LONDON – Just under six months ago, after the final horn had sounded and the last of the fans had drifted away from the National Ice Centre in Nottingham, it was the home town Panthers who headed off into the summer months smiling, with an extra spring in their step and few yards on their drive as they ventured round the golf course, for them the season had been nothing but successful.
Now, with the League title, Challenge Cup and Playoff crowns shining nicely in the trophy cabinet, Corey Neilson’s side will begin their quest to repeat last season’s triumphs, become the first side to repeat such a feat and claim the playoff title for a record seventh time.
It will be six months to the day when the puck will be dropped on the same National Ice Centre surface to begin the 11th season of the Elite League and fire the starting gun on another whirlwind season full of ups, down, goals, fights, suspensions, controversy and everything else that makes a hockey season watching your favourite team such a rollercoaster.
Four of the teams in the league will be playing their first games with new coaches behind the benches. Belfast Giants spent a long time in the summer finding, what general manager Todd Kelman claimed was, the right man for the job. That man was announced in May as Paul Adey. The Giants surprise summer recruitment requirements where thanks to last season’s coach and new Team GB head coach, Doug Christiansen, moving to the main land and the Sheffield Steelers.
Sheffield parted company with Ryan Finnerty the day after the playoffs came to an end but Finnerty didn’t have to wait long for another shot at the Elite League as, when the music stopped, he found himself sat in the Braehead Clan chair.
One of the many pluses for the league has been the seemingly quiet nature of the team’s future within the ranks of the Elite League. 10 teams, just in the case of Hull, finished last season however this campaign will get under way with all 10 sides back, with full or close to full rosters and starting the season on time, on budget and in their own buildings.
Finally what about on the ice, well this appears to have been a big improvement as well, yes some of the big name players have gone, Rod Sarich in Sheffield is one such player, but the calibre of player that has come in does indicate that the standards should rise once again. Nottingham, Belfast, Sheffield have all signed players with genuine American Hockey League experience and many with more than just a passing interest in games in the National Hockey League.
So all is set, teams are heading all over Europe to play pre-season games, others are staying at home to do the same. The players are arriving from all over the world (Well North America and Europe) and getting used to their new surroundings and in the 10 arenas that will form the backdrop for this year’s entertainment water is being frozen, advertising logos are been painted, plexi-glass is been slotted into place and everything is getting ready for what promises to be an exciting season in the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League.