Standing in the Way – Milton Keynes ThunderPosted: 01/09/2017
Home Ice: Milton Keynes Arena
Last season: 7th NIHL 1 South, playoff quarter finalists, NIHL South BBO Cup winners
Since the Bison’s entry into the EPIHL in 2009 the club had many exciting battles with the MK Lightning. With the change in structure and the Lighting heading to the EIHL, the Bison will still be heading to Buckinghamshire this season but this time their opponents will be the MK Thunder.
Bar the change of coach from Paul Gore to Nicky Chinn after the Welshman was relieved of his duties at Streatham, it was an industrious but somewhat frustrating season for the Thunder in the league. Whilst the focus for the organisation has been more of a development pathway club for the MK junior system than challenging at the top end of the league, 9 wins and 2 draws from 28 games was not a return that the Thunder were ecstatic with by any means.
However the roster gave solid performances on a nightly basis with former Chelmsford import Jakub Klima along with MK stalwarts Ross Bowers and Jamie Line leading the way on the points scoring front and David Wride keeping watch in net. The Thunder even got 1 game out of long time Lightning forward Nick Poole during the campaign. The club also secured its first ever trophy by winning the BBO Cup competition which helped give the fans and players more games.
Playoff wise, it was always going to be an uphill struggle against Invicta and whilst the Thunder lost 3-1 and 6-5 in the respective legs, they certainly didn’t make it easy for the eventual playoff winners.
How they got here:
The club have literally been a one league team, having joined what was the ENL and have remained with it into the NIHL. The club’s best finish was 3rd in 2003/04 and come into the new look NIHL 1 South off the back of consecutive 7th placed campaigns.
“Who’s that skating through your legs?”
Jamie Line feels like he’s been around forever and the 27 year old Luton born forward has been part of the Thunder’s backbone for the last few seasons as the captain. Whilst his points total last year wasn’t his best (26 compared to 64 the previous season), Line can and will be relied on to help lead this Thunder roster. A veteran of the EPL with Bracknell, Slough, Basingstoke and the Lightning, it’s that sort of veteran presence and experience that will be valuable not just for the younger players but also the older players into getting into the Thunder’s ethos of doing things.
The new boy:
There’s a plethora of new faces for the Thunder this season as the Lightning’s move to the Elite League and the summer of madness have taken their toll all over. We could pick any number of the bigger name players who have come in but one who will need to be on his game quickly is Rupert Quiney.
With Oliver Lord on a two-way deal with the Coventry Blaze junior sides, the Thunder effectively go into the season with 5 defencemen. On his day, Quiney is a solid defencemen with a lot of size who will be a reassuring stay at home presence on the big ice at MK. The issue is Quiney has had injury issues the last couple of seasons, a recurring shoulder injury limiting his game time to 27 games between Guildford and Bracknell last term. It’s a risky move but Thunder coach Lewis Clifford sees the risk as one worth taking. In a league that has a lot of good attacking talent in it, a fit Quiney could be the difference for the Thunder between a solid defensive unit that helps them win games or sadly seeing the former Streatham junior in the stands and the Thunder needing re-enforcements.
How will it go?
As with London, I have a rough idea of how things will go but can’t quite get an exact handle as there’s a lot of different factors that will play into the Thunder being successful or not. If nothing else, they’ll certainly be the best dressed as their jerseys for this season look amazing.
More so than other rosters in the league the Thunder are a mix of last season’s roster with other decent NIHL signings and a mix of former EPL players. However make no mistake, this is an MK team. With the Lightning moving to import based hockey, new head coach Lewis Clifford has moved the ethos that the Lightning had in the EPL and that of trying to keep a core together into this new Thunder roster. Whether it’s veteran netminder Mark Woolf (a man who the club’s social media jokes is old enough to have backed up Gerry Cheevers), Connor or Harrison Goode, the above mentioned Line or Ross Bowers or Greg Randall, this is a team that has an identity. This team will play a brand of hockey that is skilful and physical. They will play Milton Keynes hockey.
However with this move sees some really handy additions. Tom Annetts in goal brings a wealth of experience alongside Lewis Christie coming in on defence. Christie has experience of winning and that will be invaluable for this new group.
Up front there’s added extra experience at the EPL level from Tom Carlon, Gareth O’Flaherty and Grant McPherson whilst Ryan Handisides adds good depth. I’m also excited to see how the exciting Rio-Grinell-Parke does in his new surroundings.
If asked to stick my neck out, I think that the Thunder end up in the middle of the pack with a chance to break the top 4 if their top end players really make an impact. It’s going to be a challenging season for Lewis Clifford as a head coach but I’m interested to see what sort of systems he plays with this roster. He has seemingly built what many would call a “Lightning-esque” roster for the Thunder’s first crack at second tier hockey. Rosters of that style generally will do well. If it comes together, they could be dark horses.