Monthly Archives: April 2014

Goodbye, Jeff Legue

So the rumours that have been floating around the internet for at least a week have finally been confirmed.

Jeff Legue is leaving the Sheffield Steelers and heading to the Sheffield Steeldogs of the EPL.

While this is extremely disheartening news for Steelers fans, who have had the pleasure of watching Jeff regularly for the last 7 seasons, his reasons for doing so are completely understandable.  He wants to spend more time with his family – which playing in the EPL as opposed to the EIHL will allow – and he feels that he’s maybe getting a little too old to compete in the EIHL.  In addition, the Steeldogs have offered him a 3-year contract, which can only provide more stability than a year-on-year extension does.

For the Steelers, Jeff will be hard to replace.  Not just his 70+ average points per year, but his personality and leadership that have helped make the team so successful.   For me personally, Jeff was one of the first players that I took notice of when I started going to the games.  His speed and determination on the ice made him a force to be reckoned with, and he often stood head and shoulders above his opponents, despite his relatively short stature.  He’s always been extremely friendly and forthcoming with the fans, and will be missed as much for that as anything else.

Like the vast majority of Steelers fans, I wish Jeff nothing but the best with the Steeldogs.   I’ll miss him in Orange, but I know he’s doing what’s best for him.

 

Feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac

Team GB: First Two Games

Image
Photo courtesy of IIHF.com

Two games down now and Team GB are sitting in 4th place in the IIHF Division 1B World Championships.  It’s not quite where they expected to be at this point, but hope is far from lost.

While the first game of the tournament against Croatia didn’t end the way any of us wanted, Monday’s game against Romania was a far better result.

Stephen Murphy started on Sunday in goal, ready to take on whatever Croatia could throw at him.  Unfortunately, what they threw at him were shots that he just couldn’t save.  Despite 9 penalties taken by Croatia, GB were unable to capitalise on any of the opportunities, even though they were out-shooting Croatia by a ratio of nearly 2:1.  By the time the 4th puck slid past Murphy in the final period, Doug Christiansen pulled him and let Ben Bowns hold the fort.  He managed to prevent any more goals, but the damage was already done and GB were unable to find the back of the net.  The final score ended up 4-0.

Not willing to let the loss cloud their determination, GB went back out on Monday with Ben Bowns starting in goal.  Doug Christiansen insisted that Bowns was always going to start game 2, and Murphy’s performance in game 1 had nothing to do with the goaltender change, but we’ll never know whether that’s the truth. For the first period, things looked like they hadn’t changed too much from the day before, as power play after power play passed by unnoticed and Romania out-shot them.  Then suddenly, at the start of the second, things changed.  GB took to the ice after the intermission with a new vigor, and it wasn’t long before the floodgates that had been threatening to open finally did, with a power play goal from Ben Davies (assisted by David Clarke and Robert Lachowicz).  When another equal strength goal came less than 2 minutes later, this time from captain Jonathan Phillips (with assists from Danny Meyers and Mark Garside), GB fans finally had something to cheer about.  With all the momentum now firmly on their side, Colin Shields pulled another PP goal for the team (this time assisted by Ben O’Connor and Robert Farmer), and GB were ahead 3-0.

Unfortunately, it was about this time that one of the commentators mentioned the word “shut-out” and jinxed Ben Bowns, who let a shot from Romania’s Otto Biro get past him with less than a minute left on the clock.  Unwilling to let that stand, Mark Garside, assisted by Danny Meyers and Ben O’Connor, combined for a 4th goal only 20 seconds later, and sealed the win for GB.

After these two games, GB is on the same number of points as Lithuania, although goal differential holds them in 4th place.  There are still 3 more games still to go in this tournament, and right now there is no guarantee as to who will come out on top.

GB faces Lithuania on Wednesday, and the question remains about who will be starting in goal, and whether they can hold onto the momentum that they built up on Monday.

 

Feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac

Team GB: The Opposition

With the North American hockey world (and much of the rest of the world) focused on the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I decided to have a look at the other teams that GB will have to face in the World Championships next week.  What better way to spend my sick day from work than with a little research.

Disclaimer: By research, I mean a combination of the IIHF website and Wikipedia.  I apologise in advance for any erroneous stats or figures – I know how unreliable Wikipedia can be, but I don’t have many other choices right now.

