Standing in the Way – Slough Jets 2013/14

Another roster done so it’s another preview to do. After the Bees last time out, it’s time to continue our look into Berkshire;

 

Name: Slough Jets

Home ice: Absolute Ice aka “The Hanger”

Position: 5th (playoff quarter finals, cup finalists)

Top scorer: Frantisek Bakrlik; 48 goals + 34 assists = 82 points

Ticket details: http://www.sloughjets.co.uk/tickets/index.shtml

 

Mark Denholm – Slough Jets TV host/match night DJ (@markdenholm)

Any team would like to be in the enviable position that Guildford Flames are where their summer signing announcements are retention after retention but for the Jets once again that wasn’t the case this summer.

Slava Koulikov was retained as Head Coach. He was recruited late to the position in the summer of 2012 with a great many of the players having already followed their previous Coach Doug Sheppard to the Bison and that meant last year’s Jets team was a combination of players retained by Craig Moran and Adam Greener in interim charge of the team and signed up by Slava after his appointment. The downside is that obviously the best players sign early but in signing Frankie Bakrlik, Slava had pulled off arguable the signing of the summer.

This year there was been some leavers once again. Frankie Bakrlik was targeted by almost every club in the EPIHL and despite the Jets coming close to retaining him Manchester Phoenix secured his signature. This year Slava hopes to have once again pulled off another “signing of the summer” moment in capturing Czech forward Ales Padelek. He comes to the Jets as a new player to the UK and with an impressive CV and pedigree behind him. If his stats are to be believed then he will be a fantastic replacement for last season’s big capture.

Also up front will be Darius Pliskauskas, the Lithuanian international returning once again. The man with arguably the best wrists and hands in the league certainly knows where the back of the net is and has been consistently a top points scorer since joining the club.

The other two imports will be in defence once again. Pavel Gomeniuk took his leave from the sport by way of retiring at the end of last season and this has meant that there was room for a new overseas player at the back and that gap has been filled by the giant defenceman Thomas Fojtik. He was been joined in defence by the returning Mindy Kieras, an EPIHL all star defenceman last season who can also knock up points too.

Up front there are start signings with the return of fans favourite Ryan Watt. Watty has developed physically from his year in the EIHL and is looking to use this year in the EPL to showcase himself as the power forward that we all know he is. He was unlucky with injury in his last season with the Jets missing games due to a head injury and subsequent concussion and last year missed a great deal of the season at Braehead due to a knee injury. That bad luck meant he was short of the opportunities he deserves at the top level so he has returned to a club that are happy to give him the opportunities he wants, deserves and needs.

Player of the season Michael Wales is also back again. He’s a player that fans loved to hate when he played against, and his signing last season was initially met with caution by some but over the eight months of 2012/13 he proved that he is a quality player, a great guy and a fantastic leader as well. With the added responsibilities given to him by Slava he proved he is a far superior player to the role he’d been given at Milton Keynes.

The other signings have seen some great players either staying at or joining the club this season. Lee Richardson is a fantastic acquisition, a highly experienced and versatile EPL player who will is looking forward to new roles and challenges this season at a new club. Ciaran Long was a vital mid season addition last season and another player who thrived under the extra responsibility offered to him with the Jets. The Jets can rightly boast a pretty solid Brit pack with Dan Davies, Dan Rose, Matt Towalski also up front and in defence Dan Scott and Sam Waller joining the two non EIHA trained players.

There’s also an eye on development this season with opportunities offered via two way contracts to forwards JJ Pitchley, Brandon Miles, defenceman Cam McGiffin and netminder Danny Milton. Danny and Brandon will benefit from being able to command ice time in Slough’s NIHL team, JJ Pitchley will also be icing for Romford / London Raiders while Cam McGiffin will be linking up with the MK Thunder.

Slava has big plans for the two way players, who will be tested at the highest level as well as gaining vital ice time and experience with their NIHL1 or NIHL2 teams.

Mentioned earlier Danny Milton will once again provide valuable support to Gregg Rockman who will be the starting netminder.

Where Slava will earn his money this season will be creating a balanced set of forward and defensive lines. Up front there is no shortage of power however word is that some say the Jets are a little light in the defensive area. In truth there are five specialist D men signed up and as well as there being some good two way players there are also forwards who are capable of playing in defence should the need arise through injury.

Last year hockey fans who follow the EPL could not fail to notice the four imports who (almost) represented the Jets in the fourth import slot. Juraj Senko failed to start, Ladislav Harabin came and went and Tomas Valecko joined up. After a long stay the decision was taken to swap Valecko for Gomeniuk who went back to playing in D after Valecko had made the forward position his own. This, and injuries had a drastic effect on line setting and meant the Jets rarely got to ice the line combinations that would have been “first choice”.

