Standing in the Way – Guildford Flames 2015/16Posted: 11/09/2015
Home Ice: Spectrum Leisure Centre
2014/15 league position: 2nd, cup semi-finalists
The BOTW Take
After the 2014/15 season ended, press releases started uncharacteristically flying out of the Spectrum; in one press release, Jozef Kohut, Branislav Kvetan along with late season additions Vladimir Kutny and Roman Tvrdon were all gone. The next day, David Savage was gone. The following day, David Longstaff was announced as leaving with Neil Liddiard and James Hadfield announced as leaving Surrey in the days following. It seemed that the Flames were having a fire sale.
It seemed a mere 2 years without a trophy had taken their toll and Paul Dixon was going to blow the roster up and start from scratch but it didn’t really end that way. What we’ve ended up with is a clear out of sorts but what appears to have happened is that Dixon has shifted his core and has therefore moved pieces around it. Gone were some of the established names who maybe Dixon felt had gotten too comfortable and some different ideas were being injected to bring the success one normally associates with the Flames back to the Spectrum.
The one really noticeable change with the departure of Kvetan is that for the first time in quite a number of years, it’s an all British defence for Guildford. The Flames way of doing things has always been to have that large import defenceman at the back be it Kvetan or Marian Smerciak but with the addition of Kevin Phillips and Rupert Quiney to the blueline corps, it seems that Dixon doesn’t see the need to have an import defender. Even with the loss of Savage, the Flames defence looks really strong given Guildford have kept Danny Meyers, Jez Lundin and the ever improving Sam Godfrey.
The netminding choice is something that has raised a few eyebrows as Dixon has chosen something of a 1a/1b split between two established EPL veterans in Gregg Rockman and Stephen Wall. On first glance you look at it and say “two netminders who have won trophies at this level fighting to be number one, awesome” but I don’t think it works out like that. Both are excellent on their day but both aren’t spring chickens and both have fallen victim to the occasional injury and loss of form. I feel Rockman is the de-facto number one here given Wall’s less than stellar last couple of seasons but that’s still not a bad option to have coming off of the bench.
The biggest changes for the Flames have come up front as Dixon has shifted to having 4 import forwards. The ever dangerous Marcus Kristoffersson is the only forward retained from last season. Joining him is compatriot Jens Eriksson whose signing seemed to bring more nods of appreciation rather than whoops of excitement from the Surrey fans and I can see why when you look at some of the forwards they’ve signed in recent years. Bar some impressive numbers in the Belgian league, his numbers are OK rather than astounding but he’s been playing in leagues where players regularly don’t score 60-70 points. I think Eriksson’s ability to play centre or wing is the real asset here, it gives Dixon options.
The other two imports are no strangers to British hockey; former Peterborough forward Erik Piatak and former Newcastle and Coventry player Matic Kralj arrive from Kazakhstan, both with decent point scoring records in British hockey. The ability that those two have to score added alongside Kristoffersson and players like Matt Towe (58pts last season), Ben Campbell (38pts) and Tom Duggan (31pts) makes you think that there certainly won’t be any real issues for the Flames getting points out of their forward lines. Add in depth players like Andy McKinney, Andy Hemmings and the returning Callum Best after a season tearing up NIHL1 South with Streatham and despite only having 10 forwards, it’s a pretty good 10 forwards. The problem of course is 2 injuries and they’re playing 2 and a half line hockey.
We can make jokes about money or them being the big bad empire or the old empire or whatever but the Guildford Flames are mainstays in the upper echelons of the EPIHL and for good reason. They have resources to be able to attract really good players and despite the fact I don’t believe that Paul Dixon is the best coach in the league nor agree with some of the things he says (especially on his apparent excusing his role to develop young players), he is a very solid coach at this level with ideas that work.
As always with Guildford, it’s never do they have the talent to compete but will the systems and line combinations work? The early evidence from the pre-season games against the Bison show that there’s some decent combinations being put together like McKinney with Kristofferson and Piatak. Whilst they will take time to warm up, there’s early encouraging signs. In a league that is set to be tighter than ever before, the line between keeping the faith with what you have and pulling the trigger on changes if things aren’t going according to plan will be thinner than ever. The Flames are not a patient club at the best of times; this is an organisation with a tradition of winning and they will expect to win. If Dixon gets it all right and the stars align for them, there’s very little reason why they couldn’t be challenging at the end of the campaign.