Building the Herd – Jan Jarabek

#?? Jan Jarabek

Position: Defence

Born: Trenčín, Trenčiansky okres, Slovensko

Announced as signed: Bison website, 27th September

With the non-return of Miroslav Vantroba and the Jakub Barton experiment having come to a quick end, Bison head coach Doug Sheppard has moved to address the Herd’s poor early season form and blueline corps by signing Slovakian defenceman, Jan Jarabek.

27 year old Jarabek came through the junior system with his home town club Dukla Trencin and progressed through the under 18 and under 20 sides before a very busy couple of seasons between 2007 and 2009 where he played over 100 games with 91 points for the Dukla under 20s whilst making his Extraliga debut for Trencin and playing in the 1.Liga for Dukla Senica.

The remainder of Jarabek’s time in Slovakia followed a very familiar path as he spent time in the Extraliga with Trencin whilst being loaned out to Prievidza and Povazka Bystrica. When Jarabek’s time playing hockey in his homeland, his senior stats across the leagues tallied 154 regular season games with 37 points and 17 playoff games with 1 assist.

To start the 2011/12 season, Jarabek left his homeland and headed to Hungary to play for Miskolci Jegesmedve. After a 4th placed finish in the regular season, Jarabek and his Jegesmedve team mates made a run to the finals of the joint Hungarian/Romanian league where they were beaten by Hungarian giants Dunaújváros. Jarabek finished the season with an impressive 29 points from 32 regular season games.

From Hungary, Jarabek moved north to the Copenhagen suburb of Rødovre to play for the Mighty Bulls playing 27 games in the Metalligaen before heading to Sweden to finish the 2012/13 season with Borås HC in the Swedish 3rd tier.

For 2013/14 Jarabek moved on again, this time to Germany where he had a very productive year with Hannover Scorpions as he added 51 assists in 29 games in the Oberliga Nord.

For the last 2 seasons, Jarabek has been part of Gornyak Rudny in the Kazakh league (or as Hull called it, the KHL) playing 97 games across the two seasons and scoring 37 points in that time and earning himself a bronze medal for the 2014/15 season.

We are not going to focus too much on Jakub Barton’s performances right here because whilst this concerns him to a point, we will look exclusively at him later this week. However his replacement seems to be of a slightly different ilk to the last two import defenceman.

Even though Barton was only with the Bison for a short period, the last 2 import defencemen in Bison colours have been a bit more advanced in years but have mainly played for clubs in Slovakia or the Czech Republic. Whilst Barton put up few points, the intention was that he was similar to Miro Vantroba and would do so.

Jan Jarabek clearly has the ability to put up the points and is a Slovak but is that little bit younger and has a bit more experience of other leagues. He’s actually played for some very good teams. As we saw, he made the finals of the MOL Liga. He was part of the first Hannover Scorpions team post their DEL exit that came top of the Oberliga Nord in the regular season. The Kazakh league is a bit of a melting pot but to get a 3rd place is impressive none the less.

Above is the one video that I found that had appropriate music on it but if you hunt about there’s a couple of Jarabek. Combined with the research if you hunt around, the Bison seen to be getting the sort of defenceman that they were looking for; a defenceman with a big shot from the point who will join the rush when needed. What there’s not a lot of footage of is him on defence but you’d hope given that he’s played in a few places that he’d be alright at that bit.

Ultimately, just like with Barton, this is a calculated gamble but right now it seems that it’s a gamble that the Bison need to take.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Jan.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 24/9/16

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 3-4 Peterborough Phantoms aps

Jarolin pp                     Susters

Antonov                       Weldon

Karpov                         Stepanek pp

Shootout (Phantoms shoot first)

Polodna scores            Padelek scores

Long saved                  Pliskauskas saved

Antonov saved             Stepanek saved

Connolly saved            Levers scores

We’re trying a slightly different format today where we focus less on just a straight forward game write up and more on game analysis. Like/dislike it? Let us know.

What went well on the night:

Character comeback – having dug themselves into an almighty hole, for the Bison to come back from 2-0 and 3-1 down was a really important statement that the Bison needed to make to themselves and to the fans. Coming off the back of some poor results and then a poor start to the game, Doug Sheppard obviously said something in the second period break and the team responded. The juggling of the lines (make your own jokes there about how often that happens even when we’re winning) seemed to work too and, though it may not be a massive surprise, Karpov and Antonov together is just awesome to watch. I recommend hunting out the highlights when they come for both their goals as they’re superbly worked.

