Standing in the Way – Slough Jets

Another EPL roster complete which means it’s time to take another look at another team’s roster in depth. This time around it’s defending EPL cup winners, the Slough Jets.

 

Name: Slough Jets

Home ice: Absolute Ice aka The Hanger

Player/Coach: Doug Sheppard

Last season’s position: 3rd, EPL Cup winners

Top Scorer: Darius Pliskauskas, 52 goals + 33 assists = 85 points

Match night ticket price: £11 adults, £8 OAP/Students/Emergency Services Personnel, £6.50 child, £27.50 Family ticket (2 adult, 2 child), £19.50 (1 adult, 2 child)

 

Goalies

 

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it seems to be the general idea in terms of starting netminders at Slough as Gregg Rockman for a third season between the pipes at The Hanger.

Rockman was always likely to have been back for Slough whether it was Pete Russell (more on him later) or Doug Sheppard at the helm for a couple of very obvious reasons; they like him, he likes them and he’s a good EPL level netminder.

Rockman is very much a clutch goalie and despite having the occasional wobble like all goalies do (he is human after all) when the occasion demands it of him he will likely have most opposition fans cursing his very existence. His positioning is sound and is a bit more orthodox in his style than the very good but more “arms flailing, flopping around” style of Carl Ambler at Bracknell for example. He’s a very cool head at the back which sets everybody’s mind at ease and the team in front of him can go out and play knowing the last line of defence is unlikely to collapse.

 

On paper it would be easy to say 2010/11 was not an unqualified success for Rockman. His stats took a bit of a hit seeing his GAA rise to 3.13 from 2.74 as Slough finished a respectable third. The big shock of course for Rockman coming in the playoffs where the entire Jets team seemed shell shocked as Peterborough came from behind in Slough to win the two legged tie. When you consider the playoffs in 2010, Rockman posted a GAA of 0.97 as Slough went on to win the competition, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a down year of sorts in spite of their cup win.

 

In context though, Rockman was as solid as ever. He actually on average faced close to 5 more shots a game in 2010/11 than he did the season before and his save percentage across the season actually rose from .911 to .912. He was third for save percentage behind Miroslav Hala and Alex Mettam but having been on the ice for 3029.97 minutes he played 1000 more minutes than Hala and nearly double the minutes of Mettam.

 

Backing up Rocky is newcomer to the EPL, Tom Devey who joins from Oxford City Stars in the ENL South 1. With last season’s backup Ryan Bainborough taking up the starters role for the newly formed ENL Jets in South 1, Sheppard has gone with a really left field choice here.

 

The stats we have record that last season he played 3 games in ENL South 1 for Oxford; he played a total of 21.47 minutes, faced 21 shots and conceded 4 goals. That gives us the eye watering statistic that his GAA for last season was 11.18! For those of you new to the sport that’s bad, very bad.

 

I assume there’s a plan here and that Bainborough is also going to be on hand to cover when the ENL Jets 1 don’t have a game. Also though, Doug’s not stupid. He’ll see something in Devey to give him a chance because if Rockman gets injured in a game, Devey’s going in and he’ll need to stop the puck.

 

Ultimately this is going to be another season where Rocky sees a lot of time. He’s going to have to because on paper his backup doesn’t look EPL calibre yet. I might be totally wrong and if you have seen Devey play please do drop me a line as I’d be interested to hear about him.

 

That said if all goes well for Slough he’ll see very little ice time anyway. They have a former EPL first team all star goalie back there.

 

Defence:

 

The Jets blue line has a very different look from last season, mainly thanks to former coach Pete Russell. Andy Monroe and Jan Krajicek were not offered new deals and then Paddy Ward decided to take time out from hockey. Added to that mix somewhat were James Morgan and Paul Swindlehurst. Both were Pete Russell signings and then when Russell was let go both decided to not come to Slough in the end. Swindlehurst has joined Russell at Swindon and Morgan, nobody knows.

 

One person that Russell did sign was some Lithuanian chap called Mindaugas Kieras. Remember him? Mindy needs very little introduction here but it significantly improves their powerplay and he’s always an offensive threat from the back due to that booming shot of his. He did have 15 fewer points in 2010/11 but Bison players and fans will be all too aware of the threat.

 

Alongside Kieras at the back is Adam Greener, the elder of the two brothers. Greener, part of both the playoff and cup winning sides, will never be relied upon for his scoring like Kieras (27 points in two seasons speaks to that) but he’s the solid presence on the blueline who can shut players down. He doesn’t quite have the reputation of his younger brother but isn’t afraid to have a bit of a niggle and get under peoples’ skins.

 

One of Sheppard’s contributions to the make up of the defence was the capture of Alex Symonds from Cardiff Devils. Now 23 and coming off a season where he was part of the Devils’ world record unbeaten run, he’s a bit more seasoned than the last time I saw him playing for Telford. Symonds has never been relied on for large points totals in his career so far but considering their other signings he might see himself called on to contribute to the attack more than he has in the past. I need a bit of a refresh on Symonds and his playing style but Symonds is my dark horse signing of the summer.

 

The other defensive defenceman in the rotation is John Connolly who returns having joined from Braehead mid way through the last campaign. Not another big scorer like Greener (a grand total of 2 points in senior hockey), Connolly is likely to see time on the second pairing though whether he’s with Symonds or Kieras remains to be seen. Kieras and Greener as a pairing might be too top heavy so Connolly could see himself paired with Kieras to give some parity.