Current IIHF rankings have GB sitting in 20th position overall, followed by Ukraine, Japan, Korea and Netherlands.  GB has quite a large lead over Ukraine, which puts them in a good position going into these chapionships.  [You can see the current rankings over at IIHF.com]

So, one by one, in alphabetical order, here’s our competition:

Croatia
Currently 10 positions behind GB, they’ve spent a lot of time bouncing up and down from division 1 to division 2 and back.  Their overall international record is 61–115–9 (Win-Lose-Tie) and they only came back up to division 1 last year.  There are no NHLers on their team, although they have a few from the Russian KHL, and according to their roster, a goaltender from the UK’s own Slough Jets, Andrej Vasiljevic.  The Round Robin schedule has GB playing them first on Sunday 20th April,

Lithuania
Lithuania is currently ranked 26th, and while they’ve stayed in Division 1 for the last 10 years, they’ve often come in 5th position – barely keeping themselves from relegation.  Their overall international record is 49–74–9 and the majority of their players are from Energija Elektrenai who are the number 1 team in the Lithuanian Hockey League.  However, they also have a couple of their own Slough Jets on the team roster, Andrius Kaminskas and Mindaugas Kieras, as well as the NHL player Dainius Zubrus from the New Jersey Devils.

Netherlands
Obviously we’ve seen a little of the Netherlands team in action already, during the two pre-tournament games.  Rated 24th by the IIHF, they’ve been solidly in division 1 for a long time, usually coming out in the middle of the rankings.  Almost all of their players come from one of the 7 teams in the Eredivise, the only professional ice hockey league in the Netherlands.  They currently have an international record of 209–357–54.

Poland
Said to be our toughest rival, they are currently ranked 25th by the IIHF.  Like the Netherlands, they have been solidly in division 1 and have come in second place for the last two years, just missing out on promotion to group A.  The bulk of their players come from the Polish Hockey League, although they have an EIHL player on their roster, goaltender Kamil Kosowski of the Cardiff Devils.  Their overall record is 396–443–91 and they’re going to be fighting to avoid a second place disappointment again.

Romania
In 24th position according to the IIHF, they have bounced up and down between divisions 1 and 2 in recent years.  Most of their players are from one of two teams in the Romanian Hockey League with a lot of them coming from HSC Csíkszereda, who have won their league title 7 years in a row.  Their overall record is 282–319–48 which means they could be a tough opponent.

If you wanted to compare those overall international records to those of Team GB, our is currently 167–198–36.  We’ve stayed solidly in division 1, although, as previously mentioned, we’ve gone up and down between group A and B quite regularly.  I’d say that Poland and Romania might be our hardest games, but Netherlands are likely to give us a good run for our money too.

So come on then, roll on Sunday, and #LetsGoGB!

Feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac

Why I’m happy Adams has re-signed

imagePhoto by Dean Woolley

The Sheffield Steelers announced this morning that Gerard Adams has signed a contract for him to stay as Head Coach for the next two years.

I’m pretty sure that every Steelers fan is thrilled by this news. We’ve all seen the difference that G has made in the short time he’s been with the team, and lifting the Playoff Trophy was just the icing on the cake. It’s time to start believing we can do even better next year.

But I’m happy for another reason as well.

Over the last year, we’ve seen interviews with the players – after both wins and losses – but there has always been an undertone of disappointment in their voices, as though no matter what they did, it still wasn’t quite good enough.  But the interviews from the last few weeks have been very different. I know they’ve been winning games and that puts a different perspective on things, but they’ve all seemed so much happier.

There’s been a lot more talk about “we” rather than “I” and a lot more smiles.

I know it’s likely that I’m protecting my own feelings here, but when you listen to the guys talk recently, they seem more in love with the game than they did earlier on in the year.

So if G signing back on keeps the Steelers smiling, that’s almost good enough for me.

 

Feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac

Team GB: Friendly Pre-Tournament Weekend

Saturday and Sunday saw two pre-tournament games for Team GB.  Both against Netherlands, with one held in Sheffield and the other in Coventry, the games were an opportunity for the coaches to try out different skaters and line combinations before they have to make their final selections.

I’ll admit at this point that I’ve never really watched any of the other EIHL teams play.  Obviously there is always another team on the ice when I’m watching the Sheffield Steelers, but I tend to suffer from a form of hockey blindness that means all of my focus stays with my team. Add that to the fact that I’m pretty new to hockey, having only really been a fan for the last 12 months, and it leads to me rarely noticing anything about the other team.

So these games were the first time I’ve really had the opportunity to watch other British players in action.  While my attention was somewhat focused on the Steelers boys (Phil Hill, Robert Dowd, Jason Hewitt, Jonathan Philips and Danny Meyers), I did get the opportunity to watch some of the other British talents on the ice.  I’d heard of a few of the players before – names like Ashley Tait, David Clark and Robert Lachowicz – but I was coming into this with very little knowledge.

