LONDON, UK – There are big changes on the South Coast, a legend announces his retirement and Invicta remind everyone they are still in contention.
Sometimes news can be thin on the ground in the build-up to the weekend but this week was the polar opposite.
After months of rumour and unrest, Solent & Gosport Devils made a coaching change as Player Coach Will Francis stepped down from his role with the team.
“Will has been offered a role which will further his career in ice hockey, so we reluctantly accepted his resignation as we could not stand in his way of accepting this role” said a statement from the Devils.
“We would like to thank him for his work over the last few years and the professional way he has handled himself during what has been a very difficult season for all involved in the club”
“He will be staying with the club as Head coach and will concentrate on the junior development, but unfortunately could not commit to coaching and playing with the Devils, oversee the junior club coaching as well as his new role”
Stepping into the void is former Isle of Wight legend Steve Gannaway, who returns to the game after a brief spell away, and will share coaching duties with senior Devils player Alex Murray.
“Gosport is my home, so I am delighted to be back coaching where it all began” said Murray, who at 24 is now the youngest ‘Senior’ coach in the NIHL.
“We have a solid core group of guys that we will be looking to build the team around and move forward. This team has had some unfair press in recent months so it will be good to put that behind us and look at the achievements and strides we are making as a Club”
“Getting Steve on board is a major statement from the team and shows we mean business in terms of stability in this league. Hopefully before the window closes we can get a couple of players in to make the squad more competitive”
Whether the appointment of the new coaching team means the return of the recently departed Kris Abbott, Kev Tanner and Kent Johnson remains to be seen.
It was an emotional week in South London as influential Streatham figure Alex Johnston passed away at the age of 77. Grandfather of current Redskins Captain Joe Johnston and father to former Skin’s legend Jimmy, Alex was actually a referee in the popular 1980’s era of British Hockey.
The Streatham website covered Alex’s passing with a piece about his hockey life which you can read HERE
A familiar face returned to Cardiff as former forward James Preece re-entered the Big Blue Tent on a two way deal from Telford Tigers.
“I’m excited to come back to the Devils organisation and look to find the love of the game again” said Preece.
“Hopefully I can make an impact and become a vital part of the teams’ plans in the future. I can’t wait to get back on the ice wearing a Devils shirt”
There are few better ways to rekindle your love affair with hockey than an 880 mile midweek round trip to Kirkcaldy in Scotland, and that’s what Preece and NIHL Devils forward Louis Lockwood endured on Tuesday night.
Their appearance for the Elite League Devils was a happy one though, as the Welsh side advanced past Fife Flyers with a 3-2 win in the Challenge Cup Semi Final.
It marks a turnaround in fortunes for former Streatham star Lockwood who has been dogged by injuries in recent months. Long-time readers of this column will remember that 50-Lock survived multiple stab wounds after being attacked in the capital some years back. Those that missed it can read about it HERE
The Slough Jets of the EPL continued their search for players in the NIHL as they snapped up Cardiff’s Stevie Balmer and Bracknell’s Brad Watchorn on full time deals, whilst confirming Streatham’s Eddie Temple on a two way deal with the Londoners.
For Irish International Balmer and Temple in particular this opportunity gives them both a chance to push on with their hockey careers, and hopefully they can grab it with both hands. If nothing else it will give Temple less time to post pictures of his expensive kitchen appliances on social media.
Two more NIHL players getting the chance to shine in the EPL are Vanya Antonov and Harvey Stead, who were offered full time contracts with the Bracknell Bees.
“We are pleased to offer a contract to these young players as they have really impressed with their transformation into EPIHL level” said Head Coach Lukas Smital.
“They are both very coachable players with bright future ahead of them”
It is not often this column gets things wrong, however if we do, we are big enough to apologise (only for factual mistakes, not poor grammar).
So we are happy to clarify that our statement last week that Cardiff’s Phil Manny once said that Streatham goalie Stefan Nubert could not be truly Welsh as his parents had a swimming pool in their house, was apparently misheard.
We tried to reach Mr Manny to extend an official apology at this weekend’s crunch fixture against Bracknell, but were told that rather than patrolling the blue line, he was on holiday in Chicago buying chew and enjoying corporate hospitality at an NBA game. There is nothing that disappoints this column more than a mid-season holiday.
One man who was enjoying an NBA game a little closer to home was London Raiders defenseman David Oliver who took time out to watch Brooklyn Nets take on Atlanta Hawks at the O2 in London.
Despite being asked for his autograph numerous times during the game from hockey fans, Oliver turned super fan himself as he posed for a snap with Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton. Oliver obviously kept quiet to the former Marseille and Newcastle two foot tackling specialist that he is a keen West Ham fan.
Last and certainly not least was the sad news from Chelmsford that Player Coach Gary Clarke is to retire from the sport completely at the end of the season.
Clarkey has done a fantastic job cementing Chelmsford at the top of the NIHL in his time at the club and still managed to keep his own personal form on the ice.
“Having played the fantastic sport for 30 years, 20 of which as a senior hockey player I have decided to call time on my hockey career and will hang the boots up once and for all come the end of the 2013/2014 season” said Clarke in an official press release.
“Not only that, I have made the very tough decision to leave the sport entirely meaning that I will retire from the game as both player and coach”
“I feel that on the whole I have had a good innings, achieved a great deal over the years with some great players, coaches and owners and these last three seasons have been right up there with the very best”
“On top of this as a coach I hope to have passed on some of the valuable experience I have learnt over the years to others during my time in Chelmsford”
“This I hope will help make some of the local guys not just talented hockey players but good all round players”
Chelmsford also indicated that they have already selected Clarke’s replacement for next season, and it remains to be seen if they are bringing in another player coach or will utilise the highly qualified Sean Easton who has already done outstanding work with the junior teams.
