At any hockey game, it’s easy to see people going about their jobs; the players and officials are on the ice, the off ice officials are making the show run smoothly, the stewards are in their neon jackets keeping an eye on things. One person, if you can find them, goes about their job as silently as they can and the last thing they want is to be noticed. It’s the team photographer.
For the last few years, Grant King has been that man for the Bison; normally seen on a match night slotted in between the benches wearing his trademark Red Wings hat, Grant has earned a reputation as one of the top photographers in British ice hockey. His work regularly made its way into the pages of the now defunct Powerplay magazine as well as into a variety of other publications and even having his sledge hockey photography featured on the website of the Paralympics. As the Bison head into the weekend’s challenge games against Guildford, Grant too is preparing for the new season after being the man to capture all of last terms’s glories. Banners On The Wall caught up with him to talk about what it’s like capturing the Bison “on film”.
When did you start taking an interest in photography?
I guess I’ve always had an interest from the age of about 8 or 9 when I used to pinch my Nan’s Kodak 110 camera & later her 135. All throughout school I would have a 35mm point & shoot that I was always “papping” my friends with. Once I left school I didn’t really touch a camera until I moved out & picked up a cheap 35mm Praktika SLR kit at around 20ish before finally moving on to my 1st Nikon DSLR (D40) that I bought after watching the Race of Champions at Wembley & being frustrated at my shots from my point & shoot! From that point things just got more & more serious.
When did you first start shooting hockey?
From the 1st game I went to vs. Newcastle Vipers back in ’07 (I remember it well because the Zamboni died & had to be jump started on the ice by a Ford Focus!) I took my point & shoot & tried in vain to get shots of the players, with varying degrees of success. I first took my DSLR to the rink back in 2009 & my son still has the signed Kevin Reiter shot I took on his wall today!
So how did you get the gig with the Bison?
After Mark Fuller left, Bolt Action Media took up the reigns with the match night photography. Meanwhile every now & again I would take my camera to get some shots for myself until one Saturday lunchtime I got a message from Graham Bell asking if I was bringing my camera (as the BAM guys couldn’t send anyone) & could I do the post game presentation photos for them? After a couple of weeks doing this Graham asked for a shot for the programme & the rest as they say was history.
So what’s the current technical set up you have for shooting ice hockey?
Nikon D7000 (16.2mp) w/ battery grip, Nikkor AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8 IF-ED (My Baby!!) for shooting the games, Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 AF-S or Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG for post game photos & for the upcoming season I have got my hands on a Nikon D90 (12.3mp) w/ battery grip that I am going to experiment on using 2 cameras on match nights, It may work, it may not but it’s worth trying to try & capture better shots that are too close for my big lens.
You obviously love hockey but being involved the way you are in games means you obviously see and experience the game in a very different manner to the rest of the crowd. Is there part of you that misses just watching the game?
Besides just relaxing & watching the game with my family! I would say the emotional involvement, as obviously I can’t start shouting & screaming at calls when I am on the benches with the officials right in front of me! So I tend to watch the game with a lot more detachment than I used to (It also helps that I can hear the officials explanations for giving/ not giving a call. Although myself & Tony Skinns (Bison kit manager and father of netminder, Dean) were getting involved during the play-off final!
Do you reckon being that close has improved your understanding of the game as a result?
For sure! I still don’t pretend to know all the rules, but If I don’t understand the call I’ll ask one of the guys on the bench (either from our team or the visiting bench). If they don’t know I’ll ask who ever is wearing the armbands either at the break, on the ice whilst waiting for presentations or in the bar afterwards.
What makes up a good hockey picture in your opinion? What are you looking for when you’re shooting?
Very difficult to answer as my taste in shots changes regularly, a image that I loved & shared to death at the start of the season I could well view as being sub-par within a couple of months. I guess the old cliché of “capturing a moment in time or emotion that will be remembered” is what I look for, sometimes I get it by poor fluke, sometimes I can read the play & have a gut feeling what is going to happen & how to shoot it.
Where in the rink do you get the best shots from?
To be honest my position between the benches is probably as good as I can get for positioning, I do like the “traditional” in the corner on the redline position, but without the NHL style peep holes it’s difficult not to get great bit scratches/blurry smudges across the image due to the scratched plexi.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start shooting hockey or any live sport?
Set yourself goals of the type of shot you want to capture each week. I started off with simple stuff like getting a goalie in perfect focus, going on to catching a spray stop/a hit/a slapshot/ a fight shot. Be patient! It took me 4 1/2 seasons to get a decent Hipcheck shot! Have fun & keep clicking, we are fortunate now that we don’t have to spend a fortune on film!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from a fellow hockey snapper?
Don’t focus entirely on following the puck. Some times you get some great shots behind the play. Whether it be banter between players, a cheap shot or an official falling flat on their backside or even just the players goofing around on the benches. You need to keep your eyes open for any opportunity.
Last question; given your usual position between the benches, which player has been the best to shoot or given the best banter?
Best photo op has to go to Andre Payette, his passion when he took a time out last season was unbelievable, I managed to capture him mid war cry & it let me capture what is one of my favourite images!
As far as personality I will definitely miss having my bench buddy Connor “King of the chirps” Standing with me this season. Listening to him trying to chirp imports who can’t understand never ceased to make me laugh & getting on well with all the members of Team Stripes has often lead to good banter.
For more of Grant’s work, check out his website at www.5holephotography.com where he is available for other photography work. Grant’s photos will continue to be featured on BOTW throughout the 2014/15 campaign so visit the website, buy a print!