The first thing I noticed on Saturday was that the passing between the skaters was of a much higher standard than I’d expected.  I remember watching the Steelers at the start of this year, when there was a lot of players who hadn’t had much chance to practice together, and seeing a lot of missed passes.  But Team GB was looking pretty good to my novice understanding.  Especially when compared to the Netherlands players, who seemed to be passing to open ice more often than to a teammate.

The second thing I noticed was Ben Bowns [Hull Stingrays] in goal.  Another disclaimer here: I love goalies.  I’m fascinated by their unique skills and their unique quirks.  Even teams that I can’t stand, I tend to like their goalie.  Ben Bowns certainly caught my attention.  He made some brilliant saves and looked completely confident between the posts for the entire game.  I’d expected him to be pulled after 40 minutes to give Mike Will a chance, but it didn’t happen.  I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to him in the future, I think.

I remember noticing Matty Davies [Hull Stingrays] and Jonathan Boxill [Nottingham Panthers], and after someone asked me to look out for Matt Towe [Braehead Clan], I couldn’t help watching him on the ice.  And of course, I was thrilled at how well our Steelers were playing, Phil Hill especially.  He stood out as part of Team GB far more than I’d ever seen him do with the Steelers and scored a fantastic goal.  I was really pleasantly surprised at how well everyone was playing.  They outshone Netherlands completely, with a final score of 3-0.

Today, I’m watching a very very different game.  While GB are still playing well, there seems to be a complete 180 degree flip for the Netherlands.  The first goal they scored was one that I bet Ben Bowns wishes he could get back, and while GB followed up with some nice goals (including another for Phil Hill), the two teams were far more evenly matched.

Dragging the game out into overtime, Netherlands finally scored the game winner on a Power Play.  Final score 4-5.

A disappointing end for Team GB, but in the long run, I don’t think it means anything.  We have a damn good team this year, and they’re only going to improve when they get to Lithuania next week.  They play Netherlands again on 24th April.  Hopefully the result will be more like Saturday’s win than today’s.

First game for Team GB is on Sunday 20th against Croatia.  Then it’s Monday 21st [Romania], Wednesday 23rd [Lithuania], Thursday 24th [Netherlands] and the final game on Saturday 26th against Poland, who are slated to be our biggest rivals.

Should be a good week.

 

Feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac

Team GB at World Championships: What You Need To Know

You may or may not be aware that in just over a week, 23 Elite League players will be heading to Lithuania for the Ice Hockey World Championship.

Team GB is currently in Division I, Group B along with Croatia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland and Romania. For those who have no idea what the division/group name means, there are currently 6 different tournament levels within the IIHF Men’s World Championships. Up in the top level are the teams you’d expect, including Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden and Finland. The next level is Division I, Group A, with Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Japan, Korea and Ukraine.

The third level is ours.

The World Championships happen every year, with a Round Robin series where each team plays each opponent once. The winner of the event is promoted up to the next level, with the lowest-ranked team being relegated down. The top level is the one that gets all of the international notice, and the one where medals are handed out.

That doesn’t mean, for a moment, that the lower levels are less important. At worst, it allows some of the best players in our country to show how good they are on an international stage. And at best, each year takes us one step closer to the so-called big leagues. Imagine knowing that in two years, we could see Ashley Tait, Danny Meyers and Stephen Murphy facing up to Sidney Crosby, Shea Weber and Carey Price.

Pretty nice mental image, right?

So the situation this far is that in 2011, Team GB came out on top of Division 1, Group B and were promoted up to Group A. I think it’s fair to say that they struggled a little, and last year – after losing all 5 of their games – were relegated back down to Group B. It’s all good though. This year is going to be their year.

The coach for Team GB is Doug Christiansen, most recently of the Sheffield Steelers. Along with his assistant coaches, Corey Neilson (Nottingham Panthers) and Peter Russell (Team GB Under 18s), they’re hoping to get the team back up to Group A. It has to be assumed that their other intention is to build a team that is strong enough to stay there and be competitive. I’d personally like to think that we have enough great British-born players in the EIHL that this is more than possible.

There are currently 28 players listed on the squad, but that will be reduced down to 23 after two home internationals this weekend against Netherlands. This will be a great opportunity to watch players who, only a week ago, were facing off against each other, and will now be working side-by-side wearing the Union Flag.

The first home international game will be taking place in Sheffield on Saturday 12th April, with the second on Sunday 13th in Coventry.

If you haven’t yet booked your tickets for these games, you can get them for Sheffield via www.sivtickets.com or telephone 0114 2233777. For Coventry, you can call 02476 630693, visit the Skydome Box Office, or purchase via the website www.planet-ice.co.uk/coventry.

The first game in Lithuania is on Sunday 20th April at 11am our time, when Team GB play against Croatia. You can probably buy tickets for this game too, but the travel might be a little more complicated.

 

 

Feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac