Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sunday 21st September: Edinburgh Capitals 2-3 Excel Hull Stingrays (After OT)

Stingrays scorers: Neumeier x2, Reynolds
Edinburgh scorers: Hurtubise, Cingel
SOG: 29-34
PIMs: 20-34
MOM: Stingrays- Troy Neumeier, Edinburgh- Taylor Christie

Stingray luck continues.

Less than 24 hours after Jonathan Bernier walked out on the club, the Stingrays have suffered yet another blow after learning that Brit Slava Koulikov will probably miss a large portion of the next few weeks with a suspected broken collar bone.

The Stingrays absent list remains at three (Kozak, Bernier and Koulikov) after Paul Moran successfully returned to action in the 2-0 loss to the Coventry Blaze following a dislocated shoulder.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Kozak sits ten

The Stingrays £2000 appeal to lower the 10 game ban given to power forward and key player, Rick Kozak, has been dismissed by the EIHL disciplinary comittee.

The EIHL have released the following press release:
"The Elite Ice Hockey League after further review of the findings of the Disciplinary Committees and Appeal Committee today released the outcome of the cases involving Rick Kozak, Hull Stingrays, and Brad Voth, Cardiff Devils.

The 2008/09 hockey season commenced with significant suspensions being issued to the above players as a consequence of incidents during the first weekend games involving Nottingham Panthers v Hull Stingrays and Cardiff Devils v Sheffield Steelers on Sunday 7th September.

The outcome is that Rick Kozak is suspended with immediate effect for 10 games. Should he be involved in a similar incident during the current season he would automatically serve an additional suspension of 10 games.

Brad Voth is immediately suspended for 12 games and again should a similar incident occur in the current season he would automatically serve an additional suspension of 12 games.

Ice Hockey is an extremely fast and physical sport, which has been played in the UK for over 100 years. An integral part of the sport is the use of enforcers and consequently fights do occur. Fans in the UK have always enjoyed supporting their player in the event of an altercation during a game.

The league has regulations in place for dealing with any incident of when two willing combatants engage in fighting. The league however also has regulations designed to safeguard all players in the form of a suspension tariff, should any player act in an unwarranted manner.

The suspension tariff’s were established by the club coaches and accepted by the league without alteration.

League Chairman Eamon Convery advised, “No one wishes to see player’s suspended, however if a player acts in a manner which is contrary to the league regulations they will find themselves subjected to disciplinary action. These are stiff suspensions, which ought to act as a clear warning to players, coaches and clubs. ”

“The message is simple, play hard and fair in accordance with the rules and normal standards and everyone will enjoy the hockey season. However act in a manner that is unacceptable and you will be punished. In addition the current processes need to reviewed, which has already commenced, with a view to making recommendations when the clubs meet on 7th October”. "
Therefore Stingray Kozak, who played last weekend against Belfast pending an appeal, will have to sit it out for 10 games with a further 10 games sitting over his head. Contrary to some theories it is thought that the Stingrays management see Kozak as an integral part of their team this season, and therefore will stick by him during the ten game ban.

He will miss the following games:


20/09/08
Coventry Blaze EL H


21/09/08
Edinburgh Capitals EL A


24/09/08
Edinburgh Capitals EL H


27/09/08
Sheffield Steelers EL A


28/09/08
Nottingham Panthers CC H


04/10/08
Sheffield Steelers EL H


11/10/08
Nottingham Panthers EL H


12/10/08
Coventry Blaze CC A


18/10/08
Basingstoke Bison EL A


19/10/08
Edinburgh Capitals EL H

Jonathan Bernier quits Stingrays in shock move to AHL

The Excel Hull Stingrays crazy start to the season has continued. Following four straight losses, a 3 week injury and a 10 game suspension, enforcer, and 4th defenceman, Jonathan Bernier has quit the team to sign in the American Hockey League with an, as yet, unknown team.

There is good news however, two pieces of good news infact. That comes in the form of injured defenceman Paul Moran, who has returned to training following a 3 week layoff after sustaining a dislocated shoulder in pre-season action against the Sheffield Steelers. Moran will most likely be brought back into action earlier than expected after the departure of Bernier, who, wait for it this is the second piece of good news....is paying for his own flight back to North America. The Stingray owners Mike and Sue Pack must be delighted.