The one thing that was talked up a lot when this roster was put together was how talented it looked however the big problem so far has been that for all its talent, something hadn’t been clicking. With their backs against the wall against a team that they knew they could do something against, the team (well those that got played in the later stages) found a way to galvanise and rightly pulled themselves back into the encounter.

The grind line – I call them the grind line because calling them the 4th line is a touch unfair and where the attack has been misfiring at times, there is one line that has continued to perform at a consistent level and done what they’re sent out to do. They have been grinding out performances where it hasn’t quite clicked for others. Matt Towalski, Dan Lackey and especially Shaun Thompson have started the season off with a string of really good, solid performances. Yes, they haven’t put up many points bar during the game against Bracknell where nearly everyone got a point but they are doing everything asked of them and more. The only thing that confuses me with this line is why Lackey doesn’t just park himself in front of the net. Yes, I realise this is likely instructions but given the Bison are missing that player with a bit of size to stand in front of the net, I do wonder why we’re not using Lackey more to just take whacks in front of the net and just get in the way. He may finally get that goal they’ve been trying to get him.

What didn’t go well on the night:

In the hole – whilst the comeback showed a great deal of character, an underwhelming first period is what put the Bison in the hole in the first place. There’s an argument that in some ways that bit of adversity was what was needed to kick start that show of heart that the team knew that they had; that the pressure would bring out the real quality in them. The problem is that it’s not a good habit to fall in to, especially at home. Where Peterborough sat back way too far and allowed the Bison back into the game, other teams will not. Just like in the Telford game, Tomas Hiadlovsky was not offered the support that he needed on the back end and at the end of the first and second period despite playing the better hockey, the Bison were on the back foot because for some reason the team defence is struggling at the moment. The third goal everyone gets a pass on because it was really nice.

Falling into the trap – I’ll give the Phantoms their due and criticism in a bit but over the last couple of years the Bison have really struggled with playing the Phantoms and I don’t know why. I’ll get crucified by some Phantoms fans for saying it because I sound like a broken record but I don’t know why this happens. The Bison get frustrated, the game gets testy, the Phantoms collapse down and rely on Auzins to pull them through. At what stage do the Bison find a way to stop the cycle continuing? It’s really easy to say “get in Auzins’ face and rattle him” or “pass around them and use our speed” but we all know that it’s not as easy as that. Doug Sheppard is the coach of the year, Slava Koulikov is a former coach of the year but this seems to be a blind spot and maybe some more creative thinking or specific line matching is required. They managed it twice around Christmas 2015 and it won Bison the title in the long run. Once the Bison line-up is more settled, Sheppard can refocus his efforts for the next time the Herd play the Phantoms.

The ice – we can’t really avoid the issue on this one when it resulted in a 40 minute gap between the first and second periods. The rink staff are trying the best they can with the circumstances they are presented with, we can all respect that and we thank them for the efforts but when the start of nearly every period this season has been delayed due to the ice being so wet, there has to be a bit of common sense applied and the pad flooded when the EPIHL champions aren’t in the middle of a league fixture. Hopefully this will serve as a learning point and things will improve.

A word on our opponents:

Let’s go right after the main talking point shall we? Whatever possessed Petr Stepanek to shove Tomas Hiadlovsky in the face and try to go for him for the crime of making a really good pad save is anyone’s guess. It had already been a very unusual night and combined with Doug Sheppard giving Janis Auzins a piece of his mind in the handshakes this was the added exclamation on that weirdness.

I keep getting a sense of deja vu whenever I write these pieces but as I said above, somehow Slava Koulikov must live inside a corner at the back of Doug Sheppard’s head. These games keep on with this pattern and for as much as I dislike it, you have to credit the Phantoms for it. It wins them games and it keeps winning them games against the Bison. This writer will maintain that they don’t play attractive hockey (which no away team owes anyone ever) but they don’t play what I generally consider to be the better hockey and keep winning. The analyst in me can shrug my shoulders at it because that’s hockey, sometimes you win and you’re not the better side. The fan in me keeps increasing the dent in my wall.

