Standing in the Way – Bracknell Bees 2013/14Posted: 23/08/2013
So with the Flames out of the way and the season drawing ever closer, it’s time to look at another of the Bison’s challengers in the 2013/14 season. Having done Surrey, we move to Berkshire to look at the old foe.
Home Ice: John Nike Leisuresport Complex aka The Hive
Coach: Gareth Cox
2012/13 Final position: 6th (Playoff ¼ finals)
Top Scorer: Lukas Smital 32 goals + 60 assists = 92 points
Ticket details: http://bracknellbees.co.uk/tickets-rink/general-admission/
Ricky Glew – Bracknell Bees match night programme contributor (@RickyGlew)
With a quick glance down this season’s squad list for the Bees it would appear not much has changed from the team that finished 6th last year. In all honesty, did much need to change? Bracknell beat everyone at some point last season, and they scored more goals than 2nd place Basingstoke. Perhaps then, it was stopping them going in at the home end where things needed to improve.
The signing of Alex Mettam will be huge for Coach Cox; both of last season’s netminders had spells of brilliance, but seemed prone to the soft goal. More often than not, those are the goals that cost you the points! By tempting Mettsy from the Lightning we’ve secured one of the brightest young goalies in the league, who should go a long way to help us bring the GA down. Alex isn’t the only player to leave Nick Poole’s team for the Hive, as the Milton Keynes contingent concludes with former Bracknell player Chris Wiggins and import forward Kamil Tvrdek, both of which will add something to the team.
Since Wiggins left the Bracknell Hornets he has really come on leaps and bounds. An enforcer who can actually play hockey is a rare thing, especially in the EPIHL. How often he will need to drop the gloves remains to be seen, but the intimidation factor of having a Wiggy in your arsenal goes a long way to preventing other teams taking liberties! Although we had a good physical presence last season in the Galazzi, Lack and Spearing trio, we didn’t really have a marquee “tough guy” and with Lacky moving to Invicta we certainly needed to add some spice back into the mix.
Martin Masa’s replacement Kamil has some big skates to fill. His stats suggest he should certainly be a good provider, scoring over a point per game on a famously defensive minded team. I just hope he can gel with the squad and is prepared to help out at the back when called upon. As much as the Bees fans loved Marty, there were occasions last campaign where he was frustrating to watch. Tvrdek brings a bit of younger blood into our import forwards, something we can plan on hopefully keeping over a few seasons.
Up front not much else has changed, with the core of Brits already in place. After Shaun Thompson had a cracking year, Rob Lamey and Ollie Bronniman both ended strongly and all 3 lines regularly putting points on the board, there should be no worries about secondary scoring as long as they can hit the ground running.
Over the last couple of seasons Andy Munroe has been an unsung hero at the Hive, his departure to Billingham will hit us harder than I think most people realise. If Tony Redmond was an addition rather than a replacement for Munzy, I’d be singing about the prospects of a top 4 finish. Tony’s reliable and brings a whole heap of experience, something which Lewis Turner and the players on 2-ways will benefit immeasurably from.
In re-signing Jan Bendik I honestly think we have one of the top 3 defensemen in the EPIHL this year, I don’t think there was a single Bees fan not delighted by his return. He has speed, agility, a great pair of hands and always gives 100%. Our other returning import D is Pavek Strycek, a player who I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of just yet. He joined the team late after losing Petran, and was a bit lost on arrival trying to be a replacement for him. The 2 are very different players, and though Pavel wont score as many goals, he should stop a few more shots from getting to Mettam than Marcel would have.
All in all I reckon Bracknell have stepped it up again this season. The rest of the league has certainly improved too, but I think a move up to 5th place is possible. We’re probably 1 quality D-man short of breaking into the top 4, I just pray that injuries don’t hit our 5 full time blueliners. If they do, and the youngsters on 2-way deals are found not ready for the league, I worry that a lack of depth at the back could prove costly.
Banners On The Wall
There is an understandable wave of optimism surrounding the Bracknell Bees. A new owner means a new start and Precision Sports Marketing have come in with big ideas and the hope of returning the Berkshire side to the greater glories of the ISL days or even the nearer times of their 2006/07 EPL title.
There are a couple of real positives that I think coach Gareth Cox deserves credit for; In net Tom Annetts has been retained but with Carl Ambler riding off into the sunset of retirement he’s been replaced by Alex Mettam. The former Milton Keynes man is slowly becoming one of the better and more dependable netminders in the league. Where Mettam has arguably been 1a or 1b at the Thunderdome for a few years, I’d argue he’s the out and out number one above Annetts to start the season.
The other really obvious upgrade is the addition of Kamil Tvrdek who joins Mettam on the journey to the Hive from MK. With Martin Masa apparently retiring, being able to replace him with the younger and incredibly on fire Tvrdek is a great addition to the offence for Bracknell. 50 points in 37 games is good numbers and to be able to add that to your attack is a big thing. Smital was Bracknell’s top scorer by a long chalk but if Bracknell want to progress they need more than just Smital as a scoring threat and Tvrdek makes sure they have at least two big scoring guns.
They also added Tony Redmond, not that Banners On The Wall needs to go into great detail about the attributes that Mr Basingstoke will add to Bracknell. (Though anyone calling him Mr Bracknell will get an earful from a few Bison fans)
The last is just the sheer amount of 2-way players added from the Bracknell Hornets. It goes without saying that those who pay attention to junior hockey know that Bracknell has arguably one of the best junior systems in the country. With 9 players from the juniors or the Hornets earning places amongst the full roster, it’s really encouraging to see Coach Cox actively wanting to use the Bracknell Ice Hockey Club as the route to the Bees but also really giving players that chance to work their way onto the roster the same way Grant Rounding did.
There however is where my optimism ends for the Bees. Whilst it’s a really interesting marketing gimmick to announce your entire roster all on one day, the roster too closely resembles last season’s 6th placed roster for me to really feel overly enthused by it.
There are tweaks obviously, some via necessity and some via choice. The addition of Chris Wiggins adds a much more genuine power forward to the Bees roster than they had last term but also a player who will play Cox’s brand of physical hockey to perfection and Redmond is better than the departing Andy Munroe who has headed north but apart from that the roster is virtually the same. The big question that therefore hovers over the newly owned Bracknell Bees is where other teams in the EPL have strengthened themselves to varying degrees, have the Bees added enough bits to what was already there to be successful?
I’d like to think that the more seasoned visitors to the Hive would be measured in their assessment of what’s to come this season. Adding a couple of pieces to a 6th placed team cannot instantly make a championship contending side. Bracknell will be aiming at top 4 but I don’t think this team finishes higher than 5th. If they end up with the 2nd leg at home in the playoffs, I will be surprised.