The English Premier League Ice Hockey season now finally about to start next weekend after an infinitely long summer caused by complaints about fixtures. This weekend saw most teams play their warm up games.
The ten teams taking part this season are the same as last year but every club has had a busy summer rebuilding with Guildford Flames making the biggest moves signing champion Manchester Phoenix’s snipper from last season Curtis Huppe. The Phoenix also lost Huppe’s line mate and leagues top scorer Marcus Kristoffersson to the French Ligue Magnus whilst Greg Wood and Pavel Gomenyuk headed over the Pennines to join ex Phoenix player Andre Payette who is back at the Steeldogs as player – coach.
Payette who was reknown for his fighting and toughness in the EIHL looks to have instilled this attitude in his Sheffield Steeldogs team. Their pre season games against Manchester were marked by physicality including a match penalty to Gomeniuk for kneeing.
Journey man Joe Miller finds himself a home in Basingstoke who have also recruited well and look to be lining up a shot at the title by beating Guildford both home and away in preseason.
The preseason threw up other interesting results. Swindon knocked Telford for 7 twice whilst last season’s strugglers Bracknell beat a Slough side that on paper looked to a championship challenger in there two game series. Elsewhere Manchester Phoenix took the rose bowl beating Sheffield 8-5 on aggregate.
Of course non of those games mean a thing with the season starting next weekend. But they will of given people lots to think about. For me the team to watch will be Guildford Flames who have a recruited well and have the fire power a plenty upfront with Rempel and Huppe. Watch out also for the Basingstoke Bison who by winning those preseason games against the Flames have shown their potential. Further down the league the two teams that may but a spanner in the works will be Sheffield Steeldogs and the Bracknell Bees. Both have a new look and feel to them and the top sides will not be looking forward to their physical and sometimes goon like play.
As for players to watch. I am going to pick Martin Cingel as my man to watch. I have seen him play for an often woeful Edinburgh Capitals side and been impressed. I rate him as a player who does lose easy and will never give in. Also watch out for Janis Ozolins of the Sheffield Steeldogs whose speed and hands are a joy to watch and I am surprised another team maybe in the EIHL did make a move for the Latvian.