Standing in the Way – Hull Pirates

Hull Pirates

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

Last season: 9th

Team Preview: Chris Golley – Pirates fan, @EIHL_FIGHTS

In Hull or hell he lies; the Pirates are back for 2016/17 and look a very different prospect. (c) 5 Hole Photography

In Hull or hell he lies; the Pirates are back for 2016/17 and look a very different prospect.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

For the Hull Pirates, their inaugural season in the EPL proved a test for both the fans an ownership alike. Following an agonising Elite League playoff semi final defeat by the Pirates predecessors’ the Hull Stingrays, hopes had been high for the 2015/16 campaign. On the 24th June however came the bombshell news that the Stingrays were being placed into liquidation with professional hockey seemingly gone from East Yorkshire. Two weeks later though Shane Smith and Dominic Osman stepped up to the fore and announced that the Hull Pirates were to be formed and placed in the EPL. With a mere six weeks to the start of the season and a fanbase that had very unhappy memories’ of a previous stint in the EPL a decade earlier, it was always going to be a challenging season ahead and so it proved.

On the ice the Pirates’ predictably struggled early doors and roster changes were quickly made with Mario Mjelleli, Jan Platil and- controversially- Jon Baston axed. Off the ice the fans, still coming to terms with the demise of the Stingrays, struggled to really embrace the EPL. The New Year though saw results begin to take an upturn whilst the supporters also began to gradually take to the league. Their end of season form combined with the troubles of Bracknell and Manchester allowed the Pirates to finish in a credible ninth place but much more is expected ahead of the 2016/17 campaign.

With a full offseason to build a squad this time, combined with owner Shane Smith’s repeated statement that he expects Hull to challenge for trophies this year, much is expected of this year’s incarnation of the Pirates. It has not been all plain sailing however. Promising youngsters Tom Stubley and Sam Towner were quickly announced as not returning, causing discontent amongst the fans. Cam Mcgiffin was signed but then pulled out opting to instead move to the EIHL, whilst an unnamed high level import defencemen agreed terms before then backing out of the deal.

Despite these setbacks though, Dominic Osman has still managed to build a very strong and youthful looking squad for the season ahead. Retained are key core Brits Nathan Salem and Jamie Chilcott along with hugely promising youngsters Lee Bonner, Josh Gent and Jonathan Kirk. Hull youngster Cain Taylor has been signed to a full time contract whilst youngsters Jordan Stokes and Brad Moore, along with experienced D man Lee Haywood and utility forward Gareth O’Flaherty join from Coventry, Peterborough, Sheffield and Manchester respectively. Experienced forward Ryan Watt arrives from reigning EPL champions Basingstoke Bison and should provide an element of toughness that the Pirates very much lacked last year.

Of all the new Brits however the most intriguing signing is undoubtedly that of netminder Jordan Marr. With five imports now allowed the Pirates’ have somewhat surprisingly chosen to go against the grain and opt for a Brit starting netminder. A calculated gamble, this effectively allows Hull to ice two extra import outskaters compared with last year. Marr comes with pedigree too having spent much of his junior career in North America whilst he also impressed on his few outings last season for MK. The question however is can Marr retain a consistent level for the whole of the 2016/17 campaign?

Of the imports player coach Dominic Osman only remains, with forwards Stanislav Lascek, Andrej Themar and Ugnius Cizas coming in with Jaroslav Sarsok brought in on D. Lascek is as an outstanding talent and will be expected to lead from the front and score at well over a point a game whilst Themar on paper should put up decent numbers. At 6’6 Sarsok should add some much needed size and physicality to a Pirates defence that was badly lacking in this department last year. Cizas is perhaps the most intriguing of all the imports signed. At 20 years old he is one of the youngest imports in the league but Osman is convinced he has the talent to go onto far greater things than the EPL. If he is proved correct then Cizas could be one of the most exciting additions to the EPL for the season ahead.

The Pirates final signing of the summer has however, on reflection, been the most significant. The majority of fans expected it to be local star Matty Davies. He though surprised many by signing for EPL rivals the Telford Tigers, causing consternation amongst a Hull support already concerned at the amount of local talent seemingly moving away from the area. This discontent however was somewhat silenced by the announcement of the signing of veteran Elite League Brit Jason Hewitt. A player who opposition fans love to hate, his resume is extensive and –with the exception of Davies- this is probably the marquee Brit signing of the summer. He will be a huge asset to the Pirates and potentially could push them into a top five berth.