 

I must admit that when I saw who was lining up as 5th defenceman I must admit brought a smile to my face. I’m not the biggest fan of Slough, this is somewhat well established but I find it incredibly hard to hate Mark Galazzi. Galazzi last iced in 2009/10 when he scored 54 points in 25 games with Bracknell Hornets as they lifted the ENL South 1 playoff title. Work commitments meant that when he was playing for the Bison in the Elite League, Galazzi didn’t train which is amazing when you consider how effective he was on the 3rd line.

I wasn’t shocked that Sheppard was the man who tempted him back to hockey after their time together in the EIHL and it will be interesting to see how he does. Galazzi is also versitile which will aid the team in terms of injury.

With youngsters Zach Sullivan and Sam Godfrey on two way contracts, Slough have players who can cover injuries at the back as well as slot in at 5th defenceman if Galazzi is called upon to play up front.

It’s a stacked blueline at the Hanger this season that looks like it has all the bases covered. Sheppard has taken the bones of what he was left by Russell and fashioned a very handy looking defensive corps.

 

Forwards

 

I will give you three guesses as to who I think is the focal point of the Jets offence. Step forward Terry Miles! Okay, okay, we all know it’s Adam Calder.

Calder who joined midway through last season after the Jets reportedly outbid a couple of EIHL teams has the potential to smash the league apart. In 23 games with Slough he scored 31 goals and 22 assists for 53 points which is 2.3 points per game. Over a 54 game season Calder would have scored 124 points and would have been second behind Tony Hand in EPL scoring.

 

Likely line mates for Calder are believed to be player/coach Sheppard and Joe Greener to put out what looks like a very good top line.

 

Shep is no slouch with 76 points last season, nor is Greener with 71 and if that line fires on all cylinders other teams will have all manner of problems trying to keep them in check. Sheppard or Greener on their own arguably are star top line forwards in the EPL let alone as line mates. Sheppard has never abandoned his personal style; he’s a smart hockey player with buckets of determination and will skate through a wall for the team.

My only personal issue is with Greener himself who something of a well earned reputation as a bit of a knuckle dragger in my mind. Another player like Jez Lundin who if he focussed on playing rather than trying to be a “character player” would draw less ire from people. Again, I won’t be holding my breath.

 

The issue of course is, what happens if their big guns don’t click and don’t fire?

 

Hello second line! Last season’s top scorer Darius Pliskauskas is likely to be joined by Dan Davies (who was announced as not returning then returned to compound the in/out nature of things at Slough this summer) and Tom Carlon who joins from Peterborough. Carlon was the scorer of the goal that knocked the Jets out of the playoffs.

 

It is well within reason that Pliskauskas could repeat his 52 goal haul of last season and Davies and Carlon are capable linemates to help him achieve that. Davies’ points total dropped 16 points last season as he finished with 42 but scoring was much more spread across the lines last season. Carlon had a 63 point season on an average Phantoms team but it obviously remains to be seen how he will do in a new system at Slough with new linemates. Again like the top line, there is a lot of potential there and if it goes right then it will go very right. Sadly if it doesn’t there could be issues.

 

The third line will likely see Terry Miles, last season’s captain at Bracknell centring young standout Aaron Connolly (no relation to John) and the unique stylings of Ryan Watt. Make no mistake, this is an energy line that will go out to take the body and not get scored on. This is not a line to get Slough points but they have the ability to chip in when needed. Watt, like the Greeners, can play when he puts his mind to it and Connolly was a point per game in the ENL with Chelmsford last season as well as adding 7 points in 17 games when he played up for the Jets last term. Miles is there to add a bit of veteran presence to this line and will be a good mentor and role model for the young Connolly. He also might be able to reign in some of Watt’s more idiotic antics but that remains to be seen.

Former Guildford junior Andrew Melachrino is on a two way contract with the ENL Jets to be the 10th forward so he will join that 3rd line as and when he is needed. I’m pleased that a club has taken a chance on him and want to develop him where Guildford would not.

 

This is very much a 3 line team, I don’t see there being a 1a and 1b, there is very much a 1st, 2nd and 3rd line here. Pliskauskas is capable of playing on the top line but Carlon and Davies aren’t really in my opinion and a lot of pressure will be on Calder and the top line to perform. The problem comes for Slough if the big guns do not fire. If teams shut down that top line there could be real problems for the Jets.

 

Overall

 

Some people might accuse me of being a bit doom and gloom about the Jets above. I’m not really, more trying to point out where the problems lie if all doesn’t go according to plan.

 

The forwards outside of the big 4 of Calder, Sheppard, Greener and Pliskauskas are decent but nothing more. If the 4 can’t produce on a night then where will the bulk of the offence come from? Tom Carlon and Dan Davies cannot be relied upon to carry a team offensive if the imports cannot produce.

 

The defence is very solid and credit must go to Slough for having what looks like a very good blueline group. I’d say on paper it just about looks the best of those I’ve reviewed so far but that’s only because Kieras is more of a known quantity than Kvetan at Guildford. Then again, Kvetan doesn’t appear to have Kieras offensive tendencies and if Mindy can post a 50 or 60 point season that will do the Jets no end of good.

 

A big question mark has to go over the goaltending but on in the sense that Devey as a backup is a risky move. As I said I honestly don’t see Devey seeing much ice time at all. Rockman has a good record with not being injured and at 29 he is more than capable of doing another 3000 minute season and putting up an all star season. Though again, what if he falls to injury?

 

These are questions that need answering but we can be certain that Slough won’t be going quietly into the night. Is this a championship winning side? I’m not sure. I don’t think overall it’s as good as the Flames side. Guildford have more depth across their forward lines than Slough for me. That said I don’t think Slough fans need to worry too much about that. This is a decent team who will finish top 3 or 4 depending on how teams like Manchester, the Bison and MK do with their new imports.

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