Home ice: Telford Ice Rink
Last season: 6th, playoff quarter finalists
Team preview: Damon Massey (@M15terRoboto)
Last season in a nutshell
Aim’s for this season? A jump up the table to 8th would be a dream but the way the league has improved as a whole including the teams around us a more realistic target is to continue to surprise the teams at the top, match the teams around us and finish with more points than last season.
Next season though, watch this space…
This was how I signed off last season’s ‘Standing in the Way’ and it appears that the only thing I got right was the “next season though, watch this space” comment!
Where to start? Well they say football is a game of 2 halves but last season for the Tigers more than matches that statement, the season started slowly and we were heading towards November bottom of the league, low crowds and by all accounts the chance was the club were not going to survive past Christmas.
Then in what can only be described as the biggest change in fortunes the sponsor that came on board just before the season started took over the club lock stock and barrel. I do not want to get into the wrongs & rights of what happened next but with the new owner making several bold claims including getting the Tigers to the playoffs the “puck” was set rolling on making changes to the team. Several players were brought in to bolster the squad and this new talent combined with a new belief within the existing squad started a move up the table. 18 wins from 26 propelled the Tigers as high as 5th before finally slotting into 6th place and a quarter final match up against the Flames. After a 4-4 draw on home ice the Tigers went down to the Flames 3-2 and the season was over!
With an all new import line up this season the returning British players fall into 2 category’s, those on long term contracts – Plant, Miller, Davies, Scott & Salem and those classed as being good enough to return and hold their own amongst what could be classed as an all-star line-up – Taylor, Bowley, Bennett, McKenzie, Maynard, Rose, Murdy & Gospel.
I could have easily chosen McKenzie, a fan favourite, last season’s captain and 2nd top points scorer but (and I know it said returnee) I have chosen 2 players who will be vital to this seasons success and that is the netminding duo of Murdy & Gospel, with the departure of Ryan to Manchester it is vital that these two play at the top of their game week in week out.
The New Boy
Where to start? I love that feeling at the start of a new season, the anticipation of seeing that new player you have never seen play before stepping onto the ice for the first time. Knowing nothing about them apart from the stats on the internet or having watched a crappy obscure YouTube video.
Now I do not profess to know every new player we have signed and I have to admit Quiney, Ondrej & Novak are all new names to me, as is the 11th hour import Peter Szabo who Coach Watkins chased all summer and says the wait will be worth it.
The players I do know from time spent watching the Elite league on the TV such as Zajac & Silverthorn have got me excited, then you throw into the mix Weaver, a player whose career highlights fill an A4 sheet of paper & Birbraer and I am salivating!
I have to pick one though and due to the pages of praise from Devils fans who would have had him back in a heartbeat that honour goes to Max “Boom Boom” Birbraer, His style of no nonsense play and eye for the goal will undoubtedly quickly propel him as a fan favourite and possibly one of the players of the season.
How We’ll Do
So we are here, that space……..
As a team the Tigers on paper have massively improved and looking around the league they certainly have one of the top squads, how that works out on the ice is a different matter you only have to ask Swindon that question. Needless to say though Tom Watkins is an astute coach and it has not just been a case of spending x amount of $’s to get top named players through the door, each and every signing will have been thought about and slotted into a place on the squad where he wants them to do the job he wants rather than fitting the squad around them.
Personally I think we will finish top 3 and lets be honest to not finish top 3 with this squad would be a travesty, as always though the majority of the league has improved and Telford are not the only ones to bring in Elite league players so it will not be the smooth journey to the top some are predicting.
The BOTW take
Ladies and gentlemen, the Telford Tigers; the disrupters of the EPL, the new public enemy number 1 for some, the new pantomime villain of British hockey in some ways. Damon however has hit the nail on the head; this piece is not the place for the debates as to the merits of Red Hockey Ltd’s methods but a preview of what we will see from the Telford Tigers on the ice. Torches and pitchforks away, we’ll look at such things another time.
The first thing that strikes you about the Telford roster is the sheer size. It’s not the fact that they’re all 6’5” monsters, I mean just the numbers. The Tigers roster stands at 7 defenders and 12 forwards. That’s an NHL roster size. This is combined with a decent turnover of players from last year with the return of none of last season’s imports as well as players on the periphery like James Smith and Macaulay Haywood being shuffled down to the NIHL Tigers roster or leaving for greener pastures like Declan Ryan and Adam Walker, both of whom head to Manchester.
The Tigers, unlike Guildford who are the ones who have arguably reacted the most to Telford’s spending power, have only the 4 imports registered for the campaign at the moment. The impressive looking Peter Szabo, who signed just before I started writing this piece, is the unknown factor in the import ranks. Whilst the talents of Jason Silverthorn, Martin Ondrej and the charismatic Max Birbraer are well known to fans of the British game, Szabo who signs from Morzine-Avoriaz in the French top flight could be the find of the bunch. The 33 year old has played in levels well above the EPL including spending the last 3 seasons in the Ligue Magnus which is comparable with the EIHL and has a team in this season’s Champions Hockey League. If Szabo settles, he will no doubt he a contender for the scoring title.
Whilst many thought that the Tigers might go the route of carrying an extra import, this was negated by one big signing and one rather shrewd one. The big one is the obvious addition of former Great Britain captain Jonathan Weaver. Now 37, Weaver comes to the Tigers off the back of a 43 point season with Nottingham and will no doubt be the leading voice on that Tigers defence and a great player for already excellent players like Dan Scott and Dan Rose to learn from.
