SWINDON, UK – So, we entered the first week which included EPL-related hockey as the Tigers played their first warm-up game of the season and scored a 10-1 victory over the NIHL Blackburn Eagles. While I don’t suppose too much should be read into this game, which incidentally is being played while the Telford rink awaits completion of its refit, what we can read into is some other news from the Tigers’ camp a few days before. I refer, of course, to the filling of their final import slot.
During Friday evening the announcement was made concerning the acquisition of US forward Patrick Greene, who signed on from the highly competitive American College system where he has accumulated some respectable figures, and makes his first trip out of the United States. So, very nice, thank you very much, that wraps up the import quota, and good night.
Not quite. Ninety minutes later the Tigers dropped a bombshell with the news that not only had they added a fifth foreign player to the roster, but the name in the frame was Czech forward Jaroslav Cesky who surprisingly had been dropped by the Wildcats. Cesky is not just a big name, seeing as he has been an EPL top scorer both for the Wildcats and before that the Bees, but is a real work horse and not averse to standing up and being counted if the situation arises. But, in the case of the Tigers, he is not so much a big name as a huge one and possibly the most important signing the club has ever made. But don’t take my word for it because Coach Tom Watkins said, “He is the biggest signing we have made as a club and hopefully he will prove what a great player he is.” There is also another side to Cesky, and it may be remembered that when approaching his second season with the Bees and their money problems he made a statement to the effect he so loved his sport he would be willing to play for less money. While not many players would let that be known, and there are those who would take advantage of that if they did, it just goes to show what a heck of a decent guy he is and I for one hope he has a stupendous season and brings the Tigers even more robustly into the middle ground.
Meanwhile, the Jets, who have been trailing in the rebuild ‘race’ added two more names to their roster. British forwards Alex Barker, after seven years in Bracknell and four with the Bees, and Matt Towalski, a previous Jets’ player but for the last seven years with the Lightning, both joined the Jets’ squad. The Jets now look to have their forwards sorted out, and with two netminders means just a couple more names to add to the blue line and they can call it a day.
A side that looks like it has already called it a day, although as yet have only confirmed that of its imports, is the Phoenix. This week saw them add the final two names with the addition of Finnish forward Timo Kuuluvainen, who joined from playing in France for his first season in British hockey, and Czech D-man Ondrej Pozivil, who joins after eleven seasons in his homeland. That means the Manchester side have changed all four of last season’s imports despite the fact Slovakian Juraj Faith was a leading points scorer, Slovenian Martin Cingel was a leading goal scorer, and both Czech Jaroslav Spelda and Slovenian Ladislav Harabin were leading D-men. That might sound odd, or even scary if you consider Coach Tony Hand must feel he has a little something up his sleeve if he can trump that lot.
The Wildcats, however, did announce the completion of their roster with the signing of netminder Dean Skinns, who arrived part way through last season after a short spell with the Bison, to provide injury cover for Tom Murdy.
Also completing, according to the club, were the Phantoms, although not without a curious twist concerning their former D-man James Morgan.
Morgan is now 30 and a Peterborough native who first played for the Pirates back in 1996 aged fourteen and, two years later, made the GBU18 squad and the following year the GBU20 team. While moving around a bit since, his last four playing seasons were with the Phantoms until he left under a bit of a cloud and never played anywhere last season. But, love him or hate him, for that is what he seems to inspire in the fans, he made it clear back in April he would like to do what it took to smooth a return to the Phantoms, part of which was to keep up his fitness and training, hich he has been doing.
Coach Kynaston says he has discussed the situation with Morgan, and, in fact, has even invited him to train with the senior squad during August, so presumably he would like him back. But according to the club, the reality is the budget is ‘exhausted.’ While an alternative funding arrangement hasn’t been ruled out, why, I ask myself, were five defensive players signed since Morgan first made it known he wanted to return? No one seems to doubt his ability, and I don’t suppose Kynaston will lose much sleep worrying about managing the wayward player, so what is really going on?
Seeing as I am as capable of seeing a conspiracy theory under the bed as the next person, I wonder if this is simply a scheme to facilitate his return but ensure any potential arguments over money can’t arise? Or is it merely a cunning plan to extend a budget which could have included Morgan months ago, by placing the decision and any possible gamble in employing him, outside of the club? Interesting.
Anyway, not quite as clandestine is the subject of where the current state of the sides leaves us with the bulk of the pre-season games just days away and not many shopping days left? Well, five teams have declared full rosters, that is the Flames, Lightning, Bison, Phantoms and Wildcats, although they have yet to announce a captain. Elsewhere, the Bees look like they might go for another forward, and the Steeldogs need another netminder, while the Jets probably want to plug a gap in the blue line. The Phoenix could well be complete, as could the Tigers but again have still to announce a captain. So not much left to do as the countdown continues.
And finally, the week wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the Steve Moria testimonial match in Basingstoke where a Mo19 side took on the Bison and came out on top in what was something of a goalfest. There simply is no point in me trying to describe what Steve has accomplished as a player or done for British hockey, having already completed my own short article which is currently on my site, but it is probably fair to say we are going to have to go some way before anyone else turns up quite like him.
So with best wishes to the great man for a peaceful, healthy and happy retirement, I close the Roundup for another week. For more EPL facts and stats, news and a headline mailing list take a look at www.iceman-epl.com