Standing in the Way – Telford Tigers 2013/14Posted: 08/09/2013
We stay in the north for the time being as our preview series continues. From the team that everybody hates, we move to the team that quite a lot of people have a soft spot for.
Name: Telford Tigers
Home ice: Telford Ice Rink
Top Scorer: Scott McKenzie 19 goals + 24 assists = 43 points
Ticket details: Genuinely can’t find them on the website to tell you
Damon Massey – Tigers Fan (@M15terRoboto)
Telford Tigers – the team like no other that every other teams fans admire!
That is what I keep reading, personally I think other fans just like to have a team they know who will finish below them in the league table. In all fairness since they were reformed as a fans owned trust team that has undeniably been the case, with the constraints that the team has operated under in its first few years anything other than this position would have been a miracle, but the teams that coach Tom Watkins has managed to put together with astute import signings & his ability to tap into the GB U20 camp have sprung a few surprises against the bigger budget teams.
The main problem with having a small budget is player retention and the problems we had during last season (Cesky, Fojtik, Rodin ) were to carry over in to the off season with numerous departures meaning that a big chunk of the squad would no doubt need replacing.
An early start was made in the recruiting process with the announcements that Declan Ryan & Scott McKenzie would be back closely followed by Jaroslav “Kruza” Kruzik. These 3 signings forming the backbone of this year’s squad, in Ryan we have one of the best young goalies in the league who despite having several offers remained loyal to the Tigers for another season. Kruza quickly became a fans favourite with his 110% commitment and whilst he is not a name you hear being thrown about around the league he is a quietly efficient d man whose name will be 1st on the team sheet. Then up front there is McKenzie, a player who without a doubt is what the Tigers are all about, he will turn up every game and give everything he has and more. He was our top points scorer last season despite starting the season with Manchester and it’s his commitment and leadership both on and off the ice which has deservedly earned him the “C” this season.
Joining Dec at the back is Sam Gospel, he joins us on a 2-way from the Nottingham Panthers and by all accounts he has the potential to challenge for the No1 position.
Patrolling the blue line are 2 returnees Marcus Maynard & Danny Rose, Marcus formed a good partnership with Kruza which will hopefully continue this season & Danny having dropped back last season due to injury cover remains with the move seeing him picked for the GB U20 squad. Joining them are 2 new players to me Dan Harrison & Bryn Roberts as well as Czech import Michal Pavlu who when announced caused a few ears to prick up around the forums!
Up front joining last year’s “young veterans” of James Preece, Callum Bowley, Adam Taylor & Macauley Heywood are several players who are being given the chance to step up a league and show what they can do. Gareth O’Flaherty joins from the Nottingham Lions, Nathan Salem returns for a 2nd spell at the Tigers from Solway Sharks. James Smith joins from Wightlink for another shot at the EPL following a short spell with the Bison last season. Then we move onto Owen Bennett, this is a signing that raised a few eyebrows not only around the league but with a lot of Tiger fans!
Having taken the step up from the Titans he is willing to work to improve his game but there is no denying that this is not the usual Tigers signing. Personally I think it’s great, Owen certainly brings something different to the table and whilst there are a lot of tougher players in the league he will stick up for his teammates and hopefully reduce the amount of niggling that certain players do so well to put the Tigers off their game!
The two imports that Tom has enticed to the team are new to the country and hopefully he has managed to find a couple of gems in the same way that he found Karpov, now I profess to know absolutely nothing about European leagues so will only go as far to say Miika Kiviranta hails from Finland whilst Marek Mikusovic joins from his native Slovakia.
Just prior to the season starting it was announced that a new title sponsor for the Tigers had been found, this is fantastic news for the fan owned club and whilst it will not bring overnight success it will hopefully give the team the chance to retain any quality players it may have found for a full season.
Aims for this season? A jump up the table to 8th would be a dream but the way the league has improved as a whole including the teams around us a more realistic target is to continue to surprise the teams at the top, match the teams around us and finish with more points than last season.