On a more serious note, with the subtraction of Bernier, a tough Stingrays side might, just might be able to sign a better player in his place. It remains to be seen, but the search for a replacement defenceman began immediately after Bernier handed in his notice today (Friday).

Of course this is not the first time the Rays have fallen foul to a CHL (Central Hockey League) player quitting the team after gaining match fitness in Europe with the Rays before returning to North America. Bernier follows in the, considerably larger and more skilled, footsteps of Craig Minard and Scott Wray. Two Stingray standouts and two players who returned to the minor leagues in the USA after a matter of weeks in the UK.


Bernier doing what he, apparently, did best

Stingrays co-owner Sue Pack had this to say to the Hull Daily Mail:

"Jon came into training and announced he'd got an AHL contract and that he'd booked his flight for Saturday and was flying home.""You put an awful lot of effort into getting guys in, so you are always disappointed. But experience has taught us that if players don't want to be here and want to leave then it's not worth wasting your breath over trying to persuade them to stay. Besides, when a guy says' I've booked a flight for tomorrow' it's pretty much a done deal."

Thursday, 18 September 2008

20th/21st/24th September Preview


V



Saturday 20th September: Excel Hull Stingrays v Coventry Blaze@ Hull Arena, f/o 5.30pm
Sunday 21st September: Edinburgh Capitals v Excel Hull Stingrays@ Murrayfield Ice Rink, f/o ?
Wednesday 24th September: Excel Hull Stingrays v Edinburgh Captials@ Hull Arena, f/o 7.30pm


EIHL Head to Head

v Coventry Blaze
Overall wins: Coventry 10-2 Stingrays
Wins @Hull Arena: Coventry 5-1 Stingrays
Total Goals for: Coventry 46-21 Stingrays

v Edinburgh
Overall wins: Edinburgh 9-5 Stingrays
Wins @ Edinburgh: Edinburhg 6-2 Stingrays
Wins @ Hull Arena: Edinburgh 3-3 Stingrays, 1 draw
Total Goals for: Edinburgh 69-36 Stingrays

Players to watch
Stingrays: Jeff Glowa (3+0)
Coventry: Adam Calder (4+4)
Edinburgh: Taylor Christie (1+3)

Form
Stingrays: L L L L
Coventry: W W L L
Edinburgh: W L L L

Absentees
Stingrays- Paul Moran (recovering from a dislocated shoulder), Rick Kozak (suspended)
Coventry- None
Edinburgh- Shawn Germain (returned home for personal reasons), John Dolan (returned to play for Dundee)

Predictions
Stingrays 3- 5Coventry
Edinbrugh 2-3 Stingrays
Stingrays 4-2 Edinbrugh

Monday, 15 September 2008

Neumeier watch

Games to 1000:
32

Kozak worth £2000

The Excel Hull Stingrays have launched a £2000 appeal with the intention of reducing power forward Rick Kozaks 10 game ban which he received for sucker punching and bringing the game into disrepute.

After an altercation with Nottinghams Marc Levers, Kozak left Levers needing 20 stitches to his forehead before he skated through the blood on his way to the dressing room after receiving a game penalty for his actions.

He missed Saturdays 6-1 loss in Cardiff due to the game penalty however an appeal was launched in time for him to play in the 4-1 loss to the Belfast Giants at the Hull Arena. Kozak showed plenty of endeavour in the Stingrays fourth consecutive loss however ultimately a lack of discipline killed the Stingrays as they conceded three powerplay goals from ten powerplay attempts that the Rays handed to Belfast, with Jake Riddle taking five, and ten minutes, of those penalties.

