SWINDON, UK – In the EPL points scoring tables for week 19 it was the Wildcats’ Aaron Nell who took over from team mate Jonas Höög and so leads the league both in totals and by game average. The Flames’ David Longstaff is still harrying him along with Höög , but then the buffer is fairly comfortable especially in the Brit chart where the Bison’s recent GB selection Greg Owen is some 20-odd points adrift along with fellow GB reserve Leigh Jamieson from the Lightning.
In goal-scoring Nell replaced the Flames’ Curtis Huppe at the head of the league chart, but remains the leading British player and is one of only two players, along with Huppe, with a goal per game average. The Phoenix’s Tony Hand is still the leading assist-scorer all round with just Longstaff and Nell even close enough to look like a threat although by game average there are a few more knocking at the door.
The Jet’s Mindy Kieras has extended his lead as the highest scoring D-man, and it is finally looking like the ex-Bees’ Marcel Petran might loose even his second place in the coming week. But as far as British D-men go there is no change in the points’ difference in the top few with the Steeldogs’ Ben Morgan still two points ahead of the pack.
The penalty-taking leader is still Phantoms’ Jozef Sladok who didn’t move forward in the week which allowed the Steeldogs’ Andre Payette to close in at second place with the Jets’ Adam Greener, still the leading Brit, dropping to third. Sladok and Payette are the only two players in the EPL with a game average above five minutes per game.
So, into the week and the first of the EPL Cup semi-final legs with the Jets playing host to the Bison. At Jets 3 – Bison 2 the visitors probably won’t be too displeased. A pair of goals just after half way for Frankie Bakrlik set the Jets up nicely and an exchange of goals early in the third period kept it looking like the Jets were gong to end the leg with the decent buffer. But, with less than two minutes to go Greg Owen pocketed and made sure there is still everything to play for. In the league the Bison have won all four games against the Jets, including twice in Slough and three times without too much trauma, so the result just goes to show what being a Cup game can do to the form book.
Talking of the Jets, the Steeldogs released Ukrainian D-man Pavel Gomeniuk who promptly turned up in Slough where Czech D-man Tomas Valecko was released to make way. The two have a similar scoring record, but Gomeniuk attracts noticeably more penalties so perhaps he was signed for his extra cuddly disposition.
In Swindon there was bad news for the Wildcats with the departure of Matias Perkkiö who has returned to Finland for family reasons and, according to the club, will be absent for the ‘foreseeable future’. This, of course, is on top of the recent move to the Bison of Nicky Watt, and the long-term injuries to Lee Richardson and Jamie Hayes.
In Milton Keynes Canadian player/coach nick Poole decided to step down, or should that be sideways, from the ice to the bench and make way for another import. Into that breach quickly came another Finn Janne Jokila from FPS in Finland3 league. Poole, now 39 and having been in Milton Keynes since his days with the Kings in 1999, hasn’t ruled out providing injury cover, but in his eleventh years with the Lightning feels the time is right to devote his energies to coaching the side he obviously cares about.
There was some GB news as national coach Tony Hand announced the names of his pruned Olympic squad now down to 22 players. With the Flames’ David Longstaff at 38 deciding to call it a day on his international career after over a hundred caps, the only name to get through the cut was the Bison’s Greg Owen. The other EPL players with an honourable mention are Aaron Nell (Wildcats), Leigh Jamieson (Lightning) and Stevie Lyle (Bison) who all made the reserves.
One definite additional good piece of international news was the announcement the Olympic International Committee has made a grant of $100,000 for Ice Hockey UK for the men’s team in Russia. While there are a few who consider the amount derisory, it should be acknowledged that as a minority sport in the UK it is at least a start and better than the metaphorical poke in the eye awarded previously.
Saturday, and while the weather might be struggling to return to normal, that is dismal, wet and dull, the EPL was anything but normal with a couple of unexpected results.
For instance, who would have expected the Bees to go to Manchester and not just win but deny the Phoenix a goal with a result of Phoenix 0 – Bees 2 . Bracknell netminder Carl Ambler gained his first shutout of the season after facing over forty shots thereby continuing where he left off against the Bison a week ago. And with Steve Fone still injured it was Jorge El-Hage who took the brunt of the punishment but still managed an excellent save rate. The Bees harried and unsettled the Phoenix who were more like a youngster trying to learn to ride a 2-wheeled bike in that every time they looked like climbing aboard, they wobbled and fell off. So three cheers for the Bees for a first victory against the Phoenix this season, and, in fact, the first ever in Altringham!
Then there was Lightning 2 – Flames 1 which remained close enough with just a power-play goal by Michael Farn early in P2 keeping the two apart until four minutes from time when Adam Brittle extended the lead and the Flames bit back on a power-play. But after two previous losses against the Flames the Lightning looked more composed despite missing several key players, although it must be too soon to judge how much that is due to Nick Poole now coaching from the bench, particularly as the Flames produced a comfortable higher ratio of shots on goal.
