twelve different defencemen and eighteen forwards suiting up for at least one game, player-coach Daniel Sullivan had a challenge to get a consistent line-up out on the ice.
For the upcoming season, precious little is known about their roster, with only player-coach Sullivan confirmed thus far. We do know a few key departures though, with captain Loris Taylor stepping back up to the senior Wildcats side in NIHL1 after a number of years at this level and being joined at the “big” Wildcats by netminder Michael Crisp. Three players move to local rivals Bristol too, as Jack Clark, Nathan Chilcott and long-serving forward Adam Coakley swap the red of Swindon for the blue of the Pitbulls.
The roster for this season will likely be made up once again of the best players from the Swindon-based Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA) as well as a few local veteran players – but the exact make-up of the team is unknown at this time.
18-year-old netminder Tyler Perre has already played a game for the NIHL1 Wildcats in pre-season having impressed for the OHA U18 side last season, so could be a candidate to play in net for the NIHL2 side. Another 18-year-old, Welsh forward Eliot Randall, has also signed up for the parent side and will likely see game time for the NIHL2 team too.
Apart from that, we will have to wait a bit longer to find out how the rest of the roster will look – but with the NIHL2 Wildcats’ first game not coming until the 30th of September, they have plenty of time to fill their squad. Only then will we really be able to predict how their season will go – but a top ten finish is unlikely, particularly after the loss of Loris Taylor.
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Our final NIHL1 South Season preview for 2018-19 team takes a look at the Peterborough Phantoms. Club captain James Ferrara gives us his thoughts.
Hi everyone, it is a pleasure to be writing some words in anticipation for the new NIHL season.
In reflection of last season, coming from a Phantoms perspective, I think it took us some time to adapt to the new league and structure. We started well results wise, but with new rinks and players I think it was difficult to be 100% ready to play with question marks over what to expect.
I feel that as the season progressed we learnt many lessons and were very unlucky not to have won the league. I am disappointed in our cup runs, and our playoff semi-final against Telford. I felt we had more potential than we showed for a number of different reasons. I am proud of our successes and the way we developed as a team. It was a fun season, one I thoroughly enjoyed, but still feel like we deserved more.
It always disappointment to see guys leave who have given their best efforts and who you make good friends with. We lost some great people and hockey players in Leigh Jamieson, Nathan Salem and Ben Russell. Darius Pliskauska has also been one of our top players and so it was sad to hear of his departure, I was good friends with him but things happen and we all move on. He has certainly left his mark on the clubs history.
Euan King had re-signed but although he’s since left, I am pleased to hear of his coaching position earned within the EIHA. I’ve known Euan a long time and know he’ll be very successful in his new ventures going forward.
Lastly, a special mention to Greg Pick who had retired to join the police force. The ultimate team guy, a great character a friend to many who always gave his all. His police unit will be stronger having him around, and we all wish him the best of luck.
Looking ahead to this season, I continue to believe in the philosophy of Slava and his team. I believe in the signings he has made and that although we have a different look, we will still challenge on all fronts for silverware. Having started pre-season, I am incredibly impressed with the overall fitness of players coming into the season. We have worked hard and the signs already are that we will be ready come the first competitive fixtures.
I like many of our signings having played against them before. Jordan Marr is a great coup, he was a top net-minder when in Hull and he is looking sharp in training. I’m also pleased for Ryan Bainborough who has replaced Euan, I know he has worked hard over the years and has a great opportunity ahead of him.
Corey McEwan is an exciting prospect, it will be a pleasure to skate with him having grown up playing alongside his dad Doug when I was first making my mark in senior hockey. Harry Ferguson is another player who I have heard good things about, and I know he is hungry to continue his development with us.
Callum Buglass is a talented D-man who I think will have a good year. I am also happy with the re-signing of the big man Petr Stepanak. His skill set should be a real threat offensively this year.
I think we have a younger team overall, we have many talented young players who developed and proved themselves last year and look forward to them contributing further and adding real value to the team. Credit to the coaching team for the work they have done with the young guys, they will add real power to our strong group of core guys who continue to ply their trace in Peterborough.
Our core group of players will be our strength initially, and I think already the new guys have settled in well. I firmly believe we should have high aspirations, but also believe we have stiff competition from the likes of Swindon, Bracknell, London, and even Basingstoke despite their many player changes.
I think all the teams have strengthened on paper, but they will have to show their strength as a unit to be successful. No team will be an easy team to beat, but to us that’s an exciting prospect. Too many times last year we would take our foot off the pedal, and I think the added competition will help us grow and stay focused over the course of the season.
I’m happy with the cup formats, and again we are aspirational in our pursuit of silverware, something which we were so close to achieving last year. I look forward to the season ahead and seeing the fans enjoy the hockey.
Posted in 10-by-10
Our penultimate season preview sees us move to Kent as import defenceman Ondrej Zosiak talks about the new Invicta Dynamos team.
I will start with a short review of the previous season (2017-2018). As we know the league went through massive changes and lot of teams been suddenly involved in this process of joining 2 leagues together. After the first EIHA meeting, we had one structure for the league, then after a short period time some teams made the decision to drop down a league which was shame. Especially decent teams like Chelmsford who played prime hockey in recent years. From my point view, it made the decision even harder for the remaining NIHL teams to stay and try compete against strong ex-EPL teams who just reduces amount of imports from 5 to 2 but still kept a big part of their squads together. After this none of these 9 teams knew what to expect from season. Some teams adapted to this new league better then others.
Unfortunately, we were one of those teams whose absolutely didn’t adapt well to the higher level of hockey and our performances would be up and down. One day we could compete with teams like Swindon or Bracknell and take points from them and the next day we’d lose against our opponents from the season before, who we used to win against!
I would say our biggest success last season was to remain in the league and keep playing until the end, even when things were not going well! Our biggest failure was the attitude of many our players who thought after winning playoff in the season before, they were too good to work hard and some were constantly looking for mistakes somewhere else but not in themselves. That’s why you will see a lot of new faces this year in our squad.