Coach Rick Strachan was left disappointed with the teams indiscipline so far this season:
"When we stick to our system and stay disciplined we are a good hockey team, but you have to do it for 60 minutes. The guys had better learn real quick that if you take penalties you are not going to win. We face Coventry on Saturday and they've got just as good a powerplay as Belfast have."
Meanwhile he had this to say about the £2000 appeal for Kozak:
"We're appealing because we think the penalty was too severe - end of story. That's all I can say at the moment."
Whilst Kozak was left ruing his actions and the ban:
"I think it was a bit harsh, but I've got no control over that. I'll leave that to the coach and organisation to appeal. I feel I've let my team-mates down. I don't really want to be out that many games, I've come here to play hockey and being suspended doesn't help."
The Stingrays move on to the seasons third weekend pointless, and with just 7 goals scored so far this season they will have to solve both their chronic inability to score and their indiscipline if they wish to take any points from next weekend. On Saturday they face the EIHL champion Coventry Blaze, who will be reeling after two losses this weekend against Sheffield and Cardiff, whilst on Sunday they face an Edinburgh side with just a surprise victory over Sheffield to their name, and with a real chance at taking at least a point away.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Sunday 14th September: Hull Stingrays 1-4 Belfast Giants

Stingray scorers: Pavel Gomenyuk
Belfast scorers: Shields, Martin, Thornton, Cheverie

Kozak to play v Belfast

From the official Excel Hull Stingrays website:
Rick Kozak has been given clearance to play in today's game v Belfast Giants, pending an appeal against a 10 match ban imposed following last weekend's game against Nottingham.
This means that his 10 game ban will be pushed back by at least one game, if not three, if the appeal isn't heard by next weekends games.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Saturday 13th September: Cardiff Devils 6 v 1 Excel Hull Stingrays

Game notes

- Stingrays scorers: Jeff Glowa
- Cardiff scorers: Mike Hartwick, Mike Prpich, Derek Campbell, Jason Stone, Derek Campbell and Jason Silverthorn
- Kostadine and MacIver dropped the gloves

Thursday, 11 September 2008

13th/14th September Weekend Preview

V

Saturday 13th September: Cardiff Devils v Excel Hull Stingrays @ Cardiff Bay Arena f/o 7pm
Sunday 14th September: Excel Hull Stingrays v Belfast Giants @ Hull Arena 6pm

EIHL Head to Head
v Cardiff
Overall: 14 games, 7 Stingray wins, 7 Cardiff wins
@ Cardiff: 7 games, 4 Stingray wins, 2 Cardiff wins.
Goals for: Stingrays 31, Cardiff 33

v Belfast
Overall: 12 games, 10 Belfast wins, 2 Stingray wins
@ Hull: 5 Belfast wins, 1 Stingray win
Goals for: Stingrays 23, Belfast 38

Players to watch

Stingrays- Matt Reynolds
Cardiff- Rod Hinks
Belfast- Dave Phillips

Form
Stingrays
L L L L
Cardiff
W W L L
Belfast
W W W W

Absentees
Stingrays
Rick Kozak- Serving 10 game ban
Paul Moran- Out 1/2 weeks, dislocated shoulder
Cardiff
Brad Voth- Serving 12 match ban
Belfast
None

Predictions
Cardiff 3-4 Stingrays
Stingrays 2-5 Belfast

Stingray Kozak receives 10 game ban!

The Elite League has banned Rick Kozak (and incidentally Cardiffs Brad Voth) for lengthy amounts of time after incidents which occured last weekend.

Kozak has been handed a 10 game ban (plus 10 games suspended) whilst Voth has been given 12 games (with a further 12 suspended).

Kozak was involved in an altercation with Nottinghams Marc Levers which resulted in Levers requiring 25 stitches to his forehead. Kozak, who is entering his first season in Britain, was officially given 6 games for sucker punching an opponent and 4 games for bringing the game into disrepute.

An Elite league official had this to say in an official press release:
"Ice hockey is a very physical sport as everyone is well aware, and occasionally tempers flare and there are flashpoint incidents. However, the games last Sunday saw incidents that we feel are beyond what is the normally acceptable in terms of physical contact and we felt the need to adjudicate strongly.”

"A lot of discussion took place over the summer recruiting period about teams bringing in players to ‘entertain’ and we have no problem with that philosophy. We are a professional sport however, also acknowledge that we are all in the entertainment business but, there are limits to what is and what is not acceptable. After extensive video review, the incidents involving both Rick Kozak and Brad Voth have been deemed as being unacceptable, and it is our duty to ensure that we send a message to all the clubs, the coaching staff and all the players as to what will not be tolerated.”
Games Kozak will miss:

13/09 Cardiff (A)
20/09 Coventry (H) CC
21/09 Edinburgh (A)
27/09 Sheffield (A)
28/09 Nottingham (H) CC
04/10 Sheffield (H)
11/10 Nottingham (H)
12/10 Coventry (A)
18/10 Basingstoke (A)
19/10 Edinburgh (H)


He will return to action against the Newcastle Vipers on the 25th October, although the Hull Daily Mail is already speculating that there will be an appeal to shorten the ban.

