SWINDON, UK – First off we take a look at last week’s situation in the EPL Top Tens Charts, that’s Week 8. It is worth bearing in mind not all the figures are readily available, so a speedy and perfect compilation is almost an impossibility which I mention for those who ask why a specific statistic might be missing.
The Flames’ David Longstaff remains the top EPL points scorer both in quantity and game average, and therefore also heads both the British player charts. While the Flames have three players in the top ten scoring chart – Longstaff, Huppe and Kohut – and the Wildcats have had two for several weeks in Aaron Nell and Jonas H öög, the Bees also have a second entry in Martin Masa while the Bison, Phoenix and Steeldogs all have one.
There was a change at the top of the goal scoring charts in that while the Flames’ Curtis Huppe still leads the EPL the Wildcats’ Nell has replaced Longstaff as the top Brit.
The Phoenix’s Tony Hand has taken over all four assist scoring charts, which was probably inevitable eventually.
No change in the top highest scoring D-men with the Bees’ Marcel Petran leading the EPL, and the Steeldogs’ Ben Morgan the top Brit.
The Bison’s Stevie Lyle still heads the netminding chart with the Jets’ Greg Rockman having been replaced by the Lightning’s Alex Mettam in second place.
No change at the top of the table with Steeldogs’ Derek Campbell the biggest penalty-taker in the league, and the Jets’ Adam Greener the baddest Brit.
Into the week and the Lightning’s Adam Calder, who suffered a fractured a hip in a game against the Tigers, was reported to be ‘in discomfort’ but in ‘good spirits’ and scheduled to see a specialist shortly to plan his recuperation. You might think hip injuries are rarely experienced by hockey players, but according to the Steadman Philippon Research Institute in Colorado where they are currently studying this type of injury the problem is ‘epidemic’. Basically, there seems to be two predominant reasons: injuries occur most frequently in late teens when a player is still growing and the physical side of the game increases, and, compared to ten years ago when kids were likely to a play a sport all year depending on the season, now they are now tending to specialize in a single sport and play to a higher level. Hip injuries are common in the NHL with the Boston Bruins general manger Peter Chiarelli estimating 70% of his players having hip problems of some sort. While clearly the more serious the injury the longer the recovery period, so we are talking months rather than weeks, it doesn’t have to be a career-ending matter.
Not wanting to wait weeks, let alone months, the Lightning announced the signing of Czech forward Kamil Trek. The former junior international has never played in Britain before and, in fact, has barely stepped outside of his homeland to play with just a season in Slovakia since starting his career in 1999.
Following last weekend’s carnage in Manchester the Steeldogs made some changes too. Out went netminder Dmitri Zimozdra for parts unknown and signed in his stead was James Flavell from the NIHL Bellingham Stars. Flavell has never played in the EPL apart from two recent appearances for his new master, and has been chosen over 18-year-old Brad Day the existing backup and a GBU18 international to boot. While the Steeldogs pointed out they did not consider Zimozdra at fault for the teams current poor form, you can’t help but wonder if the alarming number of penalty minutes the team sustains is a factor. The Steeldogs currently have a penalty tally about a hundred minutes higher than the next nearest club, and while their physical style paid off last season all this extra time in the box isn’t being balanced by goals at present. However, owner Shane Smith published a statement in support of coach Andre Payette so it could be there are further changes in the pipeline, or maybe not if the side stick to their ‘made in Sheffield’ policy.
Someone who won’t be contributing to the side any further regardless of what happens is forward Tom Squires who having made the odd appearance for Hull Stingrays in the Elite League moved over for the rest of the season. It might be remembered Squires came from the EIHL Steelers just a season ago and was followed by some rather silly criticism and whinging which apparently has now proved to have been well founded by this recent move. Yawn.
Another player on the move, only this time incoming, is Dean Holland who signed for the Flames from NIHL Whitley Warriors and prior to that EIHL Dundee Stars. Holland is not quite new to the EPL having played a few games for the Phoenix and Tigers, but has plenty of time in the Elite League under his belt. Coach Paul Dixon welcomed the ‘gritty dimension to the character of the team’ his presence will bring’ which makes you wonder where that leaves Andrew Sharp.
