Standing in the Way – London Raiders

London Raiders

Founded: 1987 as Romford Raiders

Home rink: Lee Valley Ice Centre

Website: http://londonraidersihc.uk/

Last season: 5th in NIHL 1 South, playoff semi-finalists, cup semi-finalists

It’s been a while since the Bison did battle with this particular organisation; so much so that since we last played then they left the EPL, moved to Lee Valley and changed their name. However there’s excitement bubbling on the horizon for the London Raiders.

Last season:

The 2016/17 campaign was the Raiders’ 4th away from Romford and saw an improved set of results. After two consecutive 8th placed finishes, the Raiders were certainly more in the mix. Whilst Chelmsford utterly steamrollered the league, the rest of the chasing pack were much closer together. With draws still part of the league format last season (they have been removed for 2017/18), the Raiders went 11-4-13 so whilst they technically finished with a negative record in the league, there’s 16 games that they didn’t lose and showed a steady progression. The Raiders ended up in the middle of the pack, able to challenge teams above them on the night but not over the course of the season as they finished 8 points behind 2nd place Invicta and 6 points above 7th placed MK. They quite literally ended up in the middle.

Finishing 5th meant a tough playoff first round against Oxford but the Raiders blew the Stars out of the water in the second leg as they clocked up a 7-1 win and an 11-3 aggregate win. The semi-finals however saw a reverse of fortunes as they came up against Chelmsford, who had already dispatched them in the cup, and were handed 5-1 and 11-3 losses to end the season.

How they got here:

There’s no big shuffling around of leagues as there was for the Fire. The Raiders have been in NIHL 1 South since the transfer from the ENL. They entered what was the third tier after leaving the EPL in 2010.

The returnee:

We could only really talk about one guy here, couldn’t we? Alan Lack is loved by the fans of who he plays for and loathed by those that he plays against. A player that I once called “King Rat” because of his agitating ways but then if you’re going to sign a rat, sign the best one that you can?

It was something of a shock to Bison fans when Lack stepped away from hockey just 10 games into the new season. When he resurfaced with the Raiders it was not. Lack had originally left the Raiders to come to the Bison and with the 25 year old being based on that side of London with his wife and kids, when the chance to play again came up it was good for both parties.

Lack gives the Raiders that player who has performed at a higher level against the newer teams but he also knows how to win. That will be invaluable for the Raiders whose fans love Lack’s rough and tumble style.

The new boy:

One player that I’m really excited to get to see again is Brandon Ayliffe. A former Romford junior, Ayliffe moved to Chelmsford and caused a variety of waves in the Chieftains junior system, making his debut for the senior side in the British Challenge Cup in 2014. Whilst all the NIHL sides were handily beaten for the most part, Ayliffe’s appearance in Basingstoke certainly turned the heads of the crowd that night and now he’s fully in senior hockey, the hope is that he will push on. Given the issues at Chelmsford, the fact that a coach that knows him is giving him a chance at the 2nd tier is not a big surprise. Ayliffe has a ton of potential though it remains to be seen how he will do week in, week out against the bigger sides.

How will it go?

Just after the 16/17 season ended and before the madness began, London pulled off one of the bigger signings of the summer in persuading Sean Easton to become the coach of the Raiders. Easton had been the all-conquering head coach at Chelmsford and arguably the ramifications of that move combined with the changes in league structure have seen the side that won the last 5 consecutive titles leave for NIHL 2.

Make no mistake; Easton is a good coach though he will face a tougher challenge to turn the Raiders into serious title contenders.

With the budget that they have, the Raiders have put together a team that would certainly cause some damage if the NIHL hadn’t suddenly found itself the second tier. Now there are some different names in there, the Raiders become more of a wildcard than they were previously. It’s not difficult to say “the ex-EPL sides will do well” or to say the legacy NIHL sides “will struggle” but the Raiders have a number of factors in play that make them hard to pin down; new coach with a history of putting together good teams and winning lots combined with a young roster (the average age is 24) that has injections of experience in it makes for a combination that I certainly want to see on the ice.

Easton has brought in no less than 6 players from Chelmsford with Ayliffe being joined by the likes of Matt Turner and Sean Barry who were part of the Chieftains dynasty. They’re also joined by Olegs Lasckenko who finished last season at Bracknell having originally signed for Easton at Chelmsford.

However the new coach has made a point to keep the character of the Raiders together. Yes, Chieftains players have been brought in but this is a Raiders roster with 12 returnees including players like Lack and other good veterans like John Connolly, Andy Munroe and import forward Marek Nahlik.

I’m not about to say that the Raiders are going to pull off some sort of movie like run to the title with a team of misfits. That’s not fair to the Raiders because this is not a team of misfits and because like last season I think they can challenge on the night but might fall short in the long run. The cup and the playoffs however will be anyone’s game and that’s where the London Raiders might strike.

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