EPL Weekly Roundup No148 - Week 12 ending midnight Sunday 1st December 2013 - The Iceman.
Week 11 stats and while there is no change in the league's top scorer with the Phoenix's Michal Psurny, the gap has narrowed between him and second placed Rick Plant of the Flames, still the leading Brit.
As far as goal scoring goes the Phoenix's 'Frankie' Bakrlik has ousted Psurny from their joint holding to rule the roost alone, while Plant has displaced the Bison's Joe Miller to regain the lead for the Brits.
Assist scoring has also seen a change at the top with the Flames' Tom Duggan replacing Psurny and the Lightning's Michael Farn, the league's top-scoring D-man, continuing his strong showing in the top ten. But it is Milos Melicherik from the Flames who still has the best game average in that department.
There was a lot of shuffling around with netminders, at least below leader Steve Fone who remains at the top for the Phoenix by an increased margin. But the likes of the Bees' Tom Annetts, Flames' James Hadfield and especially 17-year-old Jordan Hedley of the Lightning are all doing their best to threaten that lead.
While the Steeldogs' Andre Payette continues to surge ahead on penalties, it is the Bees' Chris Wiggins who has made a leap into second place and also replaces team mate Scott Spearing as the baddest Brit although it is the Phantoms' Nicky Watt who still has the highest penalty game average.
Not much news from the league this week but following a 14-goals- against weekend for the Phantoms which included a shut-out by the Bison and with just four goals to their name, coach Jon Kynaston said, 'We need to look at all areas of our roster, and see what is available out there. We won't rush into anything but we have to pursue our options in the marketplace to see if we can better the team.' Names about to disappear from the roster were vigorously banded about, of course, and denied, but it isn't as though the side is miles adrift from the rest of the fleet just yet so much as dragging an anchor.
Later in the week Kynaston made it known the Phantoms' management had restricted his possible manoeuvrings to no more than two player-changes which suggests either a larger cull was being considered, or the threat is a final wake-up call for those players Kynaston considers not pulling their weight.
In Swindon, meanwhile, Coach Ryan Aldridge sounded delighted with his new acquisition Jan Kostal from the Czech Republic. 'Jan has fitted into the team, he's a great guy and he's performed on the ice as well. He had a great start, 'he said, 'he led our team in hits and actually had double anyone else on the team.'
Not such good news in Tigerland, though, where it was announced Marek Mikusovic was still sidelined with an ankle injury which was not healing as fast as hoped, and the Slovakian forward was likely to remain grounded for a few more weeks. As the club pointed out, since the arrival of Timo Kuuluvainen as a fifth import and who is doing very nicely thank you very much, Mikusovik's eventual return will create a problem of which four imports to play on any given night. While not insurmountable because after all it is not a new issue for the EPL, with 2 import D-men and an improved defence in recent weeks the permutations mean a solution is not as obvious as at first seems. In a sense it is a bit like having to choose what to drink between your two favourite beers, and unless the new Tigers' budget now stretches to the luxury of five brews someone will have to go, so problem solved!
Another problem, at least partially solved, was the opening of the temporary ice rink in Milton Keynes a few weeks back and the announcement in the week that the Lightning will get to train there one night a week. Coach Nick Poole said, 'That will really help the guys. We'll be able to shoot some pucks and it's be good practice for the keepers as well, so we're really looking forward to training there.'
Not such jolly news came from Coach Slava Koulikov in Slough who with the loss now of three players said the off-ice decisions are 'out of my hands, and out of the teams' hands.' With budget constrictions beginning to bit Koulikov urged his team to 'collectively be strong as a group and be positive.' This must be a nightmare for any coach being caught in the vicious circle of having to cut players for financial reasons, and in doing so weakening your team, particularly if injuries take their toll, and making it less likely to attract more support and money. Sad times.
How better to improve the mood other than giving the winning lottery numbers to the Jets than to give mention to the EPL players who have made the GBU20 squad for the upcoming World Championships in Dumfries next month where they will face Italy, Kazakhstan, Japan, France, and Ukraine. Or should that be 'the' Ukraine as one of the tabloids called it? Actually no, the definite article was removed in 1991 when independence elevated it from being merely a border area of the then USSR, so now it is just plain old 'Ukraine' otherwise we might as well have 'the' England or 'the' Wales. OK, so with rant neatly tucked away, I give you, in no particular order, as they say in all the worst game shows: Netminder Jordan HEDLEY (Lightning), D-men Zach SULLIVAN (Bison), Danny ROSE (Tigers), Ben RUSSELL (Lightning), Sam GODFREY (Wildcats), and Declan BALMER (Phantoms). Then there's forwards Lewis HOOK (Phantoms), Jordan COWNIE (Lightning), Ollie BETTERIDGE (Wildcats) and not forgetting Ivan ANTONOV who has iced a couple of times for the Bees.
