Standing in the Way – Guildford Flames

Another team announce their roster is complete and so we’re back to look at another of the Bison’s 2011/12 opponents for the coming English Premier Ice Hockey League season.

 

Name: Guildford Flames

Home ice: Spectrum Leisure Complex (aka The Library)

Player/Coach: Paul Dixon

Last season’s position: 2nd, playoff champions

Top scorer: Nathan Rempel, 59 goals + 32 assists = 91 pts

Match night ticket price: £8.95 – £9.50 Adults, £5.50 – £6.50 OAP/Students, £4.95 – £5.95 child (some games Kids for a Quid), £24 Family ticket (2 adults + 2 children)

 

Goalies:

 

After their experiment last season with the temperamental and somewhat yo-yo like form of Miroslav Hala, Guildford have reverted back to a British 1-2 punch in net for this season. The reasoning behind the Hala signing was supposedly that as Lee was coming off a bad injury they signed Hala to give them a solid netminder until Lee was available to take back the reigns. Lee’s injury healed, he took over and stood on his head for the Flames to win the playoffs. The experiment was some sort of success I suppose.

 

With Lee back to full fitness he now will actually start the season as number 1 in the Flames net for the first time. The last two seasons he’s taken the starters job by force after Christmas from Dean Skinns and the previously mentioned Hala. The obvious question is how will Lee manage being the number 1 goalie for the Flames? Could it cause him problems being the guy for the whole campaign rather than just half? Whilst nothing is ever certain, the answer is likely no.

 

Lee is a very good netminder. He was impressive at EIHL level at 18 and only really improved. We will likely see himself playing a lot of minutes which he’ll like and he will frustrate teams and their fans for the foreseeable future. Reading his stats though shows that he has only had 1 season with a GAA of below 2.5 which interests me. Last season in his 21 appearances his GAA was 2.97. Is nearly 3 goals a game the average of a championship winning netminder?

 

Lee’s backup for this season is the more British than Hala and probably easier on the wage bill (not that they need the help) James Hadfield.

The Sheffield born 18 year old had a very good junior career with GAA of less than 2 and last season was his first full season into the adult ranks with Swindon Wildcats.

Sadly, and this is a criticism I use a LOT about Swindon was their defence for the last few seasons hasn’t been very good meaning that Hadfield and Chris Douglas saw a lot of rubber. Douglas couldn’t recreate his form from the 09/10 playoffs and the talented Hadfield couldn’t do it all alone as he finished the season with 89% save percentage and a 4.14 GAA.

 

This however is a good situation for Hadfield to find himself in. He won’t be expected to work miracles as he’s on a decent side and when he does see time he was have somebody better than Jan Melichar in front of him to help. He won’t see a great deal of ice time I don’t think but don’t be shocked if Dixon starts the Sheffield born youngster in a few games against the lower end sides.

 

Defence:

 

The Flames defence is pretty much a carbon copy of last season’s blue line bar a couple of minor changes; Joe Graham didn’t have his contract renewed and we’re all assuming that new import defenceman Branislav Kvetan won’t bolt to Nottingham after 5 minutes.

 

The 33 year old Slovakian Kvetan played only 17 games in France last season for Dijon but does have decent numbers in some very good leagues for a guy who appears to be more of a stay at home defender. Where normally import defencemen are required to put up large numbers in the EPL, due to the numbers that the forwards are likely to put up it seems that Kvetan will likely get a chance to play a bit more of his natural game. That said if he adapts to the EPL like he did to the Swedish Division 1 (which is actually their 3rd division) he may naturally get a decent points total without trying to become the EPL version of Lubomir Visnovsky.

 

The boss Paul Dixon has gone for the standard 5 man defensive corps for the season with himself as a part of it for his 23rd season in British hockey. He doesn’t really need much of an introduction but worth noting is Dixon is actually coming off a career year in points last season with 43 in what was his 4th season as player-boss in the Quiet Carriage.

 

One of the few Guildford junior products to actually make the team David Savage is fast becoming one of the top British defencemen in the country. Savage is a defender in the Jonathan Weaver mould of being high scoring (12+28 for 40 points last season) but can is also a very competent blueliner. If a Guildford junior can come through their youth system, play for the Flames and not have to leave to get any ice time then Dixon must see something in the young man who will likely be attracting EIHL interest.

 

Neil Liddiard is likely to be the other “defensive” defender along with Kvetan. Again like Dixon, Liddiard doesn’t need that much of an introduction to people as he too seems to have been around forever. This coming campaign will be his 19th in senior hockey in Britain and with his career high being 28 points, nobody is expecting Liddiard to be a points scoring machine.