The shrewd signing is the return to British hockey of dual national Blahoslav Novak. Having played a large swathe of his junior hockey in Chelmsford Novak, who counts as British under EIHA rules, made his debut in the old ENL with the Chieftains at 16 and clocked up 109 points in 74 games between 2009-2011 before heading back to Slovakia and spending 3 seasons playing in their under 20s league. A 0.75 point per game average in a junior development league of better quality than here should set him in good stead for the EPL. A player who always played with an edge, it will also be interesting to see how Novak is used and how his experiences in Slovakia have changed the game he plays.
The top end British players that signed for the Tigers during last season were on contracts that carried them into this term so forward lines bolstered by having players like Silverthorn, Birbraer and Novak have the added punch of established top end EPL Brits like Joe Miller, Rick Plant and Dan Davies. The defence has the additions of Weaver and Ondrej alongside other EIHL additions, the most notable for Bison fans being the return to the league of Sam Zajac.
The question mark over the goaltending; whilst Tom Murdy and Sam Gospel are individually decent players, are they are championship netminder combination? Then again, so many questioned Dean Skinns and we know how well that worked out. The defence in front of them looks solid but as the last line of defence, as Damon says, they need to be on point all season for Telford to be ensured success.
The squad on paper should obtain the top three finish predicted above however in true BOTW fashion, this team will be handed no trophies or plaudits without seeing how they do on the ice. This is a new look roster in a new era for the club and the EPL as a result of the position that Telford are now in as financial powerhouses. When I interviewed Wayne Scholes just after the signing of Joe Miller, I said the league clubs would have to respond to the ever increasing roar of the Tigers. The roster in place very much proves that they have the claws. The depth on offer and the talent secured appears to be a formidable task. We await the roar when the season begins.
Home rink: The Spectrum
League position: 3rd, playoff semi finalists, cup semi finalists
Team preview by David Wright (@davidpw)
Last season was a disappointing and somewhat chastening one for everyone’s second-favourite EPL team. Coming off two very successful seasons and with a settled roster the Flames had high hopes of continuing that run of success but a combination of injuries, poor form and a fat wad of notes being waved about somewhere in Shropshire led to a rare potless season. After a solid first couple of months of the season the Flames were hit with an unexpected body blow from which they never really recovered. Rick Plant, the club leader in games played, second-highest scorer ever, team captain, fan favourite, tireless worker and all round good egg suddenly departed for the arriviste Telford Tigers at the start of December. Not only was this a massive blow because of who Rick was for the team, but he was also in some of the best form of his career when he left and the team just never rebounded.
Plant’s uprooting was followed by an injury crisis of epic proportions, and when the dust had settled the Flames had been comprehensively turned out of cup and playoffs by the uppity farmhands of Basingstoke, with the ageless Tony Hand’s Manchester mopping up the league title. To add insult to this injury Telford were now threatening the Flames’ cherished status as ‘big, rich club that is destroying the league and ruining things for everyone’.
David Longstaff: a somewhat divisive figure amongst the Flames fanbase, with some noting that he sometimes displays all the pace and agility of a particularly indolent supertanker. However Lobby has to rank as one of the top five British-trained forwards of the last twenty or so years, and to complain that he has no pace is in my opinion to spectacularly miss the point. He has skill and vision well beyond that of most imports – put him on a line with guys who can skate and the points will pile up.
Branislav Kvetan: a rock in a sometimes troubled defence for three seasons now, and an increasingly central part of the team. The big Slovak showed his versatility and power icing in a forward role during the injury crises of last season, and if he can maintain an increased points production playing at the back he will be integral to any success the Flames enjoy.
Ben Campbell: perhaps not an obvious choice, as a younger player with less than point per game on average, but he represents a lot of what the Flames need if they are to be successful. His attitude and workrate have been outstanding, and if he can get the rest of his game to match his searing pace (he’ll probably get poached by Telford) he’ll be a star in this team.
The New Boy:
Danny Meyers: the most high profile British signing the Flames have made since David Longstaff, and at 31 a relative youngster in Guildford terms. Danny is one of the best British defencemen in the game, and should have a huge impact on the team. With Paul Dixon clearly in the twilight of his on-ice career Danny will hopefully be the man to step in to his skates and lead the team for years to come (or bugger of to Telford for a fatter cheque).
Matt Towe: technically a new signing, despite over 100 games in a Flames jersey, Matt was much missed in his absence and is the best replacement for, well, himself. The 67 assists he put up in 2010-11 shows what he is capable of, and with the collection of import forwards the Flames have piled up his creative play will be key to our scoring potential.
Owen Fussey: the retired ex-Coventry player is undoubtedly the Flames’ marquee signing of this offseason, and a great deal will depend on how quickly he can get back up to speed after two seasons out of the game (and two in Coventry, boom boom…). Has great pedigree, especially for the EPL, and if he is fit and interested he’ll be winning games on his own. If…
The bar has been raised in the EPL by Telford’s new money, and the Flames are one of a number of clubs who have had to respond to that. I think we now have more strength in depth than I can remember us having for a long time, and if all the new signings bed in with the rest of the guys quickly and we get more luck with injuries I think we’ll be right up there. There should be a lot of goals in this team, and if Meyers lives up to expectations and Jez Lundin gets back to being the player he was we’ll be strong defensively. The main question mark for me is in goal, an area where we’ve usually been strong. Following years of injuries, an allegedly iffy attitude and a general failure to deliver on his enormous talent Mark Lee has left the club, and to be honest I am underwhelmed by his replacements. James Hadfield is talented but I’m not sure he’s a starter at a title contender, and while Gregg Rockman is vastly experienced and great on his day he’s just not one of the top guys in the league. But overall we are the best club and the best team, and we are going to crush everyone beneath our chariot wheels. If we don’t expect to see Ovechkin and Crosby adding roster depth next season…
The BOTW take:
It’s OK folks, I’ve bought Dave a packet of crisps to go with that pint of bitter. Jokes aside (and yes folks, before that vein pops in you head Dave is joking…mostly) this is a very different Flames side from last term and that’s the first time we can say that in a while. Last season there were 3 new faces and this season there are 6 including the returns of Matt Towe and Oli Bronnimann and that’s added to the news released as I’m writing this that the ever present Stuart Potts and Milos Melicherik (who has to be a close to a certainty for jersey retirement in Guildford as Tony Redmond is in Basingstoke) are to be part of the coaching rather than the playing staff. Some would argue it’s a changing of the guard in some ways at the Spectrum.
