EPL roundup – week one of the 2012/13 season

SWINDON, UK – Last week D-man Steve Chalmers became the second player to leave the Tigers before the start of the season, having had an offer he couldn’t refuse from the Elite League Coventry Blaze. Coach Tom Watkins understandable was not happy and called the exit a ‘bombshell’ and philosophically added, ‘as a coach I want players who want to be here and are totally focussed on playing for the Tigers.’ Sadly this once again shows the true value of a contract and the impossible position a club finds itself in when faced with a contract requiring a player to appear when he is no longer interested. Shrugging shoulders, cutting losses and carrying on seems to be the order of the day.
 
Personally, while no one wants to hinder a career and you can’t blame a player for wanting to progress, I am reminded of the World War 1 story of the two British Army officers who were court martialled on returning to their own lines for escaping from the Germans after giving their word, as was the custom in those days, they wouldn’t. So no contract there, then, but it does illustrate the old value of committing by word of mouth only.
 
While digressing even further for a moment, it just seems to me if a club wants to poach an already-signed player it should recompense the losing club in some way. Failing that, let’s bring back the birch!
 
Meanwhile back in Telford, Watkins said he will look for a replacement although at this point in the season that’s obviously easier said than done. Were it an import Telford were after then they could do worse than either of Phoenix dropees Czech Jaroslav Spelda or Slovakian Ladislav Harabin.
 
Well, make that Spelda because the Jets’ Slava Koulikov made a great signing the same day in picking up top scoring Harabin as a replacement for the curiously dropped Juraj Senko. I say ‘curiously dropped’ because the Slovakian was signed and dropped almost in the same breath on the basis he had been carrying an injury which only came to light in a training session at the eleventh hour, yet it didn’t stop the Elite League’s Edinburgh Capitals signing him three breaths later. Bearing in mind Senko left the Tigers in July, so-say with an injury, he hasn’t done badly to now be in the Elite League even if it is temporarily to see how he copes.  
 
Another player with injury problems was Finn Timo Kuuluvainen, a new Phoenix import, who underwent knee surgery recently and wasn’t as recovered as expected. The club said the rehab was likely to take at least a month, so the Finnish forwards problems are bigger than he expected because the Phoenix dropped him – permanently. Into his stead came a former Czech junior international Michal Psurny who played last season for HC Olomouc in the Czech2 division.
 
Fitness was also still an issue for Coach Doug Sheppard who having taken a knock to the head in the pre-season, waited to the last minute to decide whether or not to take to the ice. In the end he did, but not so lucky were Wildcats’ netminder Tom Murdy who with a long term injury missed the start along with the Jets’ Terry Miles. Better fortune, however, smiled on Slough’s Michael Wales who having been released by the Lightning in May was made captain.
 
So the big day finally arrived and my old Grand-pappy, in a somewhat reflective and possibly even sombre mood, asked me to walk into town with him for our game of choice. He picked our route, a short cut along the old canal tow path, and about half way suddenly stopped and stared into the distance across the stagnant belt of water with it’s super market trolleys and other urban debris poking through the sludge. I looked at him questioningly, fearing he was going to have one of his nostalgic interludes. He saw my concern and nodded towards a distant derelict windmill. ‘Reminds me of the NASA Causeway when I visited the Space Centre before they changed the name from Cape Canaveral,’ he mused.
 
Oh dear. A long time ago, without doubt, but no monolithic gantry supporting a majestic rocket pointing skyward in anticipation as far as I could see. No excited onlookers with cameras pointed expectantly across the keys. And it was way too cold for Florida! Clearly Grand-pappy was having a Murray Walker moment.
 
I gently placed a hand on his shoulder and turned him so he was aiming at the other not-so-monolithic metal structure that is the ice rink, just visible above the trees. ‘It’s here, boy.’ He muttered, as we slowly moved on towards town. I looked around quickly thinking maybe we were being followed. Then under his breath I heard him quietly counting every few paces. ‘Ten…nine…eight,’ until we exited the trees across the car park from the rink where he raised his voice and declared: ‘We have lift off!’
 
Saturday, and lift off it was.
 
Just before six o’clock in the evening the new season was under way with the Wildcats facing the Phoenix. It wasn’t long, six minutes, in fact, before Swindon’s dynamic duo of Aaron Nell and Jonas H öö g had the home side in the lead, but the Phoenix’s new imports Michal Psurny and Joachim Flaten were equally impressive with the side showing the additional bit of polish which they converted into an extra point after a penalty shoot-out.
 
Despite a heavily imbalanced final scoreline the Tigers opened the scoring against the Flames and for half an hour made them work for their goals. But work they did, especially Curtis Huppe who picked up the first hat-trick of the season and 17-year-old Ben Edwards of the Guildford Phoenix who claimed an assist while Jaroslav Cesky for the Tigers also made his presence known.
 
 
The Jets were pretty much in command on home ice right from the start against the Steeldogs, which raised the question of whether the visitors missed Ozolins and Bowns.
 
In Basingstoke the Bees’ Scott Spearing had a funny five minutes and managed to put lots of penalty minutes into his purse before the Bison started the scoring although they only held the lead for barely ninety seconds. A minute later they were back in the driving seat and controlled things enough to ensure the Bees couldn’t find an answer.
 
Is this the new-look Phantoms we are going to see throughout the season? By the half hour they were leading the Lightning in the Ashes series and certainly not running scared. In fact, Chris Wiggins and Jozef Sladok found time to have words which saw the Slovakian leave the game to visit an optician, and Lightning’s Lukas Zatopek did not come out for the second period either having gone to hospital for an x-ray on his hand. And all in Milton Keynes, so the Phantoms get to do it all again on home soil, with a 2-goal lead.       
 
Sunday, and if you thought last night was a flash in the pan because the Lightning took an early lead, think again because after that it was all catch-up for a Lightning side that must be thanking their lucky stars it wasn’t four points at stake. The same scoreline ensured the Ashes went to Peterborough partly thanks to a goal from 17-year-old Jordan Cownie. But after last night’s injuries the blood bath continued with Maris Ziedins leaving the game with a suspected broken hand, followed by James Ferrara who required stitches in a split lip.
 
Steeldogs 5 – Wildcats 4 after overtime.
Oh dear, the Swindon curse struck again, this time in Sheffield. Nell once again started things rolling with the visitors 3p-up by the first break only to throw it all out the window in the second period in a script similar to the previous evening. In fact, similar to the same game last season. What was different, though, was the injury to Swindon’s D-man Shane Moore who was lucky not to lose an eye. Stories vary, as you would expect, with even disagreement about who was actually responsible and included some fanciful notions like the injury having been caused by a glove or even a helmet. Moore himself claimed he was struck with a stick, and the damage does appear to pretty much match the butt end.
      
The Phoenix faced the Bison in a clash of Titans with lots to suggest these two are going to have repeated similar battles throughout the season. While the Bison had the edge, and subsequently the pints, a lot of the credit must go to Bison netminder Stevie Lyle who should probably be mentioned in despatches for gymnastics above and beyond the call of duty.
 
Tonight the Bees, the second of last season’s bottom two teams, were fodder for a rampaging Flames, although you wouldn’t have said that in the first period while things were still equal. And while the Flames might have considered their opening weekend was not the toughest on the block, both their victims managed a similar number of shots on their goal. But it was the Flames’ David Longstaff who came away from the weekend the biggest winner with a massive seven points.
 
So while only seven league games in this opening weekend, still plenty of action, and with the Lightning and Phantoms joining the throng next week   even more to look forward to with the first full weekend of the season.
 
Can’t wait.  
 
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