In Basingstoke the Bison faced the Phantoms and after a closely fought first period the Phantoms fell off their bike in the middle stint with five unanswered goals including a first hat-trick from Bison’s Greg Owen to give the home side a comfortable Bison 5 – Phantoms 1 victory, their fifth from five games this season. Connor Standing made a late appearance in the Bison goal as did Daniel Lane for the Phantoms, but for slightly differing reasons, although it did produce the Phantoms’ late goal to save the shut-out.
The Wildcats faced the Jets in Slough with both sides having to do a bit of mix and match with players coming and going in the week. But at Jets 4 – Wildcats 6 it didn’t seem to bother the visitors as they took an early 2-goal lead. Around half way things opened up as the Jets pulled one back then the Wildcats lost Shane Moore for ten minutes for a check from behind but still managed a power-play goal followed by a second from the Jets thanks to a 5-on-3. Things went a bit awry in the third with both Henri Sandvik picking up ten minutes and Frankie Bakrlik 2+10 for a check to the head, but with Rockman pulled, having faced only 28 shots to Dean Skinns with 46, an empty net goal sealed it.
Tigers 4 – Steeldogs 6 was not a scoreline the homeside can be happy about in any sense, not just because it was thirteenth home loss on the trot, but even with four goals under their belts and outshooting their opponents comfortably they still squandered chances the Steeldogs punished. In particular Lubomir Korhon made them pay with his first hat-trick, the final goal short-handed, followed by a second short-handed goal six minutes later from Edgars Bebris. But whether or not this is a sustainable second wind for the Steeldogs as they try to stabilize their side following more disruption, is still too early to say.
So on to Sunday and another full set of games.
Too early to say, or is it? Steeldogs 3 – Lightning 2 was a great result for the home side and gave them a home-winning run of three games, their best to date, while it produced for the Lightning their worst away losing sequence of the season of five games. On the plus side for the visitors new import Janne Jokila was in the points, but there were also questions raised like at 40 years of age was Nicky Chinn really the right person to have been signed for so-say muscle, bearing in mind he left the game injured in the early minutes and his younger boss has just retired? Also, with Leigh Jamieson appearing to be taking a more physical role recently which on this occasion saw him expelled before a period was completed, you can’t help wondering if that is a wise use of his talent. True, the object of his affections was Andre Payette, who was also sent packing so some might see a certain balance to the scales, but after a hand in both goals the night before to beat the Flames, without Jamieson the Lightning clearly came off worst.
Phantoms 2 – Bison 5 and at home the Phantoms must have been hoping for a better reward than the night before, and although they snapped and pestered like a terrier trying to best a German Shepherd, when it came to getting through the paws and taking the bone off Stevie Lyle, it just wasn’t going to happen. Netminder Dan Lane was brought into the tussle after Damien King pulled a neck muscle in the first period, and although he did well enough the result means with their pairing complete the Phantoms have managed only a single win against the Bison.
The Phoenix were much more at home in the weekend’s return leg against the Bees despite being in Bracknell. Bees 1 – Phoenix 3 saw Jorge El-Hage in goal again and produce a sterling performance which will do his future in the game no harm at all. But with a similar number of shots on goal, the more clinical finishing of the Phoenix was the telling point making it now four out of five wins between the two, and a performance only marred by Joachim Flaten colliding with the boards and needing hospital treatment for his trouble.
The Wildcats 4 – Jets 5 was the second game of another double-header weekend and saw the Jets in Swindon where things started off with a similar script to the night before. By the first break the Jets found themselves chasing a 2-goal deficit, including two from new import Henri Sandvik, and later when the two goal lead was restored, a goal from new signing 17-year-old Ollie Betteridge. But the final period belonged to the visitors and in a seven-minute assault Darius Pliskauskas nabbed a pair and Frankie Bakrlik a second, for which the Wildcats didn’t have an answer.
This match had the look of actually producing something for the Tigers having reached the final nine minutes on equal terms, so Flames 7 – Tigers 4 is not a good measure of the contest. Also, with eleven goals in their last three games, including a pair from 18-year-old Adam Taylor tonight, something of a general improvement. But while a much grittier and determined performance than the night before, three late goals in two minutes was a cruel punishment for the Flames to inflict. Such is life.
So, where does all this leave us as far as the league table is concerned? Well, the Bison hold on to a one-goal lead at the top over the Flames, while the Phoenix in third spot look a tad unsure whether they will be staying to compete with the leaders or the middle order. With only seven points separating the next four sides, and the Steeldogs once again promising to contest the final play-off place with the Phantoms, still plenty to fight for.
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