Coach Paul Dixon remains as the man in charge as well as on the roster for another season which will interest many in light of the Potts and Melicherik news. Many wondered, including myself, whether this would be the season that Dixon retires to the bench but he feels he can keep going and fair play to him in that regard.
If Telford have arguably started an arms race within the EPL, Guildford are probably the closest to responding having persuaded former brief NHL’er Owen Fussey out of retirement and Andy McKinney from league champions Manchester as well as having lured Matt Towe back to Guildford from Braehead and Oli Bronnimann back from Bracknell. The big news for me at any rate is the signing of Danny Meyers. The former Nottingham Panthers captain and former Sheffield Steeler, fresh off winning the EIHL playoffs last season and his 9th consecutive season in the national side is back in the EPL for the first time since 2006 and whilst many will see it as a reaction to Telford signing Jon Weaver, I see it as more of a reaction to last term.
Last term was the first time since 2009 that the Flames haven’t won a trophy. 5 years is arguably a decent length of time after which to hit the reboot button but that the crisis of confidence with on ice performances coupled, as Dave mentioned, with a variety of in-house issues with Mark Lee and the departure of the talismanic Ricky Plant to Telford saw what probably translates to the closest they get at the Flames to panic stations.
They have reacted and in a big way. Yes they have the financial clout to compete, even drawing top British players away from the top tier but this is about a change of on ice direction as much as anything else. A core from last season has been kept; names like Longstaff, Lundin, Kvetan, Savage, Liddiard and Hemmings who are essentially part of the furniture return along with other high quality returnees like Marcus Kristoffersson and Curtis Huppe with the additions of some of the names we’ve mentioned and the talented prospect of Sam Godfrey on defence.
The Flames will be running 5 imports this term as well with one of Kvetan, Fussey, Huppe, Kristoffersson and Jozef Kohut sitting out every game combined with the option of re-registering Melicherik if required. Fussey is the highest profile of the import names and also the most interesting. Obviously the EPL is not the highest level of hockey in the world and Fussey who’s been out of the recognised game for 2 seasons (in the sense a cursory search finds no stats) but he has reportedly been playing senior men’s hockey back home as well as the fact that given his pedigree (4 NHL, 200+ AHL appearances) he shouldn’t really have an issue stepping into the EPL and being an impact player.
David mentions about the netminding being a concern and I’d say that’s fair. Rockman and Hadfield as a duo certainly aren’t world beaters but as a duo are they worse than having a recognised number 1 and a number 2 trailing a far way behind. If Rockman starts and goes down injured, I’d be relatively confident in Hadfield coming off the bench and winning the game. Is that possible at other teams?
For those of you who didn’t listen to the Manchester Phoenix podcasts live from the playoffs, Arron Mortimer said that he thought Guildford could rebound this season and do the double. This roster is obviously in contention; of course they are, it’s Guildford! Even with last year’s “disappointing” season they still finished third in the league and made the semis of the cup and playoffs. Most teams would kill for that to be a bad year but that and many things shook the confidence of those at the Spectrum last term.
This summer has been the chance for a new start for the Flames. Paul Dixon deserves credit for putting together a roster that looks very dangerous, certainly the most dangerous of the ones we’ve looked at so far. People can shout about throwing money at players till the cows come home, this is the team that clubs will have to play against. Whether Mr Mortimer is right remains to be seen but this Flames roster could be the most dangerous for years. If the stars align, we could all be in trouble.
#14 Cameron Wynn
Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire
Announced as signed: Meet the players night, 26th August
As the Bison fans gathered in the rink bar to meet members of the upcoming season’s squad, Doug Sheppard released the final name on the roster for 2014/15 with the return of popular local born forward, Cameron Wynn.
Wynn, who turned 19 in March, will be splitting his time between playing for the Bison and attending the University of Surrey where he will study economics.
Cameron played in the junior system since under 10s and has progressed all the way to the Bison senior team, being one of the few players to score for every Basingstoke team as he did so. Cameron’s junior career was very promising, spending 4 years playing under 16 hockey with 35 points in 18 games during the 2009/10 season. For 2010/11, Cameron split his time between under 16s where he scored 36 points in 18 games and the under 18s where he scored 32 points in 17 games.
Understandably, such performances caught the eye of coaches in the senior teams and 2011/12 saw Wynn split his time three ways across the course of the campaign. He had a phenomenal year with the under 18s scoring an astounding 36 goals and 55 points in 18 games. His first forays into senior hockey proved productive as well as he scored 20 points in 9 NIHL2 games for the Buffalo and got the call from then coach Steve Moria to make appearances for the Bison in the EPL, scoring 2 assists in 16 games.