Now for an interesting story evolving across the Atlantic. Like it or not, it looks like the days of allowing fighting in the sport, and in particular impacts of any species involving the head, are numbered.
I have detailed numerous times the large and expanding amount of evidence clearly showing head impacts even when relatively light or few in number carry a burden that can come back to haunt a player at any time, and the accumulative affect can be devastating. That means, of course, we are not just talking about the glorified violence of the NHL but in fact any league anywhere in the world encompassing any age group where a hit involving the head is not viewed as a serious breach of common sense, never mind the rules.
So, why are the days numbered? Money, of course, and the news ten former players are suing the NHL for not doing enough to prevent concussions. Specifically, that with the evidence of the dangers of repeated concussions the lawsuit claims 'The NHL's active and purposeful concealment of the severe risks of brain injuries exposed players to unnecessary dangers they could have avoided had the NHL provided them with truthful and accurate information and taken appropriate action to prevent needless harm.'
Scary stuff, but not new because this latest action comes just a few months after the NHL settled a similar action for over $700 million, that's about £470 million in proper money.
The foundation of the suit is that despite a programme studying brain injuries being implemented in 1997 and running for seven years, the NHL took no action to reduce the number or severity of such injuries during that period. In fact, it was not until 2010 did targeting the head even become the subject of a penalty, and now, several years on and with fighting is still acceptable, the use of 'enforcers' employed simply to brawl, so forming a high-risk category, seems amazing and anachronistic.
For the NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had 'a long history going back to 1997 of taking concussions very seriously'. While that might sound a bit hollow in the light of recent events, to be fair anyone with even just a modicum of interest in sport and particularly say boxing cannot possibly claim to not be aware hitting the head isn't a good idea unless you want to inflict injury, possibly life threatening.
Boxing has an horrendous worldwide casualty list going back forever and even the Romans who perfected the spectacle somewhat by introducing 'gloves' and the 'ring' understood very well that hitting the head often caused death, which is why it was encouraged. A more recent milestone occurred in 1867 with the Marquess of Queensbury rules being adopted partly to lessen the likelihood of death or serious injury. Then, in 1882 a British court ruled bare-knuckle fighting, in other words what ice hockey players undertake, was an 'assault occasioning actual bodily harm'.
Those are just a couple of the milestones highlighting the issue, all of which has in recent times produced the norm of amateur boxers now compelled to wear head protection and in other sports racing drivers, cricketers, skiers, American footballers, climbers, pot-holers, cyclists and many others likewise similarly attired. Not a bad thing despite the fact helmets have been shown to be seriously inadequate in some cases. So when a current hockey player claims to not know the dangers of head injuries it sounds a bit like the dangers of smoking a few years ago – everyone knows it is seriously unhealthy, but those that partake find reasons to justify doing so.
Of course, the seriousness of the issue wasn't appreciated just a few years ago, so the fact the NHL has been accused of keeping what evidence it had under wraps to the detriment of its workforce will undoubtedly become a key matter in the case.
Which brings us on to Saturday's games.
Bison 6 – Flames 4
Three goals down by the first break is not the sort of news you read every day concerning the Flames as the Bison trio of Miller, Vantroba and Karpov scored the second fastest three goals of the season in just over ninety seconds. Not good enough, Joe Greener early in the second period clinched it to set a new record of league's fastest 4-goals of the season. So a nightmare for the Flames and particularly for James Hadfield in their goal who was replaced by the prodigal Mark Lee as the visitors mounted a come-back. The Flames clawed their way back into the game, although Bison's Dean Skinns was never taxed to double figures in any period, until they ran out of time which was just what the Bison wanted because it closed the gap between Bison and Flames to 2 points.
Phoenix 7 – Bees 3
The Phoenix winning at home is becoming a bit of a habit and proving to be the most difficult challenge for those visiting Manchester as they extended their current home-winning run to six games since losing to, um, yes, Telford on penalties. Then we had the double penalty-shoot-out weekend against the Bees where all the points were shared, and for half an hour things looked like continuing in a similar fashion except for the question mark raised by the missing Bendik and Thompson. But it was not to be as four goals in less than seven minutes around the half way mark sank the visitors to a depth from which they couldn't resurface quick enough with the fear of contracting the bends, so they didn't and the more than sixty shots on Annetts and Mettam made sure of that.
