Standing in the Way – Hull Pirates 2015/16

atoHull Pirates

Home ice: Hull Arena (the world’s most versatile arena)

League position: N/A, new team

The formation of the Hull Pirates is many things to many people; the addition of a tenth team to the EPIHL has removed last season’s cup format from the fixture list that whilst an enjoyable addition in the sense that we got to see different teams, was not up to par in terms of its competitiveness. The hockey fans of the East Riding have a team which is something that looked massively in doubt when Bobby McEwan pulled the plug on the Hull Stingrays, the EIHL’s little engine that came close to causing upsets. We have another multiple ownership scenario in the league. We have a team made so quickly that there’s questions as to how competitive they can be and a player/coach/part owner who spent most of the summer building another team’s roster. It’s certainly a broth of bother.

Dominic Osman is still arguably an Elite League calibre player who now finds himself having to be the everyman of Hull ice hockey; a man with all the responsibility on his shoulders and, whatever you think of the roster, is one that will enter the league and he and his backroom staff deserve a lot of credit for managing to get all the pieces in place to start the season.

Only 2 players remain from the Hull Stingrays roster that finished the 2014/15 EIHL season; Great Britain u20 international Sam Towner and defenceman Tom Ralph. After a decent season where he scored 11 points (5+6) in 55 games, Towner is likely to be looked upon to bring that higher level experience into EPL game time situations. It’ll give the 20 year old former Sheffield junior a chance to see those game time situations that he didn’t get in the EIHL with a view to getting himself back into the EIHL in the upcoming seasons. For Ralph, it will be a chance to see more ice time in general and hopefully provide the occasional bit of secondary scoring. Never a particularly high scorer at ENL/NIHL level, the main objective for the local Hull lad will be about cementing himself at this level.

The netminding is an immediate question for the Pirates given the average age of their goalies is 18.5 years of age. The fact that Hull went down the import goalie route wasn’t a massive surprise but the signing of Finnish/British goalie Jon Baston was something of a surprise. 21 year old Baston has spent the majority of his young career in the Swedish third and fourth tiers and his numbers for Hedemora last season were OK but whether he can be that guy to steal games at EPL level and carry this team in the way that other import goalies will in this league. Baston’s signing is a make or break for the Pirates as they try to make an instant impact. His backup is 16 year old former Sheffield and Bradford junior Ashley Smith. This is a large step up for the highly touted Smith who was playing under 16s and 18s hockey last season. You have to imagine that the weight of the work will fall to Baston but Smith has been given a fair chunk of pre-season time so it seems Osman will be prepared to call on the youngster if needed.

The 5 man defensive unit is a mixture of experience and youthful vigour. Alongside the already mention Tom Ralph, the youngsters are 20 year old former Steeldogs and Spartans player Jonathan Kirk. Kirk has spent the last 2 seasons in the NIHL1 North with some decent points returns. He can play forward as well as defence but it’s expected that he’ll be on the blueline alongside 16 year old Thomas Stubley who makes his first foray into the EPL after making his senior debut last season with the Stingrays and the Hull Jets.

British experience on the back end comes in the form of James Hutchinson who joins after a decent if injury hit year in Peterborough. They are joined by experienced import defenceman Jan Platil. As detailed by Jon Rowson in our imports preview, Platil has all the tools but comes with a degree of baggage that makes this writer wonder how well he will adapt to British hockey.

The import forwards will have a lot of the offence resting on their shoulders. Osman, a 30 and 40 point scorer in the Elite League should get decent numbers if he gets the requisite service and you have to think the boss is likely to play first or second line minutes. Joining him is Italian/American, Mario Mjelleli who joins from Geleen in Holland. The former Augsburg College alternate captain (the same American university that Jaroslav Cesky used to play for) has OK numbers in Holland as well as playing in the lower leagues in France and Germany. He’s not got experience in the leagues that many top end imports in the EPL have had but that doesn’t mean he won’t make an impression.

A few waves were made when Osman brought Craig Thurston and Cam Brownley to Hull with both players having already committed to the Steeldogs. With both wanting to work with Osman, both were tempted to trade blue and black for white, black and green. Thurston, a former Newcastle junior spent time with Hull’s juniors as well as Sutton and Solway, returns to the UK after a season in the WSHL with the Cheyenne Stampede. The WSHL has been a productive league for many young British players and after an impressive 33 points in 41 games, Thurston should see some good minutes this season. 18 year old Brownley is more of a work in progress; he’s had good numbers in juniors and OK numbers in the NIHL but will be looking to press on and become an established EPL forward this term with some hopefully improved ice time.

There’s added experience in the return to the EPL of Warren Tait who is no stranger to battling in the corners or along the boards and will help add some much needed veteran presence to a team that has an average age of just over 23 and has added a raft of young guys like Lee Bonner, Jordan Fisher and Josh Gent alongside former Hull Jets captain Jamie Cobley who comes off of a 50 point season in NIHL2 North.

Let’s be honest with ourselves; I can’t think of many pundits that have Hull finishing anywhere other than bottom of the table; a roster that whilst has decent leadership has been put together as too short a notice to have the depth or quality necessary to make a real dent. Some even argue it’s just a case of Hull making up the numbers.

That is a little unfair however. The task is tough, there’s no doubt of that and I don’t think many in that part of Yorkshire will disagree with you. The Pirates as a club were the means of keeping this great sport of ours in the city of Hull. Hull is many things to many people but it’s also a hockey town. The team names have changed regularly and unfortunately mid way through this summer, the Stingrays could not go on. The Pirates have risen in their place and have entered an EPL that is vastly different from the one that the Stingrays left to join the EIHL years ago.

I will miss the Stingrays, the day my wife and I started dating was after a Bison/Stingrays game so they will always have a place in my hockey and personal history. That chapter has gone, it was fun while it lasted but it sadly has ended. The only thing I can say to anyone listening in the East Riding is to get behind this club. It’s not EIHL but the EPL hockey aside from possibly being more sustainable in Hull is good quality hockey despite what some in other parts of Yorkshire say. You are welcome in this league, we look forward to meeting you all again and this year might be tough but we’re a better league with you in it and hopefully you embrace it.

I sadly still think you finish bottom of the league but hopefully the first generation of Hull Pirates have a great deal of pleasure proving me wrong.


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