This season you wont see in Dynamos jersey players whose been big part of our successful win in playoff finals 2016/2017 like Mason Webster, Tommy Ralph, Ashley Jackson and Damian King who all of them left to different clubs (or sports – as Ashley Jackson went back playing professional field hockey). We can wish all of them good luck in their future. But it’s not all about the players who left, I think we’ve picked up a lot of good players and brought some quality to the our squad!
In the net it’s gonna be Adam Long and this ex-EPL net minder is good enough to step up and replace Damian King.
We’ve brought some speed and winning spirit with Joe Allen and twins Cameron and Grant Bartlett – both of them played an important part of Chelmsford Chieftains success in recent years and I can say they didn’t lose it for one year playing NIHL2.
After a few years Callum Best has returned to the club. I remember Callum having playing against him in the last 3 years and he always been good player who can score some goals. We won’t expect anything else and are glad to have him back.
With the return of Arran Strawson and the signings of Matt Foord (who can play both as defence and forward) and Andy Monroe on blue line – we are also getting some experience and skills in our team.
Martins Susters also joins our squad and with him we are getting a young talented player who has already played EPL for Phantoms a couple of years ago and put in some real numbers. He is big boy, his skating ability are really good for his size and his shot it’s gonna be nightmare for all the opposition netminders.
Another important return after few years to Dynamos jersey and true leader, our captain Anthony Leone should bring all the boys together and make them leave maximum on the ice.
We’ve also put together some mixture of young players like Louis Colvin and Jake Stedman who have a lot of potential if they can listen to the coach and work hard.
We also can welcome in our squad Brandon Miles, which many people will think it’s gonna be replacement for Mason Webster if things will go rough, but Mason also did put some goals into the net and i think Brandon will do as well.
Our squad wouldn’t be complete with another import and this season it’s gonna be Slovak forward Edmund Piačka who is coming from Slovakia top league where he played over 300 games, scored some goals and won championship with HK Nitra couple years ago. When i was playing in Slovakia against him i remember his skating abilities are on a high level, he also has a dangerous shot and even if he is not a big guy he can hit really hard.
Coach Parrish is also trying to bring another quality defenceman, name well known in this league but we will have to wait if he is gonna join us for upcoming season.
That’s a short review in my opinion how our squad looks. What we can achieve this season is totally up to us. There is not going to be superstars in this team, everyone will have to understand their role, working hard, standing up for each other and most important: playing like a team and playing for the logo on our jersey for Invicta Dynamos.
If we will do these things then we can surprised many people this season.
Invicta Dynamos start their league season by hosting Bracknell Bees on Sunday 16th September. The following weekend they travel to Romford to play the Raiders on Sunday 23rd September.
Posted in 10-by-10
It’s the turn of the Bracknell Bees in the spotlight today in our season preview series. Long-serving Bracknell forward James Galazzi (now in his 9th consecutive season for the Bees, and 14th consecutive season across all Bracknell clubs) takes a look at what’s in store this season.
The Bees have been in a bit of transition for the last couple of years since PSM released control of the licence. The first year in the EPL was a struggle while the directors battled to get the club back on a stable footing with limited funds. Last season provided the club a chance to restructure within the new league set up and one where we were no longer cut adrift at the foot of the table well behind the rest, based on players and resources. Overall, I believe there was a bit of a feel-good factor returning to the Hive where we managed to win more games than we lost, and we saw the return of play-off hockey. Whilst we’ve always received unconditional support there did seem to be a bit more joy around the rink as we won more games before and we saw more home-grown talent on show. The biggest successes for me was the emergence of some of these younger players in the team and the opportunities they got. Ultimately, as a team we don’t feel we had a successful year on the ice. We would have liked to have finished in the top 4 and progressed to the Coventry weekend in the play offs so there is a lot of room for improvement. When we were at our best we were a match for anyone but all too often we didn’t find that consistency – which was down to major injury and suspension problems. Losing Shaun Thompson and Scott Spearing to long term injuries had a negative impact on the team as did losing Frankie to suspension. Even if part of that was self-inflicted it was still a big loss to the team.
For 2018-19, we’ve got a year of this league under our belts, we’ve got a new head coach and a number of new faces in the squad, so we have some renewed optimism for the year and are expecting to be challenging every night in all competitions. We’ve got a big squad full of quality which should enable us to adapt for all situations. I don’t like putting goals down on paper especially in public, but we’ll be going into every game with the mind set of walking away with 2 points and we’ll see where that takes us come the end of the season. Despite a lot of what has been written this summer, we are the Bracknell Bees, we’ve got a rich history and our own identify and that won’t be forgotten but obviously as a group we’re aware of Doug’s success with Bison last year and we’re all going to be working hard to try to emulate those successes and bring some silverware back to Bracknell.
Obviously in hockey no two years are the same when it comes to team mates. Something always changes and as a hockey player you become used to that. However, this year we have seen a bit more of a turnover than is normal and whilst that is really exciting for this year there are friends that have moved on that will be missed. Our former club captain Matt Foord has moved on and there is going to a big hole in the dressing room. I’ve known Foo for more years than I haven’t, having played a bit of juniors with him and then of course for the last 7 years with the Bees. He’s an infectious character that always managed to put a smile on your face even through some of the toughest nights. More than that though, I will miss taking his money in cards. Also want to mention Alex Mettam. Mettsy is one of the genuine good guys in hockey and after 5 years together he’ll be someone I’ll miss having around, although I can look forward to games against the Bison now as I should be scoring for fun. Alex Barker is another who I consider a friend as well as a team mate and whilst we’ve played apart before it will still be strange not seeing his face on a weekly basis, and lastly, I want to mention George Norcliffe and Danny Ingoldsby. I feel we built some good chemistry last year. They both worked their socks off and I really enjoyed my hockey when we were on a line together. I would mention Carl Thompson but he was only ever part time so not sure if that counts 😉 but I will miss his little post gym red face which always brightened up a late night training session. Lastly, Josh Tetlow. I think we’ll miss him both in the room and on the ice, but everyone is excited for him to be getting a full time shot in the Elite League and its fully deserved. It’s great to have been able to see the start of his career, a young player come through, work so hard and to visibly see the development year on year. I’ve no doubt that if he continues this path he’s going to go on a be a top GB player for many years to come.