Lightning 1 – Tigers 4
Just a week ago the Lightning inflicted on the Tigers their first shut-out of the season and this was after stamping on them previously in Telford. But, this is the new look Tigers who from the start looked far more positive than a somewhat bewildered home side. So they punished them for their mediocrity with Timo Kuuluvainen and Adam Walker proving what good signings they were, and along with Miika Antiviral were all in devastating form. Young Sam Gospel in the Tigers' net for the sick Declan Ryan was more than up to the task and achieved a magnificent save rate a smidgeon under 97%.
Wildcats 4 – Steeldogs 5
Well, what can you say about new boy Jan Kostal? With a hat-trick after only joining the side a weekend ago and now eight points from only three games which already gives him the best scoring average in the league, if he keeps this up he will be canonised, if only in Swindon, the instant he pops his clogs. One teeny obstacle was the Steeldogs are obviously non-believing heretics who oddly continue to pick up more points away from home than in Sheffield. So while the Wildcats still await the Second Coming, the first having already arrived, the Steeldogs collected a few valuable points making good use of the power-play and out-shooting their opponents which has become the Wildcats' norm.
Jets 2 – Phantoms 7
The last time these two met was in Peterborough where the Phantoms had a night to forget and, in fact, would probably prefer to also forget the four intervening game since. But while the Jets are faring little better at the moment it was the home side that looked vulnerable and the visitors that looked like they were at last responding to the little tease of all having their toe nails extracted should a sixty-minute effort and a point or two not be forthcoming. And respond well they did in an all-round performance that left you wondering where it had all been hidden so far as the imports all took a share of the goals and Luke Ferrara took the lion's share with a hat-trick. For the Jets, though, they put over forty shots on Tom Murdy which highlighted the problems that continue for the Slough side.
Sunday, and only four games.
Phantoms 3 - Steeldogs 5
A second away game of the weekend for the Steeldogs and a second win, so four worthful points and well-deserved as they controlled most of the game making the Phantoms appear as though they had forgotten everything they brought to the table just twenty-four hours before. So, without making use of a power-play for any of their goals, and Dalibor Sedlar facing over forty shots, the Steeldogs put in a solid performance that might have produced even more. As it is, they now have three wins from the four times these two have met and leave Phantoms' coach Jon Kynaston rooting around for the pliers.
Tigers 2 – Jets 5
After last night's impressive display against the Lightning the Tigers must have had their tails quite seriously rigidly elevated to be back on home ice and facing a Jets straight from their mauling by the Phantoms. Plus, they had the knowledge that they had beaten the Jets quite convincingly in Slough near the start of the season. Unfortunately, they only managed to compete for a period with a bunch of players missing from the bench and their bark, or should that be growl, was just not the ferocious roar that it was Saturday
so by the second half they were quite hoarse. The Jets, however, mauling or no last night, found some teeth and claws that had been missing from recent games and ravaged the Tigers and in particular Darius Pliskauskas with a hat-trick, the second for the Jets so far this season but more importantly points in the bag.
Bees 8 – Phoenix 2
In the second of this double-header weekend you need to check back and, yes, the Bees lost in Manchester without putting up too much in the way of resistance. So, best check this result again and sure enough it still reads 8-2 so not so much a bad day at the office, as people like to say, but more of a case of wandering around in the street trying to find the darn place. True, the Phoenix were two-up after five minutes, and then it was as if they felt they had done enough and forgot there was still nearly an hour to run. Matt Foord had probably one of his best games in recent years with a splendid four goals, and Alex Mettam in the Bees goal faced fifty shots, while the normally impassable Steve Fone had to contend with less than forty, and not a power-play amongst them! So all-in-all a stunning win for the Bees and a fitting tribute to Rob Lamey for his 500th regular season games, and one he will not likely forget in a while.
Flames 4 – Lightning 0
The Lightning managed an overtime win against the Flames in the only other game these two have so far played, so you wouldn't have thought there had been enough time for this pair to get to hate each other. But with a whisker under three hours of penalty minutes you can't help but wonder should the Geneva Convention (Abridge Edition) have been read during the first period rather than the rule book. The first casualty was Lewis Christie who was carted off to hospital for a new shoulder, which seemed to be the bugle call to arms. But while ploughshares were being hones into swords, the Flames took fifteen minutes near the end of the middle period to put the game to bed with three goals. What the heck, that still left plenty of time for the mayhem that was to follow. The Flames' Neil Liddiard and Dean Holland were both handed game penalties for refusing to board when their names were called for the bus parked outside, and Lightning's Ross Bowers collected a match penalty when he became detained having found an altercation to his liking. But it was, perhaps inevitably, Grant McPherson and Andrew Sharp, who were both in the headmaster's study at the time on detention, who both clambered out the window to join in the fun and for which collected game penalties for their absconding with an additional match penalty for Sharp because, well, because he hasn't had one in a long time. Oh, yes, and James Hadfield got a second shut-out which puts him on the top level with Steve Fone while the ref went home to find an ice pack for his throbbing head.
