SWINDON, UK – Now there’s interesting for you. The week started with news from the Wildcats that coach Ryan Aldridge had decided the time was right to hang up his skates. Well, not so much giving the trusty tools away as coating them in wax and sliding them into a dark corner under the stairs. Why? Because Aldridge insists he is not retiring but wants to concentrate on his coaching role but is quite happy to take to the ice in the case of injury emergencies.
Apparently the plan is something he has considered for some time, even as far back as five years ago when he was with the Bison and, in fact, he made a similar attempt a couple of years ago only to be thwarted early in the season and found himself a regular slot back on the ice. But, this time he feels the Wildcats are strong enough to accommodate the plan, and at 34 and strongly committed to training juniors including a recent commitment to the Swindon based Okanagan Hockey Academy, you can understand his thinking.
But whether or not the Wildcats are in fact strong enough to ride the few dings that will undoubtedly arise remains to be seen, but with names as big as Hoog and Nell, last season’s top two points scorers on average, at least it is a sound foundation on which to test the structure, and, of course, Aldridge’s freedom to bench coach to his heart’s content should also produce its rewards.
Another big name to which eyes will be drawn came to light in Milton Keynes with the announcement forward Adam Calder had finally joined their ranks. Calder had been pencilled in weeks ago after he quit the Jets in May and Coach Nick Poole revealed he had tried on several previous occasions to secure the Canadian’s signature so was naturally ‘absolutely thrilled’ with the acquisition. Not surprising when the player ended last season as a top three points scorers and sixth highest goal scorer.
Another side happy with a big signing was the Phoenix who recaptured the signature of captain Luke Boothroyd, who ended last season as a top ten British D-man on points scoring, and returns to the Phoenix for a fifth season. The Phoenix also saw the arrival of British forward Richie Bentham who had re-signed for the Phantoms in May but almost immediately requested a release. However, the Manchester side said goodbye to James Spurr, who provided some injury cover last time out, and has now signed for NIHL Sutton Sting.
The Phantoms did, however, manage to secure the services of GBU18 Dan Lane, who played a couple of times for the senior side last season while with the NIHL Islanders, but now steps up to become their second netminder and partner to Damien King.
The Tigers were also playing swapsies with the signing of 20-year-old British forward James Preece from the Cardiff Devils NIHL side, but said farewell to Tom Castle who headed for Chelmsford Chieftains also in the NIHL.
The only other signing of the week was in Sheffield where the Steeldogs finally replaced last season’s top netminder Ben Bowns with Russian-born Dmitri Zimozdra who returns as starter after two previous seasons for the club.
With more pre-season fixtures announced, including a re-run of the 4×4 tournament in Basingstoke and just four weeks to go until things start to become serious, it is interesting to take a gander at what places are left to fill.
While no side has yet made a statement to the effect a roster is complete, the Flames and Steeldogs are looking about as close as anyone to that target. Guildford has the luxury of five imports, and with thirteen Brits, including two netminders. But with ten forwards, four of which are foreigners, it could be another Brit will be squeezed in to allow for the restrictions governing import appearances. The Steeldogs, meanwhile, have eighteen on board including the more unusual arrangement of a brace of imports up front and another at the back making a total of eight in defence. They have still, of course, to declare a second netminder, and possibly another British forward.
The Lightning and Phantoms, with seventeen apiece, presumably have their full import and goalie quotas, but still have a little space to fill. As we have come to expect the Phoenix are playing things close to the chest with only one import named, and several gaps still evident along the blue line. But it is the Jets who trail the pack with only thirteen places so far filled and, apart from netminders, have gaps in defence, imports and up front.
So that leaves the Tigers, Bison, Bees and Wildcats all with import space and gaps elsewhere but with thirty imports places filled and nearly one hundred and thirty Brits signed, it is easy to see how close things are as we head into the final furlong.
There are, of course, still some big question marks dangling over names such as Leigh Jamieson, Viktor Kubenko, Jaroslav Spelda, Greg Chambers and Jaroslav Cesky. To try and arrive at a sensible opinion of what the next few weeks will hold for these players, I rather foolishly posed the question to my old Grand-Pappy who felt he could best reply in the words of his favourite sports commentator Murray Walker. When I say ‘words’ I mean much more than just a quote because I have to confess he does a mean impression with the aid of a few pints of Hamilton’s Harbinger inside him and offered, in response to the question of what the last lap would produce, ‘We are into lap 53, the penultimate last lap but one.’
So that cleared that up, then. For more EPL facts and figures, stats, news and a headline mailing list take a look at www.iceman-epl.com