Monday, 29 June 2009

Excitement continues to build in Hull

The building for possibly the most anticipated Excel Hull Stingrays season yet continued last week as new player-coach Sylvain Cloutier made a whistle stop tour of his workplace for the next two years.

Cloutier visited Hull to meet a number of next season's squad and attended a hugely successful fans forum, where he, and players James Hutchinson, Shaun Thompson, Matty Davies and Pavel Gomenyuk, spoke to fans about the upcoming season.

At a packed Hull Arena bar Cloutier re-iterated his excitement for the upcoming season, admitting that the season can't come quick enough:
"I can’t wait to get going. I am extremely happy with the guys we have signed so far, we have done really well on the recruiting and we have a really good group and a good mix. We are going to have three solid lines.

"We want to compete every night. I have put a team together to do that and I know we are going to give Sheffield, Coventry, Nottingham and Belfast their money's worth."

With just over two months until opening face-off, Cloutier has signed 14 of next season's squad, and with a further two import spots signed but unannounced, he is left to search for the team's final two signings, a Brit and an import.

As revealed on their agents website earlier in post-season, Matt Reynolds and CHLer Mike Beynon have both signed for unnamed Elite League teams, and with Cloutier's admission that two imports have been signed and sealed for next season, the two Canadians could be set for two of the three remaining slots, with an player announcement expected this Wednesday.

Reynolds, a forward, and Beynon, a defenceman, would presumably leave the Rays searching for an import blueliner, in order to fill three lines of defence, and, alongside that assumption, Cloutier announced at the forum that the final import will be tough, and will help forward turned defenceman Adam Knight with the team's enforcing duties.

But with a Brit yet to be announced, that tough player could yet be British, although sensible money would go on enigmatic British trained forward Slava Koulikov returning for a sixth season, especially given the lack of British players willing to fight Canadian heavyweights on a regular basis.

Should the final import be a tough defenceman, it would leave the Rays defence looking somewhat weak however it is believed that Cloutier has great faith in the abilities of British defencemen Craig Mitchell and particularly James Hutchinson, who is coming from a treble winning season in the EPL.

Finally, the club announced that the team will have a new equipment manager for next season, with former Newcastle equipment man Tim Blake joining the team, further bolstering the Stingrays off-ice staff following the appointment of Jon Kynaston as Commercial and Community Development Officer.

The excitement in the Stingrays camp and amongst the fan base is growing in anticipation of Sylvain Cloutier's first game in charge of the team, which is expected to come on September 8, with the fixtures announcement expected in July.

Photo Courtesy: Arthur Foster

Monday, 22 June 2009

Kozak and Riddle to re-unite in OK?

Two former Excel Hull Stingrays who were axed early last season after equally controversial spells with the club may join forces once again next season after power forward Rick Kozak (right) was traded from the Central Hockey League's Laredo Bucks to the Tulsa Oilers, Jake Riddle's (left) side last term.

Kozak, who recorded 44 points in 43 games for Laredo after being mutually released from his Stingrays contract, was traded to the Oilers in exchange for two Tulsa players and may join up with Riddle, who last season scored 22 goals and 39 points in 52 games after leaving the Rays.

The pair became good friends whilst at the Stingrays and were rumoured to have caused various off-ice problems for former coach Rick Strachan.

Those issues subsequently came to a head just nine games into the Stingrays season, with Riddle having received numerous miscounduct penalties and having scored just four points, Strachan released the forward.

Kozak, who received a ten game ban in the teams first game of the season following an incident which resulted in Nottingham Panthers forward Marc Levers requiring 12 stitches to the forehead, then followed him out of the door after mutually agreeing to end his contract with owners Mike and Sue Pack.

Whilst rumours suggested that Kozak had been allowed to leave after expressing his anger at Riddle being sacked, others suggested that further off-ice troubles had forced the Stingrays hand.

Should Riddle re-sign in Oklahoma, the pair will team up again at the 17,000 capacity BOK Center in Tulsa for the 09/10 CHL season which begins in October.

