Standing in the Way – Guildford Flames 2013/14Posted: 17/08/2013
Welcome to the summer 2013 series of Standing in the Way. This summer we have switched up the format from previous years. Rather than just me waffling on, we’ve sought out some folks connected to the clubs the Bison will be facing and teaming those up with your usual BOTW style analysis. Might as well start with the champions…
Home ice: Spectrum Ice Arena
Player/coach: Paul Dixon
2012/13 Final position: Champions (playoff finalists, EPL Cup winners)
Top scorer: David Longstaff 34 goals + 66 assists = 100 points
Ticket details: http://www.guildfordflames.com/tickets
David Wright – Flames Fan (@davidphw)
It is quite hard to know what to predict for everyone’s second-favourite EPL team apart from more of the same. Last season delivered a surprisingly comfortable first defence of the league title, following a rocky start to the season, and another win in the cup, followed by the traditional playoff faceplant in Coventry (despite the equally traditional and full-throated support of every neutral in the building…).
One of the main reasons for the Flames’ ongoing success in the league in particular is that in most offseasons the organisation has very low levels of player turnover. A player or two may choose leave or not have their contract renewed, but the squad remains stable. That certainly appears to maintain good chemistry and deliver effective performances on the ice. This summer has been no different in that regard, with the one significant departure having been that of veteran* Canadian forward Nathan Rempel. Remps had delivered almost a point a game last season, but that was well down on his usual level of performance. Head coach Paul Dixon felt it was time for a change in one of the four vital import slots and brought in Swedish forward Marcus Kristoffersson. This represents a clear statement that the Flames are determined to upgrade their scoring ability, he is a player of excellent pedigree, and impressed a lot of people in his one previous season in the EPL (with Manchester in 2010-11). The other major addition to the Flames’ roster was the return from Manchester of British forward Tom Duggan. Duggan is also a fine player and as really good British players are hard to come by he represents a very important signing.
The Flames will be lining up at the start of the season with Mark Lee in net again. Mark has consistently been one of the top three netminders in the EPL, and while he has struggled with injury (and perhaps not quite hit the heights as consistently as one might hope) there are very few better British netminders to be had. Backup is James Hadfield, who many had expected to seek a starting slot elsewhere and whose presence will ease any worries about any injury to Lee.
The defence will be built on the chunk of Slovakian granite that is Branislav Kvetan. A firm favourite with the fans, ‘Brani’ is one of the best defencemen the Flames have had, and his strength and toughness allow him to dominate the defensive end. Alongside Kvetan will be the familiar shapes of Messrs Liddiard, Skene, Savage, Lundin and Dixon. As a unit they offer a range of talents from speed to scoring to ‘chippiness’ to sheer class to quite phenomenal facial hair. People get on Liddiard’s back from time to time, and Lundin excels at upsetting the opposition fans, but their track record speaks for itself.
Up front the Flames have amassed an impressive amount of firepower, with the additions of Kristoffersson and Duggan to a lineup that comfortably led the league in scoring last season all but guaranteeing a busy night for the scorers at every match. The whole lineup will be familiar to EPL fans so we’ll only mention a couple here. Outstanding last season was the captain, veteran* GB legend David Longstaff. While he will turn 39 before the season starts such is the man’s talent that he should be dominant again. British speedster Ben Campbell will be looking to add to the 19 goals he scored last season, and Canadian Curtis Huppe should be lighting the lamp on a regular basis.
Overall the Flames look like having a team that should contend across the board, and while the level of success of last season may be too much to expect as we are the team everyone will be gunning for, we will be there or thereabouts when they hand out the prizes.
*Veteran is a relative term – we have no Steve Morias but the jibe of ‘Dad’s Army’ has been thrown our way before now…
Banners On The Wall
I use Elite Prospects a load, as do lots of hockey writers. One feature I didn’t use a lot is the transfer coverage section for each team that shows how many players have come in, how many have left and how many contact extensions each team have. The 2013/14 Flames roster has 21 players of which 19 are returnees. When you win back to back league and cup titles that isn’t a massive surprise but I sometimes feel that fans expect teams to make tweaks to get better but Paul Dixon has a virtually untouched roster and nobody seems to mind. If this were any team other than the Flames, I do wonder how much of a minor uproar there would be especially with the readily accepted maxim that the quality of the EPL is increasing season after season.
What probably helps is the fact that despite having lost one of the British game’s most consistently high performing imports to retirement in Nathan Rempel, the financial muscle that Guildford can flex has seen them add two very good players to the roster.
Tom Duggan was reportedly being courted by a number of teams in the EPL. His university course in Manchester having finished and with reports circulated that he wanted a return back down south, the Flames moved to bring the former Firestars and Phoenix junior player back to the club he grew up in. Playoff winner Duggan is a gritty player but has a great amount of talent to go with it. At just below the point per game level for his time in the EPL, the Reading born centreman adds a massive punch to the Flames attack on the second line whilst getting to hone his game alongside one of the finest British players of a generation in David Longstaff.
The other signing might be the impact signing of the summer for the league with the return to Britain of former Manchester Phoenix forward Marcus Kristofferson. The 34 year old Swede tore the league apart alongside Tony Hand and now Flames team mate Curtis Huppe scoring an astronomical 62 goals in 54 games (a total not beaten since he was in the league) and after a year in Slovakia then being part of a Mulhouse team in France relegated from the Ligue Magnus he has returned to the league where he had a career year. At this level it’s a simple equation for the Swede, if he has a good player passing him the puck, he’ll find the net. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you put Kristofferson alongside Longstaff that magic will likely happen but the trap the Flames can’t fall into is overplaying that top line. Also Kristofferson can get frustrated if he doesn’t get the bounces. Whilst he’s a massive addition if teams find a way to shut him down he’ll get antsy and take penalties.
What else can I say about the Flames roster that won’t see me repeat myself from last year? Having joined midway through the season I think we’ll see more out of Dean Holland. 8 points in 28 EPL games last season after time with Whitley and Dundee but I think with a full season of games and barring injury the potential is there for Holland to be a really versatile 3rd line who can see time on the second line in case of injuries and will play his role to perfection alongside Rick Plant and Stuart Potts.
The one thing that saddens me is that we might see a bit less this time of Milos Melicherik. Aged 38, the time for Milos may well be drawing nigh but he still oozes talent and offers another option up the middle should it be needed.
Nobody bar their own fans likes the Guildford Flames. Flames fans will call that jealousy because of their success, I always claim I dislike the organisation for different reasons but you can’t deny their success. Whether you put that down to money or talent or whatever this Flames team plays well together for a good coach and will once again be close to the top of the ladder here in the EPL. Do they do the treble? No because I think the league arguably looks closer and there’s teams who are more in the mix talent wise when it comes to one off games to say they’ll walk this. That said they remain one of the teams to beat. They’re not perfect by any stretch. The team is a year wiser but also a year older and some of the key guys for the Flames are advancing in years. Basingstoke and Manchester also proved in the big games they can be beaten and Dixon can be outcoached. Time will only tell if that happens or whether the Flames once again rampage over the league.