Then we had the head-shaking treatment involving the Tigers again as another player left for warmer climes. Czech D-man Tomas Fojtik, who had barely closed the front door behind him, walked out the back door to the Swindon Wildcats. OK, so Tigers’ coach Tom Watkins says he was approached by the Wildcats about a possible move, but really what choice did he have? I guess he could have insisted on the player seeing out his notice period and then not played him which would have at least ensured the Tigers didn’t have to play against him, which is what happened.
And so on to the mid-week game.
Lightning 3 – Jets 2
This story actually started a few hours before face-off with the news of the Lightning’s replacement for the injured Adam Calder, Kamil Tvrdek. Not just happy with naming the player, the Lighting declared he would take to the ice this evening never mind he was still on the plane from the Czech Republic. This probably came as a bit of a surprise to the Jets who would have been expecting their opponents to be an import light on top of the absent Leigh Jamieson who was with the GB side in Japan. But play Tvrdek did, and crowned his debut with the winning goal after the Lightning had come from behind twice to reside at least for a few days in third place in the league table.
So on to Saturday and Week 8 games.
Bison 3 – Flames 1
An even first period with just a goal from Flames’ Ben Campbell must have been comforting to his coach Paul Dixon who had complained recently about his sides missing consistency this season. But in the second period the Bison turned the screw and despite having lost Joe Greener to injury, Mark Lee in the visitor’s net faced nineteen shots to Stevie Lyle’s four. That’s actually a lot of shots to produce one goal, and way above Lee’s average, so a sterling effort. But more importantly it was the equaliser which inspired the Bison on with their momentum to two more goals early in the third period, including a first for Jaroslav Cesky in Bison colours, in a game barely even touched by a penalty. Ah, what gentlemen.
Wildcats 4 – Tigers 2
The Wildcats added Tomas Fojtik in the week to strengthen the back, but the game still followed a familiar pattern as the home side went into a lead – three goals this time – after twenty-two minutes and then proceeded to give it away. The Tigers, while comfortably outshot in those early minutes, went on to cause enough problems for the Wildcats that had they not been sunk by an empty net goal in the dying seconds, they might well have picked up a point. Or two.
Jets 2 – Lighting 0
In the first period Greg Rockman took a peppering in the Jets’ goal, while Alex Mettam in the Lightning net sat back and read a magazine in a scrappy half an hour which attracted almost all the 72-minutes in penalties. Then the Jets took the lead with a powerplay goal although things were still pretty tightly contested into the third period when it was Mettam who came under increasing pressure. It started with a Matt Towalski goal and as the visitors lost focus Rockman had time to glance at his Racing Post as the Jets gained revenge for their mid-week loss in Milton Keynes and Rockman his second shut-out of the season.
Phoenix 7 – Phantoms 5
The Phoenix scored after just 27 seconds, but Phantoms caused Steve Fone to make early saves and for a while it looked like this would be a game with a bit of fire, especially with Ondrej Lauko’s equaliser after fourteen minutes. But then it all went a bit flat for the visitors in a second period Coach Jon Kynaston described as ‘awful’ as Robert Schnabel sent in two cannons in two minutes into the Phantoms’ net and Andrew McKinney added two more. In P3 the Phoenix stopped bothering to look back knowing there was no one chasing them, then all of a sudden there was! In a startling change of pace the Phantoms were biting Phoenix heels and for a while even suggested they might like a point. Then Schnabel got whacked with an imaginative 10+game plus 20+game for abuse, and James Archer put any ideas of Phantom points to bed in the last minute which gave the Phoenix an eight-game home-winning run.
Steeldogs 6 – Bees 3
After the recent loss of direction the Steeldogs bounced back in the fashion we have all grown to know and, er, love. The stiff talking to the boys must have been given in the week by Coach Payette paid off, although they didn’t get things all their own way. With three goals in the opening seven minutes it was the Bees who appeared to be making the running as they scored twice against new netminder James Flavel in only five shots. But after equalising just before the first break from then on the Steeldogs were in control and outshot the Bees almost 2-1 with four of their six goals coming on powerplays. What must have been pleasing for Payette was the number of his Brits who were in the points, particularly Steve Duncombe with a pair of goals, and a move up a place in the table. And on to Sunday.
