Mid season report for the EIHL

Mid season report for the EIHL

Robert Newbolt23 Dec 2019Robert Newbolt»
 

Sheffield Steelers will tackle their Christmas Pudding safe in the knowledge that they will go into the Xmas period in top spot in the standings: closely followed by arch rivals Cardiff Devils who are just two points behind.

 
 
 
 

BELFAST GIANTS

Belfast Giants began this season as defending League and Challenge Cup champions. After picking up four points in their debut Champions Hockey League campaign, the Giants only qualified for the cup knockout stages in their last game. In the league, they are currently challenging for top spot. 

Inconsistency has been the key to the Belfast season so far.

The Giants have proven that they have big performances within them, as their back-to-back wins in Cardiff showed, but it's producing those regularly that has been the issue. It's not hard to see where their problems lie either: at seventh in the EIHL in goals per game, goals have been hard to come by despite Adam Keefe's side leading the league in shots per game and being shut-out three times already this season is a big concern.

They sit third in the league behind Sheffield and Cardiff and a consistent run should see them top the league.

COVENTRY BLAZE

Coventry Blaze had an excellent start to the season and were among the top four sides in the early part of the table.

A reverse of fortunes of late with a six-game losing streak including an exit from the Challenge Cup has seen the Blaze slip to the eighth in the table.

However, a recent thrashing of Guilford Flames has seen them move into sixth place.

CARDIFF DEVILS

Cardiff Devils entered this season as defending playoff champions and made an immediate impression in the Champions Hockey League.

The Devils ended the Group Stage only a few points short of qualifying for the Round of 16 thanks to win wins over Graz and Mountfield HK, and a victory in Austria, but fell to Frölunda in their final two games.

Back in the Elite League, the Devils are currently leading the chase behind Sheffield but have a sizable number of games in hands

Cardiff Devils have been made to dig deep and work harder than recent times for wins. But continue to win they have, for the most part, and although they do not find themselves sitting top of the Elite League right now, their winning percentage offers plenty of encouragement as the second half of the season begins.

They now sit in second place in the league by just two points with four games in hand of the leaders Sheffield.

DUNDEE STARS

The Stars shone brightly early in the season: topping the Challenge Cup group. However, their cup form never really matched their league outings and a rapid downturn in form sees them at the bottom of the table at present, six points adrft of their nearest rivals.

FIFE FLYERS

Fife Flyers' season so far saw the team eliminated from the Challenge Cup at the first hurdle but be part of a mid-table pack all within a few points of each other. 

This season the Flyers have lost matches they should have won and are still finding that full 60-minute game elusive. However, they've shown that when it happens then they can compete with anyone in the league.

The stand out star this season far must be Mike Cazzola - his work-rate is the engine room of the team. Danick Gauthier has also revelled in some of the big games.

They currently occupy the last play off spot and will be hoping for better things in the new year.

GUILDFORD FLAMES

Guildford Flames have quietly gone about getting themselves into a succession of good positions this season.

The Flames won their Challenge Cup group above Cardiff and chose to face Nottingham in the Quarter-Finals. In the league, they've moved up into the top five and could be two places higher if they were to win their games in hand. 

Paul Dixon's team average the least amount of goals against per game at 2.50, and if they were to improve on scoring 2.95 a game themselves then who knows what strides the team could take in the next half of the season. 

GLASGOW CLAN

Glasgow Clan have perhaps been the surprise package so far this season.

After a terrible opening weekend in the Challenge Cup, Zack Fitzgerald's side had an excellent start in the league and led it for several weeks. They led the league early on but have slipped in the rankings due to loss of early form partly down to injuries.

Zack Fitzgerald has taken the core of Pete Russell’s team from last season and looks to have made them better, with some impressive results coming against the traditional big hitters. Fitzgerald equalled a club record of eight straight wins earlier in the campaign, emulating previous coaches Drew Bannister and Ryan Finnerty before, but injuries have limited that sort of form, with as many as four or five players out, something that is bound to have an effect. The casualty list is clearing and what can’t be faulted, despite the adversity, is the effort.