On the flip side, obviously there are several new faces coming in which makes for some excitement for the coming season. In terms of key players, the biggest is not a new face but the return of Thommo. One of the best 2-way players in the league and someone who can do it all. He will be a key player this year and will relish the additional support he has. As well as Thommo, The new imports coming in will play a big part. We saw Roman’s impact last year in Basingstoke. A tireless worker with lots of speed who will also be a key player for us. Another new signing but familiar face in Bracknell will be Vanny. It’s very rare to find such a talent in such a young player. He is one of the most talented players around and can help decide games on his own so it’s great to have him back in the black, white and gold this year.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Josh Martin continue his development. He’s been in and around the Bee’s squad for several years but even I was surprised just how good he was last year. He looked every bit a senior player and popped up with some very big goals for us. He’s got every chance now to continue that development and can go as far as he’s prepared to work. Another one I’m looking forward to watching is Aiden Doughty, he always caught my eye when we played Streatham. A big guy with plenty of speed and bags of skill. I thought it was a great move for him to show case his talent and I’m sure it’ll be a good fit for the Bees too.
Our squad is deep and balanced and we’re aware there are a lot of other good teams which we won’t be taking lightly. It’s important to remember at this time of year that hockey isn’t played on paper and the successful teams will be the ones who work the hardest and gel together the quickest so that is what we’ll be focusing on when we hit the ice.
Bracknell Bees start their competitive season with a repeat of last weekends challenge games as they host Raiders on Saturday 15th September before travelling to Kent to play Invicta Dynamos on Sunday 16th September.
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10by10 continues now with a look at the Raiders team. Returning defenceman Jack Cooper gives us his thought on the side this season.
It was a good year for us last year, we exceeded our goals and expectations. Our aim was to finish above the ‘old’ NIHL teams. Finishing 4th was a good confidence boost for us, especially finishing above one of the Ex-EPL teams. We proved that we could compete against that level of play. I think we developed massively as a team last year, Sean and Alan helped us improve a lot and the new signings last year made a difference. The only thing I could say we could improve on is starting games fast and strong, a few games last year we started the first period slow and ended up conceding a few goals and then we are back foot.
Making the move back to Romford during last season was definitely great for us, we finally had our own rink once again. We have been getting big crowds in as well which is always good to play in front of.
This year we aim to win some silverware and aim for a top position in the table which I think we are more than capable of achieving. We want to get to the Coventry weekend which would be amazing for our club and fans. It would be nice to give something back to the fans as they stayed loyal to us and made the trip to Lea Valley week in week out and still gave us a reason to play.
We have made some impressive signings which will help create a solid depth throughout our team this year. Aaron Connolly and Dan Scott were two massive signings, Aaron is a natural leader and is one of the best forwards in the league. Dan is a solid d-man who is confident on the puck with a good shot, these two will play a massive part in our team this year. Blaho Novak is another great signing, he’s quick and skilful and can score goals and will do very well this year. Mason Webster has played for us before and I have played alongside him at a previous team as well, he is a good played to have on your team. He will put his body on the line shift after shift and will always be the first person there to protect teammates.
Ben Clements is a good goalie addition, it gives P-head (Michael Gray) some competition in net which, in my opinion, makes goalies perform better as they all want that number 1 spot. We have a few youth players coming through as well like Tommy Huggett, Dan Hitchings and Brad Windebank. Tommy is a quick skilful player and is showing more and more confidence each week he trains with us, the same as Dan, he is already becoming a solid d-man and gets better and better each week. Brad, for his age, is an incredible goalie. He makes it look so effortless and if he carries on the way he is performing I believe he will become the best goalis in the league in years to come.
It is also good that we have our own NIHL2 team, this allows the younger players to gain experience at a senior level and I look forward to seeing how the youngsters perform over the year.
I think one of our main key players will be Huska. Each year he continues to show he is still one of the best imports in the league. He has one of the best shots I have witnessed and he is solid on the puck. Other players like Jake Sylvester, Ollie Baldock and JC play a big part in our team. Although Jakey and Ollie are still young, they continue to impress and they work well together. Jakey is a natural goal scorer and Ollie is a great centreman who works non-stop. JC brings a load of experience, he is very confident on the puck and can always find the right pass, him and Sean Barry work really well together.
Although we haven’t been together as a team long, I think we have all bonded really well. We seem more complete already, we all get along together and I think that is really important in a team. Being able to work hard and have fun with your team mates plays a massive part in any team sport, we all push each other even in training and it helps you work that little bit harder. There is good banter in the changing room which is always good to have within a team, it’s good to throw each other a little insult every now and then.
I am really looking forward to this coming season. I know it is going to be a tough season as all of the teams look solid so each game will be interesting. In this league, you cannot have an ‘off’ game because you will be punished. We will have to stay focused and continue to play the system that Sean and Alan want. I do generally believe with the team we have this year, we can push for a top spot and win a trophy.
Now we are being sponsored by Yates, we can also interact more with the fans after each home game as there isn’t a bar at the new rink. It’s always nice to have a beer with your teammates as well, especially after a win.
Raiders’ league season starts on Saturday with an away trip to Bracknell Bees on Saturday 15th September. They play their first home game the next day with a game against Streatham.
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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.
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We move on now to defending league, NIHL1 South playoff and final four playoff champions Basingstoke Bison, as netminder Dan Weller-Evans gives us his take on the season ahead.
Well, I guess there is only one place to begin this year. There is never a dull summer in British ice hockey for one reason or another and it looks like this summer was our turn here in Basingstoke. This piece will be very different to the one I wrote for 482 Days last year.
I will start in May (I think it was), we had an amazing night celebrating Kurt Reynolds’ testimonial, a well and truly deserved night for a club legen after 10 straight seasons with the club through both good and bad times. The hype was just dying down, we had all said our ‘summer goodbyes’ and see you in September for the guys who were heading home to see their families for the summer, we were heading off for a well-earned rest and were going to come back in September to defend our 3 trophies, so we thought …
Out of nowhere we lost our coach to local rivals in Bracknell. Obviously then we knew things were going to change, it was unavoidable but I don’t think anyone would realise how much. Within a couple of days we had lost most of our team, volunteers, back room staff, sponsors and (in my opinion, the most disappointing) fans. Lots of things being posted around social media with unfortunately not a lot of truth or fact behind them, it was a really gloomy time for all involved for us who decided to stay.
Obviously we knew some guys were moving on before all of this happened. Our captain, leader and heartbeat Aaron Connolly and Dan Scott (who may not have worn a letter on his jersey was another leader in the room) decided to move nearer to home and in the NIHL that is totally understandable and we wish them the best of luck over in London with the Raiders. Danny Davies has decided to step away from the sport as well, again we wish him the best of luck in his future career which is looking to be very successful.
As you know, most of the guys followed Doug to Bracknell. Again there is no animosity towards those guys. Obviously we will be rivals on the ice but we are all friends first and remain in contact. For me, every single one of them are top guys and top people and what we achieved together will forever live in the memory in Basingstoke ice hockey and will be extremely difficult to replicate. I won’t go much more into that because we will be here forever and won’t talk about next year’s team much at all!
Finally before I do move on I have to say how amazing our owner John Neville has been throughout this summer and throughout the summer. He asked for patience and the way our summer turned very quickly it makes me very glad that guys were.
After a couple of weeks I had a call from John to say he had appointed a coach, he told me the name and that he would call shortly and had me in his plans. I was instantly excited.
We announced the signing of Ashley Tait as our new player/coach, quite frankly a legend in the British game and someone who has been there and done it at the top level consistently for so many years. He has made an instant impact since coming to Basingstoke, he got to work straight away putting his mark on the team. We have someone who is going to produce points for us on the ice as well as provide advice and leadership for the younger guys on our team. There is no doubt he will lead by example and i know the fans will be excited to see him on the ice as well as the changes he has made off of it.
With Ashley on the ice and playing the games we needed someone on the bench who was trustworthy and would do the job and I don’t think we could have anyone better than Tony Redmond as our assistant coach, a man who has his number 20 hanging up on our honours wall, Tony is someone who has seen the club through both good and bad times and is also someone who takes his time with players and making sure they understand the message the coaches are trying to put across to us.
Both coaches have been amazing with us all summer, we have been preparing for a few weeks now and there is an amazing atmosphere in the room and every single one of us are excited for a fresh start and to get going in a couple of weeks’ time against Peterborough.
Let’s move on to the rest of the playing roster shall we?
I’ll start with the goalies. We have brought in Alex Mettam from Bracknell who I think is going to be a huge pickup for us. From playing against him we knew that we would always be in for a tough night. He is capable of winning games for the team when we’re not having the best night in other departments. We have never played together before but it feels like we have been partners for years and I can’t wait to work with him this season into the future. As for myself I am aiming to take advantage of the clean slate i have been given to hopefully show what i can do on the ice regularly. Between us our aim is to give the Bison a chance to win every game and I’m confident we can do that.
At the time of me writing this we only have one returning defenseman for next season and that’s Elliott Dewey. Dewey was a key member of our success last season and really grew throughout the year when he was given more and more minutes. Like I said at the time of writing this the rest of our defensemen are new to the club. Firstly we have Tommy Ralph who has joined us from the Invicta Dynamos. Tommy is a young, big and experienced player. We have seen him in the EPL with Hull as well as at Invicta. To go with his size he has a good strong shot (as I found out last season). Next we have Adam Jones who has joined us from the Telford Tigers. Again Adam is young but has great size and experience and isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game. He has played in the elite league and has been successful in the EPL and NIHL so he will be a great pickup for us for next season. At the time of writing this we have one more defenseman who has been announced and that’s Chris Cooke. He has joined us from Streatham and is very much the same as the guys I’ve mentioned above. He has played in the EPL with Guildford as well as being successful in the NIHL with various clubs. He has also been captain of the GB university hockey team so will be able to bring some of that leadership experience into our dressing room.
Moving onto the forwards for next season, I have already mentioned Coach Tait so I’ll start with the signing that sent shockwaves through the league and i know certainly got us excited here in Basingstoke. Russell Cowley has joined us for the upcoming season after having a year away from the sport but after seeing him skate with us it looks like he never stopped. He is one of the most successful British players to have played the game and he has his number 17 shirt retired for the Coventry Blaze. Bison fans are going to absolutely love him in a Bison jersey.
We have signed out two imports. Michal Klejna from Slovakia and Richard Bordowski from the Czech Republic. They are both new to the country but have played at a good level throughout Europe and are both experienced players so we will be looking for them to lead our offence this season and I’m sure they will be able to do that. Other than that they are relatively unknown to the British game but from speaking to guys that have played with them I’m sure they will make a big impact in Basingstoke.
I’ll move on to two guys who have joined us from Bracknell, one has been in Basingstoke and was part of the double winning year 5 years ago and one is new to the club completely, Danny Ingoldsby and George Norcliffe. Danny is a player who people hate to play against because he is always in your face and is also more than capable of putting up numbers too. George has played in a few clubs around the NIHL and has been a key part of their offensive play wherever he has been. Again he is a strong guy with a great shot and I’m sure the fans will love him, it looks like these two guys are going to be the jokers in the room this year as they are always having a laugh and lightening the mood before training sessions.
Alex Sampford has joined us from Streatham, he is a Basingstoke boy and many have said they would have liked him on the team full time years ago. He is a natural goal scorer and I’m sure he will get back to that this season after producing good points wherever he has been before. He has played for us before when we were in the EPL and always looked comfortable and scored a few goals too.
Liam Morris has joined us after a few years over in North America. He has put up really good numbers over there and can play both forward and defence. He is someone who instantly excited our fans and I’m sure he will live up that. I must admit i have never seen him play however from speaking to guys who have he is a great addition to the Bison.
