SWINDON, UK – The Wildcats’ Jonas H öö g is still at the top of the EPL points scorers chart with Flames’ David Longstaff in second place and the top Brit. He has two other Brits hot on his heels in Steeldogs’ Greg Wood and teamate Aaron Nell with Shaun Thompson of the Bees close behind. On game average, though, it is Longstaff who leads with 2.43 points per game. H öö g, Wood and the Flames’ Jozef Kohut are all on a two-point average or better, and that is something only two players achieved consistently by the end of last season when it was Nell and Kohut.
In goal scoring it is Longstaff and Wood who jointly lead the EPL from Nell and H öög , but only by having played one fewer game. In the Brit chart Lightning’s Leigh Jamieson has moved up a tad to number five, and the Tigers’ James Preece is still there. A similar situation pertains in the game average chart where the three plus the Flames’ Curtis Huppe are the only players scoring at least one goal per game. With Thompson also in attendance that’s a strong showing by the Brits with five placed in the top ten.
In the Assists Chart, it is the Bees’ Martin Masa who has been replaced by H öö g with Longstaff moving into second place followed by the Phoenix’s Tony Hand. In the Brit chart Longstaff and Hand hold joint first place. No change on game average with Kohut at the top of the EPL Assists, and the Jets’ Slava Koulikov heading the Brit chart.
Netminding is still led by the Bison’s Stevie Lyle, who despite that mid-week shut-out is going to take some shaking to get him from the top of the tree. However, the Flames’ Mark Lee took a bit of a knock after the previous weekend’s results and has been replaced at number 2 by the Jet’s Greg Rockman. The Phantoms Damien King made another step upwards to number three.
The Steeldogs’ Derek Campbell has secured a spot at the top of the EPL penalty minutes charts, while Adam Greener of the Jets has finally ousted the Bees’ Scott Spearing at the top of the Brit charts. Interestingly, the Phantoms’ Jozef Sladok entered the top ten while the remainder are basically all the usual suspects.
There was no change in the EPL leading D-men with the Bee’s Marcel Petran still the highest scorer, but in the Brit chart it is Steeldogs’ Ben Morgan, at number 4 in the EPL, who has taken over the running from the Flames’ Jez Lundin. It is also interesting to note two Phantoms’ players – James Hutchinson and Tom Norton had also entered the Brit chart.
Into the week and it was injury news which dominated the league last week with the Phantoms losing Joe Graham for a month with a shoulder injury, Bracknell announcing Ollie Bronnimann wouldn’t be back for another two weeks at least, and the Wildcats losing Shane Moore again. But it wasn’t all bad news because Lightning’s Chris Wiggins and the Wildcats’ Michal Kapicka were both expected to return, which they did.
As a comparison, there were eight injuries in September last season which resulted in a player at minimum leaving a game early. Probably the worst afflicted was the Wildcats’ Sam Bullas who received a sternoclavicular injury and was out for six weeks, while the remainder were strains, ligament damage and hernias.
This season during September, however, there were twenty absences, with three from injuries prior to the season even starting. Of the other seventeen, bearing in mind there are very few official details released, the one you would probably least like to experience must have been the sudden removal of five-and-a-half teeth formerly belonging to the Wildcats’ Michal Kapicka, who took an accidental stick. Kapicka wasn’t wearing the optional gum shield/mouth guard which might sound irresponsible or even reckless until you understand that some players find them not just uncomfortable but actually restrict breathing. You might want to pause here and consider those options, get a feel for experiencing the accident, if you will, and then consider if a bar of some sort attached to the helmet along the lines of American football headgear might be a reasonable alternative to a mouthful of blood and teeth.
However, there have been other hits to the head like Shane Moore engaging with the end of a stick with his eye, and living to fight another day with no more than a sliced eyelid which could easily have been a lost eye or a concussion. Bracknell’s Sam Oakford also encountered a stick to the face, as did Bison’s Tomas Fojtik, while Oakford’s team mate Rob Lamey had a hit to the head. So that’s five injuries involving the head so far plus a couple of incidents of concussion and you have equalled last season’s total without having ventured below the neck.
That’s a worrying trend particularly as some of those injuries didn’t attract any penalties even with the blood and other bodily flotsam on the ice. That isn’t to imply any official was negligent or that players are now deliberately targeting the head as it could all come down to the extra pressure of a more competitive league and referees being unsighted.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see if October continues the trend, which certainly appears the case, with five head injuries so far and only three for the whole month last season. So on to Saturday and the first five-game single evening of the season.
Wildcats 5 – Steeldogs 6 after overtime
You might have thought after two excellent wins against top teams, the Wildcats would be feeling cocky on their own ice, but the visiting Steeldogs soon put paid to that. For half an hour the Wildcats were shoved into playing by the Steeldogs’ rules with almost all the eighty-odd penalty minutes being accounted for in that time, and pretty much just Nicky Watt offering much in the way of comparable resistance as they relied on the belief skill would overcome all. And while they did in fact show plenty of potential, the Steeldogs, famous for upsetting that approach, once again showed why with the added bit of flash of their own.