This year it’s vital the Jets use the four pre-season games to evaluate the best line combinations from the signed up players and set about gelling forwards and defenceman into their on ice lines. Players benefit from learning their line mates plays, it helps to implement the systems and tactics and was arguable one of the Jets failings list year through the injuries and player rotations. This season Slava has had the chance to select the players he wants to represent him and will have in his mind the systems and tactics he wants to use and player lines he wants to implement them.

Last year the Jets failed to qualify for Coventry and failed to secure the cup after making their way to the final. Analyse it carefully and you can see the loss to MK in the play-offs came after dominating the Lightning in the second leg only to lose to a lucky OT goal and end the season. The Cup Final was very much dominated by the three powerplay goals scored against on three of the softest penalty calls of the season. Under different circumstances the season could have ended with a cup win and

a place at Coventry. Those returning are determined to go further than last season in the pursuit of a trophy and those joining do so with hope of winning a trophy. All the pieces are in place, Slava will put them in the right order and hopefully in eight months time the efforts will be rewarded with a successful season.

 

Banners On The Wall

The Slough Jets roster for this forthcoming campaign is interesting to me. I’m writing this blind in the sense that I’ve not read Mark’s contribution before I’ve added it to this but I’m interested to see how this side does. Intimidated isn’t the right word, interested certainly is.

This is Slava Koulikov’s second season at the helm at The Hanger and you can see the tweaks he’s made and where he’s been forced to make changes. The biggest change of course being the loss of Frankie Bakrlik to Manchester. I said many times that Bakrlik was the most frustrating player in the league because along with being supremely talented, he also just did stupid things. Slough will miss his 82 points but won’t miss the 161 PIMs he collected last season. In to that breach steps the 33 year old Czech winger, Ales Padelek. Padelek certainly has good pedigree with over 600 games in the Czech Extraliga and second tier to his credit and being around a point every other game at each level certainly bodes well. When you consider that Bakrlik never played in the Extraliga, they signs bode well that Padelek should be a more than ample replacement if he settles.

Koulikov has also decided to once again go with two import defenceman and his choice to replace the retiring Pavel “Pasha” Gomeniuk with Tomas Fojtik is certainly an interesting choice; one that will raise eyebrows and a few jokes across the EPL. After not being used in either playoff game in Swindon but still somehow winning defender of the season in the end of season awards, Fojtik is now onto his 4th EPL team in 12 months which has to be a record. However the move to Slough will give Fojtik much more certainty in his role than before. Alongside Mindy Kieras, arguably the best offensive defenceman in the league, Fojtik can focus much more on the defensive side of his game and really hone some of the skills that saw him miss the business end of the season at The Link. For all the laughs at Fojtik’s expense for his club hopping antics, on his day he is a solid player and his experience of having played major junior hockey alongside now established NHL players will only benefit youngsters on the roster like Cameron McGiffin in their development.

The issue for Slough with the defence is that it currently consists of 3 established EPL defenceman, one who spent last season in the NIHL and one who split last season between junior hockey and NIHL. In Gregg Rockman and Danny Milton they have a very good 1-2 punch in net but this defence doesn’t look like a championship defence. The losses of James Hutchinson and Sam Godfrey could prove more costly than first thought.

The contrast within the Jets lineup are their forward lines which have superb depth. Bakrlik and Connolly are losses and Alex Barker provided some grit on the 3rd line but to be able to replace Bakrlik with the aforementioned Padelek then add Ryan Watt back into the mix more than makes up for it. If Lee Richardson manages to maintain fitness then just think of the extra power that the attack has. Then you add in returnees like offensive threat of Koulokov himself, Darius Pliskauskas and Ciaran Long, the experience of skills of Matt Towalski and Michael Wales and up and coming young talent like Danny Rose and JJ Pitchley. The later spent last season in the Western States Hockey League playing in Dallas and will be on a two way with Romford/London Raiders so how much we get to see of him remains to be seen but word is he’s one for the future. Slough has a reputation for giving chances to younger players and it seems that tradition will continue with Ptichley and McGiffen. We should applaud them for it.

It could be a frustrating or a fun year to be a Slough Jets fan. That attack combined with that defence but solid netminding could be great or a disaster. This team will score goals, lots of goals but is there ample support for Rockman and Milton at the back?

A lot of people think Swindon will be a wild card in this season’s EPL but Slough are also a wildcard. There’s so many intangible factors about this side. The Jets are a team I’ve always enjoyed watching the Bison beat but these unpredictable elements will certainly make them fun to watch this season. Koulikov is a year older and wiser as coach of the Jets and he appears to be gambling on the fact that this team will be able to outscore other sides. The question is if this team fails to score, can they adequately defend? If I am wrong and have underestimated this team then Slough are suddenly capable of breaking the top 3. If I am right, this team doesn’t get a home second leg in the playoffs.

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