Standing in the Way – Milton Keynes Lightning 2013/14

After taking a look at the Phantoms yesterday it makes sense to look at their biggest local rivals. Although for this season, Standing in the Way is looking at a team displaced.

 

Name: Milton Keynes Lightning

Home ice: Skydome Arena, Coventry due to refurbishment

Position: 4th (playoff semi finalist)

Top scorer: Leigh Jamieson 30 goals + 45 assists = 75 points

Ticket details: http://www.mk-lightning.com/MK-Lightning-2008-9-Ticket-Prices.html

 

Mike Walls (Lightning fan & F block drummer, @Mike_Walls_esq)

The new season is only days away, and usually in Milton Keynes the excitement is plain to see. However, this coming season is not your average season for MK Lightning, as the MKL will be playing all home games at Coventry’s Skydome as the Thunderdome has a much needed facelift.

Whilst the rink refurbishment has been met with enthusiasm, the upcoming campaign will be a tough challenge for the Lightning having to travel 50 miles for a home game and training sessions. The distance to travel was an influence in some of the summer departures with talented netminder, Alex Mettam, and enforcer, Chris Wiggins, joining Bracknell and the experienced Nicky Chinn returning to Basingstoke.

The key to Lightning’s consistency has been having the same core of players, so it was somewhat of a shock for Lightning fans to see such a large number of players depart.

Joining Wiggins and Mettam at the Bees is Czech forward Kamil Tvrdek, British defenceman Dan Harris has returned to the North East joining Whitley and Adam Brittle has joined Blackburn in the NIHL. Let us not forget that player-coach Nick Poole announced his retirement from playing mid-way through last season as well (although he has registered as fifth import/injury-cover).

The replacements that have come in have certainly excited the MKL faithful, with Peterborough duo Tom Carlon and Jordan Cownie adding to an already strong British contingent including the likes of GB international, Leigh Jamieson, defenders Michael Farn and Lewis Christie and captain Adam Carr (now in his 11th season with Milton Keynes).

The Lightning have retained 3 of their imports from last season with the influential Blaz Emersic remaining a MKL player; Finnish forward, Janne Jokila, returns after impressing since joining towards the end of last season and the clubs fans are again helping to pay the wages of Czech defenceman and fan favourite, Lukas Zatopek. Much is expected of the Lightning’s new import, Stanislav Lascek. The Slovakian winger joins from Neuilly-sur-Marne in the French 2nd division, where he scored 15 goals and 12 assists in 22 games. He has been described as a sniper, and the former Tampa Bay NHL draft pick will be expected to get regular points to take the pressure off of Jamieson and Carlon. Lightning fans hope that he will prove to be another Monir Kalgoum rather than a Tuomas Tikkanen.

A number of players from the MK youth set up make up the team, Ben Russell joins Ross Green on defence, Russell having been in America with the OHA Mavericks AAA and Ogden Mustangs. Up front Connor Goode has signed full time for the Lightning from MK Thunder, plus Coventry ENL Blaze forward, Josh Nicklin, has joined on a 2-way deal. They will help on a third line with Ross Bowers and Grant McPherson, who has been awarded the Alternate Captaincy following Chinn’s departure.

Between the pipes Stephen Wall will once again guard the MK net, after a strong second half of the season and sharing the goaltending duties will be GB U20 goalie, Jordan Hedley. Hedley is another graduate from the MK youth, and played a full season with the Thunder last year. Hedley made his début for Lightning at the age of 16, recording a shutout in a pre-season win against Telford.

Last season, the Lightning were very physical and, whilst having some players with a physical sense, I think this squad will be more of the Lightning of old – aggressive on the forecheck, forcing turnovers and frustrating the opposition.

Lightning will have to adapt to their season away from home quickly, and face a tough start to the season. Many MK fans are expecting the Lightning to maybe not finish as high in the table as usual, but this is a team on paper that could still worry the league favourites and don’t be surprised to see MK taking to the ice at the Play-off finals weekend.

The challenge is certainly on for the team management and players for this season. This will also be a tough challenge for the fans, regularly regarded as the best in the league; the MKL Barmy Army will certainly need to prove that this year. Are they ready for the challenge? Guildford Flames will find out when that first puck drops on September 7th.

