All Photos: Jez Tibbetts
If you thought that Milton Keynes Thunder had quietly let the transfer window close without doing any significant business – think again. In fact, they perhaps had the biggest last-minute signings we have seen for many years by adding forward Nick Poole and netminder Stephen Wall to the roster. The deal was done and both players were registered before deadline day on 31st of January was over but news of the release had to wait for the rather more important arrival of Stephen Wall’s new baby daughter into the world!
34-year-old netminder Stephen Wall, who was released by Guildford Flames earlier in January has more than 10 seasons of EPL experience, including a 3 year stint with MK Lightning which ended just last season. In his first year there the 2012-13 season he posted the best statistics in the EPL with a save percentage of 92.7% and a goals against average of 2.33 and was also named to the EPL second all star team in that year. He’s also got an EPL treble (league, cup and playoff) in the bag with Peterborough (08/09).
Thunder’s current No. 1, import netminder Villem-Henrik Koitmaaa, who came in after Invicta Dynamos swooped to sign initial starter Damien King is still signed to the club. The 25 year-old Estonian international has been an excellent servant to the club in his short stay, posting a 90% save percentage in his 15 games. However, for games in which MK play Wall instead, that will allow them to have import skaters as well – so step up Nick Poole.
I first saw Nick Poole back in his first season in the UK when he played for Manchester Storm in the Superleague. He left for Finland after one season but returned to the UK the following year and has remained here every since. In the 99-00 season he first played for Milton Keynes, in the BNL Kings team. He stayed there for 2 seasons then moved Peterborough and Fife for a season before coming back to the newly formed MK Lightning to take up the position of player/coach for the club in 2002. As a player he is their third most capped league player as well as being 3rd in all time goals and top in all-time assists (totals of 188+463 from 456 games). He (mostly) retired as a player in January 2103 when he decided to concentrate solely on the head coach role and stayed with Lightning as head coach until the end of last season before moving into the general manager role for the club this season. At 42 he will certainly be one of the more senior players in the league (although still a year younger than Nicky Chinn at Streatham), but I have few doubts that he will prove to be more than capable at this level.
These two signing can only be described as ‘marquee’ for Thunder. After a terrible start to the season, they had a meteoric rise up through the league from rock bottom at the end of November to where they sit now – comfortably in 6th place and eyeing a top half finish if they can peg back Oxford City Stars who currently hold the 5th place spot. The addition of Poole and Wall could make that a very real possibility and also make them a team the top four will likely all want to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.
So what are MK getting with these changes. Well with Stephen Wall, it’s clear – they are getting an EPL level netminder who has maintained a 90% save ratio in the EPL for the last 4 seasons and who will probably be one of the best netminders in this division. Nick Poole is perhaps more of an interesting question. At 42, his age is a factor and it will be interesting how his speed and fitness have suffered as a result of 2 years off the ice as a regular player. But he is an exceptional playmaker and reads the game brilliantly – and that is something that doesn’t deteriorate with age. He’ll bring huge amounts of both playing experience and coaching knowledge to the team too.
Thunder’s player/coach Paul Gore said “I couldn’t be happier with our new signings There’re the kind of players you want in your team to compete in any league. Top players, even better characters for the room.”
Both players are expected to ice this weekend and need to play in at least 9 of Thunder’s remaining 12 league games in order to qualify to participate in the playoffs. MK face Chelmsford at home on Saturday and will travel to Oxford to play in the newly inaugurated John Cartwright Trophy game (to be played at the first game of the calendar year between the sides) in honour of a long-term fan of both clubs who recently passed away.
It’s certainly going to be an interesting end of the season for MK!
5th February – edit: I originally stated that Koitmaa had been released as a result of these signings. I have been informed that this is incorrect and that Koitmaa is still signed to the club. I apologise for any misunderstanding this caused.