Standing in the Way – Swindon Wildcats

The EPL season is rumbling ever closer which means it’s time to put another EPL opponent of the Bison under scrutiny. After heading north last time around, time to head to the wild west of Wiltshire.

 

Name: Swindon Wildcats

Home ice: The Link Centre

Coach: Ryan Aldridge

Last season’s position: 7th

Top scorer: Jonas Höög, 42 goals + 50 assists = 92 points

Match night ticket price: £12-£12.50 adult, £9-£9.50 Concessions, £5-£5.50 child, £28.40-£29.80 Family ticket 1 (2 adults+2 children), £24.60-£26.80 Family ticket 2 (1 adult+3 children), £35-£36 Family ticket 3 (2 adults + 3 children)

 

Goalies:

Mid way through last season when Swindon had 2 goalies 1 got injured, they signed one as injury cover and finished the season with all 3 on the books. Rather than cut a goalie and run with 2, all 3 return for Swindon this season.

Tom Murdy was having a decent enough season until his groin decided that it didn’t like him. The Whitley Bay man spent his 1st full season in the EPL last term after fleeting appearances whilst under contract to Coventry in the EIHL as their back up. Murdy had an OK season on the whole with a 3.06 goals against average and maintained a .916 save percentage off of an average 36.5 shots per game. Murdy is still only 21 and has experience at the EIHL level (he even guested in 1 game for Coventry last season). There is time for Murdy to improve on his already obvious talents.

Dean Skinns’ season got better after he joined the Wildcats. He had, all things considered, a pretty rotten first half of the season with the Bison where his head sank and he looked shaky. He moved to cover the injured Murdy and played a lot better. On a team with a worse defence his goals against went up but his save percentage leapt from a poor .852 to a more respectable .898 which whilst not amazing is a lot better. Wildcats fans warmed to Skinns but with Murdy on board, Skinns looks likely to start as backup bar a dramatic loss of form from on Murdy’s part.

Graeme Bird rounds out the Swindon netminding corps. Whilst Bird tried very hard, he is sadly no more than backup level at EPL. I’d hope he’ll get some games for the Swindon national league side to keep him fresh in the event he is called onto the bench due to an injury to one of the main two. He only played 3 games last season and ended up with a GAA over 5. He won’t likely see much if any time at all for the Wildcats.

 

Defence:

Just like the netminding department, all the Wildcats defence are returning players. The only player not returning is Nick Compton who joins Jeremy Cornish’s merry band on the Isle of Wight.

I’ll get this bit out of the way before I start because we all know I’m going to say it. I think Jan Melichar is over rated. Points production down whilst penalty minutes have gone up over the last 3 seasons. I don’t think Melichar is a bad defenceman, certainly not by EPL standards at any rate. He’s got a very good shot and knows the league inside and out. He knows what it takes to do well in this league but when people have told me that he’s EPL all star quality, as some Swindon fans did last season, I reserve the right to call bull pucky.

Former Bison Joe Baird comes back for a 4th season at The Link. Baird sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap but he is a lot more solid than I think people give him credit for but his lack of speed is a bit of an issue. He is however a very solid stay at home guy.

Also in the stay at home mould is Shane Moore. Moore won’t put up the numbers that Baird or Melichar do but he’ll take the body, go into the corners and stick up for his team mates at every opportunity.

Stephen Whitfield, another product of the Swindon junior system is another low scoring defenceman but with a lot fewer penalty minutes to his name than Moore. 5 assists in 54 games is someone who will go out, do his defensive job then get off the ice.

Last but not least is GB under 20 defenceman Paul Swindlehurst. With 11 points last season, Swindlehurst was one of the higher scoring defenders and had decent numbers the year before with the Ontario Hockey Academy. I quite like Swindlehurst as a player but with there not being a ton of scoring from the defence I’m picking him as the player to step up for the extra secondary scoring needed at the back.

It is a comparatively low scoring defence but considering some of the forwards, it might not be an issue.

 

Forwards:

It’s not hard to think where to start when talking about the firepower of Swindon. Last season’s EPL top scorer Jonas Höög along with hometown hero Aaron Nell between the two of them accounted for 171 points, 88 of which were goals. Höög, who scored 53 points in 29 games in 10/11 after joining from Swedish side Nacka, doubled his goal scoring production across the full season and how he wasn’t named an EPL all star is nothing short of a mystery. Nell had the most points of any British player last season (and also devoid of an all star berth) joined midway through the season from the Coventry Blaze and there were rumours he’d return to the EIHL but he’s chosen to stay and lead the charge with the Wildcats, where his dad is general manager. It’s almost a certainty these two will play together on a line after last season’s heroics.

Who occupies the other wing on that line will be someone new to the organisation with the departures of Pinc and Cesky.

