EIHL: Mid-Season Report (Part 1)

Image courtesy of slapshotscotland.com.

Image courtesy of slapshotscotland.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just like Violet Beauregarde, after she ate the blueberry gum in the Inventing Room of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, we continue to grow rapidly here at Ice Nation UK. We are delighted to introduce our latest writer, David Elson. Hailing from Wales, David discovered the EIHL’s Cardiff Devils in ’93 and the rest, as they say, is history. A huge fan of the Elite League, David will be covering the latest goings-on for us, including updates, news and player profiles. We hope you enjoy reading what he has to say!

As we’ve now just reached the halfway point in the 2013/14 Elite League season, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how well all ten teams have done across the first half of the campaign.

The first team we’ll look at is the Belfast Giants.

The best way to describe the Giants’ season so far would be one of consistency. Top of the league by 13 points (as of January 3rd) and looking like champions elect. They’ve only lost 6 games so far (5 regulation & 1 shootout). The boys from the Emerald Isle have performed to a level far exceeding their rivals, proved by winning 13 out of 18 games against fellow Erhardt conference teams.

The good.

Image courtesy of bbc.co.uk.

Image courtesy of bbc.co.uk.

Evan Cheverie – Returning to the Giants after a 3-year stint away split between Norway and a season in France, his play this season has been excellent, currently the Giants’ top points scorer and sitting 7th overall in the points charts. His 35 assists are presently the most in the Elite league and his offensive production along with the likes of Szwez, Saurette, Whitecotton, as well as the returning Craig Peacock has been a major reason why the Giants currently sit top of the table.

The bad.

Not many low points thus far for Belfast, a shock 5-0 defeat at home to Coventry, a 5-3 defeat in Edinburgh and a pretty convincing 8-3 defeat in Nottingham have been mere blips in a otherwise consistent first half. Although Adam Keefe has been banned on two separate occasions for checking-to-the-head offences, he’ll have to be on his best behaviour during the second half of the season.

Looking ahead, can anyone stop Belfast? A second league title in 3 years looks a very realistic possibility, already in the semi-finals of the challenge cup and then the end of season playoffs, could this be the Giants greatest ever season?!

Next up are the Braehead Clan and what a first-half to the season it’s been for them.

Image courtesy of braeheadclan.com.

Image courtesy of braeheadclan.com.

A new coaching tandem of Ryan Finnerty and assistant coach Kevin Bergin have rejuvenated the ‘purple army’ after a disappointing 2012/13 season and at present, they sit second in the Elite League. A sell-out at home to Belfast last week (their first one ever, although ending in a loss) points to a club going in the right direction and who are looking to build on a strong first-half of the season heading into the business-end of the campaign.

The good.

Two fantastic wins against Finnerty’s former employers Sheffield, including beating a full-strength Steelers team 4-2 when only icing 12 skaters in November must surely be up there for performance of the season so far.

The bad.

A 8-0 hammering away to Nottingham & Braehead’s recent form, six losses in their last ten (their worst run of the season) will need to improve if they’re to keep ahead of their rivals, not only in the Gardiner conference but in the Elite League overall. It’s a shame things didn’t work out for players Nathan Moon & Ray Macias too, because both players came with impressive pedigrees.

Looking forward, they’ve got a mouth-watering Challenge Cup Quarter-Final against Nottingham and will be looking for an equally strong second half to cement what could possibly be their highest ever league position! Could 2014 be the year the ‘purple army’ celebrate their first proper trophy….?!

‘We found love, so don’t hide it, Life is a roller coaster, just gotta ride it.’ Words sung by Ronan Keating, but words that are probably more affiliated with how the Cardiff Devils season has gone so far!

The optimism Devils fans & owners had at the start of the season of pushing for a genuine league challenge evaporated pretty quickly after a poor start to the season, then came the departure of ‘G’ & Neil Francis, which rocked the club and fans alike, then up stepped Brent Pope from his managing director position to coach the team on a temporary basis until the end of the season.

The good.

Joseph Myers – I think a special mention should go to Joe as when any team loses their starting goalie, it’s never easy for a backup who might only play a handful of minutes/games a season to step up, but Joe’s performances, especially against Dundee & Nottingham which resulted in a 5-4 (SO) and 4-2 wins, were an absolute joy to watch. Seeing how much it meant to him and his teammates was fantastic.

Image courtesy of walesonline.co.uk.

Image courtesy of walesonline.co.uk.

The bad.

