Standing in the Way – Telford Tigers

The season is getting ever closer which means it’s time for Banners On The Wall to keep firing out our unique brand of EPL analysis. This time around we head north to the fans literally are the boss.

Name: Telford Tigers

Home ice: Telford Ice Rink

Player/Coach: Tommy Watkins

Last season’s position: 10th

Top Scorer: Scott McKenzie, 25 goals + 30 assists = 55 points

Match night ticket price: £10 adult, £5 child/OAP, £25 family (2 adults and up to 3 children)

Goalies:

Just as I was getting ready to write this and wonder what was going to happen with the Tigers rotating 3 goalies, Greg Blais decided he was off “to a higher league” so we’ll see what happens there.

It does however clear up the preview a bit and puts all the number one onus firmly on the shoulders of the promising 19 year old Declan Ryan. Ryan’s stats don’t make the prettiest of reading; 4.70 goals against and .881 save % doesn’t make for impressive stats and a way outside of statistically the top 10 netminders in the EPL. You’d look at that and instantly think “yeah, I can see why Telford finished bottom”. The stats however do a disservice to Ryan who did give a good accounting of himself across the season. At 19, Ryan is the youngest starter in the EPL and will develop more with time. Development and sustainability being part of Telford’s MO it makes sense that they’re doing this but Ryan is arguably good enough to do this job anyway. It would be interesting to see Ryan play with a slightly better defence than the one he’ll get in Telford but as Telford gets better (their lower league position belies the fact I think there were a better side last season) Ryan is going to be a talent the team wants to keep a hold of.

His backup is fellow 19 year old Telford junior product Ben Hunt who steps up from Telford Titans of the ENL. The Titans finished 4th in ENL 1 North last season and Hunt’s stats spoke of spoke of another promising Telford goalie product as he appeared in all 32 games and finished with a 3.44 goals against average and a .917 save percentage which made him 4th in the ENL 1 North goalie stats.

The loss of Blais does mean there’s a lack of that extra option for the Tigers on the ice but reports are he will be involved in training the Tigers and junior netminders. Given how busy the Tigers goalies could be this season, Blais is an ideal man to be training them given his time on the Isle of Wight.

Defence:

Last season the league’s worst defence used, including loan players (one of which was Coventry Blaze general manager James Pease) 11 players. Juraj Senko has moved on to join the Koulikov Revolution at Slough but they have managed to keep the services of fan favourite and now locally based import Tomas Janak who was last season’s captain. With 22 points from defence, the 29 year old utility player was the team’s 8th leading scorer. Janak is a Telford stalwart and the idea that he’d sign anywhere else was highly unlikely to start with.

The new defensive import and replacement for Senko is former Ontario Hockey League defenceman Jaroslav Kruzik who signs from HK Nitra in the Slovak 2nd division. 22 year old Kruzik has decent numbers for a stay at home defenceman and played 174 games in the OHL for Barrie and Kingston but has only played 36 games in the last 2 seasons which does raise a question with the young man regarding his fitness but he has 50-60 game seasons in his past. He’s also still young so the likelihood that he’s physically washed up is a bit hard to swallow. He does look like he’ll be low scoring but defensively responsible which can only help the Tigers.

Coach Tommy Watkins is back on defence for another season as he tries to lead Telford towards the playoffs. He only had 14 points last season compared to 38 the season before but Watkins like Janak will be relied upon to add a touch of creativity from the blueline.

One man who’ll fall into the same category of Kruzik is local boy and former Telford junior Daniel Croft. Croft, who has scored 8 points in the last 2 seasons is there to be a sizable presence on the blueline, as Telford have 7 d, Croft will likely be on the 3rd defensive pairing.

New to the Tigers defence is Kirkcaldy born Steven Chalmers who is on a two way contract with the Coventry Blaze. Chalmers, who spent last season with Dundee spent 2 years in Canada has also played for Braehead in the EIHL. Chalmers has been used sparingly by both the Clan and the Stars (though he scored 4 points last season for Dundee) but will see a lot more ice time with Telford. How he will used will be interesting to see as it will with former Nottingham Lions and Panthers forward Marcus Maynard. Maynard has an OK scoring record at ENL and will make his first foray into the EPL after 45 games in the EIHL with the Panthers and scoring 2 assists.

The last member of the 7 man defensive corps is the returning Ryan Selwood. The former Coventry and Solihull junior scored 6 points in 53 games last term and is another member of the Tigers with experience at a higher level.

The Tigers blueline corps this season is more experienced and hopefully not as injury prone as the last seasons but how all the pieces fit together is a big question. Having 7 defenders on the roster is obviously a good start and that added depth will help Telford in games. 7 d men rotating will be fitter in the clutch than 5.

Forwards:

The top 4 scorers for Telford last season were British forwards. That’s actually quite a nice thing to say and we should praise Telford’s promotion of its British talent. The problem for Telford this season is 2 of those 4 have gone. Scott McKenzie has joined Manchester and Josh Bruce has headed south to join Slough but the Tigers have kept former Coventry man Joe Henry and the impressive 19 year old Luke Brittle whose 68 points in the last two seasons have opened the eyes of many a fan across the EPL. Henry and Brittle are not the top 2 British forwards at the club and Tigers fans have to hope that they can build on productive seasons last time out alongside the new imports that have come to Telford.