The big game of the day took place on the Isle of Wight as first played second with Wightlink hosting Chelmsford Chieftains.
In dramatic circumstances the Chieftains skated off with a 4-3 win and a vital two points thanks to a brace from Daniel Volrab and a goal each for Ross Brears and James Ayling. Wightlink scorers were Jeremy Cornish, Steven Osman and Richard Facey.
The drama hinged on a contentious offside decision and a washed out Wightlink goal that infuriated the home side.
There are few feelings worse as a visiting team than travelling all the way to Cardiff and then losing, but how about losing heavily and having your team bus break down on the way home leaving you stranded on the M4 in the early hours of the morning?
Sadly for the Bracknell Hornets that is exactly what happened as they were beaten 9-2 by Cardiff NIHL Devils and then had to sit waiting on the aforementioned England to Wales superhighway on a broken bus.
Jamie Hayes and Josh Haslam top scored for the Devils with two goals each to add to lone efforts from Kieran Latchford, Ross Wilkinson, James Preece, Gareth Dixon and Owen Griffiths. Bracknell’s goals came from Matt Jordan and Tony Barclay.
Cardiff’s Ross Wilkinson dropped the gloves with Bracknell’s Richard Wojciack and then more bizarrely, Devils Captain Gareth Dixon and Bracknell goalie Shannon Long dropped the gloves, blocker and catcher and had a fight with the game nearly over.
Following the melee Jordan Powell was ejected for Cardiff with Bracknell youngster Cameron Barker also thrown out. To add to the drama, Wilkinson allegedly returned back on to the ice (having previously been kicked out) wearing sweat gear and flip flops looking for another scrap.
It was a chaotic end to a game in which Bracknell actually outshot their opponents.
In Streatham, Invicta finally had their revenge as they ended the Redskins winning streak with a 7-2 win.
There was more controversy with the game at 4-2, as Streatham’s own goal judge failed to spot what seemed a perfectly good goal and the Mo’s went straight down the other end of the ice and scored as Streatham celebrated.
In truth however, the Mo’s deserved the win as they finally broke their South London curse with some slick attacking hockey and a superb display between the pipes from Chris Douglas.
Marek Nahlik hit four goals for Invicta with Arran Strawson, Callum Fowler and Andy Smith all on target. For Streatham it was Joe Johnston and Sean Scarbrough with the goals.
London Raiders fans finally got something to cheer about as they beat Milton Keynes Thunder 9-5 at Lee Valley.
A decent crowd watched as two goals each from Frankie Harvey, Jakub Klima and Grant Taylor added to efforts from Danny Marshall, Charlie Phillips and AJ Smith to give the home side the win.
It was Phillips first goal for the Raiders so hopefully someone grabbed the puck for him at the end of the game.
MK scorers were Alex Whyte, Matt Roberts, Peter Burai, Jamie Randall and former Raider Jacob Ranson.
Wightlink Raiders had a great opportunity to get a win on the road in Invicta but allowed a four goal lead to slip as they got bogged down in penalty trouble.
Four consecutive powerplay goals brought the Dynamos level before they finished off the job with a 6-4 scoreline.
Matthew Vizzari scored two for Wightlink with Richard Facey and Corey Watkins also on target. For the Dynamos the goals came from a Callum Fowler hat trick and lone efforts from Marek Nahlik, Shaun Wild and Andy Smith.
The result gives the Dynamos a four point weekend and tops of a disappointing weekend for the Raiders.
Streatham bounced back from the disappointment of the night before as they came from behind to beat Milton Keynes Thunder 6-4 in Buckinghamshire.
Streatham scorers were Steven Fisher with two goals and Liam Rasmussen, Jamie McIlroy, Joe Johnston and Michal Oravec with one each.
Bradley Moore got a brace for the Thunder with Jamie Randall and Alex Whyte also on target.
Thunder goalie Denis Bell left the game midway through the third period after taking a Dom Hopkins slapshot to the shoulder. Bell went down injured as Joe Allen tried to hit the puck from under him and the referee awarded Allen a slashing major, believing it was the slash that caused the injury rather than Hopkins shot.
Common sense did not prevail and Allen got an early shower for his troubles.
In fairness the Thunder players and officials did clear it up with the officials after the game but it remained on the game sheet as a match penalty.
The new Solent & Gosport coach Steve Gannaway was an excellent defenseman and perhaps it was his influence that reduced Chelmsford to only two goals at Gosport Arena.
Sadly for the home support their team didn’t manage to get one past goalie Euan King at the other end and the Chieftains skated off with a vital 2-0 win.
After the game, Devils enforcer Adam Rich announced that he was leaving the team with immediate effect.
Michael Ranby scored his first goal since returning from long term injury and James Ayling got the other.
London Raiders made it an impressive four point weekend with a solid 5-3 road win over Bracknell despite being outshot 46 to 23.
This one was a close one that London edged thanks to a Jakub Klima hat trick and efforts from Tom Davis and Frankie Harvey. Bracknell goals came from Ilya Antonov, Peter Jasik and Danny Hughes.
The results mean that London move back up to fourth, and the top three teams are separated by only two points.
Saturday 19th January 2014
Cardiff NIHL Devils 9-2 Bracknell Hornets
London Raiders 9-5 MK Thunder
Streatham Redskins 2-7 Invicta Dynamos
Wightlink Raiders 3-4 Chelmsford Chieftains
Sunday 20th January 2014
MK Thunder 4-6 Streatham Redskins (played for cup and league points)
Invicta Dynamos 6-4 Wightlink Raiders
Solent & Gosport Devils 0-2 Chelmsford Chieftains
Bracknell Hornets 3-5 London Raiders
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