Photos Courtesy: Arthur Foster and Hull Daily Mail

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Turunen returns to Finland

23 year old defenceman Antti Turunen today re-signed in his home country, Finland, with Mestis side HeKi after a short 20 game spell at the Excel Hull Stingrays.

The tenacious blueliner became a fan favourite at the Hull Arena for his no nonsense style of defense after signing from Swedish side Asploven on the recommendation of former Basingstoke defenceman Mikko Purontakanen during the Rays injury crisis in early 2009.

With so little to rely on defensively, the Finn racked up some huge minutes in all situations, powerplay, penalty kill and even handed, and his tough, never say die attitude proved very popular, with many hoping for his return next term under new coach Sylvain Cloutier.

He deservedly capped his half season with the Stingrays with a goal in the teams penultimate game against the Cardiff Devils, rounding off his totals at one goal, four assists and 18 penalty minutes in 20 games for the club.

Next season he will ice in the Mestis (second tier of Finnish ice hockey) in the same league as former Stingray Paul Cabana.

Photo Courtesy: Arthur Foster

U20 international Davies is coming home

The Excel Hull Stingrays today further strengthened their British corps for the 09/10 Elite League season with the signing of Great Britain U20 international and Hull born forward Matty Davies.

Davies left the Kingston Jets and his hometown, Hull, after former Stingrays coach Rick Strachan failed to sign the young prospect in 2006 and instead went searching for a regular slot in the second tier English Premier League.

There, he was signed by cellar dwellers Solihull Barons and he stood out in a tough final season for the team, recording 35 points in 43 games, before his first call up to the Great Britain junior setup with the U18's.

From Solihull the, then, 17 year old, moved to the Swindon Wildcats and in two seasons in Wiltshire he continued to show his worth as an up and coming British player, recording 72 points in 80 games whilst also marking his first appearances for the GB U20 side, scoring nine points in five junior World Championship Division Two games this year.

Last season he was drafted into a low strength Excel Hull Stingrays and made his debut for the club alongside Adam Elliot in a Knockout Cup match against the Manchester Phoenix, impressing most with his individual play.

It was that performance that has now seen coach Sylvain Cloutier sign up the 5'6 forward, following a conversation with co-owner Sue Pack,and he revealed that he is now relishing the return to Hull after a taste of the top flight last year.
"I am coming home! I had to move away to play at a higher level but now I am excited about coming back and I can’t wait to play for the Stingrays. When I got the call I was always going to say yes."

"When I played the one game last season, I knew I wanted to taste that again. It’s going to be a big challenge but that’s what I want."
Cloutier said that the Brits desire to ice for his hometown side was a large part of his decision to make the move, after Sue Pack had engaged in initial conversations with the former Kingston Jet.
"Matt wanted to be part of the Stingrays. He is a local player, which is always nice to have on our team . I expect him to bring a lot of energy every night and compete.

"He is a very young talented British player and I'm very happy to have him on board."

Davies, who has been described as a forward that works hard in both ends and has bundles of talent , joins Lee Mitchell, Lee Esders and Shaun Thompson as the Stingrays British forwards for next season.

But the signing marks the end for either Slava Koulikov or James Cooke, who are now doubtful to return to the Hull Arena under Cloutier.

With few places on the roster available, and with the Stingrays loaded with young, hungry British offensive talent, Sylvain Cloutier is unlikely to re-sign both of the forwards, who last season recorded 30 and 7 point seasons respectively.

Meanwhile Matt Reynolds future as a Stingray has been questioned with the Rays failure to announce his signing today.

The 29 year old Canadian has signed for an, as yet, unannounced Elite League club, and although the Stingrays seem frontrunners for his signature, Newcastle, Sheffield and Nottingham have all been mentioned in relation to a move.

Photo courtesy Swindon Wildcats

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Kostadine signs in the IHL

Gritty forward and fan favourite, Jason Kostadine, has left the Excel Hull Stingrays and will next season ice for the Port Huron Ice Hawks in the International Hockey League (IHL), effectively North America's fifth tier of ice hockey, after a year in East Yorkshire.