Will Weldon was given the beers, his goal was a great bit of vision whether he meant it 100% or not, but bizarrely the one person I actually would have given the beers to till he was thrown out for his act of stupidity was Stepanek. He’s a very big unit who used his size well and was the Phantoms biggest threat throughout the game. He muscled past players with comparative ease at times and if he decides to not blow a gasket every five minutes over reasonable things, will do some damage in the EPL.

Janis Auzins did his best impression of Janis Auzins; whilst the Bison needed to do a lot more to challenge him, he has this really relaxed demeanour that Phantoms fans must find very reassuring. He still has his unnecessary outbursts but the fact that he’s now fully adjusted to the EPL makes him such a valuable asset to Peterborough.

That said, they can’t just sit back and hope Auzins will always save them. He’s good but he’s not super human so the fact that the Phantoms sat back that much and allowed the Bison back into the game is a point of concern for Slava Koulikov. Shut down hockey is all well and good but it needs to be much more proactive in its nature. Allowing Vanya Antonov to score early in the third gave the Bison the momentum and from that point, the equaliser felt like it was always going to come. Even in all my criticisms of Peterborough last season, I credited them for being very good at sticking to their systems but that might be part of the system to tweak.

Lowlight of the night: No prizes for guessing really, who starts a fight in the shootout for the goalie making a good save on you?

Highlight of the night: Antonov’s goal is gorgeous.


The BOTW Podcast – episode 40

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The season is off and running and we’ve got 2 really good guests on a sort of inadvertant northern special.

We talk to the man behind Victory Hockey UK, Mike Newton as the newest hockey clothing apparel company launches its website. We chat about hockey in Manchester and just what made him decide to get into the hockey clothing game.

We also chat to Andrew Turnbull who is in the process of writing “The Big Blue Machine; 10 years of the Durham Wasps” about hockey history in the north east and what his plans are for the book.

That and all the news should keep you tided over nicely.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.

P.S. Yes, I realise I say that Sheffield played with 2 imports rather than 2 imports down. Still, good weekend for the Dogs to run 2 teams that close.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Bracknell Bees 17/9/16

EPIHL

Basingstoke Bison 8-1 Bracknell Bees

Thompson x 3                Barker

Davies pp

Lack

Long

Towalski

Karpov


Goodnight and Good Luck – Lewis Turner

For the 2nd time in 2 seasons, the Bison have released a player after the opening weekend of the season with the announcement of the departure of Lewis Turner.

First out; Lewis Turner has left the Bison. (c) 5 Hole Photography

First out; Lewis Turner has left the Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

In Turner we’ve lost a really decent looking defenceman. Whilst word was that he didn’t have a great game in Hull, I thought he was a good shout for man of the match against Telford where the rest of the defence didn’t have the best of games. During pre-season as well, Turner had looked confident on the puck and had appeared to fit well into the Bison system. He is a player who knows his game and that’s to be a solid, stay at home guy which all teams need.

Where has he gone?

Lewis has “stepped back” from hockey due to his business ventures, so another player with a contract for Real Life IHC.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, nobody and with British defencemen something of a rare commodity I would venture that the Bison might have to run with 5 defenders for at least the next couple of weeks. Rumours started abounding about a return to the EPL for David Savage but those rumours are not very strong sounding at this time.

Final thoughts:

Given that Lewis wasn’t with the club for very long and doesn’t leave the Bison under something of a cloud like Ralfs Circenis did, it’s really hard to know much of what to say.

Anyone who has watched the EPL for the last couple of years knows that Lewis Turner is a very good hockey player at this level. He was a player that might not have been a number 1 defenceman on every team but he would have found a roster spot on every team, that much is certain.

It seems strange to go all the way through the summer and the pre-season and the first weekend to them step back from hockey due to work but that’s how it happens sometimes. Lewis has some professional pride is not going to want to half-arse the job and we wouldn’t want him to do so. Therefore if work is going to cause an issue then it’s better for club and player to say their thank yous and go their separate ways.

Might we see Lewis surface in the NIHL? Entirely possible given the reduced workload but given the demands of EPL hockey, if he’s stepping back due to time issues then don’t expect him to just magically appear for the Bees next week.

We are always accepting of player movement in British hockey, though I confess to always finding it odd so soon into the campaign when things are still so unsettled. We accept it and we move on.