The efforts were enough that when regime change came for the Bison to start 2012/13, Doug Sheppard kept the youngster as a part of the roster and dressed him for the full 54 league game campaign. Wynn was mostly used being rotated into the 3rd line but saw time higher up the order when situation or injury demanded it. After another industrious season where he tallied three assists, Wynn rounded off the season with his first EPL goal in the final regular season game at home against Swindon before jetting off to Estonia with the Great Britain under 18s for the World Championships where he scored 1 goal in 5 appearances.
Wynn was re-signed for last season and was part of the infamous “white line” along with Stuart Mogg and Danny Ingoldsby. The line of youngsters at times saw minimal ice time, at times saw loads and at times was broken up as players were shuffled about in typical Sheppard fashion. Wynn found himself occasionally bumped up the lines as a top line winger which is what happened after the injury to Michael Wales late in the season. Wynn was thrust into top 6 minutes during the playoffs, scoring the Bison’s final goal against Sheffield and setting up Joe Greener for the Herd’s insurance marker against Guildford in the playoff semi final.
The 2014 EPL playoffs could arguably seen as the moment that Cameron Wynn stepped into the position of “EPL player”. With Michael Wales’ season curtailed by his broken ankle, Cam was asked to step into the breach and responded brilliantly. The performance against Sheffield was good but his performance against Guildford at Coventry was something else. Gone was the plucky youngster who got rubbed out of the play easily and in his place was a young man playing out of his skin and looking like a credible EPL scoring threat on the league’s biggest stage.
What Wynn now has to do is push on from that point. It’s a year of personal change for him, on and off the ice. Speaking from personal experience, going to university sees a massive personal upheaval (and you can thank me going to university for this blog existing in many ways) but on the ice, I think there’s change coming for Wynn. This is his fourth season with the team and the time has arguably come for Wynn, whose style lends itself towards being a contributor in points more than hits, to step away from the checking lines into putting more points on the board. At junior and lower levels he has been a prolific scorer and the moment is here after that excellent playoff performance to translate that into the regular season. This obviously depends on how Sheppard uses Wynn; it would be unfair to expect goals when he’s getting two minutes a night running into the corners but the potential and the talent are there for him to score points for this club. Maybe this season with all that’s going on for him, is asking for 10
With Wynn announced as the final piece of the roster, the instant projections show him on a 4th line with Grant Rounding and Stuart Mogg but this is Doug Sheppard hockey, the lines will always have that element of fluidity to them. The chances will come for Wynn to play up, maybe even get some special teams when the correct moment arises.
It’s all conjecture of course at this stage. The season is nearly upon us and the Bison squad to defend the double is complete. There’s something apt that a home grown player is the last piece added.
Welcome back, Cam and congratulations on your place at Surrey. We shall adhere to all stereotypes of being a student and order you snakebites.
Milton Keynes Lightning
Home rink: Thunderdome 2.0 (coming October 2014)
2013/14 league position: 4th, EPL Cup finalists
Team preview by Mike Walls (aka MKPimmy), moderator of MKIH Forums
Last Season in a Nutshell:
Finishing fourth, making a cup final and missing out on a play-off semi-final by a last minute penalty shot will go down as a successful season considering the lack of training time and playing the season away from Milton Keynes. Coventry was a great host for last season and the club did well to get through the season and retain the entire squad without having to release players, in fact we were able to bring in Paul Gore as injury cover for Lewis Christie. Surviving and being competitive was the agenda of last term, and all involved should be proud of the efforts to keep the Lightning going last season.
Keeping the Brit core at MKL was vital, however the return of top scorer, Stanislav Lascek, is massive for MKL. He topped the scoring charts for the team with 41 goals and 35 assists from 47 games. His goal scoring and positioning was vital for Lightning last term and, had he not been injured mid-way through the season, he would have been higher up the scoring charts. He is first player to play for the Lightning, since Gary Clarke, that looks like scoring every time he has a sight at the goal. Having got used to the EPL and with regular training back at MK, I expect the Slovakian to be the top scoring player on the roster this season.
The new boy:
There have not been many new players joining MKL but all three have strengthened the team. Lewis Hook is a great British prospect and Milan Kostourek will add to the offence and ease the pressure that was on Lascek, Tom Carlon and Leigh Jamieson. The key new signing is defenceman, Petr Horava, who replaces fan-favourite Lukas Zatopek. Horava has some big skates to fill, and he looks a solid stay-at home defenceman which should allow Michael Farn to carry on his point scoring form from last season. Lightning have always signed decent import D’men at this level (Newman, Carpenter, Kieras, Zatopek) and the success this year may well be down to how Horava performs.
How we’ll do:
With MKL due to return to home ice on October 18th, expectation is high for an improvement on last season. On-ice the team looks good and should be a match for anyone in the league, whether they are at the level of Telford or Guildford remains to be seen. The founding of the hockey academy and stronger links with NIHL MK Thunder should see bigger benches and more youngsters getting ice time. I think there is a shout for MK to go one step further in the cup and finally lift that elusive EPL cup for the first time! The big challenge for MK is off-ice, we need to get the fanbase returning to games after a year away. The refurbished rink is there, it is now up to the Lightning to get the place full, get the atmosphere as loud as it can be and offer a better match night experience in the updated facilities to increase average attendance and attract more local businesses to sponsor the team.
The BOTW take
The Milton Keynes Lightning is a team I always have a lot of time for. To say I like them might be stretching it but I do have a lot of respect for the organisation and the way it’s run. As Mike alludes to above, last season was a trying one for them though not without its high points. The Skydome was an adequate home and what was a competitive and fun MKL side to watch came close to the EPL Cup (blame Andy Melachrino) and close to a place at the final 4. Had the Lightning made the playoff weekend, it would have provided an interesting variable for the EPL playoffs; a team at the weekend with the closest thing to home ice advantage.
