The State of the EPIHL – Part 1 (So Far This Season…)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yet more excitement here at Ice Nation UK!  We are delighted to announce the addition of ANOTHER new writer to our team: Matthew Gunstone.  Matthew is, like Sam and myself, a resident of the United Kingdom, and like Melissa counts the New Jersey Devils as his NHL team-of-choice.  He has plenty of experience writing about hockey.  Matthew will be our resident EPIHL writer, bringing you the latest news, updates and analysis, whilst also offering his skills to our NHL coverage.  We are extremely pleased to welcome him aboard, and I am sure you will enjoy what he has to offer.

Image courtesy of Cheshire-Today.co.uk.

We’re a full 17 games (on average) into the 2013-14 EPIHL season and first impressions have come and since faded. There is always time for things to change but it’s pretty evident by now where each team stands. A lot of the “status quo” equates to pre-season predictions but there are some surprises. Let’s examine where we are team by team.

Manchester Phoenix

Shock horror! The Phoenix are top of the league. Take a peek around and watch precisely nobody bat an eyelid at this revelation. Let’s face it: we all know this position was a shoo-in to be one of either Manchester or Guildford. And, lo and behold, they’re equal on points but the Phoenix edge it by virtue of goal differential (and have a game in hand). It helps to have minimal roster turnover but Tony Hand’s choice of imports is as impeccable as ever. Michal Psurny is a holdover from last year but has clearly come to play, racking up an insane 40 points in 18 games. Frantisek Bakrlik is a lucky linemate and the primary beneficiary of Psurny’s passing: 18 goals in 18 games. Hand himself and Robin Kovar (shockingly wearing 66 on his jersey?!) make up the second punch. Steve Fone is healthy, Robert Schnabel is a giant unit, their British contingent is quality through and through. They won’t relinquish their grip on the number one spot.

Guildford Flames

Shock horror! The Flames are not top of the league. Look at their fans panic and gripe. Maybe that’s unfair. Still, they’re Guildford. With possibly even less changes to their line-up than Manchester it’s all but impossible to admire their talent. Nathan Rempel retired back home to Canada and they replaced him with the deadly Marcus Kristoffersson. Tom Duggan moved back down south upon finishing university and rejoined his former club. It’s an embarrassment of riches, almost. Almost. Mark Lee hasn’t performed to his previous heights and there are some ageing legs on occasion, but they have been mostly without Curtis Huppe so far and still kept rolling. Regardless, they will be up in the stratosphere come March.

Basingstoke Bison

File this one under “mild surprise”. A lot of folks had lumped the Bison into the mad scramble that exists between 4th and 8th. Possibly unfairly. However, they did subtract some big names. Stevie Lyle is a massive loss, their beloved Tony Redmond moved on to pastures new and there was a minor shuffle within the import ranks. In came Miroslav Vantroba, considered by many to be a significant capture, and he was prematurely crowned player of the season – this assertion backed up by quite the resumé though. Dean Skinns quietly assumed Lyle’s mantle and has run with it, proving many doubters that he isn’t shaky. Tomas Karpov made the short hop from Telford – fresh off some electrifying performances for the Tigers – and has slotted in nicely. Joes Miller and Rand are burying the puck at an alarming (if you’re an opposing netminder) rate. It’s been under the radar, but the Bison are a force.

Milton Keynes Lightning

The very definition of stability: MK Lightning. The system they employ makes them hard to play against and consistently competitive. They construct their roster to match that fact. Yes, they could be considered defensive but that really does work. Fourth is apt for them. Not fireworks, but substantial. Stanislav Lascek is their standout and he is scoring at an admirable clip. Points are generally accrued by committee and this is demonstrated by the spread amongst Leigh Jamieson, Janne Jokila, Blaz Emersic, Tom Carlon and Michael Farn. All hovering around or somewhat over the magical point-per-game threshold.

Despite Alex Mettam jumping ship, Stephen Wall is stellar in his own right and has continued in that very vein. They definitively won’t plummet down the table, nor will they necessarily climb. The more youthful additions to their ranks have proved reliable and exceedingly competent. Jordan Cownie is going to be one hell of a player.

Slough Jets

The Jets have had a topsy turvy couple of months to begin the season. They kept hold of many of their core players and even managed a small coup in attracting Ryan Watt to return to their ranks after his injury blighted Elite League sojourn. The signing of Ales Padelek was also feted by many – as is expected given his 387 games played in the Czech Extraliga, a level some notches above the EPIHL. Yet the experiment flopped. Granted, there were mitigating circumstances: goaltending being the obvious downfall with Gregg Rockman concussed and then Danny Milton suffering a broken arm in training. Wholesale changes swiftly arrived and out went Watt, Rockman and Tomas Fojtik. The league collectively blinked in bewilderment and then scrambled to locate Ryan Watt’s phone number.

A snippet of good fortune saw Alan Lack leave the NIHL Invicta Dynamos and land in Slough’s lap – whilst he won’t pile on the points like a top Brit he is a sparkplug player and provides tons of energy. Slough’s next move was perhaps even more curious – signing an import netminder, Kamil Jarina. This idea has been tried before and is usually rued. Maybe not in this instance as Slough have since climbed the table and sit middle of the deck. I don’t hold much hope that these adjustments will propel them higher so maybe fifth is what they should aim to retain.

That’s a brief snapshot of the upper echelons of the EPIHL and it makes fairly predictable reading. If you scan the statistics then a lot of those are also comforting: Andre Payette has the most PIM, Andrew Sharp has the most PIM per game average, Tony Hand has more assists than Don Juan de Marco had lovers, ice is still cold. Standard.

I would quite enjoy seeing the Psurny / Bakrlik combination maintain their rate of scoring to see if they blow past Nell / Hoog’s totals from 2012-13. Needless to say it’s a marathon not a sprint and we still have the majority of the season to play. Changes could be afoot, especially if some of the basement dwellers act to shake things up. Telford have already started to make a splash since new ownership has replaced the incumbent Tigers Trust and they could benefit in the short term and maybe force an appearance up top – fifth is not unattainable.

Until Part 2…

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @lesstime.

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