Standing in the Way – The NIHL Cup Special

The loss from the EPIHL of the Slough Jets meant a shortening of the league campaign but in some ways it has resulted in something that some have been wanting for years; an expanded competition with clubs from the NIHL taking part.

For the brand new EIHA Challenge Cup, the teams in the EPL have been split into 2 groups with 3 teams from NIHL 1 added to them. The Southern group which includes the Bison will see us play a home and away game against 3 of the top teams in the NIHL 1 South.

Chelmsford Chieftains

Home Ice: Riverside Ice and Leisure Centre

Last season: League Champions, Playoff Champions, South East Trophy Champions, NIHL South 1 Cup Champions

Head coach: Dwayne Newman

Tickets: http://www.chelmsfordchieftains.org/tickets-1/

Team preview: Fabrizzio Tessadri, Chieftains fan

Having won all four trophies available to them last season, the Chelmsford Chieftains begin this campaign as the team everyone has their sights firmly set on in the NIHL Division 1 South. With influential player coach Gary Clarke calling time on his career, the reigns have now been handed to Dwayne “Dog” Newman to build a side ready to challenge for honours once again.

Along with Clarke, this summer has seen the retirement of D man Alex Green and the departure of young forward Luke Brittle. The exits of former Bison forward Daniel Volrab and fan favourite Tibor Schneider left Newman with voids to fill at both ends of the ice.

He was quick to re-sign the remaining nucleus of the quadruple winning side; they say that stats don’t lie, so in keeping Ben Clements and Euan King between the pipes, the Chieftains have the strongest netminder duo in the league. On the blue line, last year’s player of the season, Julian Smith continues along with Alex Staples and John Connolly. Ryan Giles joins from Invicta and the import slot is filled by the experienced Lukas Zapotec, who steps down a division after six years with MK Lightning. Sean Barry steps up from the Warriors and veteran Danny Wright will play his 14th season as a Chieftains man

The strong forward line remains largely intact from last season; Danny Hammond is welcomed home to re-join the Academy nurtured talent of Ross Brears, James Ayling, Matt Turner, and Darren Brown. Import Martin Piecha joins after posting impressive stats in the German third tier over the last 3 seasons and Michael Ranby will be looking to get under the skin of rival goalies after an injury hit season. The Bartlett brothers will again be taking no prisoners on the ice but a long term ligament injury to Grant should see highly rated U18 Academy forward Bailey Chittock given opportunities to progress.

The English Challenge Cup brings an exciting new challenge and I think Premier League fans will be surprised by the strength of the three Southern lower league sides. Chelmsford have a good blend of experience and home grown youth but, having just played one game, I think the upcoming weekend cup games may be a little early to see the team playing at their best. Having lost last season’s two top point scorers in Clarke and Volrab, the Chieftains will look to Hammond, Piecha and the ever impressive Brears to fill the void.

With all three NIHL South participants having featured in the Premier league at some stage in their history, and the competition is a chance to see just how close they now are to the standard of the division above. I am sure Chieftains fans will be looking forward to seeing Premier league talent and a couple of old faces return to the Riverside.

BOTW Take:

To say the Chelmsford Chieftains are the top of the NIHL South 1 tree at the moment is an understatement. With last season’s player/coach Gary Clarke having called time on hockey and the team having seen him off in style with 4 trophies, the task of taking the reigns at the Riverside fell to Peterborough legend and former Chieftains captain Dwayne “Dog” Newman.

Newman has kept a large chunk of what was, at NIHL level, a very good roster. Lead by captain Julian Smith, a defence including the excellent John Connolly is bolstered by Lukas Zatopek who joins from MK Lightning in place of Tibor Schneider. Zatopek, who is still EPL quality will be an impact player at NIHL level and a valuable asset against EPL sides.

Up front, local favourite Danny Hammond is back in a Chelmsford jersey after a year away at Invicta and will be a big scoring threat alongside Ross Brears and Matt Turner who had 65 and 44 points last term respectively. With new import forward Martin Piecha (who because he played for Rostock’s rivals Halle, I am obliged to boo) in to replace for Bison centre Daniel Volrab, things up front look good for the Essex side. I also wait to see the reaction to the style of play of Michael Ranby who might be the NIHL South’s premier agitator.

If there’s a team that will be predicted to take a few scalps in the cup then it will be Chelmsford. The issue for the NIHL teams won’t be winning at home but winning on the road of they want to progress in the competition. The Chieftains are arguably the best set up to win on the road and I personally am really looking forward to how last season’s champions who return with most of last season’s roster will face up against some of the EPL’s bigger names.

Isle of Wight “Wightlink” Raiders

Home Ice: Ryde Arena

Last season: 2nd, Playoff finalists

Head player/coach: Jeremy Cornish

Tickets: http://wightlinkraiders.com/about-the-wightlink-raiders/tickets/

Team preview: #81 Carl Graham, Raiders defenceman

“It may be slightly hard for me to be totally accurate with a pre season review of how things are shaping up as it’s quite a new realm for me in some respects. However comparing ourselves to other teams and the players that are signed, I believe we will be looking to take 1st spot in the competitions.

The league has improved a lot this season with a number of players joining from the EPL. I believe this is a good thing and will not only bring the standard up but coupled with the EPL cup will allow fans to see new teams and players to have new challenges.

