Standing in the Way – Manchester PhoenixPosted: 09/09/2016
Home Ice: Fylde Coast Ice Arena (Manchester Ice Dome coming soon)
Last season: 8th, playoff quarter finalists
Team Preview: The Angry Budgie
(Editor’s note: Manchester have signed defenceman Joni Tuominen and forward Scott Bailey since Mark wrote his piece but it doesn’t hurt the gist of what he says)
It’s approaching the end of August, as I write this, not quite believing where the summer has gone!
As a Phoenix fan the 15/16 season was a long and tough season, being transplanted to Deeside meant long drives for our home games and, when the puck dropped for the final time, I will admit, I was happy to see the back of it! We had achieved our main goal of surviving the season and securing a return to Manchester. Job done!
Of course, a regular, care free summer is not something we have had for a long time!
Blocking out all the negativity that has come the way of the Phoenix over the past season and this summer, there has been many positives for ‘The Faithful’. We have a new rink confirmed in Manchester’s city centre, once again returning hockey to Manchester, a short tram ride from Piccadilly station and in view of the Etihad Stadium. Support from the City Council has been strong and been a driving force in keeping things moving. Ice Tech are on board and ready to fit out the rink in a matter of weeks. The future for the Phoenix does look bright once more, even if we have to have a brief sojourn to the Fylde Arena, a few weeks of hockey by the beach is not so bad to endure for the resulting return to Manchester.
Be assured also, the @pnxpodcast will have a balcony/media area to continue to bring you our excellent form of coverage and punditry!
That’s our home covered, what about the team?
Perhaps because of the season we have had and, the summer so far, the delay to the opening of the new rink, the Phoenix squad rebuild is not as advanced as some of the other rosters in the EPL. As of writing the Phoenix have 11 players on the roster, the usual mix of returnees and new faces.
In goal: Steve Fone & Dennis Bell
Fone returns for his 8th season with the Phoenix and, with many more EPL clubs going with an import netminder, perhaps his decision to come back was a no brainer! He is one of the EPL’s premier netminders be it import or not, over the years for the Phoenix he has proved an immense final wall. Last year, with out the heroics of Fone the Phoenix would have fared much worse in the final standings. He faced more shots than ever and yet still gave the Phoenix a chance to win in each and every game. A real solid base for the Phoenix roster.
With Phil Spanswick signing with the Storm to become their back up the Phoenix moved to bring in 19 year old Dennis Bell. So far Dennis has plied his trade in the NIHL or NIHL 2, this season marks his first step into the EPL. While he will not start many games, he will earn a huge amount under Fone’s wing and, im sure he will be given game time under Tony Hand during the regular season.
The Rear guard: Luke Boothroyd/James Neil/Ben Wood/Greg Pick/Lewis Baldwin
The case for the defence opens with familiar stalwarts of the Manchester Phoenix, having clocked in 1,126 games for the Phoenix lead by Captain Fantastic Luke, James and Ben return for their 9th/8th and 9th seasons with the club respectively. Luke Boothroyd is someone playing in the EPL who I do think could hack it in the EIHL. A steady head, it takes alot to rattle Luke, you know something awful must have happened if he is losing his cool. Difficult to get past, Luke has one of the best hip check’s in the league, Captain of the club for the past 7 seasons #Bootherscoringmachine will lead the Phoenix home to Manchester. James Neil and Ben Wood are two of the Phoenix most versatile players, both having been asked to play forward as well as defence. Despite his relatively small stature James Neil is a quick defenceman who, perhaps unable to muscle players off the puck, will stick with them and make their life a misery. Ben Wood on the other hand, is one of the Phoenix tallest players, willing to throw his body around and, possessing a wicked wrist shot the past couple of seasons have seen Ben become an established EPL defenceman.
New faces to the Phoenix blue line include Greg Pick and Lewis Baldwin. Greg comes to the team after 4 seasons in the EPL mainly with the Phantoms. Adding some much needed grit, Greg will make the blue line a more unwelcome place for the opposition forwards. A type of player the Phoenix have missed! Lewis Baldwin comes in a bit unknown really, the 17 year old comes to the Phoenix and the EPL after spending the majority of his career with the Bradford Bulldogs U16/18 side. Despite a brief cameo for Hull last season this will be Lewis first full EPL season. He will get ice time with the Phoenix and I, much like the rest of the Phoenix fanbase, are looking forward to seeing him play!
Leading the attack: Robin Kovar/Edgers Bebris/Jakub Langhammer/Roman Malinik
So far the Phoenix front line is shaping up rather nicely. Headlined by the return, for his 4th season with the Phoenix, is last years EPL top scorer Robin Kovar. Almost every season I expect him to leave but, he keeps coming back. Robin had to lead the line last season as the Phoenix operated with one of the shortest benches in the league. He had to lead and he did, becoming the EPL’s top scorer on a short strength Phoenix side shows his skill. He is imposing, tough and nigh on impossible to force off the puck. Having Kovar back is a huge coup for the Phoenix!
