Another month, another historical record for the Panthers. They are the first UK team ever to progress to the knockout stages in the Champions Hockey League. Before this year, a UK team had only ever won one game out of six against the tough competition. This year, Panthers won four games out of five. It's a testament to the Elite League that they are also not the only UK team to have broken a record. The Cardiff Devils are playing in the same competition and also secured two wins in their group, although will not progress to the next round.
Not only were Panthers sure to progress to the last 16 teams of 32 (where they were seeded 32), they were guaranteed to finish top of their group, even before playing their last game. It is a remarkable achievement and allows Midlands fans the opportunity of seeing another top flight European team on November 7, which will be the second leg of two aggregate games for the knock out stage. They will face another top Swiss team, Zurich Lions with a home arena seating 11,200 compared to the NIC at 7,500.
Having achieved amazing heights with the European games, you might expect something to suffer on the return to domestic form. So far, this is Challenge Cup games, where we have only won one game of three to date. On October 9, Panthers had a frustrating Cup loss to erstwhile enemies, Sheffield who really did not deserve to win. Panthers dominated possession and the shots on goal were double that of the Steelers. The game produced two decent fights to demonstrate the local dislike of each other with both Jeff Brown and Mathieu Gagnon stepping up to the plate.
Ultimately, it was a one goal match with Nottingham coming out the wrong side of a 2-3 score line. Coach Corey Neilson described the game as the best "domestic performance yet" showing his approval of his team, despite the result.
In the esteemed Elite League, Panthers are currently standing third behind Manchester and Sheffield, with two games in hand on both and the same number of points as Sheffield. Panthers have managed to win games whilst not playing their best and lost games whilst being the dominant team. Our power play statistics are currently the second worst in the league only to Clan with a 12% conversion record on scoring with a man advantage. Coach Neilson has several times stated they are working on this, but changes have not been seen yet. Overall, a solid start though at the right end of the League table, which is not easy to do when also juggling an additional set of games in the European competition.
The additional support that the team has put in on the strength, conditioning and physio side is paying off so far as we have no new injuries, unlike other conference competitors Sheffield and Belfast, who are both already playing at reduced levels. Mathieu Brisebois has returned to the ice after a spell of absence.
Mathieu Gagnon is developing support from fans with his willingness to fight, already notching up his second of the season against Sheffield's Zack Fitzgerald and knocking him to his knees with a punch that any boxer would be proud of and fighting on despite being bloodied by Fitzgerald (above)
The Brit pack are shining this season and Robert Farmer stunned Sheffield with an incredible goal in their first league encounter:
Robert Lachowicz is playing well in European games as usual and Betteridge always gives 100% in games. Top point scorers for the Panthers so far are Perlini, Farmer, Mosey and Billingsley. Other players that have impressed so far are Billingsley, Gagnon, Sauvé, Derlago and Shalla. It's a quality team, referred to in the recent Q&A session with owner Neil Black as the "most expensive Panthers team" to date, and it is certainly starting to show.
A new netminder has joined the team. It was eventually confirmed that our previously expected second netminder, Eduard Zakharchenko from the Ukraine would definitely not be arriving due to match fixing allegations. Patrick Galbraith is 31, 6'0", Danish, and played for Krefeld Pinguines in the DEL in Germany last season, consistently maintaining a save percentage of over 90 and has played in top leagues in Denmark, Sweden, Slovakia and Finland. He is described as calm, with "good technique in the modern goalie style" and he has twice helped his teams to championships in Denmark and once in Slovakia. Panthers Coach Corey Neilson said: "That's the full squad sorted now, just how we envisaged it. There are a lot of games coming up and having competition in all departments is a good thing too."
Galbraith made his first home debut on October 15 against the Belfast Giants where we won 6-3 with a clinical performance and he picked up man of the match.
The fixtures come thick and fast now in multiple competitions, so having a full squad and the luxury of multiple healthy netminders is an asset that could pay off in the long term.