Flames 2 – Phoenix
A tight enough start even though the Flames had double the shots on goal in the first period. It continued that way with a more even middle period until double the shots again in the third which started with a goal apiece in 12 seconds. In the end an impressive road win for the Phoenix which was light on penalties and heavy on skill and although they took the lead three times, they lost it only twice with Scott McKenzie sealing the matter with an empty net goal to give the Phoenix a run of five wins. The Flames, on the other hand, find themselves with five teams above them in the league table, and a losing run of four games.
Jets 6 – Bees 4
With Greg Rockman missing young Danny Milton was thrown into the netminding breach for his first start and where he performed exceptionally and achieved a 91.3% save rate. While the first period belonged to the Jets, the Bees were right back in it during the middle stint which saw Jets’ boss Slava Koulikov take an early shower for a high stick infringement on Andy Munroe. This was shortly followed by Martin Masa taking a trip to hospital for catching a puck in the face which resulted in 20 stitches, and then Matt Foord for seven stitches. The final period was contested enthusiastically and saw two goals from the Jets and Frantisek Bakrlik complete a hat-trick. But the Bees could only manage one goal in reply although they did collect a ten minute penalty for Scott Spearing, his third of the season, in a game that clocked up over 80 minutes in penalties.
Bison 4 – Tigers 3
It really did look like tonight was going to be the Tigers’ night which saw the visitors up by a goal after a minute although the Bison took the lead to end the period. In the second spell the Tigers were strong enough to end the period back in the lead, and they held on to it through the third until with just three minutes to go the Bison not just pulled it back but snatched the winner with seconds to spare. While the Tigers have come close to a point already this season, this admirable performance must have left them wondering just what else needs to be done to pop a point in the bag. Perhaps a home game might be the answer, which is now only a week away.
Lightning 4 – Phantoms 1
Going by the scoreline it really did look like the Lightning were way too strong for the visitors with three unanswered goals under their belts by the half way point and going on to clock up a forth win on the trot. But in fact it was not the best of performances from the home side, and you also couldn’t help wondering what was going on, or not going on as was the case with the Phantoms and particularly with their imports. But one flash of nimble brilliance came just before the second break when sixteen-year-old Lewis Hook scored his first EPL point with a goal, but sadly for the Phantoms it wasn’t anywhere near the answer they were looking for and gave them a 5-game losing run and the lowest scoring rate in the league at just over a goal a game on average.
So on to Sunday.
Phantoms 5 – Lightning 2
Cor, blimey, guv. What a difference a nice cup of tea and a good night’s sleep makes. Or, in the case of Jozef Sladok, it might have been the mouse Coach Kynaston slipped down the back of his boxers because he came out looking for something to kill and found instead the high stick Adam Calder put in his face. Calder took a walk but by the end of the period after some rough and tumbling Sladok himself went that way as well. But the tone had been set for a much more aggressive performance from the Phantoms than the night before. In P2, by which time the Lightning were 2-goals down, they came back with a powerplay goal but the Phantoms bounced straight back while short-handed. By the end of the period the Lightning were looking more threatening even with the hole left by Calder. But of course the Phantoms also had a hole at the back with Sladok on the bus home which they filled with some juggling and then filled the Lightning hole with more goals.
Phoenix 4 – Flames 3 after overtime
The Phoenix, having apparently now found top gear with a win in Guildford the previous night paused for reflection by going a goal behind after five minutes. It then took them to the halfway mark and two quick goals to take the lead, which they subsequently lost by the end of the period. There were chances enough on both sides but it was the Phoenix who went back into the lead seven minutes into the final period only to see the Flames pull Mark Lee from the net, a tactic which paid off in the dying seconds and ensured the game went into overtime. Even then it was tight although the Phoenix got it with a minute to go and extended their winning run to six games and moved their chairs to the head of the table.
Bees 3 – Wildcats 2 after penalties
The Bees must have been feeling a bit delicate after the physical bashing of the night before, but with a 2-1 lead after just eight minutes it looked anything but a cruise was on the cards. But that was how it ended up for the remaining two periods which were so close you couldn’t have slipped a piece of paper between the two sides, but almost sedate with a final tally of just one shot on goal in it. The Bees, though, needed to end their dry spell while the Wildcats needed to prove recent impressive wins were no fluke. In the end they both made a night of it by stretching things as far as sudden death penalties where the Bees took both points thanks to Lukas Smital on the tenth attempt.
After Saturday’s games Bison went to top of the league table and also took over from the Flames as the side with the widest margin between goals scored and conceded. But by Sunday night the Bison had slipped into the number 2 spot as the Phoenix took over at the top of the table. There are still only four points separating the top eight clubs, however, although the Jets in third place have the most games in hand. Now, with predicting become more of an art than a science even the Phantoms, if they can maintain their vigour, and the Tigers once they have settled into their new home and can benefit from home training and fans, are not that far out of it.
In a week’s time we see the first ten-game weekend and with the Tigers facing the Phantoms in one of those encounters, not to mention who knows what might happen, who knows what might happen?
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