Jaroslav Cesky doesn’t require much of an introduction to fans of the EPL. Entering his 4th year in the league, Cesky averages 1.67 points per game in his time with Bracknell and Swindon. He’s a known commodity now, his production having nearly halved since his first season in the league with the Bees in 2009/10 which had led to some people saying that Cesky had been “solved” but he’s still very much a threat in front of goal. 114 goals in 158 games at any level is impressive. The real change for Cesky will be going into battle without Czech compatriot Michal Pinc who has moved to France but who Telford have gotten in to be Cesky’s centre could be, in my opinion, the sleeper signing of the summer so far.

Having acquired himself an Irish passport, 22 year old Patrick Greene is heading over the Atlantic Ocean to Telford where he looks set to be the top line centre for the Tigers. Greene comes to Telford from the Stonehill College Skyhawks, an NCAA division 3 college in Easton, Massachusetts, USA. (NOTE; there is no division 2 in NCAA hockey, only 1 and 3). Last season for the Skyhawks, Greene was captain, top points scorer on the team with 27 points (7+20) and tied for second overall in scoring in the Northeast 10 conference where Stonehill College play. The Skyhawks made it all the way to the Northeast 10 championship game where they unfortunately lost to Saint Anselm College Hawks 4-1. Greene has been either 1st or 2nd top scorer for the Skyhawks in the last 3 seasons. This is a clever move by Coach Watkins. Telford wouldn’t have the money to sign a top level NCAA division 1 college centre but there is a wealth of talent in division 3 that could easily do the job at EPL level if everything clicks. It’s another calculated risk by the Tigers management but all the signs point towards this being a good signing if Greene and Cesky can hit it off quickly.

Another player likely to make an impact for the Tigers is 22 year old Tim Burrows. Burrows, a former Telford under 19s player and former Tiger himself has been in Cardiff since 2008 with appearances for the ENL side and spent last season in the EIHL, tallying 13 points. The Wolfsburg born youngster looks set to be used on the top two lines given his EIHL experience along with possibly former Cardiff team mate James Preece who played for the ENL Devils last season, scoring 46 points (17+29) in the process or possibly even returning forward Thomas Soar who may be called upon to increase upon his tally of 23 points (12+11) from last season.

Rounding out the forward lines are 17 year old Daniel Rose who spent last season in Nottingham at under 18 level with the Leopards and ENL with the Lions. Rose has a good goalscoring touch at the lower levels and will be looking to try and leave a mark on the EPL though likely from the role of 9th 10th forward along with Adam Taylor. Taylor, 18 scored 4 points in 18 games for the Tigers last season but gave excellent over point per game showings in the under 18s for the Telford Trojans and at ENL level for the Titans scoring 42 goals combined in the process. Another 3rd line stalwart is 19 year old Callum Bowley who returns after a productive season where he scored 16 points in 50 games for the Tigers. Bowley, a former Nottingham junior scored 85 points in 13 games at under 18 level 2 seasons ago and is still highly thought of in Nottingham, even guesting for the Panthers on 1 occasion last season.

Overall:

I quite like the Telford Tigers. I’ve said in the past that the problem with the Tigers as a team was they played a lot like Tommy Watkins did in the EIHL. Now don’t get me wrong, Watkins was a very good player in the Elite League; he had a lot of hustle, was a good two way player and could always be relied upon to chip in a few points here and there. The problem is if you have a whole that plays like that, you’re generally low scoring and will struggle offensively. Tommy Watkins was never signed by the Blaze to score 70 points a season.

This season, Watkins’ third in charge since Tiger Tracks Supporters Trust returned the club to fan ownership sees Watkins go in a slightly different direction offensively. The acquisitions of Cesky and Greene as imports whilst keeping very skilled forwards like Brittle and Henry as well as getting in British talent with a lot of potential like Burrows and Preece shows that Watkins is adapting his offensive style. In Cesky he has a legit goal scorer, someone to set him up in Greene as well as vital secondary scoring from two very good British players. The problem is more one of quality and depth because outside of the obvious players on the roster, there’s a noticeable drop off.

Forward wise whilst Burrows and Preece look useful, they are young and ultimately unproven at this level as are Rose and Taylor. The other returning forwards haven’t put up massive numbers either.

Defensively the Tigers do look better than last season, the signing of Chalmers in particular is a shrewd bit of business in my view but overall as a unit that defence looks OK, nothing more. There’s not tons in the way of scoring there unless Janak has a much better season than last time out.

In net Ryan is good but he’s only one man and if the Tigers blueline has similar issues to last time then Ryan is going to be a very busy boy. He’s a decent netminder, there’s no question of that but he needs a bit of protection and you have to wonder if he’ll get that fully with this defence.

Realistically this season is “Mission 8th” for Telford. They want to bring playoff hockey back to Shropshire and I certainly think this side is capable of pulling off upsets, they always do. However we all know that Telford are going to be a lower end side fighting it out for that final playoff spot. The good thing for Telford is that where the league looks like it’s moved along in quality, the Tigers have made an effort to keep up. They may not win a trophy but something tells me they’ll be very fun to watch.

 

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