I’ll move on to the two guys who were with us last year. Hallam Wilson and Paul Petts. Both guys came up huge for us down the stretch and did anything asked of them throughout the year. Hallam even played in D a couple of times. Both of them are capable of putting up good points this year and they will definitely have a chance to do that this year. They are two guys who are Bison through and through and we are really glad they have decided to stay in Basingstoke. I expect both of them to have breakout years this year.
We have a few youngsters who have been training with us and will play on two ways with us and other clubs in NIHLS2 next season. We have Sam Brooks, Cam Buckle, Oscar Evans who will be with both us and the Basingstoke Buffalo and Rhys McCormick who will split his time with the Solent Devils down on the south coast. All of them are young, hungry players who are all really gifted offensively. I can’t wait to see them get their chance this season which no doubt will happen and looking forward to seeing them progress this year and into the future.
At the time of writing this I believe we still have a couple of players to announce, so I have kept it to what has already been announced. After a long and difficult summer we have seemed to have turned the corner and this new group of guys have a point to prove. At the end of the day we have 3 trophies to defend no matter who is at the club and we will do our best from the very start through until April. I just want to finish with a huge thank you to those who have stuck by the club. We will do our best to make you all proud of your team an your town.
See you in September!!
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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.
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It’s almost time for the NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) season to kick off, with two teams having already been in pre-season action and six other teams starting their league campaigns this weekend.
There are only a few changes to the league this season; firstly, only the top four teams will qualify for the playoffs (down from eight last year), and secondly there is a new team joining the division as the Raiders enter a second team into NIHL2.
In part 1 of our season preview, we take a look at the aforementioned eight teams that have either already been in action or will be in action this weekend, and rate their chances ahead of the new campaign.
It is now six years since the Bristol Ice Rink on Frogmore Street closed, and the Pitbulls have done an admirable job since then to keep the club going. There was hope that a new rink at Cribbs Causeway would open this year, but it has run into delays and the Pitbulls will continue to play their home games out of Oxford in the near future.
Considering it is six years since the club played a home game in the city of Bristol, they have done a remarkable job of staying competitive; in the six seasons since being rendered homeless, they have recorded league finishes of fourth, third, first, third, second and eighth while also winning the South 2 Playoffs in 2014-15. They have also kept a very stable roster together in that time.
Last season, they struggled initially as they got used to the newly-unified league with the “big four” teams also dropping down from the league above. However the Pitbulls hit their stride late in the season, ultimately finishing eighth and qualifying for the playoffs, in which they fell 14-4 on aggregate at the quarter final stage to fellow rink tenants Oxford.
As we have come to expect from the Pitbulls, they have kept an almost identical roster this season compared to the last, which is a testament to the great work player-coach Richard Hargreaves does in keeping the side together. The only players not re-signing from last season at the time of writing are defenceman Giovanni Raffaelli and forwards Macaulay Coppock (moving to Oxford), Ryan McFarlane (Dundee Tigers of the SNL), Logan Prince (MK Thunder of NIHL South 1), Zachary Dolphin, Daniel Murrells and Grant Richardson (all destination unknown).
There are a few additions too; netminder John Dibble returns after two years in NIHL South 1 with the Invicta Dynamos to form a strong goaltending trio with Andrew Leckie and Ross Miller; young d-man Jack Hayes arrives from Bracknell where he split time between the NIHL1 Bees and the NIHL2 Hornets last season; and forwards Nathan Chilcott, Adam Coakley (both Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats), David Manning (Cardiff Fire) and Steve Osman (Invicta Dynamos) also join up.
Osman in particular is a proven goalscorer at NIHL1 level, so in the NIHL2 should be a top player for the Pitbulls. And the signing of Australian utility player Manning is an interesting one, as it gives the Pitbulls two non-British trained players – the other one being Finnish veteran Janne Virtanen – of which the club can dress only one in each game.
The club can also call on six of their top eight scorers from last season, with Oliver Shone, player-coach Richard Hargreaves, 37-year-old veteran Adrian Smith, Welsh-born Giacomo Raffaelli, 32-year-old Jamie Newton and the remaining Dolphin brother, forward Joshua, staying on. Matthew Thornhill will also play his last season for the club before retirement, while at the back the Pitbulls can once again rely on experienced defencemen like Tom Asprey, Tom Egerton, Josh Galea, Michael Hargreaves, Christopher Moore and Sam Shone.
With a largely unchanged roster which looks strengthened by the additions of Dibble and Osman in particular, the Pitbulls will back themselves to beat last season’s eighth place finish – while also hoping that maybe this is the last season they have to spend away from home before being able to return to Bristol. Their first game this weekend is against Haringey, another team that are likely to be involved in the mid-table battle, so expect a close game in that one.
The Chieftains were one of four teams that dropped down from NIHL South 1 to South 2 ahead of last season, having dominated the league above for many years. However, after losing head coach Sean Easton and many key players to the Raiders in the off-season, last campaign was something of a rebuilding year for the Chieftains.
They had an odd year, with a mid-season blip seeing them lose four games from seven which took them right out of title contention, before a run of 13 wins from their next 14 games saw them finish fourth in the league standings. In the playoffs, they hammered the Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms 17-5 over two legs in the quarter-finals before surprisingly beating league champions Oxford 5-3 in the semi-final. They couldn’t win the big one however, falling 6-1 to Solent in the playoff final.
They have had to deal with some big departures in the summer, none more so than the polarising Bartlett twins Grant and Cameron – who scored 127 combined league/playoff points between them last season but also took a total of 223 penalty minutes – who move back up to NIHL1 to join the Invicta Dynamos. Also moving to the Dynamos is captain Anthony Leone, while defenceman Robbie Veares moves to the Raiders’ new NIHL2 side and import forward Michal Oravec switches to league champions Oxford. Experienced forward Darren Brown has also not re-signed at the time of writing.