Next season though, watch this space…
Banners On The Wall
Being a Telford Tigers fan must be an interesting experience at times. People who don’t understand sport reckon that being a sports fan is the same irrespective of the sport and who you support but being a Tigers fan is a unique situation within a unique sport. What must it be like to own the club you support? And that’s not in the “millionaire buys boyhood team” sense but as a collective? This does come with other issues, namely the lower budget but British hockey, a minority sport for so long kept going by the passion of those of us mad enough to be involved with is taken to the nth power by those in Telford and I salute them for it.
The Tigers have lost some of their top players in the off season; Tomas Karpov and Tim Burrows have headed to Basingstoke, Luke Brittle has moved to Chelmsford in the NIHL as he’s on an industrial placement as part of his education which is around 100 points of scoring gone in 3 guys gone from the team that scored the fewest goals in the league.
Coach Tom Watkins has taken the decision to change up the import corps at Telford, only choosing to retain popular defenceman Jaroslav Kruzik who added 25 points from the back end. Joining him on the blueline is former Czech Extraliga defender Michal Pavlu. A product of the Bili Tygri Liberec youth system, the majority of Pavlu’s career has been in the Czech 2nd tier which should set him in good stead for the EPL.
The import forwards will have a lot of pressure to score points. 23 year old Finn, Miika Kiviranta joins from the Swedish 4th tier having scored 58 points in 32 games. The Swedish 4th tier isn’t a league that many EPL players come from and some may feel that this is Telford going for the cheap option but Swedish leagues are never ones for players to pad their stats and if Watkins has found a free scoring forward in Kiviranta then Telford fans won’t argue. He’s joined by Slovak forward Marek Mikusovic who joins from Dukla Senica in the Slovak 2nd tier. Mikusovic had a monster 2011/12 for Dukla Senica where he scored 52 points in 43 games (that’s really good in Slovak hockey) but struggled in the Extraliga last season before returning to Senica to see out the season. Watkins finding a player who averages 0.8 points a game in the Slovak 2nd tier isn’t something to be sniffed at. Viktor Kubenko averaged 0.6 goals a game for context.
The import forwards will of course hopefully be a compliment to last season’s top scorer and now captain Scott McKenzie. After returning to Telford after his release from Manchester, McKenzie was a revelation for the Tigers and was the top scorer despite only playing 31 games. If Kiviranta and Mikusovic can provide decent support for McKenzie then the goals total for Telford should increase if nothing else. I’m also interested to see how former Bison forward James Smith does in Telford given his interesting start to his EPL career and his time on the Isle of Wight.
Telford’s other great strength is in net. Declan Ryan has won many plaudits for Telford over the last couple of seasons and his stock continues to rise. 3.59 goals against and an over .900 last season which was the third successive improvement season for season. Ryan also turned a few heads when he guested for Coventry in their playoff 3rd place match. A game that many think was utterly redundant turned on many EIHL fans onto what we already knew about Ryan; that he has a long future ahead of him as a quality netminder.
Supporting him is Sam Gospel who will be on a two way from Nottingham Panthers. Gospel, who debuted for the Panthers away in Edinburgh last season in a game where Nottingham iced 3 netminders also split time with the Nottingham Lions in the NIHL. In 18 games with the Lions, Gosepl posted a 2.02 goals against average and tallied a .941 save percentage and those are phenomenal numbers. How much ice time Gospel sees behind Ryan remains to be seen but he’s clearly at the level where a step up is required for his development. Playing for Telford as well will see Gospel busy which has certainly helped Ryan over the last couple of years.
Tigers fans might not like hear it but they might finish bottom of the EPL for the third consecutive season. How they end up finishing bottom though might change. This is a much better Tigers team than we have seen and with continued investment from sponsors they might make changes and improve. Whilst I don’t think this team magically rockets up the standings and shocks people massively, this team has a shot at the playoffs. Teams who finished near them at the end of last season have improved too but Telford have strengthened significantly to make them, rather than instantly being talked about as whipping boys, be actively discussed as being in the playoff picture. If they do make it, I don’t think anyone would begrudge the organisation that bit of success.