Given the performances of last season, that Nick Poole has chosen to keep most of the squad together is no real surprise. Whilst a wise friend of mine once said that “you never have two number 1 goalies, only two number 2s”, the netminding for MK is arguably a mix of a dark horse and a trump card all in one. The combination of Stephen Wall and Jordan Hedley is one where literally they have two netminders who can win you games in the EPL but the combination never seems to get the praise it arguably deserves. This has been a tried and tested path in MK; the long time tandem of Barry Hollyhead and Alex Mettam saw the former bleed the later through to the point where Mettam is now an established EPL starting netminder. There’s an argument that Hedley could surpass that and make his way to the EIHL or even higher and it’s a possibility that’s for sure.
In some ways it should be really easy to write this preview because as Mike says, there are 3 new regular players (though I’m sure we’ll see players playing up from the MK Thunder and juniors) and that’s it. However these 3 players will be in key roles so in some ways the season hinges on their performances. Lewis Hook is a fine talent who under a coach like Poole, who has a history for giving young players a chance to flourish (hi, Jordan Cownie) and could easily make himself a top 6 and special teams necessity. Petr Horava, a veteran of the Czech top and second tiers is in his prime years at 29 and will need to be that anchor at the back as well as contribute with the scoring. Milan Kostourek has to fill the void left by the talented Janne Jokila though his stats in Poland last season show he should be more than up to the job.
The top end names that return for MK are players that could walk into other teams; Jamieson, Carr, Farn, Christie, Carlon, Lascek as well as the supporting cast of depth players will make the Lightning a formidable opponent. This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. Congratulations also should go to Grant McPherson as he enters his 9th season with the club, an ever present and Lightning to the core, he will no doubt be wanting to defend his title as arguably the best agitator in the league.
Given that so many of the squad from last season are returning, it feels somewhat ironic to be calling 2014/15 a season of renewal for Milton Keynes but that’s what it is. The Lightning have been forging better links with their NIHL and junior sides with the formation of the new academy to develop players, established fan favourites like Jokila and especially Lukas Zatopek have been replaced and of course, the Thunderdome is close to being fully refurbished. The changes of and on the ice will make this campaign at MK worth paying attention to for many reasons. As to how they do on the ice the Lightning are a team, like the Bison, who are more than the sum of their parts. Whether the final result is a league title challenge remains to be seen but they will challenge at the top end rather than the bottom. Whatever happens, Nick Poole’s side will deliver entertaining hockey wherever they play and the MKL Barmy Army will be there shouting to the rafters. I wish all connected with the Lightning the very best in the build up to their return home.
Home rink: The Link Centre
2013/14 league position: 5th, playoff semi finalists
Team preview by Ben Callaghan of On The Prowl
Last Season In A Nutshell
Last Season was a rollercoaster for the fans of the Swindon Wildcats, out went Perkkiö, Melichar, Murdy and Swindlehurst to name a few and in came Lyle, Silvander, Pekkarinen & Symonds. Whilst Silvander never lasted long, Swindon made the mid-season signings of Aaron Nell, Ryan Watt, Lee Richardson and Jan Kostal. The 4 lifted the Wildcats significantly from a rough start and in typical Wildcats fashion, the period after Christmas saw them become one of the most in form sides in the EPL and a real threat to the other sides. Stevie Lyle was leading the way as we raced into the final stages of the season when 3 consecutive shut-outs were the start of a 7 game winning run we had going into the playoffs. MK Lightning awaited in the quarter finals and despite going to Coventry with a 1 goal deficit, the Wildcats regrouped and a last minute penalty shot by Jan Kostal saw the Wildcats take up a place for the final 4 weekend in Coventry.
The semi-final opponents were the league winners, Manchester Phoenix, an end-to-end affair saw the Wildcats head into the final period with a slight advantage before the Phoenix pulled the game level and took it into overtime. A questionable call in the extra period saw Aku Pekkarinen head to the penalty box and this allowed Frantisek Bakrlik to fire a rocket past Stevie Lyle, and shatter the dreams of all the red and white faithful as well as the players themselves.
It was a rollercoaster of a season for the Wildcats, one I really enjoyed watching and seeing the team develop into the team they were at the end of the season was a pleasure. The memories will not be forgotten and the hurt will remain the same as well. Here is hoping 2014-2015 will be the season we all want it to be.
Over the summer we’ve kept hold of the majority of our squad and some very good players have been re-signed which will be key for the upcoming campaign and to keep that locker room mentality will be key. There a numerous names I could say for this part of the post, Alex Symonds, Aaron Nell, Stevie Lyle, Henri Sandvik… the list is endless. For me though, the biggest re-sign was made before the last season was over. Jan Kostal is back for the Wildcats and it really is huge. When he arrived in Swindon his main objective was to just put the puck in the net. He bought so much more to the side than we expected and he is arguably the player who’s made the biggest impact on the team that Ryan Aldridge has ever signed.
You could see the professionalism that Jan bought to the side on his opening training session, having come in that day and train with such enthusiasm was incredible. The opening game away in Slough he had a hand in all of our 4 goals and a 4 point night led him on his way. He really is the ultimate professional and to bring that into the roster when we did last season was instrumental in our strong season. To have him back in Swindon, not only as an import, but also as an assistant coach is a brilliant piece of business from the Wildcats management. If Jan is anywhere near as good next year as he was last season, we’ve got a very strong import and big fan favourite back on board.