There are thus not many holdovers left from the Chieftains’ days in NIHL1, with netminder Sonny Phillips, defensive stalwart Danny Wright, and forwards James Ayling and Ross Brears – the latter taking on the mantle of captaincy after Leone’s departure – the only big names left from those days.
In terms of new signings, the Chieftains have brought in another polarising player in hard-hitting defenceman Charlie Phillips. The twin brother of netminder Sonny, Charlie’s undoubted talent has not been fulfilled as of yet due to a number of incidents and suspensions – but if he can play to his strengths after a couple of years away, he could be one of the best defencemen in NIHL South 2 this season.
Other signings include dangerous forwards Jake Luton and Bradley Moore, signed from the Invicta Mustangs and the Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms respectively, as well as defenceman Kyle Goddard from league rivals Solent and netminder James Tipple, formerly of Lee Valley and returning to league hockey after a few years away.
Chelmsford’s success this season will not only rest on how well they have replaced their departing players, but also how they handle their unique schedule. Due to rink refurbishment taking place at the Riverside during the season, the Chieftains will play eight of their first nine games at home, before a run of 13 away games in the next 14 – with the sole home game in that time due to be played at Lee Valley. They will then finish the season with five home games, although it is unclear at the moment how many of those will be played at Lee Valley and how many will be able to be played at a refurbished Riverside. This will provide a unique challenge for the Chieftains this season, and it will be interesting to see how they master it.
The Phoenix were last season’s surprise package in NIHL South 2. The newly-formed side finished in sixth place in the league standings with a squad made up almost entirely of former Guildford junior players, before surprisingly dumping third-placed Bracknell out of the playoffs at the quarter final stage and making it to the final four weekend. There, the Phoenix lost 6-1 to eventual champions the Solent Devils in the semi-finals; but nonetheless the season was a big success for Guildford.
Subscribing to the notion of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the Phoenix enter their second season with an almost identical side to last season. At the time of writing, Guildford had announced the return of two netminders, five defencemen and twelve forwards from their inaugural squad, with the only non-returnees being third-choice netminder Harry Buckingham; defencemen Dario Gorianz, Harry Hatfield and Ellis Sandy; and forwards Malik Adeniran-Adams, Scott Greenfield, Michael Krogh and Calum Marchant.
Only two newcomers have been announced so far too, with German defenceman Bela Rohmer stepping up from Guildford’s Under 18 side, and Taylor Wootton returning to hockey after an injury-enforced lay-off to join twin brother Haydn and older brother Bailey in the squad.
Guildford will be happy to have held on to all three of their top-scoring forwards from last season; player-coach Andrew Hemmings impressed as much as a player with his 48 points (15 goals, 33 assists) as he did with his tactics as a coach, while both Josh Abbott and the aforementioned Bailey Wootton scored 21 goals each. The three will likely form a deadly trio on the ice once again this season. Captain Nick Minhinnick and alternate captain Luke Tull are also back to add leadership to the team, while goalie duo Sam Calder and Jake Stoodley will hope to build on their impressive performances last season and make the next step forward in their development.
With an almost unchanged team and a highly-rated coach in Hemmings, the Phoenix will fancy their chances of making a run for the top four this season and getting into the playoffs. It won’t be easy, but they showed last season that they can beat the bigger teams in the division – so it will be fascinating to see how they get on in their second campaign.
Last season was the first campaign for the Huskies, as they took over the ice time contract at Alexandra Palace from the Racers side that had played there since 2013. With a roster made up partly of ex-Racers players and partly of new recruits, the Huskies started the season on fire before fading towards the end and ultimately finishing in 10th, two places outside the playoffs.
This season only the top four teams will make the playoffs, so the aim for the Huskies is likely to be a season of consolidation. The North Londoners have managed to keep hold of four of their six top scorers from last season in Stephen Woodford, Ben Osborne, Stuart Appleby and Sam Park – all of whom will be expected to contribute big points again this time around.
However the Huskies have also lost some big players in forwards Daniel Clayton (moved to Bracknell) and Sam Roberts (Romford), as well as defenceman Lewis Jones who moves to the Nottingham Lions in NIHL North. At the time of writing, another key blueliner from last season, Sam Jackson, has also not re-signed.
In terms of new faces, former Racers defencemen Jack Lee and Mark Robinson sign up, as does the towering presence of Daniel Tamasauskas from London rivals Lee Valley. Up front, Hungarian import forward Gheorghe Dragomir signs up after five years out of the game, while Seb Downing joins from the Invicta Dynamos of NIHL South 1 and 18-year-old Elliott Davies returns to the Palace after a year in Canada. Former Haringey junior forward Ross Sin-Hidge also follows Tamasauskas in making the cross-London move from Lee Valley to Haringey.
At the time of writing, the Huskies have only announced one goaltender in Harry Buckingham who joins from Guildford, so it is unclear whether either one of last season’s duo of Jussi Lynch-Grut and David Wride will return between the pipes, or whether the Huskies will field an all-new goaltending team.
Only time will tell whether the Huskies have adequately replaced the players they have lost, and it is sure to be an interesting season at the Palace with the Huskies likely to be right in the middle of a hotly-contested mid-table battle.
Lee Valley Lions
The Lions finished last season bottom of the pile without a win to their name, with their six points coming courtesy of three overtime losses and two cancelled games. It has been a summer of upheaval for the East London side, with head coach George Alley stepping down and being followed by the likes of brother and captain Nick Alley (moved to Peterborough), defenceman Daniel Tamasauskas (Haringey), and Romford-bound duo Matthew Hamilton and Matt Brown.
Defensive stalwart James Joseph – who enters his 14th season as a Lion and has played every season since the club reformed in 2005 – steps up as player-coach this season and faces a tough task as he looks to help the Lions off the foot of the table.
The Lions have made some interesting signings as they look to rebuild their squad, with the key addition perhaps being Czech forward Tom Hnilica who comes in as their non-British trained player. Hnilica has a good record in NIHL North 1 (42 points in 52 games) but hasn’t played in three years. The hopes of the Lions may rest on the 25-year-old Prague native’s shoulders this season.