The Elite League has set the tone with these two bans, which it is hoped, will deter any further incidents. All said and done, Kozaks ban is a huge blow (albeit probably a fair one) to the Stingrays hopes this season. To view the eventful game from last Sunday v Nottingham, tune in to Sky Sports 3 on Friday 12th September for the full game, re-live.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Sunday 7th September: Nottingham Panthers 6-2 Excel Hull Stingrays

Game notes

-Stuart Kerr received a 5 minute penalty for fighting and Kevin Bergin received a roughing penalty after just 27 seconds.

-After some roughing with Stuart Kerr and Rumun Ndur involved, Ndur and Stingray Rick Kozak received game penalties.

- Meanwhile during the second period Stuart Kerr also received a game penalty as the Stingrays passed the 10 minor penalties in a period and the 100 PIM barrier.

-Kevin Bergin and Jonathan Bernier dropped the gloves early in the third period.

-David Clarke hit four goals, whilst Kevin Bergin finished with 1+4.

- Stingray goals: Matt Reynolds, Jeff Glowa

- MOM: Stingrays- Curtis Cruickshank, Panthers- David Clarke

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Saturday 6th September: Excel Hull Stingrays 3-4 Manchester Phoenix

Game notes

-The Excel Hull Stingrays lost their opening 08/09 EIHL fixture as the Manchester Phoenix took a 4-3 win out of the Hull Arena.

- The Stingrays trailed 3-0 before a goal from Pavel Gomenyuk brought the score in the first period to 3-1.

- A fightback from the Stingrays leveled the scores at 3-3 in the second period before a third period goal of pure luck handed the victory to the Phoenix.

- Stingray goals: Jeff Glowa, Troy Neumeier and Slava Koulikov

-MOM: Stingrays- Slava Koulikov, Phoenix- Alex Dunn
-F Block Blog MOM- Matt Reynolds, Phoenix- David Beauregard

- Strach said: ""I'm thoroughly disappointed to lose, but we competed hard and finished our checks. All in all I thought the whole team played well, once we settled down. Manchester's fourth goal was the flukiest ever scored. The puck hit Stuart Kerr and then Pasha Gomenyuk and went in. We had our chances to score more goals, but as the saying goes you have to bury them to win."

Thursday, 4 September 2008

6th/7th September Weekend Preview


V



Saturday 6th September: Excel Hull Stingrays v Manchester Phoenix @ Hull Arena, f/o 5.30pm
Sunday 7th Septmeber: Nottingham Panthers v Excel hull Stingrays @ Trent FM Arena, f/o 4pm

EIHL Head to Head

v Manchester
@Hull: 4 Manchester wins, 3 Stingray wins
v Manchester (total): 9 Manchester wins, 6 Stingray wins
Total goals for: Manchester 47-42 Stingrays

@ Nottingham
@Nottingham: 4 Nottingham wins, 2 Stingray wins
v Nottingham (total): 8 Nottingham wins, 4 Stingray wins
Total goals for: Nottingham 43-24 Stingrays

Last 3 games
v Manchester
10/01/08 3-2 OTW, Altrincham Ice Dome
16/02/08 2-3 L, Hull Arena
23/03/08 6-2 W, Hull Arena

v Nottingham
30/12/07 2-5 L, Hull Arena
04/01/08 0-2 L, NIC
15/03/08 2-4 L, NIC

Key Players
Stingrays- Steve Slonina
Manchester- Adam Walker
Nottingham- Kevin Bergin

Absentees
Stingrays
Paul Moran- Dislocated shoulder, 2/3 weeks

Manchester
Bruce Mulherin- Doubtful, VISA issues
Kenton Smith- Doubtful, VISA issues
Luke Fulghum- Doubtful, VISA issues
Kyle Bruce- Doubtful, VISA issues

Nottingham
Dan Tessier- Doubtful, VISA issues
Jade Galbraith- Doubtful, VISA issues

Predictions

Stingrays 4-3 Manchester
Nottingham 5-3 Stingrays

Strachan names his assistants

As expected coach Rick Strachan has named Russian born Brit, Slava Koulikov, as one of his two assistant coaches for the upcoming 08/09 season, which begins on Saturday with the visit of the Manchester Phoenix.