With the season therefore about to start the expectation amongst Hull fans could not be more different from that of a year ago. This time last year a fanbase was still in bewilderment and shock at the demise of the Stingrays, and there was little expected of the newly formed Pirates. One year later though, with the Stingrays now very much assigned to history, there is a sense that there can be no more excuses. In a physically bigger EPL it should be acknowledged that the Pirates lack size upfront whilst the acquisition of Marr is a calculated risk. However with more goals, depth, experience and toughness in the line-up than at any point last season Hull should qualify for the playoffs with ease. And if Marr can perform to expectations then Shane Smith could see his wish to see the Pirates challenge for trophies fulfilled. It’s been far from an easy ride, but finally it seems there are exciting times ahead for the East Yorkshire Club and its fans. Roll on 2016/17.

BOTW:

When you consider how quickly everything was put together, if Hull completed the 2015/16 season being mildly competitive it would be considered a success. When speaking with Dominic Osman at the end of last season, I said that I’d predicted that Hull would be bottom and had finished 9th so they’d already exceeded the expectations of many. When you think that they finished 9th due to a bit of grit and Bracknell imploding, the rest of the numbers don’t make great reading. The Pirates registered the fewest goals scored, the most goals conceded and this included releasing a goalkeeper who then went on to win the title somewhere else. Throw in the fact that the Pirates got their imports all wrong to start the season meaning all of them bar Osman were changed, last season was one to be endured in a lot of ways.

However Hull do also deserve a lot of credit in to it. The team was put together in the blink of an eye with the folding of the Stingrays, the club didn’t so much start on the back foot as giving Usain Bolt a 50 metre head start.

Just as Osman learned during the season what sort of import player was needed for the league, he appears to have gone away and realised the sort of roster needed to make inroads into the EPL. Yes, some of the decisions are odd on the surface but this is a roster that needs to take chances to succeed.

The biggest one for many is that Jordan Marr replaces Martins Raitums (he played KHL, just not that KHL) in the nets. When you think that Raitums replaced Jon Baston because they wanted more experience, to throw a 25 year old with 1 EPL season where he was effectively the 1b netminder into the starting role is certainly a head scratcher. However if all the plans come off then Osman comes out of it looking like a stone cold genius as he plays 5 import outskaters.

The secondary reason for going with Marr in net is some of the other names that have come in for the outskating corps, the biggest of those names will be 28 year old Slovak, Andrej Themar. Themar spent last season with Moss in the Norwegian second tier and scored over 70 points. The leagues are of similar quality so if he settles and gets the service expect Themar to do a bit of damage and replace the points lost with the departure of Tommi Laine.

Whilst a few names have gone like Warren Tait and Sam Towner, newer names have been brought in up front to go with Themar who should provide interest. Alongside Josh Gent and Nathan Salem staying, the later being a massive re-signing, the addition of some really solid veteran grit in Jason Hewitt is an upgrade on Tait with the addition of a bit of depth from Bradley Moore, Gareth O’Flaherty and Ryan Watt who I am certain will be a Pirates fan favourite very quickly. Import wise, whilst I’m not as high on Stanislav Lascek as Chris is above, he’s decent. I am more interested to see Ugnius Cizas who comes with a decent scoring record as a young player and we all spend weeks trying to figure out how to pronounce his name.

On the back end, the defensive unit looks better than last year. I actually think it has a lot of promise to it. A combination of Chilcott, Haywood and Kirk is a decent 3 Brits to be starting out with and Jordan Stokes is a very exciting prospect. Additional import Jaroslav Sarsok has plenty of experience in the Swedish league and had a decent enough season in Poland. He also actually played in the proper KHL.

I have to tip my hat to Dominic Osman because with the resources he has, he appears to have put together a decent looking side. Sorry Pirates fans but I don’t think you’re immediately title contenders this season but there’s some real promise in here. The team looks like it has more depth, is better rounded and has more quality overall. Yes, Marr is a risky choice as a netminder but who dares, wins and all that. Hull have very little to lose in the long run but daring to experiment. I think 6th might be the ceiling for this roster but they aren’t that much of an outside bet to get 6th if the stars align.

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