I think I would be foolish to say we will breeze through this, however confident and skilled we may be, it will be a challenge to finish in the top 4 of the new cup. I think our home advantage is one massive plus and we need to aim for a 100% record here and nothing short. When we visit teams away, we need to aim to take points where we can and compete against the top teams and who knows, every team has their off day.

Speaking before even turning up to pre season is risky, however the vibe I get is that this is our year and the team has been recruited to deliver that for the fans and respective owners.

BOTW take:

The Raiders have been the bridesmaids in the NIHL in recent seasons, a fact which will no doubt niggle at coach Jeremy Cornish. In fact the last two seasons they have been beaten out by the Chieftains to the league title and the playoffs. It’s starting to wear thin.

The obvious upgrade for the Raiders is up front where Matt Vizzari has been replaced by former EPL player of the year and former Bison forward, Jaroslav Cesky. Cornish has reportedly been chasing Cesky for a couple of years and finally, after a season where he bounced around between EPL and EIHL to come to Ryde.

The core names from last season like Richard Facey, Nathan Taylor and captain Damon Larter are supplemented with a raft of quality additions like Ryan Webb, Bobby Streetly, Stephen Balmer and the above mentioned Mr Graham.

The Raiders will be there or thereabouts in the mix for the NIHL South 1 title, there’s no question of that. As for how they do in the cup remains to be seen. As Carl says above, the Raiders need to use the unique environs of the Ryde Arena to their advantage. Keepers will have to face 20 or 30 extra shots than they are used to whereas Christian Cole will be used to it. It’s a unique rink, one I look forward to finally getting to watch the Bison play in. A top 4 finish in the Southern half of the cup is a credible target but their home and away results against their fellow NIHL opponents and their away games at EPL sides will have a massive bearing on such things.

Invicta Dynamos

Home Ice: Gillingham Ice Bowl

Last season: 3rd, Playoff semi finalists

Head coach: Kevin Parrish

Tickets: http://www.invictadynamos.co.uk/Tickets.aspx?type=Match

Team preview: #98 Chris Douglas, Dynamos netminder

Well, a new season about to start and my second season with the Invicta Dynamos. Last year we played hard all season but a high SOG against and injuries cost us.

This year we have kept the core of the team and I think Kev has strengthened where we needed it. We have kept our first line of Huska, Smith and Fowler who can be devastating literally passing around even the best of teams in the NIHL, all three guys can score and turn a game on its head at any moment. I believe our second line will be our Captain Leonie (Anthony Leone), Greg Chambers and Steve Osman. Chambers is a top player who can make passes very few will be able to in our league and with Leonies’ hard skating and ability to win the puck and Osman’s finishing I think we have two of the top offensive lines in the league.

Defensively we are a lot stronger than last year with a mix of youth and youthful experience. Aaron Strawson returns along with Chris Cooke from Guildford. Both guys were really dependable last season in my eyes Cookie just got better and better and I hope that continues this season if he does it will be Guildford’s loss. Our biggest additions I think are Billy and Charlie Phillips; Billy gives us toughness that we really lacked last season and a hell of a shot from the blueline but we will need him on the ice and not in the box if he can do that this year he will be the best Brit d-man in our league and his brother Charlie small kid but WOW what a hitter like a half sized Carl Greenhouse for people who remember him. Even guys twice his size need to have their head up again cut out the silly stuff this guy will be snapped up quickly by the EPL . These two I think will be the key to a different season for us.

Then me in goal; I’ll just keep dancing and enjoying my hockey in my old age and if I can stay fit and injury free ill keep us in games we shouldn’t be in and let in some Bad Bad goals 🙂

I think the EPL cup is a good beginning for a new Era of British hockey it’ll showcase the best young Brits in the NIHL to bigger teams and give the EPL young guns a chance to shine. Plus it will give fans a chance to see other rinks and get new rivalries. (maybe even convince people its time for a 3 import EPL and a two import EPL2 league North/South Divisions)

I think we will be able to keep the games close for the most part in the cup especially against the teams that go by the spirit of the thing and rest their older players and play a full line or line and half of juniors from the start and not just after they are 5 up. I hope we will get a few points here an there if we click and if the guys can step up the intensity for a full 60 minutes we can turn someone over.

BOTW take:

Invicta have been an interesting team these last couple of years. Between 2003/04 and 2009/10, they didn’t finish lower than 1st in the (then) ENL table. They were the dominant force, the powerhouse, the dynasty. Since the arrival of Chelmsford, Romford and Wightlink into the league however their force has been waning.

That’s not to say that this entry into the EIHA Challenge Cup will magically make them the unstoppable force again but Kevin Parrish has put together a roster that should not only make a dent in the league but also in the cup.

The addition of Greg Chambers as player/assistant coach is something of a coup for the Dynamos and alongside returning import Juraj Huska gives them a very potent import force. Up front the addition of Steve Osman from the Isle of Wight, if he returns to the form of old should be an impact player alongside top NIHL level players like Callum Fowler (who could and probably should be in the EPL) and Nicky Lewis.

On defence, Parrish has secured the services of Billy and Charlie Phillips as well as signing Chris Cooke on a permanent basis from Guildford as well as giving a chance to Elliott Dewey to impress at NIHL 1 where he couldn’t make the breakthrough at EPL level last year. With Chris Douglas in net, the Dynamos have a chance to win every night.

How the Dynamos do out of the three teams is the biggest wildcard as no matter how I try, I can’t seem to get a read on them. I quite like that and look forward to seeing what they can do.

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