The New Boy
There is a small amount of choice for my ‘new boy’ with only 3 brand new faces joining the Wildcats (Tomasz Malasinski, Callum Buglass and Kenton Smith). For me though, the player I think will have a tremendous impact on the team this year is our new Canadian D man. Kenton Smith joins us from Braehead in the EIHL and brings years worth of experience to the blue-line in both EIHL hockey and hockey in North America. To replace Aku Pekkarinen is going to be tough, as the Finn was a great find last year by Aldridge and shone throughout the 2013-2014 EPL season. Kenton will be a more than adequate replacement in my opinion. I think this signing has slipped under the radar a little, he’ll bring everything we need to the point and should chip in with a fair amount of points along the way too.
He’s no stranger to some of our players either having played with Stevie Lyle, Alex Symonds and Adam Harding in the past. I’m sure they were consulted about Kenton and I’m sure he’ll be a success in Swindon colours.
I’ve always been a fan of having D men who can contribute offensively as well as understanding their main role is to keep the puck away from the net. I have the faith that Kenton will do this well and any successes we’re to have this year, Kenton Smith will be key to it all. He’s a massive pick up for us and hopefully he’ll hit the ground running when we get underway.
How We’ll Do
This is usually a fairly straightforward one for Wildcats fans to consider, it’s a well known ‘joke’ we look good on paper, struggle for consistency in the opening few months, pick up after Christmas, have a good run into the playoffs and then fall at the last few hurdles. The fact is we’ve been improving our roster over the last few seasons and keeping the nucleus together now is key to whatever we do in the 2014-2015 campaign. Whilst I still maintain we’re a forward short at the moment we have a brilliant mix of youth and experience with players like Betteridge, Buglass & Taylor able to learn from Kostal, Smith and Richardson. The league is no doubt stronger this year than last but the Wildcats are the same (bar that 10th forward). A Höög-less Wildcats is a different Wildcats but that’s not to say it’s a worse Wildcats.
I think the aim this season needs to be the top 4. The trio of Guildford, Manchester and Telford are the early favourites to be a clear top 3 but I see no reason as to why we cant compete with the 4th place slot with the likes of Basingstoke and Milton Keynes. With Brits like Symonds, Lyle and Nell we have game-winners in the Brits as well as game-winners in the imports. If we can start as well as we ended the last season I wouldn’t be too shocked to see us have a strong cup run either. I think the key to the new cup this year will be netminding and with Stevie Lyle between the pipes we’ve got a good a chance as anyone of getting the all-important victories we’ll need. With it being his swansong season as well there will be no-one wanting a trophy more than Stevie.
It’ll be an entertaining season, a heart-wrenching season, a frustrating season, an incredible season. Every season is, for every team. Its why we watch the sport but when the Swindon Wildcats step out on the ice for the first time this season, the ending is in their hands and what will be will be, lets enjoy our hockey!
The BOTW take:
Seeing as how Ben’s apparently made all the jokes I could make about Swindon before I’ve even started, I’m almost not sure what to say…almost. He’s right though; the jokes that people make about the Wildcats have almost crossed the line from humour and stereotype into accuracy. It happened last season as well where they started off sluggishly then picked up when Aaron Nell returned from Sheffield and went back to his free scoring ways. They overcame the MK Lighting in an enthralling playoff quarter final which they won in the last minute of the second leg with a penalty shot (is there any more last minute than that?) before outplaying Manchester for large chunks of the semi final and falling at the final hurdle…on a powerplay…in overtime. (Just to maintain, soft it might have seemed but it was holding by the rule book.)
With the about to swansong Stevie Lyle in net, Kenton Smith alongside Alex Symonds on defence, a possible top line of Nell, Kostal and Malasinski with the returning Henri Sadvik bolstering the second line alongside Lee Richardson looks a formidable top end of the roster but I never think the issue with Swindon is the quality of their top end players so much as their game plan.
What arguably cost the Wildcats a place in the playoff final last season was they over played their top end players to the point of exhaustion. The gap between the top guys and the depth was too big and coach Ryan Aldridge understandably wants his top guys on the ice for the big plays but be it game 1 of the season or game 60, you need the depth of your roster to carry you through. Manchester won a league title off of it, Basingstoke won two trophies off of it, Swindon didn’t have it last season. It’s all well and good having a team of good players but what you do with them matters as well. There has to be a plan B when plan A doesn’t work. With an EPL that now has even more power players than the 13/14 campaign, there are questions to be asked as to how the Wildcats would approach it and tackle it.
That said the recruiting challenges faced by Aldridge have provided some interesting answers. The loss of fan favourite Jonas Höög has been countered with Polish international Tomasz Malasinski whose record in a league a step above the EPL is established. The retention of the promising Ollie Betteridge and Adam Harding on two way contracts with Nottingham and Cardiff respectively and the addition to the highly touted Callum Buglass, also on a two way with the Devils shows not only an answer to the depth issue but also a willingness of Swindon to develop youngsters for a higher tier albeit someone else’s. Keeping established EPL veterans like Symonds, Richardson and the ever present Shane Moore speaks of a roster that is well rounded not just one full of youthful energy and naïve hope.
The addition of Smith especially is the Wildcats benefitting off of a player wanting to be close to home in the same way as Lyle and good on them for doing it. Smith is an upgrade on Pekkarinen for my money.