All the best, Lewis and may everything away from hockey go as well as it can.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 10/09/16

EPIHL

Basingstoke Bison 1-4 Telford Tigers

Long pp                        Davies

                                     Satek

                                     Plant pp

                                     Heywood

False start: After a successful pre-season, the Bison actually started the opening game of the 2016/17 campaign at full strength. After his scary looking injury on Wednesday against Swindon, Rene Jarolin did ice in a full face cage. Telford were without Joe Miller and it was a battle of the import goalies as Tomas Hiadlovsky faced off with Ondrej Raszka.

The Tigers had the first chance almost immediately off of the faceoff as Corey McEwan fired on net but it was right into Hiadlovsky’s glove.

The teams poked and prodded each other in the earlier forays but it would be the visitors that would be the first to strike. The Bison were struggling with the Tigers’ speed and when Weaver’s outlet pass found Michal Satek, the former Phoenix forward managed to get the puck on net and Matty Davies managed to get enough on the puck for it to squeeze through Hiadlovsky at 04:34.

After a very suspect hit from Phil Hill on Jakub Barton, the first period rolled on with a pattern of Bison trying to skate round the Tigers and creating chances from the rebounds that Raszka was giving up but not being able to follow up whereas the Tigers countering at speed and stretching the Bison but couldn’t really get the shots on net.

Eventually numbers would cause the Tigers some problems as Mr Matthews called the visitors for too many men on the ice and this would give the Bison an opening. It took just over 30 seconds to make the man advantage count; Vanya Antonov managed to get the puck to Declan Balmer who walked off of the point and fed the puck into Ciaran Long who would smack the puck past Raszka at 11:57 to tie the score.

This got the Bison’s tail up and they tested Raszka more and more with Tomas Karpov going the closest. When Macauley Heywood was called for tripping it seemed that the home side would have the perfect chance to go ahead. However the powerplay units misfired and couldn’t get anything going thanks to some decent penalty killing from the Tigers.

Telford were sticking to their guns and were using their speed to keep finding the holes that they could exploit and the combination of Davies and Satek would hurt the Bison again. Taking the zone and stretching the defence, Davies would be the set-up man this time as he fed Satek who, with Hiadlovsky being screened by his own defence, would draw the Bison goalie towards the centre of the net and then fire back towards Hiadlovsky’s right post and find the net at 17:04 for the 2-1 lead.

It would only get worse for the Bison. After taking a very long look at the challenge, Mr Matthews called Jakub Barton for tripping which gave the Tigers a powerplay chance that they would take full advantage of. The Bison penalty kill did well for the first little while but the Tigers’ special teams unit got get up, stretched the defence and Satek’s shot was tipped past Hiadlovsky, again screened by his own defenceman by Rick Plant at 19:37 for a 3-1 lead at the first break along with a very late and elbow lead hit from Phil Hill to Petr Polodna.

The Tigers started the second period brighter; slick passing going forward combined with the Bison just not managing to get anything going made for a really uninteresting start of the second for the home support.

However the Bison started turning the tide and were getting good shots on Raszka’s net. Karpov went close after some neat passing but the Pole kept the puck out sliding from right to left.

Petr Polodna landed a big hit on Dan Scott who didn’t take kindly the fact the hit was a little from behind. As every Tigers fan yelled at him not to retaliate, he retaliated and Scott was called for roughing. Despite a shorthanded chance from Jonathan Weaver that Hiadlovsky did well to deny, the Bison’s powerplay and minutes following that kept forcing rebounds out of Raszka but just couldn’t seem to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net. Rene Jarolin also had a good shot but it zipped the wrong side of the post.

Given that they were 3-1 up, the Tigers sat back and tried the tactics that had worked so well in the first period; wait, counter at speed and strike. Davies and Satek went close again but this time Davies’ tip was wide of the mark.

Raszka’s net seemed to be living a very charmed life; Rounding had a shot tipped by Lack but it went through the goalie, across the crease and away. Towalski tipped a shot from Reynolds that beat Raszka and the bar. Karpov had a shot that went wide.

The problem of course is that close doesn’t count and one defensive lapse killed the Bison and the game. A turnover in their own zone, some neat passing and Macauley Heywood fired over a sprawling Hiadlovsky at 38:01.