Phantoms 4 – Wildcats 3 after overtime
Now, where did I put that formula? Oh yes, the Wildcats start well, take a lead, and then lose it. Like Saturday the Wildcats went three goals up, and also like Saturday against a lower placed side which then got the better of them. The Phantoms started a bit disorganised, especially at the back, and failed to capitalise on the Wildcats’ loss for ten minutes each of Tomas Fojtik and Chris Jones who tried to help straighten things out by checking from behind. But the Phantoms were also trying to stick to their formula that almost paid off against the Phoenix of running around headless and coming back strongly in the final period. But, again like the previous night, they cut it fine. So fine, in fact, that when Jozef Sladok scored at the end the clock was showing zero according to both players and fans. But never mind, it was reset and the Phantoms went on to win in overtime against a Wildcats side that instead of wrapping things up sooner, like they should have, lost for a seventh occasion after regular time.
Flames 3 – Bison 2
A double-header involving these two sides was always going to be tight, and tight is was. Unlike the first clash, this time it was Guildford netminder Mark Lee who faced the much lower number of shots, and while the Flames looked to have shifted the inconsistency bug out of their system they still had to come from behind twice. But they were up to the challenge although it was only in the final minute that Jez Lundin broke the deadlock that balanced the books for the weekend with the points shared.
Tigers 4 – Phoenix 1
Things did start oddly with the bizarre is-he-or-isn’t-he-playing penalty called on Phoenix’s Schnabel last night having been deciphered that he was. And he did. Now you might have thought that with all their recent troubles with players coming and going stability was going to be harder to overcome than, say, the high-flying Phoenix. But not so. Coach Tom Watkins must have been up late with his book of spells in the week because Luke Brittle was a welcome return from injury this weekend and the magic that was the Tigers tonight was spellbinding and affected the whole team. It was the sort of performance that, had you had to single out an individual for praise you would have had to choose the whole benchload. And it wasn’t as though the Phoenix played badly; they made the Tigers work for the win, but were just out-played.
Bees 4 – Jets 5
Jets’ new boy Tomas Valecko seems to be settling in alright because he opened the scoring after three minutes, and although the visitors added a second by the first break things were once again level. In the second period the trend was reversed with the Bees taking a 2-goal lead only to again end the period all square. The Jets sewed it up in the third period thanks to Towalski which gave them a 4-point weekend and just what the doctor ordered. But this was a game which hinged on the powerplay. All four of the Bees goals were scored in this way from their six opportunities, while only one for the Jets from their two.
Steeldogs 2 – Lightning 3 after penalties
OK, so it wasn’t a home win but a great improvement on recent form and gave the Steeldogs a welcome 3-point weekend. Ashley Calvert gave the home side the lead which was followed by Andre Payette explaining the meaning of life to Grant McPherson which some say now wipes the Coventry slate clean. Others say, who cares? Around half-way an exchange of goals including a superb unassisted short-handed effort from Adam Brittle still left the Steeldogs with the edge. Then in the third Nick Poole tied things for the visitors which is how this scrappy game stayed until the Lightning clinched it on penalties.
To end, how could you not mention the wonderful achievement of the GB team after a successful weekend in Japan saw them take a step closer towards the Olympic Games? Being an EPL site it was particularly pleasing to see the Flames’ David ‘Lobby’ Longstaff reach an incredible 100 international caps while competing in the pre-qualifying tournament.
Now 38, and playing as well as ever because he still scores points, Longstaff commented, ‘I am so proud to reach 100 caps. It is a very special feeling.’ Following victory over Rumania, the occasion which clocked the magic number, GB Coach Tony Hand said, ‘I am so pleased for David Longstaff. It was fantastic to get a win to mark his 100th cap.’
But we should also acknowledge the contribution of the only other EPL player in the side, the Lightning’s Leigh Jamieson who, like Longstaff, was also in the points. And, of course, the Phoenix’s Tony Hand whose fingers on the helm kept it all pointing in the right direction.
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