Building the Herd – Stevie Lyle

#30 Stevie Lyle
Position: Netminder
Born: Caerdydd, Cymru
Announced as signed: Meet the coach night, 2nd May

With Joe Greener announced, Doug Sheppard had only one player left to announce as he stood on the stage in the rink bar. The crowd were already more than pleased with the results of the evening but they were thrown into shock and even more applause than before as Coach Sheppard announced that former GB international Stevie Lyle would be the man between the pipes as starting netminder for the 2012/13 EPL season.

32 year old Lyle has seen and done an awful lot since he first broke into senior hockey during 1994/95. He was 14 at the start of that season making this his 19th season of senior hockey. A product of the Cardiff Devils system, Lyle dressed for 20 games in the 94/95 BHL season posting 4.13 goals against. Needless to say, it got better from there. He made his GB under 20 and full team debut in the same season in 95/96 and in 96/97 was part of the Devils side that joined the Superleague, dressing for 31 games with a 2.78 GAA.

Lyle decided to try his luck overseas and was drafted 27th overall by the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL in the Canadian Hockey League import draft in the same round as NHL names like Marian Hose and Marco Sturm. Lyle’s career in the OHL lasted 6 games before he returned to Cardiff, spending the better part of the next 4 seasons with his hometown club.

Lyle spent 2001/02 with the Manchester Storm and started the 02/03 season with the Storm before financial difficulties forced the club to close 4 games into the season (hence why Manchester’s team is called the Phoenix for those who didn’t know). Lyle returned to Cardiff, now in the BNL and saw out the season there.

Lyle stayed in the BNL for the next 2 seasons, first with Guildford in 2003/04 and then Bracknell in 2004/05. At the end of Bracknell’s BNL playoff run, he also guested in net for the Sheffield Steelers in the EIHL playoffs.

Lyle then left Britain for Europe, joining the Eppan/Appiano Pirates in the Italian A2 league for 2005/06 before moving to France in 2006/07 to play for Morzine-Avoriaz Penguins. Lyle led the Penguins to the French regular season title but Morzine-Avoriaz lost the playoff finals. Lyle was named to the Ligue Magnus all star team for his efforts.

Lyle then joined…well, the Bison at the start of the Taylor era but that didn’t go well as many of us know. Lyle ended up leaving due to a chronic case of not being paid and replaced Philippe DeRouville at Belfast who was suffering from a chronic case of Sieve-itus. Lyle stayed for the remainder of 07/08 and 08/09 where he won the EIHL challenge cup.

For the last 3 years, Lyle has been the Cardiff Devils starter as the Devils have flirted with the league title and the playoff title but ultimately winning neither having lost the 2010/11 league title on points difference and the both playoff finals despite Lyle’s heroic efforts in the 2012 playoff finale. 2011/12 was also Lyle’s testimonial year in Cardiff and is still massively popular with fans in the Big Blue Tent.

So…yeah, this one was a bit of a shock. Once it was confirmed that Lyle wouldn’t be returning to Cardiff with the signing of Phil Osear, the rumours started flying. Sheffield and Nottingham were mentioned then Morzine-Avoriaz and then other teams in France very quickly got thrown into the melting pot as names for where Lyle would end up. Then, out of nowhere, it all went quiet. The next thing many of us know, Doug Sheppard was announcing him as back between the pipes for the Bison.

With all due respect to Stephen Wall and Matt Colclough, this is a massive upgrade for the Bison. Netminding inconsistency from the starter has plagued the Herd since the drop to the EPL. All 3 seasons the designated starter at the start of the season has not finished the league with the number 1 job. Moria always tried to give goalies a chance and rotated them lots then would pick the hot hand and ride it. Sadly this never seemed to work very well. This likely won’t be an issue for Sheppard this season.

At EPL level, Lyle is import quality. He’s been above 90% save percentage in the EIHL for the last 3 years in Cardiff and has regularly performed miracles in clutch games. Sadly for him Cardiff never seemed to be able to pull out the big victory.

A lot of people assumed that this is a big money move from the Bison to counteract 3 years of “mediocrity” (their word, not mine) but it’s likely more than that. Lyle is Cardiff based with a young family and the EPL might be the more sensible if not perhaps the more profitable option for him. The EPL has become more and more competitive, especially in 2011/12 and Lyle can play at a decent standard without needing to uproot his family and move north to do so. It’s worked out very well for the Herd.

Make no mistake, he won’t come cheap because at this level he’s worth the money. There are talks we’ll see “lower quality” imports as a result of it but it has to be weighed up against what Lyle brings to the table. There’s a lot of rumour flying about that the Bison have signed Joe Rand from the Isle of Wight Raiders whereas people would have preferred someone like Darius Pliskauskas, now back at Slough. So I put to you the question; would you prefer Pliskauskas’ fire power and a goalie of a similar standard to the last 3 years or a goalie of Lyle’s quality and someone like Rand who may score 50 points rather than 70? Defence wins championships my friends.

Now we’ve finally got to the end of Shep’s signings, all that’s left to see if who else comes and leaves the Herd. You have to admit though; this lot are a hell of a start.

Welcome back to Basingstoke, Stevie. Let’s hope this time’s better than the last.

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