29 year old netminder Curtis Cruickshank has taken the other assistant coaches role after a 5 year career in British hockey, spanning from Nottingham, Newcastle to Basingstoke and now Hull.

The on ice captaincy has been handed to returning 38 year old defenceman Troy Neumeier, with the alternate captains being given to last seasons captain, Jeff Glowa, and new boy Jason Kostadine.

Strachan had this to say about his new on-ice management and captaincy:
"I think three heads are better than one. They [Koulikov and Cruickshank] are both senior guys and have been around. They know the game. With Curtis being a goalie he can see the whole picture from the ice. As a forward, Slava will give us a different perspective. Feedback from everyone is very important, especially for me."

"Troy has played 1,000 professional games. He's a well-respected, senior guy. He has all the qualities needed. He's very level-headed and doesn't get over-excited. He's seen it all, done it all and will make an excellent captain."
This move will give the Stingrays three avenues of thought for tactics, player lineups and other on ice details, and is likely to please a small section of Stingrays fans who have grown tired of Strachans tactics over the past few years. As Strachan says himself "three heads are better than one" and some new ideas, which will inevitable be thrown into the mix by Cruickshank and Koulikov will do nothing but help the team.

The additional of Neumeier as captain will help the Stingrays on so many levels. Neumeier is not only a brilliant defenceman (ok a little devoid of pace at 38), but he will put the squad into place both on and off the ice. Jeff Glowa will be reluctant to give up the captaincy however with him taking the alternate captain badge, the Stingrays will have twice the experience to rely on, meanwhile Jason Kostadine is likely to be the alternate captain who sets an example with his relentless work ethic and constant checking.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Good and bad news.

After losing the Yorkshire Cup to the Sheffield Steelers by 15 goals to 6, the Excel Hull Stingrays have receieved both good and bad news on the injury front following the double header exhibition games.

Paul Moran, who went down during a scuffle between Andrew Sharp, Jason Hewitt and himself, has been officially ruled out for 2 to 3 weeks with a dislocated shoulder. He suffered a similar, abeit more serious, injury last season, which restricted him to 51 out of the Belfast Giants 61 games. Moran told the Hull Daily Mail:
"I was trying to stick up for a team-mate, but I think I got jumped. I felt my shoulder go so I went down on my knees and didn't attempt to fight back. Somehow the officials let Andrew keep punching me"

"I knew my shoulder wasn't in the joint, but didn't know if it was completely dislocated, all I knew is it didn't feel right. That's why I didn't fight back - because I didn't want to do any more damage.

"I've seen the people at the hospital. They say it was not too bad so hopefully with a couple of weeks rest I'll be back playing."

However he was still very positive about the Stingrays chances this season:

"It's very unfortunate. I had really enjoyed last week's training sessions and was really enjoying myself out there. We were playing really well for the first 10 minutes on Saturday. We were skating well, finishing our hits. I liked the look of our team. Hopefully with a couple of weeks rest I'll be back and we will get back on track."

Meanwhile, Curtis Cruickshank, who went down after a shot to the body during the Yorkshire Cup on Sunday night, has received the OK to play the Stingrays opening EIHL fixture against the Manchester Phoenix at the Hull Arena on Saturday. The club sent Cruickshank for an X-ray to confirm whether or not he had cracked ribs, as feared. Stingray owner Sue Pack had this to say about Cruickshanks injury:
"We sent Curtis to hospital as a precaution, but I've received a message from him to say the x-rays have shown there are no breaks. I'm delighted Curtis will ice, as we didn't want to lose our number one keeper in the warm-up games. It was just a freak occurrence, it wasn't like anyone ran him or anything, it just happened."
The Stingrays move on to a full weeks training with a full squad (minus Paul Moran) with Troy Neumeier and Steve Slonina in the country and ready to face the Manchester Phoenix at 5.30 on Saturday.