Dan Lacosta’s retirement. Absolutely devastating news for Dan & Devils fans alike, as the whole club were just starting to see the true potential of this former Columbus Blue Jackets goalie. Now, it’s never nice to see anyone have to retire through injury and not be able to go out on their own terms, but health is ultimately much more important and three head injuries in four months unfortunately proved too much of a risk to carry on playing. I’m sure I speak on behalf of all hockey fans in the Elite League when wishing Dan the best of health in the future and a speedy recovery.

After a whirlwind first half of the season, coaches/players coming and going, suspensions and injuries, I’m sure the Devils will be looking for a smoother finish to the second half of the season. Currently occupying 8th place in the league, they’ll hope their good recent form continues as they try to close the gap on the teams above them & secure a playoff place. A Challenge Cup Quarter-Final against Fife awaits and a meeting with Belfast in the semi’s is the reward for the winner. Who knows, after a bumpy end to 2013, the Devils will be hoping 2014 is a much smoother time for all concerned.

A new era in Coventry.

The Blaze started the season without Paul Thompson behind the bench for the first time in 18 seasons as he moved on to pastures new in Sweden and another swede stepped up as Matt Soderstrom took charge. An inconsistent first half would be an understatement, case in point, a fantastic win (i.e. the 5-0 win in Belfast) has not been followed up by a consistent run of results, hence why the Blaze currently occupy a mid-table position.

The good.

Image courtesy of coventrytelegraph.net.

Image courtesy of coventrytelegraph.net.

Ryan Ginand – What a find he’s been by Matt Soderstrom! Currently top of the points charts, the top PP scorer with 11 & the current top goal scorer with 31 in 35 games, could he reach the magical 50 goals in 50 games?! He’s single-handedly won games for the Blaze this season & his partnership with Adam Henrich before Adam’s injury has been a highlight for many Blaze fans this season.

The bad.

Coventry’s Challenge Cup campaign was a complete disaster. Only one win out of eight and finishing bottom of the group. Missing out on another game, not only from a financial point of view but with the opportunity to progress in a cup competition, must be seen as a failure.

Looking forward then, already out of the challenge cup and currently sitting 6th in the league, Coventry will need to brush aside their inconsistent worries of the first half, if they’re to try and improve their final league position. If they can improve their consistency between games and with the Henrich brothers returning from injury, alongside Ginand, Guthrie and Tait, they’ll aim to make a real go of the second half of the season, especially with the end-of-season playoffs in their sights.

What a first half to the season it’s been in Dundee!

A whirlwind start to the year saw them beat the likes of Sheffield, Nottingham, Coventry & Cardiff, making Dundee a fortress & storming to the top of the Elite league. Many thought Dundee’s start to the season couldn’t continue (that it was a bit of a fluke, caught some of the bigger teams off guard etc…) well, I think it’s safe to say that it isn’t a fluke. Currently in 4th place in the league, only 2 points behind Braehead in 2nd, Jeff Hutchins and his merry men have excelled probably even beyond their own expectations!

The good.

Image courtesy of sport.stv.tv.

Image courtesy of sport.stv.tv.

I was tempted to chat about Hutchins and the job he’s done in Dundee on a shoe-string budget compared to many of the other teams in the league, but I wanted to chat instead about Dan Bakala. This is the Calgary’s natives first season in Dundee & first full-professional season after only playing 12 games for the Tulsa Oilers in the CHL last season. He currently sits 2nd in the goalie stats with a goals-against-average of 2.59 & leads in save percentage with 0.930. He’s given Dundee the opportunity to win on any given night, all you can ask from your goalie, and is one of the major reasons for their hot start.

The bad.

Not many bad points to comment on for Dundee, given their unexpected start to the season but unfortunately, with them being one of the smaller-budget teams, they haven’t iced a full 11 imports for most of the season and at present, they only have two import defencemen. Given the nature of the Elite league and the dreaded injury curse most teams experience at some point throughout the season, any injuries might have a crippling impact on their good work  in the first half of the year.

Looking ahead, Dundee have a Challenge Cup Quarter-Final against Sheffield to look forward to. With the 2nd leg being at home and having already beaten Sheffield at home this season, they’ll have high hopes of causing another upset over the two legs. Then there’s the league and playoffs with the hope that they can have their highest ever finish in the Elite League, and a possible first appearance at the final-four in Nottingham?! Whatever happens between now and April, I’m sure the Stars fans will enjoy the ride, just like they have done up to this point…

Follow David on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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