The period came to the end with Hiadlovsky called into a couple more saves and the Bison in a 3 goal hole.

Doug Sheppard changed up the lines to start the third period in the hope of sparking some offence however it just didn’t seem to work. Not needing to score, the Tigers played what Bison fans would recognise as Doug Sheppard hockey; they had the lead so they shut the game down and disrupted a Bison team that on the night was low on confidence.

Nothing seemed to be going the Bison’s way. The rebounds off of Raszka fell to nobody, Doug Clarkson clattered Tomas Karpov from behind with no call, every pass just went 1 inch too far one way or the other.

Frustration started to sink in for the Bison. Declan Balmer landed a late hit to a Tigers player on the boards that was called. Macauley Heywood steamed into the fray and a few punches were thrown. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, the Bison ended up with the powerplay from the affair but couldn’t capitalise. Vanya Antonov went closest but his shot missed the top corner.

The teams traded penalties as time rolled on; Lack and Hill clashed off the play and took matching minors then Warren Tait was called for tripping so the Bison took the timeout just before the 4on3 powerplay. Again Raszka couldn’t really control the puck too well but his defence helped him out. Time wound down and that was that, the title defence had not started off in the best way.

Bleh: I am aware that bleh isn’t a real word but it’s the best way to describe last night. There was some good but most of it was frustration so we walk away from the game and just go “bleh”.

The result slightly flatters Telford but feels worse because it’s clear that the gameplan just didn’t work and the performance just wasn’t there overall. The one person I feel a bit sorry for is Tomas Hiadlovsky whose landed with a 75% save percentage despite having actually played quite well and got very little help from his defence.

Grant Rounding got man of the match but I had 4 people in mind for it. Yes, they got scored on once but the line of Lackey, Thompson and Towalski was the hardest working line of the night. Where the other lines misfired, they did their job the best for the 60 minutes. They’re not spectacular by any means but they were gritty and put in a shift.

The other player was Lewis Turner who stood out on the defence likely because the rest of the blueline was uncharacteristically under par, screening their own goalie for goals 2 and 3. Turner on the other hand looked assured, confident, made the smart plays and just generally did very well I thought.

The one thing that really frustrated me was just the sheer lack of awareness to go to the net with a keeper coughing out rebounds like there was no tomorrow. Yes the Tigers defence boxed out to try and help him but there were times when it looked like that defence wasn’t comfortable with the goalie and vice versa which wasn’t exploited. Many people said that they felt that this was the exact sort of game for a Joe Greener or a Joe Rand but 1 game in to a 54 game season I refuse to pick apart the roster just yet because we don’t know fully what this team has in its locker.

It’s not a good start, that much is fair but we need to give this roster a chance to bed in. Let’s give it till week 3 and then wonder where all the tweaks need to be made.

A word on our opponents: Credit where credit is due; well done to Telford, the better team won on the night. There’s very little argument from me on that point. I do think 3-1 would be a more fair reflection than 4-1 but that’s just me.

There’s no real bad for the Tigers out of this performance so let’s separate this into the good and the “less good, partially concerning” which is where we’ll start.

Ondrej Raszka and his defence need to find a way to better coexist or there will be issues. Raszka gives up a lot of rebounds and I mean a lot of rebounds. Fortunately for the Tigers they came up against a team who seemed at times to avoid the front of the net, especially in the third when their opponents’ heads were down. Another team may not be so giving in that sense.

I’m also not sold that much on the defence off of the back of this performance but that’s a double edged sword. They weren’t made to work that hard so how do we know how they’ll do in the crunch? That remains to be seen.

The good? That attack is very good going forward. The physical presence of the line of Corey McEwan, Jason Silverthorn and Doug Clarkson especially is going to be an issue for any team but think about the line matching at home. You’re a coach and you put out your smaller, more skilled line then out comes that line which has skill and size.

The combination of Michal Satek and Matty Davies appears to work so I’d expect Tom Watkins to not touch it. They did the most damage last night and Satek was the correct call for man of the match for me.

As I said above with the Bison, it’s easy to read too much into one game. It’s a good start, an impactful start but I try to not make a habit of reading too much into the first game of the season because all sorts can happen as teams clash for the first time with only pre-season hockey behind them. However, as I said in the Tigers preview piece, they are certainly a team to keep an eye on.