EIHL 08/09 Predictions

Predictions, predictions, predictions...

EIHL Winners: Coventry Blaze
Challenge Cup Winners: Nottingham Panthers
Knockout Cup Winners: Coventry Blaze
Playoff Winners: Belfast Giants
Top Scorer: Adam Calder (Cov)
Top Netminder: Davis Parley (Not)
Most PIMs: Andre Payette (New)

Basingstoke Bison
Prediction: 10th
Key player: Kevin Reiter
One to Watch: Jason Goulet
Surprise package: Austin Sutter

The Bison face an uphill struggle this season after a turbulent 07/08 season. After financial troubles, which are now well and truly behind them (EDIT: As of 29th August the Bison's future has been put into doubt, they will need to come up with £30K before the 31st August), and injuries galore, the Bison enter this season with a fresh start and a new enthusiastic owner entering his first full season of ownership. The fresh start has seen "Mr Basingstoke" Brad Cruikshank, Eric Braff and high scoring GB international Greg Chambers return to the club, with them on board coach Ryan Aldridge has added an collection of unknown imports, the standout of which is IHL winning netminder Kevin Reiter. Question marks immediately appeared over the heads of Austin Sutter and Brent Hughes, signed from the lower reaches of North American pro hockey, mostly for their lack of height and toughness. However with 6'5 Jason Goulet, defenceman Curtiss Patrick, who enjoys a good tussle, and enforcer Jeremy Cornish all signed up, those question marks have been eradicated. The point stands however, that the Bison look too light in all areas to make a serious push for anything other than 8th place.

Belfast Giants
Prediction: 2nd
Key player: Evan Cheverie
One to Watch: Mike Burgoyne
Surprise package: Bobby Robins

New owners, a new coach, and largely a new team. Change has not necessarily been a bad thing for the Belfast Giants who enter the season as one of the favourites for the EIHL title. Right from the back the Giants look strong, although with three netminders, two of which are experienced at EIHL level and all three British or Irish homegrown players, they may have one weak spot. The Giants only other possible weakness seems to be the ability of their defence to actually defend, Mike Burgoyne, Tyler Howells and Brit David Phillips are all good going forward however with just Shane Johnson and Graeme Walton the noticeable defensive defencemen this may be their shortcoming. To go with Burgoyne and Howells, Belfast have an unbelieveable array of offensive talent, lead by former Coventry standout Evan Cheverie, Brit Colin Shields and player/coach Steve Thornton, the Giants seem unrivalled up front. With an offensive minded D, possible weak netminding duo and almost unlimited offence in mind, expect goals galore from Giants games. They won't quite make it over the line as champions this season but they will come near as dammit.

Cardiff Devils
Prediction: 6th
Key player: Rod Hinks
One to Watch: Brad Voth
Surprise package: Likit Andersson

With a new owner now finally here to stay, the Devils have built a solid if unspectacular squad for an attempt at improving on their trophy less last season. The Devils have not been title contenders for a number of years, and on the basis of their latest squad that theme will continue, although they will always be a good shout for a cup competition, of which there are plenty in the EIHL. Brad Voth, who rejected big moves in the summer to stay in Cardiff, will likely lead the line, both offensively and on the entertainment front, whilst former Newcastle centreman Rod Hinks will anchor the Devils first line. Jay Latulippe provides secondary scoring along with Jason Silverthorn, who returns for a second season in Wales. The Devils main strength is their possible "perfect" mix of grit, toughness and skill. They mix the pointscorers such as defencemen Thai born Swede Likit Andersson and the aforementioned Silverthorn and Hinks, with big hitters such as Brad Voth, Mike Prpich and Derek Campbell as well as defencemen Wes Jarvis, Mike Hartwick and Doug MacIver. Perhaps too much strength and not enough skill for the Devils to make a charge for the league, but an entertaining season should prevail for fans in Cardiff.

