Left Panther: September 2016

20 September 16 words: Sally Utton
"We started with a 5-6 loss in Coventry, an exhibition game which was tight, with plenty of goals and both teams playing their back up netminders by the end"
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photo: Andy Burnham

Since August 24, Panthers have played ten games, resulting in five wins and five losses, so one might argue a fairly average start to the season. The typical style of Panthers offensive play has not yet been apparent, and the team seem to be much more defensive in style, than what we have seen before in a classic Corey Neilson team, who play what is often referred to as “sexy Neilson hockey”. However, it is early days, the team have not fully got into their stride yet and there are bags of potential within the players on the roster, perhaps once it is fully unleashed.

We started with a 5-6 loss in Coventry, an exhibition game which was tight, with plenty of goals and both teams playing their back up netminders by the end. Next up was a trip to Amiens in France, for the Naploeon Cup, which Panthers previously won. The three game tournament started well with netminder Miika Wiikman posting a clean sheet against German side Kassel Huskies and Panthers taking a 3-0 win.

The second game was against the tournament hosts Amiens and Panthers took a convincing 3-0 lead early on. The hosts pulled it back a little, but could not convert to a win and lost 3-5. Injuries took over in the final game versus University Three Rivers from Quebec. The game was only twelve hours after the previous game, with one finishing at 11.30pm on Saturday and the next starting at 11.30am on Sunday.

Unfortunately Stephen Schultz was sidelined by an injury, Matt Carter managed to play despite nursing an injury and Miika Wiikman was pulled half-way through the game as a precaution after suffering a “strain”. The goals started to fly in against Dan Green and the result was a 3-7 loss, meaning Panthers had to settle for second place out of three in the tournament overall.

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Schultz. photo: Andy Burnham

Panthers then added a second import netminder to the team and brought in 21-year-old Czech, 6”1’, Jindrich Pacl. He has previously played in the EBEL league alongside the top teams in Austria plus teams based in Slovenia, Italy and Slovakia, played for his country at all junior levels and has been in the top three ranked netminders in the Czech Republic every year since he was 16.

Coach Corey Neilson apparently always had a plan to bring in a third netminder who will work alongside Miika Wiikman and Brit Dan Green. Neilson told the club: "This formula worked well for us last year. We can play around within the number of 'imports' when we have injuries, there are a lot of games on the schedule and having three netminders will allow us to give appropriate rest and recovery." 

His comments could be interpreted to suggest that Wiikman is not at full fitness, or it may just reflect the intense nature of the season with at least 52 games, many of which take place on consecutive nights and can give the coaching team some difficult decisions.

Panthers opened this season’s Challenge Cup with another game in Coventry on September 4, resulting in a 3-1 loss. Stephen Schultz was out due to injury and new netminder Jindrich Pacl was in goal. Panthers outshot Coventry 35 to 25, but their giant of a netminder at 6”5’, Brian Stewart, was on form, as ever. In the absence of an official enforcer for the Panthers to date, Jeff Brown, stepped up to the plate with no hesitation and took on Ross Venus:

This season’s league campaign started with an intense road trip up to Scotland with three games in three nights in Dundee, Glasgow and Fife. Panthers had travel problems on the Friday and arrived late in Dundee. They soon shook off the bus legs and picked up their first two league points with a steady win 3-1.

The next night in Glasgow was another win, 4-1 this time and they made the most of the man advantage twice by effectively converting two out of four power plays. The third night proved to be one night too many to hold firm. Pacl was in net and both Steve’s, Schultz and Lee, were out due to injury. Fife won 4-1 and Nottingham had to settle for a respectable four points out of a possible six.

The first home league game at the NIC opened against strong title contenders this season, the Cardiff Devils, who have armed themselves with a great team on paper, including ex-Panthers Brit, Matthew Myers. The arena was packed, the biggest ever opening night with over 6,000 watching.

Panthers were obviously determined to set down a marker as the game counted for both league and cup points. The form on ice, was a little inhibited to say the least, demonstrated by only one shot on goal from Nottingham in the entire second period, which did not make for the most exciting game. They got the job done though, with a 2-0 win.

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 photo: Andy Burnham

The first clash between Nottingham and Sheffield, traditional arch-enemies, took place the next day away in Steeler land, in the Challenge Cup. Sadly Steelers took the first blood with a 7-5 win. Pacl was in net for Panthers. Sheffield took an early opportunity to push Nottingham around, one incident in the shape of Guilliame Desbiens dominating Chris Lawrence in a fight, before the arrival of our new enforcer.

Fortunately he is well on the way and Panthers were very pleased to announce the signing of Canadian 35 year old, 6”4’ enforcer Brian McGrattan. He is top quality and has previously played 317 games in the NHL for Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames. He spent last season in the AHL with San Diego. Panthers General Manager Gary Moran said: "He is a tough, tough guy and I know our fans are going to love watching him play".

McGrattan will step into the role that Cam Janssen vacated at short notice over the summer. Coach Corey Neilson said: "This is the final piece we've been waiting for. These things don't happen overnight. Management have been supportive throughout the process and it has paid dividends. I think the fans will love this guy. It was a vacancy we weren't expecting to have to fill, but things happen in sports and problems become opportunities."

Janssen and McGrattan are no strangers to each other and have fought on several occasions. McGrattan certainly gets the better of Janssen on this one:

Panthers have also appointed a new Captain this season in Brad Moran, who succeeds David Clarke, who has taken up a player/coach role. Defenceman Steve Lee continues as an alternate Captain, along with Geoff Waugh and new signing Jeff Brown taking up the same role. On the plus side, the scoring has been shared out amongst the team, with all players except two and the netminders having yet to score. It remains to be seen if Panthers continue their defensive style of play, or get more confidence to push forward and attack, as the weeks continue.

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