Lowlight of the night: The overall performance wasn’t great

Highlight of the night: Aside from what can only be called a ceremonial finishing of a check when Kurt Reynolds checked Doug Clarkson and we all had a good laugh, the Bison’s goal was actually a very good finish by Long.


Standing in the Way – Telford Tigers

Telford Tigers

Home Ice: Telford Ice Arena

Last season: 4th playoff quarter finalists

Sam Zajac is one of those who remain in a very changed Telford Tigers roster. Can they rise back to the top of the table? (c) 5 Hole Photography

Sam Zajac is one of those who remain in a very changed Telford Tigers roster. Can they rise back to the top of the table?
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Team preview: THF user, “notsure”

Where did it all go wrong? Firm favorites to dominate the league again with high hopes for further silverware to, a slog of a season, resulting in a visit to 9th place and an eventual 4th place league position. An empty trophy cabinet. Not even a day trip out to Coventry. That’s the position Telford Tigers found themselves in last season.

As a result, I heard that in the close season Tom Watkins developed an addiction to Sudoku and Connect4. Ok, you got me, I made that up. But the key puzzles he’s got to crack, whether he likes puzzles or not, are;

Organised defences backstopped by talented netminders. Tigers suffered 5-1 series defeats against Bison and Wildcats along with a 4-2 series defect against Flames. Tigers will be in the same position as last season if we can’t breakdown the top teams.

Tigers’ own PR reveals another issue that Watkins wants to address “Penalty kill wise, we were tied fifth with 82% and fifth in goals conceded on the kill. Special Teams are extremely important to the outcome of games. Your goalie needs to be your best killer every night”. I wonder where this one is heading?

Not enough centres. Options were non-existent when Davies was injured last season.

Team toughness. Or should I say lack of.

Before we look at the new faces to help crack these puzzles, who has left? Excluding call-ups from the NIHL Tigers team, nine faces have departed most notably Dan Davies, Novak and imports; Szabo, Birbraer, Ondrej and Makrov.

A word on Szabo. His departure generated little reaction from the Tigers’ fan base, which was a surprise. Whilst never the flashiest of players, his partnership with Silverthorn was key to the success of the first line. The right replacement is crucial.

So let’s take the penalty kill conundrum first. Exit 5’8” Murdy, enter 6’3” import netminder, Raszka who, incidentally, is nearly as heavy as Bakrlik (if you trust Elite Prospects). With a .928 save percentage last season in the Polish topflight, this should deliver the improvements Watkins wants on the PK and make lighting the lamp that bit harder for opposition teams.

Moving onto defence. Import, Ondrej, is replaced by 20 year old Adam Jones and with that Tigers have joined the all-Brit d-core club. Assuming Jones will partner Scott on the second line, this is one of the biggest unknowns in this season’s team. If things don’t work out, there’s little wiggle room. Could this see the formidable partnership of Zajac and Weaver split to balance the defensive lines?

Options. Give me options! That’s exactly what Watkins has given himself with his forward additions; Brittle, McEwen, Tait, Matty Davies, Satek, Clarkson and Kolena. In fact, the line combinations now available across all 4 lines, in conjunction with those who remain from last season, are mind boggling. Predicting lines is futile and will boil down to chemistry between players. This flexibility is likely to be how the Tigers’ coach will attempt to answer the riddle of those pesky, stingy opposition defences.

But has enough been done to answer this problem? Well…

Can Clarkson deliver point production while encouraging a team toughness that was sorely missing last season? If so, opposition teams will have more to think about, rather than “just” keeping the Tigers on the boards in the offensive zone.

Then there’s the intriguing signing of Kolena. The 22 year old Slovakian joins following a rough couple of seasons, impacted by serious injuries caused by a car accident. A year of recovery followed by 5pts in 29 games in Slovakia last season, now sees him on a plane to the UK. The hope will be that Kolena is returning to the player that earned him the Slovakian U18 and U20’s international captaincy along with a call up to the KHL. There’s no doubt this one’s a big gamble.

One to watch. The low key signing of Tait, who is likely to transform the lower lines both offensively and defensively and in turn provide valuable rest time for other lines.

So, back to those puzzles

Cracking those tight-fisted opposition defences. There are certainly more options available and different dimensions, which should keep the opposition on their toes.