So another strange weekend, just the sort we love, with results which went particularly well for the Bees and Steeldogs as they both climbed above the Wildcats who are now vulnerable to the Phantoms in the dread zone. Next weekend could sort that out particularly as the Wildcats meet the Phoenix and the Bison are at home to the Tigers.
EPL Weekly Roundup No147 - Week 11 ending midnight Sunday 24th November 2013 - The Iceman.
Week 10 stats and no change in the top points scorers with the Phoenix's Michael Psurny still leading and the only player to still have a 2-point game average. The Flames' Rick Plant remains the leading Brit but has, in fact, edged away from his nearest rivals.
Psurny and team mate Frantisek Bakrlik also stay top goal scorers while for the Brits the Bison's Joe Miller, who took over the lead a week ago, has been rejoined by Plant in total but still has a game in hand.
In assist scoring Psurny is still supreme but only by dint of games played meaning the Flames' Tom Duggan, the leading Brit, shares the same total while by game average it is still the Flames' Milos Melicherik in the lead.
The D-men are still led by the Phantoms' Marcel Petran although the Lightning's Michael Farn in second place, and still the leading Brit, has closed the gap and takes over the lead by game average.
In netminding it is still the Phoenix's Steve Fone who rules the roost and while the Jets' Kamil Jarina jumps to second place, the Flames' James Hadfield has also crept up again.
The penalty charts still have the Steeldogs' Andre Payette at the top for the league and Scott Spearing the leading Brit, but with the Tigers' Marcus Maynard collecting the highest award of the season last weekend he now moves up into the top ten and to second in the Brit chart.
Into the week and the welcome news for Wildcats' fans that former Czech international Jan Kostal had been signed. While not having played for a season Kostal has a wealth of experience in his homeland's top league with HC Karlovy Vary. And, at thirty-three, if he should prove to be the much needed high-scoring forward the Wildcats are looking for, he is still not to too old to be cloned for maybe next season too.
There were also moves afoot in Basingstoke where British forward Tim Burrows left to apparently follow a career opportunity outside of the sport, and fellow Brit Joe Miller handed in his notice for a move which was purported to be to Telford. Subsequently this was revealed to be the case but would not come into effect until the new year. Meanwhile, then, into the breach stepped British forward Michael Wales recently having departed the Jets and who iced in Bison colours in a previous life when the club was in the Elite League.
Moving around, or threats thereof, seems to be the order of the day at the present. Besides these latest changes in Basingstoke and Swindon there has, of course, been alterations to the rosters in Slough, Sheffield and Telford. In Bracknell the threat of changes some weeks ago was raised as a possibility, while more recently in Peterborough modification seems clearly on the cards. All this is understandable when a club feels there is room for improvement, which appears to be the case in all the above mentioned, but curiously the Phoenix have also quite clearly stated a planned review is intended when they are in the top pair with games in hand, which could be interesting if not merely a gee-up. So that only leaves the Lightning and Flames who currently seem to be content with their line-ups.
Mid-week, and there was a game between the Tigers who visited the Lightning.
Lightning 3 – Tigers 0
Changing the normal fixture days must have caused some confusion because there wasn't a lot happening to write home about in the Tigers' camp as they started lacklustrely and didn't really improve to much in the way of a threat as the evening wore on. Yet they managed the same number of shots on Steve Wall, who responded by not letting anything through, and thereby clocked up his, and the Lightning's, first shut-out of the season.
So on to Saturday.
Flames 1 – Bees 2
The last time these two met the Bees suffered their heaviest defeat of the season with a 7-goal shut-out in Bracknell, and just to add to the pressure the Flames sat down at the table with a winning hand of 7-games on the trot and another 5-game run in their own rink. So what were the Bees holding? Points taken from the Bison, Lightning and Phoenix from recent games, but only one outright win away from home. No pressure then.