Coventry Blaze
Prediction: 1st
Key player: Adam Calder
One to Watch: Jonathan Weaver
Surprise package: Carlyle Lewis

Three of the EIHL's best forwards last season, currently the best British defenceman and one of the best British coaches in the history of hockey in this country. Just a few of the reasons why, despite question marks over their defence and netminder, the Coventry Blaze will be amongst the favourites for every trophy going in the EIHL this season. The Blaze have replaced Sylvain Cloutier with Sylvain Deschateles, one of the best forwards in the EIHL last season, rock at the back Neil Martin, with a relative unknown, Corely LeClair and Trevor Koenig, arguably one of the best netminders in the league last year, with former Edinburgh netminder JF Perras. Deschateles for Cloutier is, pretty much, an even strength change, however question marks have again, like last season, been raised over their defence and this time, their netminder. These question marks may have little credibility however, with the same questions being posed last season before the Blaze strolled to the league title and Knockout Cup whilst reaching the playoff final. Paul Thompson sure knows how to build a winning team and this season should be no different with Adam Calder, Dan Carlson and Jonathan Weaver leading the way for the Blaze.


Edinburgh Capitals
Prediction: 9th
Key player: Michel Robinson
One to Watch: Doug Christiansen
Surprise package: Andrei Rajcak

The Caps face a tough season after their first entry into the EIHL playoffs last season. After a season lead by forwards Colin Hemmingway and Mike Stutzel, it will be interesting to see how the Caps do without last seasons standout players. Player/coach Doug Christiansen will put his considerable size, talent and heart into the club, however has still yet to replace Hemmingway (although they have brought back Andrej Rajcak after a season in Denmark, who may yet turn out to be Hemmingways replacement), whilst Stutzel has been replaced by an unknown quantity in Mark Hurtubise. New netminder Michel Robinson looks like he has the credentials to replace JF Perras, and new defencemen Joe Dustin, Shawn Germain and Taylor Christie look like they have the quality to provide a stern test to any forwards looking to get a shot away on Robinson. This may mark a change in tactic for Christiansen; it would have been a huge ask to replace Hemmingway, who was one of best forwards in the EIHL last season. So instead of attempting the near impossible he may have accepted defeat on a replacement, and instead put their emphasis (and funds) on a better defence, but also a defence that can chip in with the points. Either way, from the outset, it looks like the Caps will push hard for that 8th and final play off spot.

Hull Stingrays
Prediction: 8th
Key player: Jake Riddle
One to Watch: Rick Kozak
Surprise package: Jason Kostadine

A hopeful 8th? After 2 years in the EIHL, it is hoped that Rick Strachan has finally found the right idea. After moving from non fighting, non checking Europeans in 06/07, to having a mix of non fighting, non checking Europeans and tough but skillful North Americans, to this season having a team of tough North Americans. Don't let that fool you though, many pundits, fans and fellow bloggers have posed the Rays problem will be up front, however the Stingray fans concerns have been rooted to the back. After losing Brits Dave Phillips, Luke Boothroyd and Stevie Lee, a normally 7 deep defence has become a 5 deep defence with just Paul Moran, and a further four imports, to replace those three. Up front the Rays are deeper than they have ever been in the EIHL. Rick Kozak has joined fresh from an NHL contract, Matt Reynolds has joined from a championship winning Fort Wayne in the IHL, whilst expected first line centre, Steve Slonina, has had two 30 goal seasons in the ECHL. Add to that last seasons first line of Jake Riddle, Jeff Glowa and Slava Koulikov(and minus Rob Rankin), as well as talented Brits Lee Mitchell and James Cooke and the Rays look to have three solid lines, all capable of scoring. A playoff spot is certainly not out of the question, but at the same time neither is a bottom placed finish.

Manchester Phoenix
Prediction: 5th
Key player: David Beauregard
One to Watch: David Beauregard
Surprise package: Grant Jacobsen

Manchester are a team that not many have spoken about during the off season but with a couple of very impressive signings they may well be a good bet to surprise people, a "wild card" if you will. Like Cardiff they always be a team that you expect might make a run at one of the several EIHL Cup competitions, and whilst I am not completely ruling them out of the title race, I expect that's where their threat may come from. With Tony Hands decision to return for one more season, and the possibility that they will for once go with three full lines of both forwards and defence, they have given themselves a big chance before names are even put down on paper. David Beauregard seems to be one of the signings of the summer, he should really push on in the EIHL after scoring plenty of points everywhere he has been, icing him with Tony Hand will only further increase his points return. Their defence is lead by offensive defenceman Kenton Smith, who joins the team after 5 years in Charlotte of the ECHL, recording over 120 points. Nathan Ward and Bruce Mulherin add more forward punch along with Luke Fulghum, who is expected to line up on the first line with Beauregard and Hand. A title push might be too much to expect, but a cup is a very realistic target for Tony's men.