The 27 year old came to the Stingrays with a label as a tough agitator and in his year long spell in Europe surpassed all expectations which had originally suggested that his role on the team would be restricted to the physical side of the game.

Whilst Kostadine became one of the most entertaining players to don the Rays colours, as well as also being one of most effective wind up merchants in the British game, he also produced unexpected career best figures of 13 goals, 16 assists for 29 points in 60 games, more than doubling his professional career points totals.

Away from his offensive production he was noticeably active in the defensive end and his continuous forecheck made a nice change to a Stingrays forward line that, under Rick Strachan, was notoriously conservative in its lack of gung ho style. When messrs Kozak and Bernier were at the team, providing some physical back up, he was put to good use, however once those two departed there was nowhere for him to hide.

Nevertheless some of his sparring matches, particularly against Nottingham, and their large fanbase, provided good entertainment and usually whipped the Hull Arena into a frenzy.

He came to Europe in search of a chance to prove himself as a player who could agitate after years of bouncing around the ECHL as an out and out agitator, limited to a couple of minutes a game.

Rick Strachan gave him that chance in Hull and he grabbed it with two hands, with a surprising offensive production and very few sub-par performances, Kostadine did the hard work game in and game out and in the end was a valuable asset for a team that once again failed to make the playoffs.

The end of Rick Strachan's reign as coach saw to the end of Kostadine as a Stingray, but the endearing memory of him will be his ability to rile other teams, often resulting in a penalty for the opposing side and always resulting in an entertaining encounter.
Playing in Europe last season was a great experience, but I wanted to be closer to home and Port Huron was a great fit.
He will now return to North America with Port Huron, but he departs Hull safe in the knowledge that he has proved his worth as a hockey player.

Photos Courtesy: Arthur Foster

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Jaszczyk returns for sophomore season

20 year old back up netminder Andrew Jaszczyk will return to the Excel Hull Stingrays for their 09/10 season after being signed by new coach Sylvain Cloutier following an encouraging rookie campaign in the EIHL.

The Rotherham born backstop recorded an 82% save percentage and 6.02 goals against average in 11 appearances last season after signing from English National League side the Kingston Jets, but despite statistical appearance his performances as a first year stopper were very encouraging, especially behind an, at times, leaky and fragile Stingrays defence.

Following a season under the guidance of Canadian starter Curtis Cruickshank, next season the young Brit will relieve for new number one Tommy Sandahl, and Jaszczyk is keen to learn from the young Swede, who will be experiencing his first year abroad.
"I am looking forward to working with Tommy and see how he plays. I want to improve every season and it will be good to look at a European style of hockey."
Like many of the teams previous signings, he was also keen express his excitement for the upcoming season with so many new and promising signings under the guidance of a new coach.
"I am excited at how the team is shaping up. The team is looking really strong and we have signed players with good backgrounds. I think we can challenge the top teams and be more consistent against them next season."
With imports having a firm grip on the Elite Leagues eight netminding positions, barring two exceptions in Lyle, in Cardiff, and Murphy, in Belfast, Jaszczyk will again be used sparingly in the top flight.

It is the time training against higher calibre players and a couple of appearances in relief for the starting Sandahl that can often set young British netminders in good stead for the a possible starting jobs in the future and that is something which Jaszczyk will be hoping to achieve.

His most notable appearances for the Rays last season came in helter skelter, high scoring games with Coventry and Basingstoke, both 8-6 losses. Although the team conceded eight goals on both occasions, he made plenty of decent saves with both sides playing at full capacity and, on the whole, made the game an entertaining spectacle.

Next season he will be hoping to continue his steep learning curve under experienced new head coach Sylvain Cloutier, who will undoubtedly help the progress of his career.

The Stingrays tally of returnees now stands at an unexpectedly high six, with many of the teams standout players from last season now re-signed.

The final two names that continue to linger with regards to a return to the Hull Arena are Slava Koulikov, who may well not return under the new regime, especially given his problematic work ethic, and Matt Reynolds, who has signed for an as yet unannounced team, thought to be Hull.