The club has also brought back several players who have worn the green and white jersey in the past, with forward Joe Berry returning after two years away to play his 11th season at the club, and the likes of forward Michael Jacobs and defenceman Jack Ball and Joe Weare also returning after time away from the club. A handful of players return from last year’s roster too, including netminder James Andrew; defenceman Simon Jones; and forwards Ben Gillingham and Oliver Glover.
Time will tell how the new-look Lions squad gets on this season – but with no wins last time out, the only way is up. Their first game is away to Chelmsford, a side they suffered two heavy defeats against last season, so it won’t be an easy start to James Joseph’s coaching tenure. The roster also looks thin with just 13 skaters confirmed at the time of writing. The main aim for this season for the Lions will have to be win a few games and move off the bottom of the table – anything else would be a bonus.
Peterborough Phantoms NIHL2
After a dominant 2016-17 season in which they scooped the treble of the South 2 (East) league title, the South 2 Cup and the Playoffs, the club formerly known as the Islanders faced an entirely different challenge last season; not only did South 2 return to a combined league after three seasons of being split into conferences, but the league was also significantly strengthened by four teams dropping down from the league above.
The Phantoms started last season well but, as they played more and more games against the new big four, they fell away from the front. Peterborough eventually finished the season in fifth place, the “best of the rest”, and were dumped out of the playoffs at the quarter final stage by Chelmsford with a surprisingly large aggregate score of 17-5 over two legs.
The key strength of Peterborough over the last few seasons has been the continuity in the squad, with many established players forming the core of the side and very few roster changes year-on-year. Their squad depth has also been key, with the Phantoms usually able to run a full bench due to a large roster.
This season, both of those strengths will be negated a little bit. Although several key players do remain on the roster for this campaign, the Phantoms have also lost some important faces; and the squad has reduced from the three goalies, 10 defencemen and 16 forwards who appeared last season down to (at the time of writing) two, six and 11 respectively.
Key players remaining from last season include netminder Dan Lane, who may also “play up” for the NIHL1 Phantoms at some point (although he is now outside the age range of being able to do this more than 3 times); defencemen Sam Barlow, Connor Hunter and Rob McDonald; and forwards Kenny Bavin, James Pentecost, Conor Pollard and Shaun Yardley.
Meanwhile major departures include five of last season’s top 10 scorers in forwards Bradley Moore (Chelmsford), Connor Stokes, Leon Groom and captain Clint Herring (all destination unknown); and defenceman Craig Wallis who moves to NIHL North to join Sutton. Veteran blueliner Jonathan Brammall and club stalwart Dale Jowett – 48 goals and 79 assists in 191 games for the club – are also not returning.
Additions to the roster include a trio of signings from Coventry in forwards Jordan Liddell and Samuel Dean (both from Blaze NIHL) and and defenceman Jon Binder (Blaze U20s), forward Nick Alley who comes over from the Lee Valley Lions, and defenceman Callum Worthington-Evans who returns to the club after a season in the NIHL North.
As with a number of clubs in the league this season, the success of Peterborough’s campaign will rest on how quickly they can replace their departed players and bed in their new faces. Their opening game against Guildford could therefore not be more tricky, with the Phoenix fielding an almost unchanged roster and the Phantoms looking to rebuild. Last season the Phantoms finished one place ahead of Guildford in the final standings – and they could be battling for that fifth spot once again this season. It should be an exciting battle.
The aim of Raiders management is to build a pathway from the Romford junior system up into NIHL1 where the senior Raiders team play, and the newly-formed NIHL2 squad will be a key part on that player development ladder as they make their debut in the league this season.
Seven players on the NIHL2 roster are on two-way deals with the senior Raiders side, with 16-year-old forward Tommy Huggett perhaps being the most talked-about of all. Huggett captained Chelmsford’s U15 and U18 teams over the last three campaigns and has also played for Team GB Under 16s, and will look to make the next step in NIHL2 this season.
The other players on two-way deals are netminders Zach Grandy-Smith and Brad Windebank; defencemen Callum Burnett and Daniel Hitchings; and forwards Ewan Hill and Brandon Webster. The trio of Grandy-Smith, Burnett and Webster have already seen action at NIHL1 level; while Windebank, Hitchings and Hill will all make their senior debuts this season.
But it is not just the highly-rated young players that the NIHL2 Raiders’ opponents will have to look out for this season; the team has also added several experienced players to create balance in the squad. Former EPL and NIHL1 forward Alan Lack comes out of retirement to bolster the side, and will be joined by fellow ex-Raiders NIHL1 forward Sam Roberts (joining from Haringey), 35-year-old veteran Matt Brown (formerly of Lee Valley and Haringey), Czech import forward Kamil Kinkor (formerly of Oxford, Streatham and the NIHL1 Raiders) and defenceman Robbie Veares, who joins from Chelmsford and is another ex-NIHL1 Raider.
The mix of youth and experience in this NIHL2 Raiders team will make them extremely tough to beat this season. The aims for their debut campaign will be two-fold; firstly to finish as high up the table as possible, but also to develop players who go on to play key roles for the senior Raiders side.
They have already played one pre-season game, that coming last Sunday against the NIHL1 Raiders. In the “battle of the Raiders”, the short-benched NIHL2 team suffered an expected heavy defeat – but the likes of Windebank, Hitchings and Huggett all impressed and showed that the future does indeed look bright for ice hockey in Romford.
After a disappointing 2016-17 season in which the Berkshire club were harmed by the uncertainty surrounding their refurbished rink, the Jets were THE surprise package of the league last season. They finished seventh in the standings, thereby making the playoffs, in which they lost to eventual playoff champions Solent at the quarter final stage.
A lot of last season’s success was down to three main factors: the tiny temporary rink they played out of; veteran goaltender Chris Douglas who helped them steal several games against more fancied opponents; and player-coach Lukas Smital who dropped down to NIHL2 after many years playing at a higher level, showing all his class as he scored 20 goals and added 47 assists for a points total of 67.
