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Sheffiled dominates Superleague

(22-11-00 12:56 Jack Barron) Latest news from Superleague and from the last Autumn Cup to be sponsorized by Benson & Hedges.

Author: © Chad the Cuddly Wolf Author information
Date: 22-11-00
Other languages: French (by Jack Barron), Czech

The Sekonda Ice Hockey Super League has been running for two months and already it seems like eight of the nine clubs are battling for second place. One of the favourites for the title, Sheffield Steelers have blasted out of the blocks, racking up 14 wins out of their first 16 games. The Steelers even won at great rivals Manchester for the first time in almost three years. Only sparkling netminding from ex-Pittsburgh Penguin Frank Pietrangelo kept the Steelers at bay for much of the game, but the Yorkside grabbed a 3-0 lead. However, the Storm mounted a comeback and had the Steelers on the ropes at 3-2 until an empty net goal sealed the win.

Leading the chasing pack is the Manchester Storm. The 1998 champions are already showing the capacity to frustrate their fans and are struggling to find any sort of consistency. You might as well flip a coin than guess how the Storm will fare on any night - two 4-3 overtime wins against Nottingham have been balanced out by three heavy defeats on the road, in Sheffield, Ayr and Newcastle. In an effort to increase the attacking firepower, Greg Bullock and Kevin Brown have been brought in and made an immediate impact on the scoresheet. However, the Storm's main problem has been their defence, as in-form netminders Frank Pietrangelo and Dave Trofimenkoff have been under heavy fire from opposition snipers. Pietrangelo is currently injured, having pulled a groin muscle and it is doubtful how long the Storm can last without their Stanley Cup-winning netminder.

In third place are the London Knights. Chris McSorley's men achieved the virtually impossible by not only beating Sheffield, but doing so on home ice and with a shutout to boot. Trevor Robins was the hero for the Knights, stopping all shots, including a penalty shot for a 2-0 win. However, after a fast start, the Knights have lost their last three games, including a vital home game against Steelers, 3-1.

Nottingham are in fourth and frustrating their fans immensely. Coach Alex Dampier built an impressive squad on paper but the Panthers just haven't clicked on the ice. Jordan Willis has been on fine form in the Nottingham net but the Panthers often come out on the wrong end of close scorelines, two 4-3 overtime defeats to Manchester and to make things worse, a close loss in the B&H Cup semi-final to the deadly rivals from Sheffield.

After a fairytale run to the playoff finals last year, many tipped Newcastle Jesters to have a good season and the side, coached by Timo Jalonen is quietly putting together a good string of results. The Jesters were 4-1 up against an injury-hit Steeler side but managed to lose the shootout 5-4 but apart from that, wins over Ayr and Manchester have given the Jesters long suffering fans some hope of a successful season.

Cardiff Devils are in trouble. First-year coach Doug McCarthy assembled a big, tough squad in Wales but it hasn't translated to the ice. Denis Chassé was a much sought after signing but the ex-Bracknell captain has been taking too many penalties since joining the Devils. Also struggling are netminders Derek Herlofsky and Stevie Lyle, who for so long have formed the backbone of the Devils. Consequently, much of the scoring burden has fallen to Steve Thornton and he cannot do all the work himself.

However, the biggest disappointment has to be the Ayr Scottish Eagles. In 1997, the Eagles became the only ISL team to win the Grand Slam - all four available trophies - but have not been close to repeating the feat. After a couple of mediocre seasons, the Eagles appeared to have assembled a superb squad, including the prized signings of Ed Courtenay (the leagues top scorer in the past three years) and Teeder Wynne from Sheffield. It hasn't paid off and although coach Jim Lynch retired after four seasons behind the Ayr bench for medical reasons, many fans couldn't help but think that the Eagles poor run of results had something to do with the move. Assistant Paul Heavey, fired by Cardiff after last season, took the reins and the Eagles have responded with heavy home wins over Manchester (5-1) and Bracknell (7-0).

Bracknell Bees are still struggling with a small bench and several netminder injuries. They have brought in forward Stéphane Roy, who scored twice in a 6-3 win over Manchester, the Bees first win of the season at the Hive in Bracknell. Things were not helped by an early injury crisis, netminders Brian Greer and Joe Watkins were both sidelined, forcing the Bees to call up a 20 year old, Mike Summerfeldtz. Despite some excellent netminding from the youngster, it just wasn't good enough and the Bees have continued to try and make up lost ground.