Photo's courtesy: Arthur Foster

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Jon Kynaston becomes Rays Head of Community and Commercial Development

In a move that clearly marks out the Excel Hull Stingrays new found ambition and confidence in a new era, the team today appointed current Peterborough Phantoms Director of Hockey Operations, Jon Kynaston, as Head of Community and Commercial Development.

Kynaston, who has been involved in Peterborough for 20 years, will split his time next season between the Phantoms and Stingrays, and will hold the position for three years.

According to a Stingrays press release he will focus his efforts on developing stronger community links within Hull as well as making the Stingrays a commercially successful business.

The statement read:
"Over the next three years we want to be competitive and develop our organisation in new areas and having been the major driver behind the recent successes at Peterborough, Jon was clearly the right person to target.

We will use Jon’s expertise to become a stronger part of the sporting community in Hull and also to take ourselves forward in the commercial area. With Jon working alongside ourselves and Sylvain Cloutier we feel we have a strong team in place to take the club forward off and on the ice."

Friday, 5 June 2009

Stingrays Five of the Best...Defencemen

5 Pavel Gomenyuk (03-05, 06/07, 08/09) The steady but solid Ukrainian has had three very mixed spells with the Stingrays, split by two equally indifferent seasons in Newcastle.

Although he has had notable lows throughout his time in Hull, including 06/07, where his determination to play on through injury saw him on the receiving end of fan venom, he has generally been regarded as a safe bet as far as the Stingrays defencemen have gone.

His steely character has shone through in returning from not one, but two below par seasons with the club. And he particularly excelled last season, recording a career high 42 points in 56 games, mainly through his long searching passes and slapshots from the blueline, and in doing so earned himself a return under new coach Sylvain Cloutier.

4 Steve Slonina (08/09) Upon signing, the Abington, Maschusetts native initially appeared to be a very astute signing by former coach Rick Strachan, who signed the former Bakersfield Condor as a forward that could adequately fill in on defence. A handful of games and a switch to defence later, and Slonina had become one of the teams standout performers...on defence.

After a largely ineffective spell in his natural forward position, he filled in for the injury prone Stingrays defence and shored up a backline that, from the outset, looked immobile and offensively blunt.

His tenacity and tendency to rush the puck forward from defence was a welcome change on a team that boasted several defensive blueliners in the form of Wilson, Kerr, Neumeier and Moran. A 40 point season and defenceman and fans player of the year at the teams end of season awards, reflects how good the American's season really was.

3 Dave Phillips (03-08) Recently invited to try out for the National Hockey League's Chicago Blackhawks, Phillips progression in the sport has been frightening and very visible for Stingrays fans.

Beginning his career as a forward, with former coach Strachan utilising the teenagers fearless ability to intimidate and agitate on the teams third line, Phillips was then switched back to his preferred role in defence in his sophomore season.

From there on in his career has gone from strength to strength, progressing from sparsely used third line defenceman to a staple of the Rays defensive core.

A season in the English Premier League cemented his reputation as one of the best up and coming Brits, and two seasons with the Stingrays in the Elite League not only handed him his first Great Britain senior cap, of which he now has 15, but also a move to the big spending Belfast Giants.

Phillips physicality, aggressive style and solidity at the heart of the teams defence, as well as his clear passion for both winning, and the team, set him aside from other defencemen as one of the best.

2 Kevin Young (06/07) Young really became everything an Elite League team wants from their import defencemen. Offensively brilliant, defensively solid and a clear leader in the locker room, Young was a favourite for the team in one of their best Elite League seasons.

His skill set was clearly very high, and although his CV didn't particularly shine through a crowd, on the ice he was one of the most skillful. This was demonstrated perfectly in a memorable overtime winning goal against Nottingham, a solo effort rounded off by a nice backhanded finish and 'climb the glass' celebration.

His season came crashing to a halt with a Mike Rees check with the resulting dislocated shoulder, which threatened to keep him out for months rather than weeks, dictating that the team release him, much to the devastation of Young himself.

1 Craig Minard (04/05) Minard was not only one of the best defencemen to have iced for the Stingrays, but in his short spell in East Yorkshire he became one of the best regardless of position.