This season, only one of the three above factors are still present; while Smital remains as player-coach, veteran netminder Douglas moves over to the Cardiff Fire to take on a similar role. His place between the pipes will be taken on by coach Smital’s son Matthew, who spent last season with Swindon in NIHL South 1, as well as 17-year-old Brett Shepherd who spent last season on loan at Lee Valley from Streatham.
Rink-wise, the club can now move back into their permanent home after the refurbishment works were completed in the spring. While this is great news for the club in the long-term, it will mean that they lose the short-term advantage of playing at a much smaller facility than the rest of the teams in the league – indeed Slough knocked off Chelmsford, Peterborough and Bracknell at the “mini-Hangar” last season, all top-five teams.
Apart from in goal, the rest of Slough’s roster is very settled – the club’s top nine points scorers from last season all return, including captain Timo Lindgren who bagged 24 goals last season, forwards Liam Underdown (36 points) and Nathan Darmanin (28 points), and blueliner Like Reynolds who was voted on the second line of the NIHL South 2 All-Star Team in last season’s End of Season Awards.
Slough have already played two pre-season games against the Invicta Dynamos from NIHL South 1, suffering two defeats as is to be expected against a team from the league above. However there were promising signs for Slough, with former Bracknell and Swindon junior Samuel Talbot making his senior debut in Sunday’s game and scoring two goals, while former Streatham forward Danny Rose bagged 1+4 over the two games.
Slough’s success this season will likely come down to how they get used to their new rink, as well as how their young goaltending duo – their average age is 18(!) – gets on in place of Douglas between the pipes. Another top eight finish is very much within the realms of possibility.
Posted in 10-by-10
The increasingly badly named 10×10 series returns once again with a look at each of the NIHL1 South teams through the eyes of one of their returning players. Teams are being reviewed in no particular order.
The first team we’ll look at this season are Streatham IHC, as told to us by last season’s NIHL1 South Player of the Year Michael Farn.
Round 2 of the ‘One NIHL’ is almost upon us and after another hectic summer in the world of British ice hockey, we can finally get onto playing and watching some ice hockey.
There was a lot of speculation last summer as to whether the league structure would be a competitive one and I think as a whole it was probably a lot more competitive than anyone could of predicted before the first games took place. I think the top 3 in the league were fully deserving of their final league positions. Cardiff grew stronger as the year went on and it was great for them to get 2 points with a couple of overtime losses towards the end of the year. Positions from 4th to 8th could have been in any order and their performances even gave the top 3 plenty of challenges along the way.
From a Streatham point of view, we didn’t have the best of starts in the league, winning only 1 of the first 10 games I believe. Thankfully, we also had the cup games which kept spirits high due to us having a 100% record through the group stages which I believe helped towards us turning our season around.
Streatham have a real disadvantage when it comes to recruitment because as we all know London isn’t the easiest of places to get to by car on the best of days and housing is certainly on the expensive side. Last year, apart from the two guys who lived locally, all the lads travelled between 1 & 3 hours just to get to the rink. So when you aren’t all living locally and haven’t got that time to bond, you really do need to put the work in on the ice. On the flip side, when you’re all in the same boat it helps pull everyone together and made for a great spirit within the changing room.
The way our season finished really was a bitter pill to swallow, especially as we arguably put together our best 120 minutes of hockey against Swindon in the playoff quarterfinal. Swindon are a talented team with a lot of depth and were probably favourites to win the play offs (until you know what happened) but we ran them close and had them on the back foot in their own rink for large chunks of the first 2 periods. But overall I think we should be proud with how we progressed through the year and pushed a top team right to the wire.
Looking towards this upcoming season, we’ve unfortunately lost Cardiff due to unforeseen circumstances but the recruitment across the league should result in an even more competitive league. Most people will have their money on Swindon and Bracknell to take most of the silverware but it wouldn’t be British ice hockey if there weren’t some twists and turns along the way. If you want to get your hands on silverware this year, you’ll have to turn up and give 100% each night otherwise you can wave goodbye to winning games, never mind trophies.
In Streatham at the very least we need to improve on last year but we want to be pushing the top 2 or 3 teams and really break into the top end of the table. Streatham is steeped in history and is a great club to be a part of so we as players need to give everything to create our own history for the club. It’s important we get off to a good start especially as the first lot of games will be double points for the league and cup.
Cornish has made his mark on Streatham in a fairly short time, he’s clear on how he likes to play and recruits a team to match his style. I think that his style of coaching brings the best out of players and you can see on the ice we play for each other. I know Streatham has had a lot of familiar faces around for a good few years but it’s inevitable that those faces will move on and new faces will come in. It happens in all aspects of life, not just hockey. So there’s no surprise that there’s been a fair few ins and outs again this summer. When you lose the likes of Matty Colclough, Ryan Watt and Aidan Doughty who are match winners, adding to that Brendan Baird, Chris Cooke, Joe Allen, Jamie Hayes, Brandon Miles, Ben Paynter, Dan Rose and Alex Sampford it was never going to be easy to replace them all and have a stronger team.
Looking at the new roster now and bringing in Damian King is a massive signing as he’s a proven netminder not only at this level but also in the old EPL. Rupert Quiney and Ben Russell will add size and grit to the defence which is what we sometimes missed last year. Offensively the likes of Scott Bailey, Thomas Beesley and Josh Condren are all Cornish type players, young, quick and with a point to prove.
Leigh Jamieson brings a wealth of experience with him having played in the elite league for a number of years as well as GB senior teams caps. Alex Roberts is coming from across the pond, he has a good CV and could be the final piece to the puzzle. Our biggest coup of the summer for me is Thomas Soar, he’s always put up good numbers, has always been tough to play against, and I think he will be a fan favourite in Streatham.
All of us returning players will give Streatham a good foundation, and we will all look to improve on last year. Like I mentioned earlier, with the way the season finished last year we will be looking to right the wrongs of last season.
As long as we keep Ryan Webb away from the pre-game music, we don’t get deducted points for Leigh Jamieson going offside, and Adam Wood doesn’t leave midseason for the skateboarding world championships- we will be in for a great season.
Posted in 10-by-10