At the bottom are expansion club Belfast Giants. Despite drafting in the coach and six players from last years Championship winning Bracknell Bees squad, the Giants are forced to play on the road until their new Arena is finished. They have fallen to several close defeats but appear to be making particular victims of the Nottingham Panthers, twice scoring overtime winners. After several cruel defeats, the Giants finally managed to win a game in regulation time, Rod Stevens goal just 18 seconds fron the final whistle made history as the Giants pulled off a 2-1 win over the London Knights. However, all in Belfast are looking to December 2nd, when the Giants play the first game in their new building.

Benson & Hedges Cup

The B&H Cup has completed the semi-final stage with the Sheffield Steelers through the final on December 9th at the Sheffield Arena. The Steelers beat the Bracknell Bees in the quarter finals but there run seemed in doubt when they met Nottingham in the semi-finals. In the first leg in Sheffield, the Panthers left with only a 2-1 loss and hopes were high for the return in Nottingham. However, Sheffield scored 3 goals in 68 seconds to effectively seal the tie and despite a hattrick from PC Drouin, the Panthers lost at home 5-4, the tie 7-5.

Their opponents will be the Newcastle Jesters. The Jesters won the first leg 3-2 and travelled to London only to find the ice was unplayable after a concert the night before. The Knights were hoping to make it thourhg to the final for the second year running after losing last year's game to Manchester in a thrilling penalty shootout, yet it was the Newcastle club who made it through after a 2-1 win in the capital. It will be the first ever B&H Cup Final for the Jesters.

Around the league

Cardiff Devils released James Hanlon and replaced him with Travis Brigley.

London Knights brought in ex-NHL man Bill Huard but almost immediately lost him as he flew to Canada for family reasons. He is expected back in about six weeks. They have also signed Terry Marchant and Dave Morrisette but David Vallières has left to return to the ECHL and Florida Everblades.

Manchester Storm forward Jason Glover returned to the UHL, citing family reasons. His wife had given birth to a baby boy in Manchester and this meant he was finding it difficult to settle. Another Storm forward, Shayne Stevenson, has been deregistered by the club after suffering concussion. His career has probably ended, as he has suffered concussions several times before and medical advice is that he should not play again. In comes Barrie Moore, an ex-IHL forward.

Sheffield Steelers have signed forward Brent Bobyck as cover for the injured Paul Beraldo and ex-Nottingham legend Paul Adey.

Jokerit Helsinki have sold their stake in the Newcastle Jesters to the other owners, the Eye Group. Jokerit saved the Newcastle club from extinction and promised to make the Jesters a force in ISL. However, for reasons unknown, the Eye Group have taken full control of the club. This is not universally popular, as Paul Smith, owner of the Eye Group, is hated by large sections of the fans in the area after selling the Durham Wasps to Sir John Hall, who then turned them into the Newcastle Cobras. (It is a long and complicated story.)

Mike Landers

Benson & Hedges Cup 2000 - Opening round

(27-09-00 Jack Barron) It's Autumn. In Great Britain, it means it will be rainy, which is not very original. It also means British clubs are already competing for their first trophy, the Autumn Cup, sponsorized for some years by Benson & Hedges. Chad the Cuddly Wolf sums up group games for OHF.

Author: © Chad the Cuddly Wolf Author information
Date: 27-09-00

The Benson & Hedges Cup is the traditional warm-up for the British hockey season and the opening round of group games have been completed. The format is that eight ISL clubs are split into two groups of four, who then play each other once at home and once on the road in a mini-league. Winners are awarded two points, with one for a tie.

Group A

                    GP   W   T   L   F   A  Pt
Ayr Scottish Eagles  6   4   0   2  23  18   8
Manchester Storm     6   3   2   1  26  24   8
Cardiff Devils       6   1   3   2  23  25   5
Bracknell Bees       6   0   3   2  18  22   3

The opening weekend of Group A threw up some interesting results. Manchester opened their defence of the Cup against old rivals and both teams managed to win in each others building. The Storm won 4-2 in Scotland, led by a Jason Glover hat trick. The following evening in Manchester, the Eagles gained revenge on the Storm, Ed Courtenay scoring two powerplay goals in the final period to win 5-3. Meanwhile, the Bracknell Bees, league champions, travelled to Cardiff with only 11 skaters to face the Devils. Despite the short bench, Bracknell led 5-2 with only six minutes left before their legs tired and Cardiff managed to equalise. In the return game, it was another late late show from the Devils, Vezio Sacratini scoring with under three minutes left to equalise at 4-4.