This is a much more solid looking Swindon roster than last season’s effort. The core of last season’s group has been kept together and they will be hungry to avenge recent heartbreaking ends to the last 2 campaigns. It looks decent though there are some question marks that still hang over it. As Ben mentioned, despite announcing the roster is complete there is only 9 forwards announced. Whilst the aforementioned Smith is a great addition to the lineup, is that defence good enough to provide the requisite support Lyle needs still?
The team looks alright but given the way the league has gone and recruitment elsewhere, sadly I think Swindon’s fortunes don’t rise above 5th again. The chance for the trophy to send the finest British netminder of his generation off into the sunset lies in the cup or the playoffs for Swindon rather than the league title.
#97 Joe Greener
Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire
Announced as signed: Bison website, 14th August
With the season nearly upon us and Banners On The Wall gearing up for the new campaign, coach Doug Sheppard is putting the finishing touches to the Bison roster with the announcement that Joe Greener returns to the Herd for 2014/15 as player/assistant coach.
Greener, 27 returns for his 3rd season in Bison colours after an impressive 2013/14 campaign where he scored 24 goals and 41 assists for 65 points in 52 games during the regular season as well as a goal and an assist in the playoffs and 5 assists in 4 games during the later stages of the EPL cup.
Greener started his hockey in the Bison junior system and made guest appearances in the BNL for the Herd before an impressive 2001/02 for the Bison under 19s where he scored 12 goals and 18 points in 15 games saw him drafted into the Herd’s BNL squad for 2002/03. Greener dressed for 31 games scoring 3 goals and 2 assists as the Bison finished 4th in their final season in the BNL.
Whilst the Bison moved on to be one of the founder members of the Elite League, Greener moved across the Atlantic Ocean to further his hockey skills by joining the Soo Indians organisation. Starting in 2003/04 with their team in the Mid West Elite Hockey League, one of the best youth leagues in the US, Joe scored an impressive 56 points in 70 games. He found his way into Indians team in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), but his season was a short one, 3 regular season games and 4 playoff appearances as well as appearing for GB under 18s.
2005/06 saw Joe move from Soo to Cleveland to play for the Barons and an 18 point campaign in 57 games before a two year stint in Traverse City with the North Stars. Joe played 103 games across the two seasons scoring 48 points to finish off his junior hockey career.
After finishing with the North Stars, Joe returned back to Britain and signed with Bracknell in the EPL for 2008/09, quickly establishing himself as one of the best young prospects in the league with 51 points in 45 games. After one season at The Hive, Joe moved across Berkshire to sign with Slough where he spent the next 3 campaigns, 2 of them as captain. In 157 games for the Jets, Greener scored 218 points as well as capturing 2 playoff titles in 2010 and 2012 and the EPL cup in 2011 where the Jets beat the Bison in the final.
When Doug Sheppard left the Jets to return to Basingstoke, he convinced Greener to return as well as the Bison re-tooled their lineup and made the club’s first real charge at EPL silverware in 2012/13. Greener’s season was hampered slightly by injury as he finished with 49 points in 46 games and the Bison fell agonisingly short of all the trophies before this past campaign with the double, Greener’s first as Sheppard’s assistant coach.
So the rumours and wishful thinking of our friends in Berkshire were unfounded and Joe Greener remains a Bison for another season. The Bison’s top scoring British player and 2nd in the club’s scoring charts to Tomas Karpov will have been high on Doug Sheppard’s list of people he wanted to return. Greener has his detractors, mainly those who do not like his style of play rather than a lack of appreciation for his talents (including this blog and many others initially admitting that they didn’t know how to cheer for him after booing him for three years in Slough) but there’s one thing people should be in agreement over; Joe Greener is a top quality British talent in the EPL.
At the end of 2012/13, there were some who were critical of the season past, many forgetting or seemingly unaware of the injury that Joe played with for large chunks of the season. In spite of that, he went over a point per game so his return was expected.
2013/14, aside from having him fit most of the year saw Joe like everyone else benefit from the chemistry in the camp. The combination of Greener, Chinn and Long after Ciaran joined from Slough never got the headlines of the MKM line but was equally as potent and added a much grittier edge that some teams in the EPL lacked in their top 6. All three men are more than happy playing the body as well as well and the combination just made sense. Long and Greener both possess excellent and accurate shots and Chinny is just Chinny. The passes go where he wants them to go.
Greener himself as an individual player is one of the EPL’s premier power forwards. He can score, he can hit, he can fight when needed, he’s never afraid to get right into the face of a netminder and take the requisite hacks and whacks that come with that. Like Ciaran Long, Greener shines in big games and has an almost uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time; just ask Swindon.
The assistant coach tag is always an interesting one. At 27, you could question why he would want the responsibility when you could just be playing in what many would call his prime years. It’s a two way process though, learning to coach at this stage is never a bad skill to have for Greener and when you consider who the head coach is, it makes sense in many ways. Though they play different roles, you can see Greener and Sheppard are very similar people; focussed and passionate about their hockey though neither are particularly what you would call extroverted off the ice (though compared to Aaron Connolly, who is?). Aside from having one of your best players in that position of responsibility, someone who is like minded helps as well.
Ultimately and despite the hopes of the Bracknell press and fans, the Bison have re-signed a player who is more than established at this level. Greener now has 3 playoff titles and 2 EPL cups at 27. That’s 5 trophies in the EPL in 6 seasons; that dear reader is not a coincidence. He rejoins a team that can and should contend again this season and whilst some may occasionally not like how he goes about it, you can’t argue that it isn’t successful. (I wonder how often that phrase will be used this upcoming season.)
Welcome back, Joe and if someone skates into you during a warm up again just think happy thoughts.