With the Elite League season almost three months old Jono Bullard from the Cat’s Whiskers Podcast looks at how all ten teams have done so far in this two part article.
In part one Jono looks at Belfast Giants, Braehead Clan, Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze & Dundee Stars
In what was touted to be one of the closest EIHL seasons yet the season so far hasn’t disappointed. It’s an often used cliché, but this season perhaps more than any other before it has shown that any team can beat any other on any given night.
The glut of season previews in August all had one thing in common, several teams and their fans were optimistic about the season ahead. Now we are a few months in I’ll look and all ten Elite League sides and asses how they’ve done so far.
It was all change at the Giants with Steve Thornton moving to GM and former NHLer Derrick Walser coming in to take his first player/coach role. They recruited quality throughout the line-up, but many said that their defence looked far too attack minded. This has proved to be true somewhat with Walser himself scoring at a point per game so far this season, however in defence they are conceding goals at an average rate of 3.2 per game, joint 3rd in the EIHL with Fife Flyers. Their forwards have the ability to damage any team, we already know the quality of Craig Peacock, Adam Keefe & Darryl Lloyd and they have been supplemented by Michael Forney, Mike Radja and the excellent James Desmarais. They will continue to challenge for another EIHL title as they have depth throughout the line-up but they must get out of the habit of losing games they appear to dominate.
Many said that the Clan were nailed on to win their first EIHL title this season and after starting the season with an excellent Champions Hockey League campaign few would have bet against it. However as the season has gone on they have been incredibly inconsistent which has no doubt frustrated head coach Ryan Finnerty. Many thought being in the so-called ‘easier’ conference would help Clan but they currently sit 3rd in the Gardiner Conference and have been beaten at least once by all of their Scottish rivals so far. To be fair they did have a heavy road schedule to start the campaign which will see plenty of games at the Braehead Arena in the next few months but will that be enough to pull them back into contention? To be honest I’m not so sure.
It was thought that the Big Blue Tent would keep the Devils in contention and their iconic home venue has certainly been a factor as they sit second in the league. Despite the advantages they have in the BBT they have still managed a decent away record coming it at 0.571 in league matches. This will give them heart as they move away from the confines of the BBT to the full size pad of Ice Arena Wales in the next few weeks. Of course another reason for their incredible home form is the raucous backing of 2,300 fans at most home games. GM Todd Kelman has done a superb job in filling the tent week in, week out and now can accommodate a few hundred more in the new arena. Will there be a bedding in period once they move? Who knows, but expect the noisy Welsh crowd to play a big part in IAW and I fully expect them to be there or there abouts in March.
For every pleasant surprise there is always a massive disappointment. This season that has been the Coventry Blaze. Thought by many (including me) to be in with a shout of challenging for the title, Blaze have bombed spectacularly so far and currently sit three points adrift at the bottom of the Elite League (albeit with six games in hand over ninth placed Manchester Storm). With Chuck Weber returning to the club to build on their 2015 Play-Off triumph optimism was high, but it’s turned into a bit of a nightmare in the West Midlands. With the services of Chris Lawrence & Ned Lukacevic already dispensed of, the fans are looking to Weber to give them some hope for the remaining season. Perhaps their biggest asset is netminder Brian Stewart but do they rely on him too much? Scoring at an average of just 2.8 goals a game in the league so far shows where most of their problems lie, if they can bring in a sniping forward they may perhaps salvage something from the season. Can Weber pull a rabbit from the hat for the second season running? Time will tell.
The surprise package of the season so far, Marc Lefebvre’s Stars currently sit joint 3rd in the league with Belfast & Sheffield and top of the Gardiner Conference. Not only that they also have scored an average of 4.2 goals per game which is the highest in the EIHL. When you look into it a little deeper, you can see it’s no fluke. Stars have recruited some outstanding forwards such as Curtis Leinweber, Lou Dickenson & Bobby Chaumont. Their achilles heel looks to be in defence with 75 goals conceded so far, but Vlastimil Lakosil has the experience and pedigree to pull off big performances when it matters. Don’t be surprised if the Stars end up with some silverware this season, they are looking good for a conference title at the moment.
Read part two here.