By Ed Kimberley
But first, a small digression.
Most people in the world of hockey are hotly anticipating the beginning of a new NHL season and so they should; it’s looking to be an exciting year. Stories already are circulating around the newly announced hybrid icing to try and minimize injuries on icing plays, the helmet removal rule pre fight and the restructuring of the divisions.
Talent-wise, we saw an interesting offseason and it will be interesting to see which of the many rookies will be named the Calder Trophy winner. My 10 cents are that it is likely to go to, Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin. Nobody pre-draft was denying Nichushkin’s talent; comparisons were being made to Malkin and Ovechkin, BIG comparisons. Seeing him skate in pre-season, his composure on the puck is sublime. or a big guy (6ft3 – 200lbs) the comparison to Ovechkin and they way they both use speed to drive the net is proving accurate. I might be wrong, but a top 5 talent fell to 10 when the Stars picked him up because teams seemed un-easy to take a gamble on if he would (or even could) leave a KHL contract.
The deal that was struck with Jim Nill was that if Nichushkin was to not make the Stars roster/or besent down; he would be loaned back to Russia. This is another reason I think Nichushkin will step take the Calder accolade. He has everything to lose. He has made it quite clear the NHL is where he wants to be, and he’s got to prove it. The lure of the KHL has been tempting for many a Russian never to return and for the likes of MacKinnon, Jones and even Finnish centre Barkov who can mature their game close to home in the junior leagues, they can afford to play the NHL waiting game.
Back to the EIHL … And as is expected a lot of early stories are emerging. I have touched on one in my musings on March Hockey previously and this was the discipline problems the EIHL are facing. Early bans are being thrown around in an attempt to over compensate it seems for the 1 game ban to Andrew Conboy for a headbutt that caused an uproar. Since, another ban has been handed out for a headbutting to Braehead Clan defenceman Chris Frank; this time a 5 game ban.
On the ice the league is providing the fans with a hockey treat. The Cinderella story Dundee Stars sit atop of the EIHL with 5 wins in 7 and 2 losses in regulation. For me the Dundee Stars are like having a crush on someone, whilst being in love with someone else. There is a lot to love, especially the play of 3 time player of the week Goalie Dan Bakala and my pick of the litter, offensive minded defenceman Rory Rawlyk. However their grip on the top of the league might be precarious as both the inform Coventry Blaze and defending champions Nottingham Panthers are 1 win behind with 2x games in hand.
Interestingly this weekend the Panthers and the Blaze meet at the Skydome in Coventry, a game that pits two title contenders against each other for the first team this year. Both teams are happy to keep the rivalry fires burning and as I am making a cameo behind the microphone for the Blaze Webcast I get the feeling I will be a busy man that night. Both teams have a lot of stories circulating them at the minute.
Coventry are looking to be back to their title winning ways and the dynamic duo of returnee Adam Henrich and league leading goal scorer Ryan Ginand are lighting up the points columns. Ginand now sits on an impressive 12 goals in 7 games. Backstopped by an impressive Mike Zacharias who is proving trouble for opposing snipers the Blaze go into the Panthers game also sporting new Defenceman Mike Devin, who looked full of potential albeit rusty in his debut against the Dundee Stars Sunday.
Meanwhile the Panthers are seeing excellent returns in their recruitment, Guelph Storm and London Knights alumni Leigh Salters sits 4th in league scoring while 3rd year Panther Matt Francis is lighting up the goal column with 6 in 8 games and 5’7 forward Chris Capraro is proving a speedy handful going 5+6 in 8. The Sunday game will be a Challenge Cup game with the Panthers currently unbeaten in the completion in 4 games.
Up in Scotland the two stories that have caught my eye this week are of the 75th birthday of the Fife Flyers. A team older than members of the NHL’s original 6! They’re hosting a legends game to celebrate with the return of names such as former Winnipeg Jet and a veteran of nearly 900 NHL games Doug Smail and Ron Plumb who played 549 games in the WHA and a handful of games with the Hartford Whalers. From everyone at March Hockey, myself included, happy birthday Fife Flyers!
The other story was the unbelievable reception returning defenceman Michal Dobron received after inking a two year deal with the struggling Edinburgh Capitals. The Capitals have a 0-5 record in the challenge cup and a 1-3 record in the league. Albeit a good capture for the Capitals, they are seriously lacking depth and need to find some secondary scoring to supplement the combination of Curtis Leinweber and Player-Coach Richard Hartmann. Big things are expected of former CHL Playoff MVP Les Reaney but suffice to say it will be a long season if the Capitals cant find some goals.