Standing in the Way – Bracknell Bees

Bracknell Bees

Home Ice: John Nike Ice and Leisure Centre aka The Hive

Last season: 10th

Back from the brink; Bracknell Bees have made it to the dance for 2016/17 but how will they fare? (c) 5 Hole Photography

Back from the brink; Bracknell Bees have made it to the dance for 2016/17 but how will they fare?
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Team Preview: KillerBee – long-time Bracknell fan & volunteer

The less said about last season for the Bees, as a club, probably the better with one notable exception and that is the respect that should be given to those players who stuck with it until the end of the season despite all the off-ice issues and complications.

With PSM having handed back the operating license the future looked bleak for the Bees who were in a battle against time to save their very existence as well as their place in the EPIHL. A group of dedicated fans got together in an effort to safeguard the future of the club and it took three brave souls to step forward and form the necessary Limited Company to be able to apply for the licence to operate the Bracknell Bees brand moving forward with the help of some truly committed volunteers.

The fans stepped up and through crowd-funding raised an incredible amount to compliment the finances provided by new, existing and returning sponsors. The long hard battle was finally successful thanks to a lot of peoples hard work & efforts and when the news emerged that the John Nike Group had granted the new Limited Company and the League had granted the side a place in the 2016/17 competition the work of recruiting the squad began.

Lukas Smital returned as Head Coach and immediately set about building the side. Starting at the back Alex Mettam is back for his fourth season and will once again be partnered by young Matt Smital who stepped up to the Bees last campaign.

The young towering Josh Tetlow and the experienced Carl Graham have returned to the Bees blue line and with Lewis Turner heading down the M3 to Basingstoke, Tom Relf north to Sheffield whilst he studies and Jan Bendik to Germany Smital moved to re-sign Harvey Stead back to Bracknell following a year at Swindon and two new faces to the country in the shape of Slovakians Martin Pavlicek and David Gaborcik.

In the forward lines long term Bees Matt Foord, James Galazzi and Scott Spearing are all back for another season alongside Josh Smith, Carl Thompson and Alex Barker who have also all returned. With Vanya Antonov having joined Lewis Turner in heading along the M3 to the Bison and Tom Beesley moving to the London Raiders Smital needed to recruit fresh faces to finish the squad. Slovenian Luka Basic and Czech Krystof Kafan are two more new faces to the country that have joined the Bees attack and you Rio Grinell-Parke has also joined from the London Raiders having impressed last season. The final addition to the squad was young defenceman Jack Hayes who has joined the side as a prospect player.

The new look Bees will naturally be a bit of an unknown quantity this season with four new to the country imports added to the side and it is therefore tricky to predict with any level of certainty what the season will bring.

Alex Mettam, in nets, will need to on form each and every night with the defence in front of him needing to be solid too. The new forward lines will also need to gel and click quickly for the Bees to achieve their stated aim of reaching the playoffs this season.

It has taken a great deal of time, effort and commitment from a dedicated group to get the Bees back on to the ice for the upcoming season and despite what the season may hold it cannot be denied that the club have already therefore achieved a great deal.

BOTW:

I suppose we need to start with echoing what KillerBee said above; last season was the absolute pits for the Bees. Aside from the fact that their jerseys were clearly 2 sizes too big for the players (or 5 sizes in the case of Vanya Antonov) it was a year to forget in almost every respect. The fact that the fans have clubbed together in this way to keep one of the classic names of British ice hockey going deserves a lot of respect and I tip my hat to them for it.

After a summer of all sorts of rumours including one that the Bees would be “made in Bracknell” with Smital as the only import, they all gave way to the truth of the matter which was that the Bees will be running 5 imports just like the other team as well as 6 d and 10 forwards.

Alex Mettam is a EPL quality netminder and Matt Smital is an able backup who appears to be trusted to get some minutes from his father. Are either world beaters at EPL level? Arguably no but one is good and one is an up and comer with room to improve.

The defence is where a lot of questions lie for the Bees. Teams can do well with a decent enough netminder but they need a blueline corps to match it. It’s a very young blueline that starts the season for the Bees with EPL veteran Carl Graham the only player over the age of 23. The defence is bolstered by the return of Harvey Stead from a season away at Swindon and there’s still time for Josh Tetlow to develop. I like Tetlow; he has the tools to become a very good defenceman but at times last year looked a bit lost. The hope is that getting the minutes will help him.

Imports wise, the Bees have gone a different direction. Rather than signing experience, the Bees have gone down the young and hungry route as one of the only teams (if not the only one) to have 2 imports on defence. 23 year old David Gaborick and 21year old Martin Pavlicek have had experience in the Slovak Extraliga and maybe have a point to prove to some there. A good season away from home certainly puts them in the shop window.

With only 10 forwards, it’s a Bees side that is going for a focussed game plan and one that needs to avoid injuries. Yes, the Bees do have the Hornets and a youth system to call upon too but they start the system with one of the shorter benches in terms of its attacking strength.

It was obvious that if the Bees were to make the start line for 16/17 then some names would obviously be there. Alongside Smital himself and talismanic captain Matt Foord are other well-known Bracknell names like Scott Spearing (well, we need to boo someone), Carl Thompson and James Galazzi. There are likely to be increased rolls for Alex Barker and Josh Smith who will likely vie with former Bracknell junior Rio Grinnell-Parke over the 10th forward spot.

The loss of Vanya Antonov to the Bison has meant looking to new imports to help provide some extra offensive punch. Former Slovenian international Luka Basic (and yes, there will be many jokes) and Czech born Krystof Kafan will be looked upon to help put the puck in the net. Judging by their former stats and pre-season, it seems that Basic might be the one to be doing more of this than Kafan but we’ll need to see how both the players settle into league competition proper.

I am not going to lie; it could be another long season in the ice for the Bees. A pre-season win over Swindon has got people’s hopes up a bit but as we’ve established elsewhere on BOTW, it’s not the greatest of indicators of everything that is to come.

The question about the overall quality of the roster when matched up against the rest of the league, in particular last year’s 9th placed side Hull in terms of moves made doesn’t bode well for the Berkshire side.

However given where we were a few months ago, I think we’re all just happy to see Bracknell make the season at all. We can be thankful for that if nothing else.

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