Edgers Bebris is new to the Phoenix but not the EPL, a player who seems to have been around the league forever and yet, is still only 25 years of age! Starting with the Steeldogs, Bebris comes to the Phoenix from Peterborough, scoring at nearly a point per game Bebris will bring some additional skill to the Phoenix, likely on the 2nd line perhaps. Even so, at 6ft 4 he brings some big size to the Phoenix attack.
The two new faces to the Phoenix were announced at the summer ‘Welcome Home’ even held in Manchester. Roman Malinik and, perhaps the best name ever in the EPL, Jakub Langhammer! Malinik has spent nearly all his career in his native Czech Republic, similar height to Satek but a bit heavier, Malinik has scored at about half a point a game. With Tony’s record of finding import gem’s Malinik is sure to be another! Jakub Langhammer, taller, heavier and, playing in the top Czech leagues all his career, he could potentially be another Kovar. He’s sure to be a first line player he would make a formidable partnership with Kovar.
So far the Phoenix roster has been lagging behind our rivals in terms of numbers but, so far, it’s looking like an upgrade over the 15/16 season. Hopefully with an import defenceman and some good Brit forwards the Phoenix should be able to improve their league position and playoff performance!
I’ve not been looking forward to this preview for a number of reasons. I’ve got a lot of friends who are Manchester fans and for once, I was worried about offending people with what I might say in this preview. However honesty is the best policy and hopefully many will know that what I say isn’t said from a position of malice but concern.
I was asked to write a piece for the Bison programme previewing all of the EPL’s teams but when the deadline came, the Phoenix only had 4 announced forwards so I felt at a bit of a loss as to what to do. As the deadline was a while before the start of the season I didn’t offer much in the way of analysis because I didn’t think I would be able to, instead opting to say that I hoped they got back to Manchester soon so all of this mess could be cleared up.
However here we are, one day before the start of the EPIHL season and this appears to be the roster so we’re going to have a crack at it and I’ll comment on the rest of the situation in a bit.
The netminding I think is something of an underrated strength for the Phoenix this year because, for the first time in quite a while, they have a really good backup who could arguably press on and challenge Steve Fone a bit. Denis Bell is a name that I heard a couple of years ago and was told to keep an eye on and the young man has impressed wherever he went. He had interest over the summer from a number of teams, reportedly even the Bison enquired about his services, but he has chosen Manchester and will learn behind one of the league’s most established netminders.
I say it nearly every year that Steve Fone isn’t my favourite netminders but he keeps finding ways to perform and win games. He’s going to need to be on his game week in, week out this season for Manchester to make the playoffs. In some ways Bell will help as it means that Fone need not play every minute of every game and he might get the occasional rest.
On defence, Elite Prospects lists 6 defencemen but like many others, I believe that Ben Wood will start the season as a forward so it’s actually a 5 man unit. Luke Boothroyd, still one of the best defencemen in the league and James Neil are familiar faces who will give their all for the shirt.
In terms of the new faces, Lewis Baldwin has been given a chance to step into the EPL full time for a season after impressing with Bradford in NIHL2 North in the last campaign and finds himself in a pretty decent learning environment in terms of the players around him. Greg Pick is not a player I am massively high on but he will add a bit of grit and toughness on the back end that the Phoenix blueline would be lacking without him. Finnish defenceman Joni Tuominen joins having played in Poland with Sanok after a lengthy career in the Finnish league and will add that extra bit of quality to the blueline.
The forwards are were the major concerns lie for the Phoenix. Even if we include Ben Wood, it’s only 6 forwards. To think I complained that Guildford looked a bit light on the ground.
The imports recruited look pretty decent. Whilst the Rostock fan is me is obliged to boo Jakub Langhammer, the Halle side that he played for last season was decent enough and he was a good player for them in a good league. 55 points from 41 games is no slouch in the Oberliga. Along with Roman Malinik who has pretty good numbers in the Czech second tier, the attack starts off looking promising.
Edgars Bebris is a top end Brit in this league and alongside former Guildford and Slough junior Scott Bailey who returns to the country from the states.
Then there’s Robin Kovar. The Czech is a massive fan favourite and carried a lot of the club’s attack last season and will be expected to carry even more so at the start of this campaign. He’ll be the pivot and the focal point for the Phoenix going forward in terms of its playmaking.
That’s it. That’s the roster. The side show of issues surrounding rinks and owners and people being against the Phoenix or the evils of social media are not the focus of this piece. I’ve also made my feelings on Manchester clear a number of times on The BOTW Podcast and elsewhere. I will celebrate the return to Manchester when the team leaves Blackpool and skates onto Manchester ice again. Yes, those issues directly affect the on ice side of the Phoenix but the point of this piece is to see just who will be stepping on to the ice.
The Phoenix roster has quality to it but there just aren’t enough bodies. Yes, the Phoenix fans are a hardcore bunch and will cheer the team at every opportunity. They’ve sadly become adept at dealing with adversity when once they conquered all but with 6 forwards and 5 defenders, this team will get wins but not loads. Do they even have enough bodies to make the playoffs is a serious question that we need to ask. Quality wise they have players better than other lower half teams but do they have the energy to make it over the line?
I won’t say serva fidem because their faith is not mine, so instead I’ll offer what this season is about for the Phoenix in my opinion; et post dies, melius erit (and if you need to know what that means, Google Translate is your friend.)