Not enough centres. Solved. There are now five in the roster, giving depth throughout.

Team Toughness. Clarkson will hopefully galvanise and encourage a more physical Tigers team

Defence. Notable netminding upgrade, but is there enough depth on the defensive lines?

Unlike the last two seasons, Tigers aren’t coming in as favorites. There’s an unpredictability in this year’s roster that’s exciting and it’ll be fascinating to see how the team evolves. If some of the unknowns above prove to be successful, Tigers just might be in the running for some silverware this season. Oh, and I ran out of words to mention the Matty Davies coup…

BOTW:

The saying goes “how the mighty have fallen” and the mighty did fall. At the end of 2014/15, the Tigers were close to the grand slam only to return in 2015/16 to be realistically out of the running for the league in February, the cup slipped away and the playoffs eluded them again. It seems strange for the Tigers to be disappointed in a 4th placed finish after their horrendous start but given the resources they had at their disposal, it was just that.

A slight switch in ownership later, the Tigers have responded in force with a bit of a clear out and what can only be described as tooling up as they look to immediately thrust themselves back into contention for all the trophies.

It’s a clear out to a point when you look at some of the names who have not come back; Max Birbraer headed to Swindon, Dan Davies to Basingstoke and Tom Murdy to Cardiff whilst the former EPL player of the year Peter Szabo, Andrei Markov and others have vanished to unknown destinations.

The core has been maintained; names like Weaver, Zajac, Hill, captain Jason Silverthorn, Dan Rose and Joe Miller remain including the veteran presence of Rick Plant and one of my favourite up and comers in Macauley Haywood. Tom Watkins has very much kept the heart of a team that will play his system whilst trying to strengthen its weaknesses.

Where Tom Murdy didn’t have his best of years, his move to Cardiff and the addition of an extra import to the league has allowed Tom Watkins to Polish international netminder Ondrej Raszka which, with all due respect to Murdy, is a significant upgrade. Whilst there’s an argument that the Tigers could have taken the chance on Sam Gospel and a backup like Denis Bell (now of Manchester who played for Telford’s NIHL side last year), the focus for Telford is getting back to dominating ways quickly and if Raszka settles then he gives them a chance to do that.

Where Blahoslav Novak and Max Bibraer added some toughness with some points, Novak was a loose canon and Birbarer wanted to be closer to home so in steps Doug Clarkson and Corey McEwan.

Alongside Clarkson in the import ranks comes last season’s surprise package import wise in Michal Satek. Having signed from the MOL Liga, not much was expected for Satek but alongside Robin Kovar lit up the scoring charts.

The other new import is something of a interesting story; Milan Kolena who joins from from Piestany was once heralded as a decent prospect and was the captain of the Slovak u20 side before he was involved in a drink driving incident. The 22 year old now finds himself in Telford on a road to redemption of sorts as he a joins a team looking to re-find its once mighty touch.

Watkins has also added some extra depth to the side. Veteran Warren Tait joins from Hull after still proving that he can hang at EPL level as well as Luke Brittle who returns to the league after time in the NIHL 1 and Spain. They’re joined by defender Adam Jones who returns from the US.

The big coup of course was Matty Davies joining. When it became clear that the Hull born forward wasn’t going to stay in the EIHL (and Lord knows why) a 40 point EIHL scoring Brit suddenly became available and everyone assumed that he was heading home. Instead Tom Watkins appears to have used his resources to make an offer that couldn’t be refused and has now added even more firepower to what looks like an already potent Telford lineup.

That said, the issue in some ways wasn’t the players but making it all click. Tom Watkins’ game plan was worked out early with the roster that he had and teams easily countered them. Combined with their starting netminder having a less than stellar season and it saw Telford massively underachieve with the roster that they had. Changing the roster is fine but if they play in the same way to start this season as they did to start 2015/16 then the same problems will arise irrespective of whoever wears the orange shirts. They battered Hull in pre-season but pre-season is one thing. Opening night presents them with a very different task. This Tigers team should be there or thereabouts for every trophy, you’d have to be blind to rule them out but the book has been written on how to counter Tom Watkins’ usual game plan. If he’s adapted and finds a way to make this team unplayable then the entire league is in a lot of trouble.