The new season is almost upon us and the given the recent wet, cold and windy weather I think we are already prepared for it especially after the long break following the Great Britain team’s heroics at the World Championships.
On the 3rd September the Elite League action starts in earnest after what has been an eventful summer. This seasons competition will again have 10 teams but with Fife Flyers taking the place of the now defunct Newcastle Vipers. This year there are 3 teams I will be watching a keen eye.
Firstly there is Britain’s oldest club and newest members to the Elite League. The Fife Flyers make the return to top flight after years spent wasting away in the lower leagues due to a lack of finances to compete at the top level and the lack of a cohesive national league structure to lower them to compete with teams on a similar footing in England. But now they are back in the big time. The entry to the Elite League is not without controversy however. It has been widely suggested and purposed that the Scottish team will only be icing with 8 import skaters. This has been seen as a weakness against the rest of the leagues 10. However I am very interested to see if this will pay off. There have not been enough signings so far to make that decision but I would like the approach of quality not quanity to be a winner. This could revolutionise team building at the small budget clubs in the Elite league by reducing housing and other overheads whilst increasing team competiveness. However the experience of last season’s Edinburgh Capitals travelling to Sheffield to be beat 18 – 0 does make me fear the worse the new comers.
At the other end of table meanwhile the team to watch may well be the Belfast Giants. The Northern Irish team have been somewhat quiet in recent seasons but this year the Giants have spent big and backed coach Doug Christiansen all the way. The signing of d man Tom Dignard will be very interesting to watch given his glowing reputation in North America. So much so that some have said that it is make or break for the former Edinburgh coach, Christiansen. If the he wins the title he will be back in Belfast or off to Europe to coach whilst if he doesn’t he will back home to golf course. It is high stakes.
The other team to watch this season is the Cardiff Devils. After last season’s world record 22 game winning streak saw the Welsh team move into the top 3 this season maybe very different. Owner Paul Ragan has been in financial trouble of the summer and the future of the Cardiff Bay rink is also in some level of doubt after a deal between the council and Ragan’s Rink Corp hit rocky ground. But fan favourite (in Cardiff only) Brad Voth is back and on ice it will be interesting to see if Cardiff can mix it with the high spenders again this season.
More as a side not but still worth noting will be the attendance figures for the league champions. Sheffield Steelers now under their third owner in two seasons have lowered their ticket prices to £15 for an adult ticket. An absolute bargain for a top flight ice hockey in any city and mix this with a lack of success in recent times of the City’s football teams I think it will pay off for the Steelers. As will the performance of Great Britain back up Nathan Craze who will get the nod in Edinburgh for his first taste as an Elite League starting goalie.
So here are the teams for the 2011 – 2012 Elite League season.
- Belfast Giants
- Braehead Clan
- Cardiff Devils
- Coventry Blaze
- Dundee Stars
- Edinburgh Capitals
- Fife Flyers
- Hull Stringrays
- Nottingham Panthers
- Sheffield Steelers
The English Premier League and English National league seasons do not get underway until the end of September. So more on that later.