But unfortunately they cannot seem to halt the losing streak which has seen them drop to seventh place after being the early pacesetters.

MANCHESTER STORM

It's been a tough start for Manchester Storm who began this season with an almost entirely new roster with just a handful of returning players.

One of those who is back is netminder Matt Ginn who, despite the team's record, is still third in the league among goalies with a save percentage of 91.80%.

The Storm were at the foot of the table for some time until a short burst of wins helped them to climb above Dundee. 

NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS

With a new man behind the bench for this season, Nottingham Panthers had a slow start under Tim Wallace but have suddenly seemed to find their stride. 

The Panthers are the league's best team over the last 10 games and have moved themselves up into the pack chasing the top places.

After early games Panthers went 6-8-3 for 15 points and in the second 17 games have gone 12-4-1 for 25 points. After a couple of wins to start the league campaign, no win in over a month in the competition saw Wallace’s side flirting with the bottom two and fans questioning whether he was the right man to guide the Panthers to silverware.

Things needed to change and Doucet and Wallace quickly showed they were not afraid to make changes to the line-up. Their hand was forced when Alexis Loiseau retired with injury but the decision to part ways with Jens Jakobs and bring Jake Hansen in the following weekend showed the fans and the rest of the squad that they were keen to move up the standings. Hansen immediately made an impact, scoring on his debut in the away victory in Cardiff which broke the seven-game losing streak. The other mid-season signings have also made an impact. Julian Talbot has made a huge difference in the face-off circle and is only just shy of a point per game with 13 in 15, and latest signing Ryan Horvat made an impression on his debut giving the fans plenty to smile about.

The team is much improved from the one which started the season when things weren’t going their way. Panthers have got through an early blip, are now only six points off the top of the table and sit in fourth spot. Plus, of course, there is the Continental Cup final to come.

SHEFFIELD STEELERS

New Sheffield Steelers Head Coach Aaron Fox sees his team top of the table at the midway point of the season.

Indeed, in Marc-Olivier Vallerand they have the EIHL top scorer.

With a host of summer chances including Fox himself, the Steelers have led the league for most of the early part of the season. While they have played a handful of games more than the sides chasing them the Steelers do have points on the board - and have had a knack of pulling out big results to stay on top when it looked as if they'd be overtaken.

Sheffield Steelers head coach Aaron Fox is halfway through his first season at the club, and the early consensus is that when he was appointed in April the brief from Steelers owner Tony Smith was to play an entertaining style of hockey and make Sheffield a competitive club again and he’s certainly done that.

Questions have been asked if a rookie Head Coach, who’s completely new to the Elite League, can win a Championship in their first season. But Sheffield currently sit top of the standings and will play a Challenge Cup semi final in January. Many believe the Cardiff Devils still have the advantage, with four games in hand, but as the saying goes it’s always better to have the points on the board.

Defender Aaron Johnson has had surgery twice on his hand, playing just twice since the start of September, Jonas Liwing has missed 24 games and now James Bettauer is expected to be out for 8 weeks. Not to mention the lengthy suspensions already served by centre Michael Davies. 

But to their credit, the organisation has done everything to try and keep 14 imports on the ice and keep the team competitive with high-level injury cover arriving in the shape of Marek Trončinský, Mikko Kuukka, Janne Kolehmainen and former Czech international Josef Hrabal. Aaron Fox was also not afraid to make early changes with marquee signing Martin St. Pierre and netminder Pavel Kantor released after just eight and five games respectively.

So, what do Sheffield need to do better in the second half of the season? Well, it’s the same for every other team in the league now – consistency! No team has put a consistent run of games together yet and Sheffield have been a real Jekyll and Hyde team plus they need to limit the amount of goals they concede if possible.


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