Meyers: thanks for the memories
Unlike most folk, ice hockey fans like it when the weather starts going cold and so the unwelcome nip in the September air is a good sign for us, especially as it’s all change for the 2012/13 Elite League season with the competition having been split into two five-team conferences. In the Southern Conference, Panthers will compete with Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze and Sheffield Steelers while the Northern Conference will contain Braehead Clan, Dundee Stars, Edinburgh Capitals, Fife Flyers and Hull Stingrays. Teams will face their conference rivals four times home and away while facing teams in the other conference twice at home and away to make a 52-game league season. Whoever has the most points from either conference will be crowned League Champions.
The number of imported (i.e. non-British) players that each team is allowed to ice has also increased from 10 to 11. On that note, there have been plenty of changes within the Panthers squad as they gear up for the season. Perhaps the biggest shock came early in the close season as British defenceman and captain Danny Meyers was cut by coach Corey Neilson after six seasons with the club. The decision caused a major outcry from Panthers fans dumbfounded that the club had let go one of their best homegrown talents. To add insult to injury, Meyers signed for Panthers’ bitter rivals Sheffield Steelers a couple of weeks later.
Other players to depart from last season’s double trophy-winning squad are defencemen Brock Wilson, who has moved into coaching, and Guillaume Lepine, who is looking to ice for a North American side. Also gone are last season’s top goal scorer, David-Alexandre Beauregard, and Rhett Gordon, both retired from the sport, while Finn Sami Ryhänen has pulled out of a move to Dijon in the French League [insert ‘couldn't cut the mustard’ gag if you, er, must – Ed.] and gone to Dundee instead.
At the back, the 2012/13 squad has seen first-choice netminder retained – so this will not be a Vanishing Point for Craig Kowalski. The son of Michigan was regarded by many as the best in the league last season, a mantle he will hope to hold on to. He has the ability to win games on his own and is often relied upon to get the team out of trouble, so he is more than capable of back-stopping the team to further success in what will be his third season in Nottingham. However, his back-up, Dan Green, also retained, will have to share reserve duties as Panthers have a new goaltender named Gospel. That's Gospel. That's Gospel – youngster Sam Gospel, a local boy who’ll get some much needed experience at Elite League level. With Scott Champagne, Beauregard and Lepine all gone, it’s good to still have someone around who sounds like they’ve walked out of a Thomas Pynchon novel. Anyway, in an effort to keep their eye in should anything happen to Kowalski, Green and Gospel will also play for the Nottingham Lions in the English National League – a subsidiary amateur competition, not a right-wing political alliance.
It is in defence that Panthers have seen most change from last season, though; only player-coach Corey Neilson and Stevie Lee remain. Coming in are: former Great Britain and Coventry Blaze captain, Jonathan Weaver; Eric Werner, who has extensive European experience; Czech Martin Tůma who has played in the top European leagues as well as North America; and Jason Beckett, another with vast experience of the North American minor leagues. Youngster Tom Norton [not the LeftLion Art Editor, we believe – Ed.] will also ice with the Panthers when he is not playing for Peterborough Phantoms in the English Premier League. With four imports and two established British players, the defence looks stronger than it has for many seasons and as such Kowalski should be very well protected.
Matt Myers : similar name, similar face, but not Danny Meyers
It is however in attack that Panthers again look to have an embarrassment of riches heading into the new season. British forwards David Clarke, Matthew Myers, Robert Lachowicz and Marc Levers all return, along with imports Jordan Fox, Matt Francis and Brandon Benedict. Last season these seven players contributed 177 goals between them:
Clarke – 43
Myers – 20
Lachowicz – 23
Levers – 11
Fox – 29
Francis – 28
Benedict – 23
This line-up is complimented by three new import signings and one British forward, youngster Josh Ward, who returns to the club after a season with Manchester Phoenix in the English Premier League. The first new import forward to sign was North American Pat Galivan who looks to be filling the spot left by the departing Beauregard. Next was giant Bruce Graham who stands at 6 feet 6 inches tall and was voted the top power forward in North America’s Central Hockey League last season. The best was saved until last, though: 37-year-old David Ling, a vastly experienced player who has appeared in the illustrious National Hockey League (NHL) for the Montreal Canadiens. He has scored points throughout his career and should be one of the best players in the Elite League this season, if not the numero uno.
not the best logo, but, anyway, Panthers've got an ex-Montreal Canadiens player!!
While Panthers look strong so do their rivals. Sheffield Steelers have added greater depth to their British contingent and brought in some quality imports. I would make them favourites for the league title. Belfast Giants also look strong, as always, but have lost top British forward Robert Dowd to the Swedish league, a big blow for them. The other two teams in the Southern Conference, Cardiff Devils and Coventry Blaze, have both strengthened, yet neither side has enough to challenge for the title.
This season has all the makings of being the best since the inception of the Elite League in 2003. The quality appears to have improved, on paper at least, and the new conference system will hopefully lead to more competitive games. Panthers will start with a couple of Challenge games against Italian side Asiago on September 1 and 2 at the Nottingham Ice Centre before travelling to Humberside to face Hull in the cup on the September 8 and then Dundee at home in the league the following day.
The season is almost here. Bring it on.