Standing in the Way – Bracknell Bees 2014/15

Bracknell Bees

Home ice: John Nike Leisuresport Complex (The Hive)

Last season: 8th, playoff quarter finalists

Tickets: Link

The Bracknell Bees season ended in the playoffs with a loss to Manchester; can they go a step further this season? (c) 5 Hole Photography

The Bracknell Bees season ended in the playoffs with a loss to Manchester; can they go a step further this season?
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Team preview: Name withheld

Last season in a nutshell

Three words: quite a journey. You want more than just three words? Sure. It was tumultuous, exciting, frustrating, but still fun overall. The summer began with new ownership and a launch event that created a lot of buzz. Unconventionally, the whole team was unveiled in one fell swoop. There wasn’t much squad turnover and people were banking on that stability to maintain our competitiveness.

It did not pan out in the fashion that the fanbase envisioned and the Bees stumbled out of the gate. Turmoil followed and bench coach Gareth Cox was dismissed, quickly followed by rumours galore and eventually the release of new import Kamil Tvrdek. Lukas Smital took over the reins as head coach and a post-New Year resurgence helped Bracknell take baby steps up the table.

Playing with only three imports did not dampen the tenacity within the team, and indeed some help arrived in the form of youngsters Vanya Antonov and Harvey Stead stepping up and becoming full time Bees. Fighting tooth and nail enabled the team to cement 8th spot in the EPIHL standings and return to the playoffs. A repeat quarter final with Manchester beckoned. Despite managing a narrow win in the home leg Bracknell succumbed 8-6 on aggregate.

Given the team’s resources and applying hindsight: last season was good. Not great, not bad. Simply good, and the players showed the best work ethic imaginable. That’s all we ask.

The returnee(s)

Lukas Smital: Although he has recently turned 40 he is still one of the premier skaters in the league. A Bees legend; he has stepped out of Gareth Cox’s “shadow” and assumed the role of head coach in his own right to start the new season. Smits will be relied upon heavily to produce, as always. He is nigh on ageless and possesses wonderful vision along with a rocket shot that we all wish he would use more. The perfect choice as player-coach, if anyone can spur the Bees to new heights it is Smital.

Alex Mettam: Arriving to much hurrah from Milton Keynes as the genuine number one that the Bees craved after Carl Ambler retired, Mettam had a nuanced season. The crease started off as a timeshare with Tom Annetts and neither netminder truly took control with Annetts possibly being the better option through the first few months. As Smital’s influence permeated after the change of coach, Mettam seemed to settle and find his groove putting in some inspired performances down the stretch. Retaining his services was paramount.

Scott Spearing: Everyone’s favourite gentleman on the ice. Well, that’s not strictly true. However, he is a sparkplug and has begun to flourish in recent seasons. Countless times he has chipped in with vital goals and his effort typifies the Bees approach to hockey: hustle, hustle and… hustle. It is widely believed that Smital has managed to focus him on hockey more than agitating and it is paying huge dividends on the ice.

The new boy(s)

Radek Hubáček : Czech. Hulking. And hopefully lethal. Coach Smital scouted his old home town of Brno for this bit of recruitment. Impressive stats in the Czech2 league last season make him an eye catching signing. Hubáček has played at the highest level in the Czech Republic and has a ton of experience. Coming off his best scoring season bodes well. The Bees need him to be as good as his background sounds.

Ryan Watt: New-ish. New for the upcoming season but a returnee to Bracknell from previous spells with the club. Often splitting opinion with certain antics, there is no doubting his ability. Last go round the block Watt had a decent stint spent between Slough and Swindon. And before that a year in the EIHL with Braehead that was unfortunately marred with injury. Hopefully, like Spearing, his energies are spent putting in the puck in the net.

Matt Towalski: A versatile player capable of being in a forward line or dropping back to shore up the defence makes Towalski a good utility choice. Great benefit when suffering inevitable injuries throughout the lineup. Oodles of EPIHL experience. A calm demeanour. He fits the high tempo game that Smital favours and will leave everything on the ice.

How we’ll do

Who knows? Whatever I write here will be wildly incorrect after three weekends have passed. We’re down to a nine team pool. The quality of the squad is very much equal to last season. There have been some subtractions but also some top notch additions. Toss a coin. Will we be 8th or 9th or 7th? I can’t envision reaching higher than that. An above average cup run would be nice. However, pre-season; this is just a stab in the dark. As Bees fans, all we want is to see our team put in their utmost week-in, week-out.

The Bees roster has changed drastically from last season but player/coach Lukas Smital will be at the centre of the action on and off the bench. (c) 5 Hole Photography

The Bees roster has changed drastically from last season but player/coach Lukas Smital will be at the centre of the action on and off the bench.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The BOTW take:

Mr X sent me a couple of messages over this recent weekend telling me how he was doing with his piece. This was while the Bees were playing towards back to back 3-2 wins over Swindon Wildcats which I’ll confess was a bit of a surprise and I think anyone who looked at the comings and goings over the off season would I think likely think the same.

The list of names that have left the Hive is sizeable and influential; Lamey, retired. Oakford, to the Elite League, Redmond, released. Thompson, offered a contract which the club withdrew then signed for Manchester as a result. Rounding and Baird to Basingstoke, Bronnimann to Guildford. 4 of the top 5 points scorers from last season totalling 177 points of scoring have gone. If you’re a Bees fan then that doesn’t make great reading.

Coach Lukas Smital has tried to respond as best he can with the resources at his disposal. The return to Bracknell of Ryan Watt and the capture of Matt Towalski are more than adequate top quality Brits to take some of the load and the capture of Radek Hubacek sees Smital’s vast talents being supported by a player whose pedigree speaks of someone who should be a decent and high scoring player in this league. This is coupled with the words of Jon Rowson on the BOTW Podcast this past week, Hubacek is a player who in the Czech leagues has always been a top guy but never “the” top guy as it were.

The rest of the roster has some names that are loved and loathed across the EPL. Loathed by many outside of Berkshire is Scott Spearing who, despite his reputation is a constant high energy performer for the Bees, is dedicated to the cause and always finds a way to score points. Chris Wiggins’ abilities when he’s not used for his fighting are vastly underrated and is capable of causing damage in the power forward position

On defence, the returns of import duo Jan Bendik and Pavel Strycek will buoy chances and the spirits of the home fans.

The addition full time of 17 year old Russian/British dual national Ivan Antonov full time is interesting but unexpected. Given his impressive performances in 2013/14, that Antonov has been called to the roster on a regular basis gives his game a chance to develop further and retain his place in both the GB under 18 and 20 sides.

As much as I dislike breaking out clichéd ideas, you kind of have to use one here. Whilst the Bison were accused over the summer of not strengthening, they didn’t need to at the top end when they won 2 trophies and retained nearly all of their top end guys. Bracknell finished 8th but have lost a large amount of their top end guys and retained a large chunk of that roster from last year. Moving sideways isn’t the worst thing sometimes, stability of the core of your roster is important. The problem is arguably the better parts of their core have left and the move sideways is tempered by the loss of Slough and the fact that the Phantoms have noticeably improved and Slough have left the league.

I think 7th is possible but the doom mongers are out already for Bracknell in spite of the pre-season results. It’s a long season and I’m always happy to be proved wrong. Lets see how powerful the Bees sting is across the whole campaign.

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