Learning On The Fly: The Opening Weekend Of The EIHL Season
The first games of the EIHL season should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Placing expectations on your team based on its opening performance isn’t always the best route to take. At best, the EIHL teams have managed a week, maybe two, of practice with a full team. At worst, they’re still waiting for working visas for their imports.
Unlike the pre-season camps of the NHL, the EIHL teams have very little ice time together leading up to the opening weekend of the season. Line combinations are being trialled during game time; power play and penalty kill teams are still being worked out. It’s too early to count out any team.
Belfast Giants – Still The Team To Beat?
The season kicked off on Friday (5th September) with the defending league champions, Belfast Giants, travelling to Dundee for the first of three games in three days in Scotland. Ray Sawada announced his arrival in the EIHL with a goal in the first period – although that wasn’t before gloves were dropped between Adam Keefe and Brad Plumton. The Giants went 3-0 up before Plumton capitalised on a turnover to get one back in the second. Giants finished the game 4-1 winners after an empty netter.
Giants followed the game up with a Challenge Cup match the following day against Braehead Clan. Ray Sawada proving that the first game was just the start of what could be an assault on the points scoring title with an assist and goal in the first period. Braehead proved to be tough opponents however, the game going their way after a shoot-out to decide the extra point. Belfast rallied back on Sunday against Edinburgh Capitals, winning the Challenge Cup game 2-1 against a Capitals team that showed some fight.
Around The League
Saturday saw the Cardiff Devils and Hull Stingrays go into extra time in their league opener, Jake Morissette scoring Cardiff’s first, as well as hitting home the penalty shot granted with 46 seconds gone in overtime.
In the other game on Saturday, Coventry Blaze‘s league opener was the first of a home and home, and ended in a 1-0 win away against Fife Flyers. Coventry took the next game Sunday night with a score of 4-2. Ashley Tait is clearly not slowing down with two assists in the game.
Saturday should have been the home opener for the Sheffield Steelers, however major issues with the ice plant equipment caused the game to be postponed, leaving their season opener to be a Challenge Cup away game at Cardiff Devils on Sunday. The ice issues continue to plague the team with this weekend’s upcoming game against Fife moved to neighbouring Ice Sheffield.
Sheffield pulled off a 3-2 win against Cardiff in a game marred by penalties. There’s a split between those fans that relish the fights and those that feel they are a sign of poor sportsmanship. The fighting and the roughing penalties alone added up to 32 minutes, that’s without two 10 minute misconduct penalties and a minor for a check to the head. The game did demonstrate that the Steelers’ penalty kill is looking tough to beat, although their power play clearly needs some work with the Devil’s penalty kill coming up with a short-handed goal in the second period.
Braehead and Hull met in Humberside for the other game on Sunday, in what proved to be the highest scoring game of the weekend. The Clan came out 8-6 winners. The first hat trick of the season went to Leigh Salters, who is in his first season with the Clan after moving from Nottingham. The Clan man of the match went to Scott Pitt who came out with a five-point night, just beating out team mate Neil Trimm, who also racked up five points. It may only be the first weekend of the season, but there’s possibly a healthy points scoring rivalry starting in Braehead.
Hull played two tough opponents, coming out of the weekend with a point. It’s promising given that they are currently down two imports. Canadian defenseman C.J. Chartrain and American forward Matt Larke should both be available for the next match on Saturday against Edinburgh.
Still To Come
Nottingham Panther‘s EIHL opener comes on 13th September against the Cardiff Devils, their CHL games providing some warm-up to the season, but their final line-up is still to be determined. Over the last few days they have dropped three imports – forwards Martin Pedlesak and Joonas Saari, and defenseman Phil Oreskovic – but there are still some cuts to come.
It’s still too early to solidify any predictions for the season as teams find their optimal squads. Having said that it’s looking like Braehead and Coventry could be looking toward big seasons. It’s going to be interesting seeing which teams settle down first and make their mark early in the season, and whether any can keep Belfast in their sights to stop them from getting that big lead early on like last season. With Belfast already collecting 5 points out of a possible 6 though, they’re likely still the team to beat.
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