Newcastle Vipers
Prediction: 7th
Key player: Todd Griffiths
One to Watch: Tyler Willis
Surprise package: Rob Rankin

With two imports still yet to sign, and with coach Rob Wilson filling in until their final defenceman is signed, the Vipers are still somewhat of an unknown quantity. Former Sheffield Steeler Joel Irving has already signed and quit the club, meaning the Vipers were forced to look elsewhere, they are now closing in on the final forward however have yet to sign their defenceman. Elsewhere in the squad they have one of the Elite Leagues better netminders, in European veteran Andrew Verne, and better defences with former NHLer Chris McAllister, Burt Henderson and Mark Gouett. Up front they have, as usual, a tough side with Derek Campbell, Andre Payette and also 3 year target Tyler Willis, who many believe will be one of the most entertaining players in the league. Campbell will rack up the points as well as the PIM's for the Vipers, after rejecting moves to Europe to re-sign in Newcastle, and Rob Rankin, who recorded nearly a point per game with the Stingrays last season, and Todd Griffiths expected to take the brunt of the scoring load with longtime Brit David Longstaff.

Nottingham Panthers
Prediction: 4th
Key player: Jade Galbraith
One to Watch: David Clarke
Surprise package: Brendan Cook

A quick turnover for the Panthers who went from being coach less to having a full squad in place in less than three months. Mike Ellis has been replaced by rookie coach Corey Neilson and he has largely installed what looks like one of the best squads in the league, with an attempt at their first ever EIHL title looming. A strong contingent of Brits have returned including high scoring David Clarke, Geoff Woolhouse, Danny Meyers and James Neil to re-join last seasons imports player/coach Neilson, Swede Johan Molin and Canadian Kevin Bergin. A whole host of new imports have joined the club, all of which look very impressive. The names that immediately jump out are netminder Davis Parley, Rumun Ndur, from the Coventry Blaze, forwards Jade Galbraith, Bruce Richardson and lastly, but by no means least, returning to Nottingham is centre Dan Tessier. Tessier, who played at arch rivals Sheffield Steelers last season, came in to replace another standout signing Chris Richards, who has now retired from the game to focus on a career outside of hockey. Despite Richards quitting the club, the Panthers look as good as any one of the other top three clubs (Coventry, Sheffield and Belfast) and so picking a winner between those four teams will be difficult. Nottinghams defence looks susceptable as does their inexperienced coach, which has me placing them in 4th.

Sheffield Steelers
Prediction: 3rd
Key player: Joey Talbot
One to Watch: Ryan Finnerty
Suprise package: Nathan Gillies

With just four changes for this season, the Steelers will once again be a force to be reckoned with next season. All four changes have improved in some way or other, whilst they lost Dan Tessier, they gained toughness in Nathan Gillies and Andrew Sharpe, they released Ian Manzano and signed former Manchester offensive defenceman Scott Basiuk and finally they added Dan Green in place of Davey Lawrence as backup netminder. The rest of their playoff winning squad has been retained including Joey Talbot, Jody Lehman, Jeff Legue, Steve Munn and Ashley Tait. With changes almost all for the better the Steelers, who have become much tougher than last season, have given themselves a good chance to make a run at the title and certainly one of the Cups.

This next EIHL season promises to be one of the best most competitive seasons in the EIHLs history. In general the league can be split into three groups which will be almost certainly correct. Firstly, title competitors (Coventry, Belfast, Nottingham and Sheffield) who have a great chance to win either the title or another of the three cup competitions. Secondly, playoff certainties (Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle) who will fight to compete for the title but will have more of a chance in the cup competitions. Finally, the teams fighting for playoff qualification (Hull, Edinburgh and Basingstoke) but would do well to have a run in any of the cup comps.

So there it is. Let the 08/09 EIHL season begin.

Notes
* Top scorer= Top goalscorer
* Logos from International Hockey Forums