Matias Perkkiö was a product of SM-liiga side Kärpät’s junior system till he turned pro in 2008 with Kiekko-Vantaa where he scored 42 points in two seasons before splitting 2010/11 between the awesomely named KooKoo and the also awesomely named but now defunct Kiekko-Laser. Last season he spent the whole campaign with Sport who are based in the Finnish town of Vaasa. Perkkiö helped Sport to a 3rd place regular season finish and eventually to the playoff championship. His numbers in the Mestis speak of a 3rd line forward but in a league that is below that standard, he will be called upon to significantly increase his production as a member of the Wildcats.

The other new winger is Czech born Michal Kapicka who signs from Mulhouse Scorpions in France. Kapicka was the Scorpions top goalscorer last term as the team finished 2nd in the regular season before marching to the Division 1 title and promotion to the Ligue Magnus. Kapicka had 36 points from 26 regular season games and 10 points in the 6 playoff contests for the Scorpions. Kapicka has played in a lot of the lower leagues in the last few years, mainly with Czech 3rd tier side HC Jablonec and German Oberliga side EV Landsberg before moving to France last term.

Given Kapicka’s stats speak of a goal scorer, it would seem that placing him with Nell and Höög would be a good bet but if they want to spread the scoring across the lines then perhaps the more physically minded Perkkiö might be better suited to the top line to “clear the way” a bit for the big scoring punch and place Kapicka on the 2nd line with the returning Nicky Watt who has spent the last 2 seasons playing on a line with Cesky and Pinc and might suit the Czech’s style of play. Watt, who is no slouch himself having scored 107 points in the last 2 seasons, would likely join Lee Richardson on the second line. With Richardson the more natural centre of those three one of Watt or Kapicka might play slightly out of position (both are listed as right wingers on Elite Prospects) but with Kapicka being a right handed shot he could well be fine on the left side. Richardson averages 39 points a season over the last 4 years and is a very good passing centre with a bit of a physical upside and a good player to fill that 2nd line centre role.

Back in a Wildcats jersey after a season away is Cardiff born Jamie Hayes. Coming off the back of an 84 point season in ENL 1 with Cardiff Hayes, now 22, will add a bit of punch and confidence to the Wildcats third line that might have arguably been lacking last season.

Joining Hayes from the ENL Devils is 21 year old Chris Jones who had a 52 point season last time out. Jones previously made 4 appearances for Romford in the ENL in 2009 but this will be his first full season of action in the EPL after 3 seasons of averaging over 50 points at ENL level. This seems an ideal time for him to step up and get some good ice time at that higher level.

Sam Bullas returns for his 4th season in Wildcats colours. The former Nottingham junior hasn’t quite had as good a season since his 25 point 09/10 campaign but is a gritty 3rd liner at this level and if a combination with Hayes and Jones clicks, the extra secondary scoring from the Wildcats lower end Brits could be vital.

Likely 10th forward is 19 year old local product Loris Taylor. 11/12 was Taylor’s first full season with the Wildcats, scoring 8 points in 54 games after an impressive career at under 18s level. Taylor’s main task will be securing himself good ice time as he will likely see little time on special team situations.

 

Overall:

I’ll give Ryan Aldridge some credit where it’s due. The forward lines for Swindon look very good, certainly better than last season. They’ve kept the 2 major players from last season’s team in Höög and Nell, kept some of their better top end Brits like Watt and Richardson whilst acknowledging that some change was needed from last season by bringing in, arguably, two better imports after a somewhat lacklustre season from Cesky and Pinc. They have a more active third line that will be very high energy as well as having players with the scoring edge. It looks like a pretty decent front 10.

The problem for Swindon arises from the fact that at the back, nothing has changed. The team that finished 7th last season may well have more firepower but if they can’t stop the goals going in then there’s a problem. The netminding corps is OK as is the defence, it’s not bad but it’s not good and I have to wonder about their ability against the teams with higher end players to keep out the goals.

I’m not saying that Swindon are going to finish bottom by any means but it’s about ability over the course of a 54 game season. Any team in the EPL can beat any other on any given night, that’s the joy of the league but can this Swindon team win season series with teams that finished above them last season like MK and the Bison? Looking at that roster, I really don’t know.

Wildcats will make the playoffs, I think they may well even make it to 5th if everything clicks well but any dreams of the Wildcats being title contenders need to likely be put to one side. If the import forwards and Nell have an off night, is there enough to fire this team to victory? It’s a 50/50 toss up and there’s the underlying problem.

This is a bit of an overly long analogy but looking at the Swindon Wildcats roster, they’re a bit like a Peugeot 206. It’s solid, does the job but it isn’t really spectacular. You can add a few fun features to it like a racing steering wheel of a rally car seat but at the end of the day unless you massively overhaul the engine, it’s still the same car.

There’s been a few tweaks and changes but this is too close to last season’s Wildcats to make me think there’ll be much silverware at The Link come April 2013.

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