He became the Stingrays version of Neal Martin in Coventry, Greg Kuznik in Fife and , to a lesser extent, Kevin Bobriuck in Sheffield, in that he was an outstanding defenceman that the team, and their fans, dream of re-signing each and every pre-season.

He stayed at the Hull Arena for just 25 games, but in that time scored an outstanding 20 points, including five assists in a crazy 6-5 win in Bracknell. Not only that, but he also took the teams captaincy and guided them to an encouraging opening stretch in 04/05 in league, Crossover Cup and Winter Cup, it would not last however.

Regretably Minard quit the team to return to the CHL and was immediately, and quite rightly, vilified for using the Stingrays as a pre-season training camp and wage earner.

That aside he is easily the most exciting defenseman to have iced in Rays colours, an offensive defencemen of the first quality, and for that reason he sits in the number one spot.

Honourable mentions: Slava Timchenko, Troy Neumeier
Images courtesy:, Arthur Foster,

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Hutchinson bolsters Stingrays defence

The Excel Hull Stingrays today bolstered their defence with the signing of a British offensive defenceman in James Hutchinson, who becomes Sylvain Cloutier's fifth British signing of the off season.

The 25 year old has experience of the Elite League with spells in Nottingham, Manchester and Basingstoke as well as a season in France with Morzine-Avoriaz, whilst last season he led the English Premier League in defensive scoring with 10 goals and 48 assists as the Peterborough Phantoms did the treble.

A offensive defenceman that has recently come into his own in a three year spell in Peterborough, his reliability in all situations is what has seen him move a considerable amount in his career, from the Isle of Wight and Basingstoke to Dundee and Morzine in the French alps, next season he will play an important role in the Stingrays defence.

Last season's treble capped a three year stint in Peterborough where he finished with 143 points in 127 games and cemented himself as one of the top defenceman in the EPL. Now, after a host of offers, he will now attempt to crack the Elite League for a third, and most likely final time with the Stingrays.

Understandably, 5'11 Hutchinson is excited to be part of a new era in Hull, especially after ending his time in Peterborough on such a high, lifting the EPL Playoff Trophy in Coventry.
"I have had three of the best years of my career at Peterborough but I felt if ever there was a time to move on it was now. I can’t wait to get started. I am going to be part of a new set-up in Hull and Clouts [Sylvain Cloutier] is putting together a team which is going to be competing every night against the big teams in the league. It is going to be a challenge but if you didn't want a challenge then why bother playing? There are exciting times ahead in Hull."
Stingrays coach Cloutier, the man that is the catalyst of the buzz around the all new Stingrays, believes that Hutchinson will become an integral part of the team and is delighted with the signing of the defenceman, who chose the team over a number of other sides.
"I know a lot of teams were after him so I am extremely pleased he came to us. He was one of the better defencemen in the EPL so he is a great catch for our club. He will definitely be brimming with confidence at the start of the season.

"He is one of the players I really wanted from the start. The experience he has had in the Elite League will definitely help him. His first time around he didn't get much ice time but with us he will be given a chance to run one of our powerplay units therefore getting a lot of ice time which will showcase his offensive talent."

With 53 Elite League games under his belt, the North East native is no stranger to top level ice hockey but with the relatively inexperienced Craig Mitchell and Adam Knight as two of his three defensive partners thus far, he will be expected to bring a level of solidity to the Rays D alongside Pavel Gomenyuk.

Photos Courtesy: Peterborough Phantoms

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Ex Stingray gets call for NHL try-out

Former Excel Hull Stingray Dave Phillips has been handed the opportunity to try out for the National Hockey League's (NHL) Chicago Blackhawks after a series of impressive years with the Stingrays and Belfast, as well as several good World Championships with the Great Britain senior side.

Mark Bernard , former Basingstoke Bison coach and current General Manager of the Rockford IceHogs, Chicago's AHL affilate,was instrumental in getting the 21 year old, Beverly born prospect this chance of a lifetime.

The opportunity will allow him to attend summer prospect camp in Chicago alongside Blackhawk draft picks and fellow free agents, with the possibility of an NHL or AHL contract at the end of the five day camp.