EPL ROUNDUP - APRIL
So, with the play-offs behind us, and seeming like more than just a few weeks ago, it is time to take a look at the rest of April in what is now the EPL Weekly Roundup, only monthly.
So the first report with an EPL connection was almost immediate with the GB World Championships which, sadly didn’t go nearly as was hoped. The EPL was represented by the Wildcats’ Aaron Nell, Bison’s Greg Owen and Phoenix’s Luke Boothroyd, and, of course, Coach Tony Hand.
Apart from the disappointment and frustration of relegation, the outcome produced a couple of other points of interest in the announcement Owen would retire after the conclusion of the competition, and, stepping down momentarily into the cockeyed world of farce, a lone call for Hand’s removal. Luckily such trivialities are easy to ignore leaving time to concentrate on the important issues which Hand put succinctly: ‘As a nation we have to look at how to improve our national teams. Obviously that comes from the whole country.’ Indeed it does, or from the mass media which has brought us the tackiness of IPL cricket, PDC darts, American football, basketball and the like with its crude interruptions of the numbingly repetitive advertisements with flashes of sport every thirty seconds.
Anyway, on to some signings and the Wildcats seem to have been the busiest team in the league so far firstly with the announcement coach Ryan Aldridge would again be in change for the coming season and, days later, his first signing. Standing back in amazement, it took a minute or two for the name of Stevie Lyle to sink in. True, it means the netminder, now thirty-three, is closer to his Welsh roots than last season in Basingstoke, but however it is seen I doubt there will be many Wildcats’ fans too upset about the signing and they might even like the fact it is a 2-year contract.
Also from Cardiff came 20-year-old Adam Harding on a 2-way with the EIHL Devils.
Then, from the Elite League came Matt Towe who started his career in Telford, was a GB U18 and U20 player, spent three seasons with the EIHL Cardiff Devils and more recently a couple with the Flames before moving back to the Elite League with the Belfast Giants.
19-year-old D-man Paul Swindlehurst, however, after 2 seasons in Swindon departed for the Elite League and signed for Dundee. The Wildcats also lost the services of Joe Baird from the blue line, who has been plagued by injuries for a few seasons and, in fact, will be replaced by Alex Symonds from the Bison.
But the big one was the not unexpected news that the EPL top scoring Brit and GB international Aaron Nell was moving on, this time to the EIHL Steelers, which will be his second excursion into that league having spent a season and two part-seasons in Coventry starting back in 2010.
In Milton Keynes Lightning chairman Vito Rausa said of his team rebuild, ‘ We need to make sure we keep the majority of the squad together.’ A few days later the policy was put into practice with the re-signing of Slovakian forward Blaz Emersic who joins Adam Carr, Michael Farn, Leigh Jamieson and Lewis Christie on the second leg of their 2-year contracts. Joining them will be forward Tom Carlon from the Phantoms. Then came a bit of a surprise with the news netminder Alex Mettam had left, but his co-pilot Steve Wall was to remain. Wall ended the season with the highest save rate after Bison’s Steve Lyle had occupied the position for almost the entire campaign, but Mettam was no slouch either and finished third in the rankings so will make a nice signing for someone.
The Phantoms were also busy with the re-signing of Luke Ferrara, Tom Norton on a 2-way with the Elite League Nottingham Panthers, and Lewis Hook who joins James Ferrara, Will Weldon and Thomas Soar who arrived from Telford.
One player who won’t be back, though, is Latvian forward Maris Ziedins who having retired saw his shirt number hung out to dry permanently as he became the first player to become a strictly Phantoms-only retiree, although I don’t suppose there was an enhancement on his pension for the achievement.
The Tigers decided to hold another open trials day later in the month to help booster their squad, but in the meantime recalled D-man Marcus Maynard and forward Danny Rose. Later in the month they added forwards Macaulay Heywood and Adam Taylor.
Also with a series of open trials set are the Jets as Slava Koulikov started his side off in Slough with the news D-men Sam Godfrey and Ukrainian Pavel Gomeniuk would both not be returning to the Jets, but Michael Wales would be as captain. Unsurprisingly, as it had been rumoured for weeks, Koulikov also confirmed the return of Ryan Watt who played half a season in his native Scotland with the Elite League’s Braehead Clan.
Having a quieter start to the closed season were the Bison who having already lost Owen and Symonds announced the re-signing of Canadian forward Joe Rand and British forward Joe Miller amid much speculation as to whom would replace Lyle in goal.
Quieter still were the Flames who recalled veteran David Longstaff for a forth season, David Savage for a seventh term, but released Canadian Nathan Rempel into the wild.
The Steeldogs were more of a growl than a bark with just the news that British D-man Lee Haywood and Czech forward Lubomir Korhan had both signed on again, while the Phoenix didn’t exactly rise but more like smouldered in the ashes with the loss of Bari McKenzie to the Elite League and Czech D-man Ondrej Pozivil to France which left coach Tony Hand as the only name on the roster so far.
But as quiet as the grave were the Bees with no signing news yet although it was announced owners Katie Eleftheriou and Stuart Robinson were to stand down but it was made clear a new owner would be taking over shortly. A lot of hard work has been put in by this pair in revitalising the Bracknell side so they are bound to be missed, and you can’t help wondering what will happen when the new broom arrives and in particular what fate awaits coach Gareth Cox.
So that’s it for club news but a final note concerns not so much the EPL but the National League with the news the London Racers founded in 2003 but which collapsed due to a lack of suitable facilities about two years later have relaunched. They will play out of their original home in Alexandra Palace in NIHL South Division 2, and will no doubt be hoping for a better first season than previously which was notable for a massive 40-game losing run.
And the EPL connection? Well, back then the Racers played in the Elite League and a certain Blaz Emersic, who played for the EIHL Nottingham Panthers at the time and whose name might ring a bell these days in Milton Keynes, during a game in November 2005 sustained serious facial injuries after being checked and colliding with something sticking out from the boards. Questions were asked not exactly in the House but the result after further safety problems was dissolution until now.
The Racers will also be one to watch because being the only side to play in London, and deep enough inside the boundary to claim the name in their title, the Elite League will be watching their progress having expressed a wish on numerous occasions for a side within its ranks with ‘London’ in its name.
So, all-in-all not a hectic April as you would expect but some interesting movement particularly in and out of Swindon and Basingstoke, and a distinct lack of motion in Bracknell.
More next month.