EIHL: The Season So Far
With the bulk of the Challenge Cup qualifying done, the concentration for most teams has shifted to the league. Ten games in to a 52 game season and some teams are finding their stride, while others are still struggling to find winning ways.
Battle For The Crown?
With 11 games played, and nine of them wins, Braehead Clan are currently sitting at the top of the Elite League with a four-point lead, and deservedly so. However, how long they stay there may depend on whether Sheffield Steelers can maintain their current run of wins. Due to ice issues and Challenge Cup scheduling, the Steelers have played only eight league games. Of those eight they have lost just one game. While a lot can change during the season as teams settle down, at current level of play, it’s worth jotting down Braehead and Sheffield as the teams to keep an eye on.
Braehead can boast three out of the top five EIHL point scorers. Good productivity from league leading points scorer Neil Trimm has helped them to a 9-1-0 record over the last ten games across all competitions. Similarly Sheffield also have a 9-1-0 record at present, helped along by league leading goal scorer Mike Forney. The big test for both teams will be when they finally face one another for the first time on 16th November in Sheffield, followed by two consecutive nights in Glasgow on 21st and 22nd November. Those three games could be the ones that determine who wins the league.
The Cardiff Devils are looking like they’ve shaken off last year’s administrative problems to come back fighting. Literally. They have won 10 of their 16 games played, giving them the third best record. They also have the most penalty minutes of all the teams at 429. In a game against Sheffield Steelers on 18th October, the Devils didn’t make any fans of the Steelers supporters with their newly found physical play.
Sitting in the crowd I could say that some of the hits were downright dirty. The Devils were still looking to instigate fights well after the final whistle had blown and were booed off the ice by the home supporters. One Devil’s fan, when in conversation about the play, said his team were not about to get pushed around any more and were sticking up for themselves. We all have soft-focus lenses when it comes to our own teams, but I will hold my hand up and say the Steelers have some physical players that are sometimes borderline nasty in their hits. The instigation from the Devils players in that match felt like it crossed the line and it was lucky there were no injuries. It may be a case of watching this space to see whether this becomes a rivalry to outdo the one the Steelers had with the Panthers.
Biz Back & Forth
In marginally less violent news, the Devils nearly re-signed NHL-er Paul Bissonnette, in a move that would have made a lot of EIHL fans happy, even if the Twitter favourite was in Cardiff. Biz, however, used his get-out clause to sign with Coyotes affiliate Portland Pirates. Good luck to Biz as he heads back to Arizona.
The Edinburgh Capitals are finding the current season tough. With only two wins and a clash of playing styles in the team, there’s clearly a lot of work to do. The dump-and-chase style of play in the EIHL isn’t sitting well with player-coach Richard Hartmann who is looking more towards puck possession. This tactic works well for some European teams, and in the NHL where the players have much greater skill levels, however, the Capitals are a long way from being able to make an impact in the EIHL with that style of play.
Dundee Stars and Hull Stingrays are both sitting on just four wins this season. Dundee in 17 games, Hull from 15. Hull pulled off an excellent 6-1 win against the Panthers in the Challenge Cup, but have otherwise struggled against the better teams in the league. Similarly the Stars have also struggled against anyone but the bottom teams, letting in a league high 71 goals. While not much is expected of either team, last season’s trends do give the teams hope of improvement if they can settle down and start to find the net more.
Last year’s league winners, Belfast Giants, are off to a slightly slower start this season, with teams like the Steelers and Clan stepping out ahead of them. The Giants have played the least number of games among the teams, partly due to a number of Continental Cup games, in which the team have made the Semi Finals. More Continental Cup action is scheduled for the weekend of 21st November, so the Giants will likely lag behind in games played for a few weeks yet. It’s certainly too early to even think about ruling the Giants out of the running for any of the titles, but at the moment they are at least looking beatable.
Up And Coming?
Fife Flyers have had some solid wins this season, back to back wins against Braehead and Belfast, 4-0 and 6-1 respectively, indicate that they are not afraid to take on the bigger teams and beat them with good margins. They’ll need to find a few more of those performances to make an impact on the league leaders, but at the moment they are only a win away from having the third best record in the EIHL, and it would be nice to see them end up higher than the middle of the table position they’ve been stuck at for the last couple of seasons. On their day they are certainly capable of beating the big teams.
Coming off their CHL appearances, the Nottingham Panthers are starting to settle into the season winning 9 of their 15 games, although many have been overtime wins and narrow score lines, suggesting that on the night they are still finding their stride. After the larger squad that went to the CHL, the roster has cut down to 22 players. The Panthers have had some injuries, notably to netminder Craig Kowalski, but with the CHL participation over, they now can concentrate on the EIHL. The next few weeks will likely set the tone for the remainder of the season.
Big things have been predicted for Coventry Blaze this season, although the early promise is starting to look a little premature. The Blaze have only won one game this season against the top four teams (Clan, Steelers, Giants and Devils) and at times have looked like they’re not really trying. There have been flashes of great play, however after a shut-out loss to the Devils earlier this week even the Blaze coach, Marc LeFebvre, has stated he’s looking to get more effort out of his players. Although fourth in the league, as it currently stands on games played, the Blaze have only won 3 of their last 10 games, and it isn’t the hot start that we were predicting from a team that had some great pre-season signings.
A Long Road
There’s still a long way to go yet, and a lot can happen in the league. Previous years have shown that it’s not always the teams that get off to the best starts that finish the strongest and take the titles.
With Challenge Cup and Playoffs much later in the season, there’s always some silverware to compete for. It’s certainly not time yet to contact the engravers.