Standing in the Way – Guildford FlamesPosted: 05/09/2016
Home Ice: The Spectrum
Last season: 3rd, cup winners, playoff winners
Team preview: Guy Elliott-Davies, Flames fan/Beer league all-Star – (Basingstoke Hyenas #12)
The 15/16 season did not quite get off the greatest of starts for Guildford, with the team failing to link up straight out of the gate. Rupert Quiney sustained a shoulder injury in the pre-season ‘friendly’ at the Silverdome, which plagued him for large portions of the year, and I feel we have yet to see the best of him as a Flame. Eric Piatek, Stephen Wall and Callum Best were all unfortunate casualties of a mid-season clear-out which marked the turning point in the season, with the addition of Lee Esders, Richard Ulberg and Janis Ozolins. From that point on, everything started to fall in to place, too late for the league, but certainly not too late for the cup or the playoffs, with the Flames bringing home both pieces of silverware.
After the success of last years Flames campaign, it’s unsurprising to see the 16/17 roster largely unchanged from that of last season.
The loss of Brit forwards Matt Towe, Lee Esders and also of league lighting Latvian Janis Ozolins, have left some very big shoes to fill; particularly in the case of Ozolins who has been one of the most exciting players ever to play out of the Spectrum in my 20 or so years of watching the Flames. As a replacement, Slovakian Marek Maslonka seems on stats and clips on YouTube, to be more of a skilled power forward in the Alex Ovechkin mould as opposed to an out-and-out dangler; but as we have often seen with imports new to the EPIHL, stats alone can never quite tell the whole story.
With Ben Campbell, Andy McKinney, Tom Duggan, Andy Hemmings, Andrew Melachrino, Jez Lundin, Kev Phillips, Danny Meyers, Sam Godfrey and Rupert Quinney all returning to the side we see an undeniably strong Brit core. Stand-outs from last season for me have to be the vast improvement made by Sam Godfrey, who at times I was sure I could have replaced; mid-way through the season I was certainly changing my tune, as under the tutelage of Meyers et al, the Swindon born youngster was transformed, totally earning his place in the line-up. Additionally, it was hugely gratifying to see Andy Hemmings FINALLY get some ice time towards the back end of the season, with him putting home a goal in the playoff final. There is a photo of him holding the playoff cup that truly captures the joy of hoisting silverware for the team you’ve played and bled for since you were a kid. Hopefully we’ll see him putting more goals home and less riding pine this coming season.
Matic Kralj, Marcus Kristofferson and Jens Eriksson make up the returning imports, all of whom made vast contributions to the Flames success last season. I do however sometimes feel frustrated at Kralj, feeling that he has so much more that he could give; BUT the numbers don’t lie and he certainly posted a few of those last season.
The addition of former Jet and Bee Sam Waller should bring a great deal of stability to the Flames defensive unit, allowing Paul Dixon to focus instead on running the bench, which as the back end of last season proved allowed him to really elevate the team tactically, which is much harder to do on-ice!
Between the pipes we see the return of last years master-stroke signing Richard Ulberg and the addition of Mike Will who will quite possibly be a second starter as opposed to backup. Having seen him briefly in practice, he looks to be an incredibly quick, strong presence and I have no doubt that in games where Flames require more fire-power up front, Mike will get the nod.
With a largely un-changed squad, hopefully we will see the Flames click as a unit from the get-go, and, if the boys can carry forward the momentum of last season’s success, I think they will truly be a force to be reckoned with. However, with the success they achieved, they must not rest on their laurels, as other teams will have so much more to prove against them.
As ever, I look forward to upcoming derbies against Basingstoke, providing the fog clears and we can actually see anything. 😉 See you at the library.
Why yes, I am massively cheating because Guy wrote his preview before this weekend’s games and I’ve published mine afterwards. I make the rules here.
It does mean that I can approach this slightly differently which is nice. We’ve already seen how Guildford play a bit in the warm up games (read about Saturday’s 5-1 win here) so what do we get as the overall Flames package?
If after 2 pre-season games you think that the sky is falling/are happy that the Flames seem to be a bit naff (delete as applicable) then prepare to be sorely disappointed. There is nothing wrong with calling the form book from time to time and we don’t need to be some massive super analyst to know that bar some minor miracle the Flames will be challenging come the end of the campaign.
I am not as hot on Richard Ullberg as some people. I maintain that last season Jon Baston was the better netminder and the number bare that out. However at EPL level, Richard Ullberg combined with that defence is a serious prospect. You add a good netminder full of confidence to the top 3 of Lundin, Meyers and Phillips and you have to take them seriously. Word is Sam Godfrey broke his collar bone in Sunday’s game which is a blow but a fit again Rupert Quiney and Sam Waller should help. It’s certainly a better looking all blueline than Milton Keynes have in my opinion. Where the Lightning might win games 5-4, the Flames will win them 2-1 or 3-1 for the most part.
Up front, the big head scratcher from the weekend was that the Flames only managed 1 goal in the 2 games when you consider the offensive fire power. People seemed to imagine that given that this was pretty much the same team as last year that they’d magically step straight back into that mode which was a bit harsh to them but there is a question to be asked about the Flames forwards.
There’s a few names from last year missing from the forwards list. Matt Towe “retired”, Lee Esders signed for Braehead and Janis Ozolins headed back to Latvia. In their place came Marek Maslonka who has decent numbers in Slovakia, Kazakhstan and France. When you add his name to players like Eriksson, Kralj and Kristofferson then you’d think that offence shouldn’t be that hard to come by with support from players like Ben Campbell and a decent EPL centre in Tom Duggan.
However the fact that there’s only 9 forwards on the roster does leave the Flames with very little room for manoeuvre. They need everyone to be firing on all cylinders a lot of the time because there’s very few people immediately there to step up. Yes, it’s Guildford and they have the resources to go out and find someone to add should they need to but that doesn’t help them in the immediacy. For all the fuss that Paul Dixon makes about players getting a spot on the roster when they deserve it, with a very good youth setup at his disposal and a supposed shortage of EPL quality Brits, I have to suppose at some stage that Dixon’s hand will be forced and we’ll see someone from the under 18s given ice time in the even of injuries and suspensions unless he fancies starting Mike Will and playing Richard Ullberg as a forward.
The question with Guildford is genuinely always the same. It’s never a case of “do they have the requisite quality” but “can they settle and come together as a team?” You’d assume that given there’s so many returnees and they’ll know what the coach is wanting that it wouldn’t be an issue. However it’s a different league and a different season and they’ve not left themselves a lot of wiggle room in terms of the roster. The Flames will always be there or thereabouts but whereabouts come the end of the season remains to be seen.