 

Banners On The Wall

I’ll head the big question off right at the start. With the Thunderdome being refurbished, the MK Lighting as an organisation, a team and fanbase are in for a testing year as they play out of the Skydome. Roughly an hour away from MK, the fans are being asked to travel a fair distance to support their club (including making it round the death trap that is the Coventry ring road), the team are low down the pecking order in terms of access to ice time for training and face increased travel times for a variety of things and the organisation needs to eat the costs of operating out of the Skydome whilst keeping hockey affordable and competitive for MKL fans. The affordability of tickets for MK matches I will leave to your judgement. The quality of the team looks really solid.

With Alex Mettam having been lured to Bracknell, Nick Poole has held firm with the netminding duo of Stephen Wall and Jordan Hedley. Poole managed to bring Mettam on and through to becoming a legitimate EPL starter with Barry Hollyhead as the experienced pro who could handle the workload and that will be Wall’s job here. Wall, only 31 is still a very good keeper in this league and whilst you’d hope Hedley will get more opportunities to see ice time in a meaningful sense, Wall is more than capable of going every night.

The defensive unit which conceded the second fewest goals in last season’s league campaign only sees one change in Dan Harris being replaced by former MK junior Benjamin Russell who returns from having played for Ogden Mustangs. Whilst the Western States Hockey League isn’t the highest calibre junior league in the US, Russell’s time in Utah will have only benefited the youngster whose numbers speak of a low PIMs, low scoring sensible defenceman who should slot into the 5th defenceman role well.

The rest of the defensive unit is well known; Farn, Christie, Green and the ever impressive Zatopek would easily make any roster in the EPL given the chance. The only issue there might be that of familiarity for coaches who have figured out ways to coach against them but it is still arguably one of the strongest defensive corps in the league.

There have been a few tweaks to the forward lines out of necessity; Nicky Chinn and Chris Wiggins’ careers outside of hockey made regular travel to Coventry infeasible and Adam Brittle moving to Blackburn has seen the additions of Tom Carlon and Jordan Cownie from Peterborough. There was never going to really be a like for like replacement for Wiggins but Carlon certainly replaces some of the passing and creativity that Chinn provided as well as being able to be used across all three lines. After an impressive first senior campaign with the Phantoms, Cownie will add some speed and pace to the third line and should enjoy the large ice surface at the Skydome.

Having lost Kamil Tvrdek under somewhat interesting circumstances to Bracknell (which they were apparently challenging then went quiet on) this necessitated a new import forward to join the returning free scoring Janne Jokila and the ever productive Blaz Emersic. A 2005 Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, Stanislav Lascek comes from having spent the last 2 seasons in France, the latest one in their second tier with Les Bisons de Neuilly-sur-Marne where the team scraped into the playoffs and were knocked out at the quarter final stage. Lascek went over a point per game last season though was a way off the scoring lead for Les Bisons. Comparatively though the EPL is a higher scoring league and Lascek’s pedigree should see him do well here, especially someone who once scored 135 points in the QMJHL.

The other full time addition to the roster is MK junior product Connor Goode. Goode scored 2 points last season, both coming in the space of two shifts against the Bison last season. Coventry ENL Blaze forward Josh Nicklin has also been added to the roster in a contract that sees him eligible to play for both Blaze rosters and the Lightning.

The rest of the roster is the usual MK fare; Poole has registered himself on the off chance he needs to cover injuries. Carr, Jamieson and McPherson (love him or hate him) are the heartbeat of the roster up front and will always provide a hearty mix of scoring and toughness.

We all know what sort of team Nick Poole has signed, that’s not the big question here. It’s how they adapt to their new surroundings and situation. Sometimes these sort of experiences galvanise everyone, fans and players and sometimes it has an impact on the season. The Skydome will be home but it isn’t really home for the Barmy Army and attendances may be more at Slough levels than usual MK ones. I don’t think this team are title challengers but there’s a lot of potential there. Poole has a habit of producing teams that play some really good hockey with grit and that will always get teams far. The Lightning will certainly be worth watching this season, in more ways than one. I wish them all the best in their temporary home.

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