Huh! The Bees tweaked the nose of pressure with an immediate reply to the Flames' opener after three minutes, then stamped on the foot of pressure as they bombarded James Hadfield. They then poked the Flames in the eye with the winner with plenty of time to spare while Branislav Kvetan was also poking heads and for which he was eventually invited to go an check the seating arrangement in the dressing room as the Flames' latest winning run came to a surprise end.
Bison 6 – Phantoms 0
The scoreline probably doesn't do justice to the Phantoms who played enough of an offensive game at least to start with to have come away with a goal or two. But as the game wore on the Bison superiority grew more damaging so that things were looking pretty dire for the visitors by the final stint by which time Tom Murdy had vacated the Phantoms' net for Damien King. The conclusion of all this was Dean Skinns chalked up a second shut-out in a week and the Bison their biggest win of the season which included a goal for returnee Michael Wales.
Jets 3 – Wildcats 4
In Slough the visiting Wildcats, who for some weeks have been scanning the horizon for the Second Coming, must have been enraptured by the arrival of Jan Kostal who arrived in the week and with minimal ice time with his new team hit the ice running with the opening goal and went on to back it up with a hand in the other three. Coach Aldridge's prayers look like they might have been answered with an evident rapport between Kostal and Jonas Höög as the Wildcats not only took the lead twice, came from behind and then went on to snatch the winner with minutes to spare. And all without Stevie Lyle having to endure his usual barrage at the back.
Sunday, and what a surprising evening it was.
Tigers 1 – Wildcats 0
And then it all fell a bit flat. While not the most entertaining of games, and, in fact, the lowest scoring game in the EPL this season, the Wildcats must have been expecting more from this encounter but a solid performance by the Tigers ensured the game the appearance of pewter rather than silver. For most of the time something was needed to liven things up like perhaps releasing a small but frenetic rodent onto the ice and awarding a point to whoever could whack it. But, as they say, goals don't have to be pretty as they all count for the same number of points. So these two points for the Tigers were well deserved and gave them revenge for the two previous losses in Swindon, while Declan Ryan picked up a first shut-out of the season as the Wildcats were again out-shot.
Phantoms 4 – Lightning 8
The Phantoms came out with a look of determination about them and twice took the lead in the first period. Then came a 5-goal collapse which must have left Coach Jon Kynaston chewing the end off a stick. But while the final stint was a bit more spirited, it was really all over as the Lightning produced six different goal scorers for the same number of shots on goal, and for the second time this season gave the Phantoms a bit of a spanking and a record fifth loss in a row.
Bees 6 – Jets 2
These two started the match with a game apiece whereas the Bees had come from a victory in Guildford, the Jets from a loss at home to Swindon. But who would have foretold such a one-sided affair with the home side 4-up inside fifteen minutes with the first goal coming from Lukas Smital short-handed. Then followed an exchange of short-handed goals and, talking of short-handed, the Bees' Chris Wiggins left for pastures new for roughing. But the Jets simply didn't have an answer and the four-point weekend for the Bees lifted them up a notch in the league table as they increasingly pull away from the danger zone.
Steeldogs 2 - Flames 10
As Julius Caesar said in 55 BC when poised on the brow of a hill overlooking the Anglo Saxon settlement clustered along the banks of the River Sheaf: 'Veni, vidi, vici.' Loosely translated it means, of course, 'I came, I saw, I scored lots of goals' and having also recently arrived from Guildford on his conquering drive northwards since landing on Brighton beach, it seemed the most fitting description of what has produced nearly thirty goals for the Flames in four game for less than half in return. This most recent conquest was also bloody, eventful and decisive with Rick Plant adding a second hat-trick to his plunder while Marcus Kristoffersson became an early casualty and later Dean Holland was downed by the ref for slashing. Amazingly, though, the Flames only put 25 shots on goal and scored just once from a power-play. Looks to me like they were miffed from losing to the Bees the night before and someone was going to have to pay for it - dearly.
Phoenix 6 – Bison 1
In another decisive battle the Phoenix took revenge for their previous loss to the Bison which included a third hat-trick for the season for 'Frankie' Bakrlik meaning he is the only player in the EPL to have achieved three so far. There was also a short-handed goal for James Archer, the second of his pair, but it wasn't as though the Bison were short of a shot or two themselves. Steve Fone in the Phoenix net managed to repel all but one of the forty shots he faced in what was probably the most impressive performance of the season so far for the Manchester side, and possibly one of the biggest surprises for the high-flying Bison.
So quite an entertaining weekend and a predicting nightmare
Next weekend sees the top of the table clash between the Bison at home to the Flames while the Bees are probably just in the mood to face the Phoenix in their double-header. But it really is all rapidly becoming anyone's guess.