 

Lastly is Jez Lundin. The American born product of the North East (shock horror, a Guildford player who used to play in Newcastle) is another high scoring defenceman (10+43 = 53 points) and is universally loved by the Flames faithful. Outside of Surrey he seems to be universally loathed with a reputation for taking cheap shots and then not answering the bell when people come to call. Lundin is a very good player and a key part of the Flames powerplay for getting the pucks on net but sadly some of his on ice antics take away from the fact he’s actually very good out there. The hope is he’s matured a bit this season but nobody’s holding their breath.

 

The Flames have a very good blueline that has a good mix of scoring and solid defensive play. It does look slightly better than last year but the obvious question has to be Kvetan and whether he adapts to EPL hockey.

 

Forwards:

 

Not one Guildford player scored as many points as Bracknell’s Michael Pinc last season. Pinc weighed in with 100 points. The best a Guildford player managed, as we can see above, was Nathan Rempel with 91. Where the big difference comes is in secondary scoring. 9 Guildford players scored 40 points or more last season, 12 players scored 30 points or more. Only 5 Bracknell players managed 35 points or more.

 

The depth across the 3 lines is where the Flames are going to cause their main damage. The expected third line of Stuart Potts, Rick Plant and Andy Hemmings combined totals for last season comes to a massive 86 points if you include Hemmer’s totals from his time with the Bison. 19 year old Scott Greenfield will be rotating onto that 3rd line as well. Greenfield dressed for 51 games last season registering 2 points. With such an offensively potent third line, Greenfield’s opportunities may be few and far between with what could be argued is one of the better third lines in the league.

 

The Flames lost Lukas Smital and Martin Masa and moved to replace the 151 points they provided between the two of them with Curtis Huppe from Manchester and Greg Chambers from Coventry Blaze.

 

Chambers had a disappointing season by his standards with the Blaze, even being called out by coach Paul Thompson at one point during the season as Coventry slumped to 6th place, their worst ever EIHL finish. The thing with Chambers is, he’s a natural goalscorer.

Bison fans need no introduction to Chambers and many was the time be it on the forums or at the rink was Chambers’ work rate. On his day he can rip teams apart but if it doesn’t come together then it really doesn’t come together at all.

 

It’s what made the signing of Huppe all the more interesting. OK, signing a man coming off of a 110 point season is nothing to be sniffed at but Huppe has always been heralded as a similar kind of player to Chambers. When they are good, they’re good but when they’re not so good they’re kind of invisible out there. It’s why we likely won’t see them on a line together.

 

The two likely top line centres Matt Towe and David Longstaff are good but they are not Tony Hand. Huppe won’t score 100 points this season but with the centre that suits him best between them they could score 150 points. Same goes for Chambers and Guildford’s offensive threat depends on getting those top two lines right. I spent a while thinking, even offered a guess on Twitter but have refined it and think Flames will go this way.

 

It’s a relatively safe bet that Nathan Rempel will be on the left of the top line with Ben Campbell on the left of the 2nd line. For me, Towe centres the top line with Rempel and Huppe leaving Chambers together with Longstaff who he has played alongside for Great Britain and Campbell. To be fair either line on their day could be the first line but that for me seems the most likely set-up to start the season with

 

It’s firepower so large it could sink the Bismarck.

 

Hey, it’s Guildford afterall and they of course need that spare 5th import in the form of the ever present Milos Melicherik. Whilst Milos isn’t the player he once was he has more than enough talent for a shuffle of imports to allow for him to slot onto the second line and still be massively effective, just to rub it in.

 

Overall:

 

I don’t know many people who like the Guildford Flames. Flames fans will claim it’s jealousy. I personally don’t like the sense of entitlement that some around the organisation seem to have, Pittsburgh Penguins Syndrome as it’s known. There is however one thing you can’t deny; that looks like a very good team, possibly even a championship winning team.

 

Lee is arguably the best goalie in the league alongside Ben Bowns which gives them a solid foundation in net. The 5 defenders, even allowing for Kvetan to not be a point a game are solid whilst being able to score 150-180 points between the five of them. The forwards if all clicks into place will blow apart some of the weaker teams in the league without getting out of second gear.

 

However there are question marks. Huppe and Chambers’ temperament is easily called into question given their form of previous years. In spite of his talent, can Lee handle the workload of being the number 1 for a full season? Just how good will Kvetan be? No team is unbeatable and the gap between the best and worst sides in the EPL has arguably gotten smaller during this off season.

 

People begging for a Flames implosion though are likely to be disappointed. Guildford will be a top 3 side, there’s not really much question of that. The question for Paul Dixon’s side is how they deal with the uncertainties and downturns in form that affect all hockey teams in every league in the world. Good teams can play badly and win or will take 1 loss in 3 games where other teams will take 2 or 3.

 

I’m not going to say Guildford will be champions for the simple reason that it’s not a sure thing. Manchester, Slough, MK and the Bison will in my opinion all be able to have a say in where the EPL title goes but to beat the Flames teams will need to bring their A game. There’s little question of that.

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