The next round of games were feisty affairs. Cardiff travelled to Ayr and gave the Eagles a huge fright, eventually falling 3-2. Meanwhile, in the South, Bracknell's small squad was suffering as both netminders, Brian Greer and Joe Watkins, suffered injuries. The Bees were forced to bring in Mike Summerfeldt from their junior squad to face Manchester. However, the Storm traditionally hate playing in the Hive and suffered a 10-2 loss the last time they travelled to Bracknell. Memories of that seemed to vanish when Trevor Gallant put Storm 2-0 up, but the Bees fought back to lead 4-2 with ten minutes remaining. Perry Johnson pulled a goal back to set up a thrilling finish and with a Bracknell player in the penalty box, Manchester withdrew the goalie and scored to make the final score 4-4.

Not content with getting out of jail once, Manchester did it again the following night. The Storm led five times against the Devils but on each occasion, Cardiff equalised. The Devils were leading 6-5 with twelve seconds left on the clock when Blair Scott wristed the puck into the net to grab a 6-6 draw. The highlight of the game was Devils Steve Thornton, who scored 4 goals. In Bracknell, the Bees took on the Eagles and still without any senior goalie, played well in losing 2-4.

Cardiff returned to Wales to face Ayr in a bad-tempered game. Eagles defenceman Scott Young received a Gross Misconduct penalty and coach Jim Lynch was dismissed from the bench for obscene gestures. Lynch ended up with a Ł250 fine and a two game ban for his conduct. It hurt the club as well, as the Devils won the game 4-3. The Bees travelled to Ayr and again gave them a fright before going down 5-3, a win that confirmed Eagles place at the top of the group.

The two remaining games were both wins for Manchester. They travelled to Cardiff and were 2-0 up after just three minutes before being pegged back to 2-2 by halfway through the first. However, goals from Perry Johnson and Greg Bullock ensured the Storm left Wales with both points after a 4-2 win. The Storm returned home to face the Bees and were confident of beating them, especially as the Bees have won just once in Manchester's Nynex Arena in 15 games. Bracknell were 2-0 up after 27 minutes though a pair of goals from Joe Cardarelli. Manchester scored twice in 20 seconds to equalise and despite going behind twice more, the Storm won the game 5-4, with Corey Spring scoring a hat-trick.

Group B

                    GP   W   T   L   F   A  Pt
Sheffield Steelers   6   5   0   1  23  11  10
London Knights       6   3   0   3  13  11   6
Nottingham Panthers  6   3   0   3  11  17   6
Newcastle Jesters    6   1   0   5  13  21   2

Things went much more to form in Group B as the Sheffield Steelers won 5 of their 6 group games. They opened with a 4-2 win over the Jesters at the House of Steel before travelling to London. The Knights were losing finalists last year and hopes to go one better where dented when the Sheffield side won 3-1. The Jesters showed that they had improved on last years bottom-place league finish by leading the Steelers 5-1 in their Telewest Arena and despite two goals in the third period, Sheffield could not pull back the deficit.

Meanwhile, the Nottingham Panthers were having an inconsistent start to their season. They played their first game in the new 9000 seat Nottingham Ice Arena and beat the Knights 2-1 through a pair of goals by ex-Knight Barry Nieckar. The following night they travelled to Newcastle and beat the Jesters 4-2. From that point onwards, the wheels fell off the Panthers wagon as they faced their old enemy, Sheffield. The first game in Sheffield was won by the Steelers 6-1 in Sheffield but was a game memorable only for the fight between Dennis Vial and Barry Nieckar. Nieckar had cut Vial near the eye with a high stick and the ex-NHLer took revenge in a big brawl. Both clubs hyped up the rematch in Nottingham in such a way as to draw a warning from the ISL for promoting the blood and guts side of the sport too much and both sides behaved themselves but again the Steelers took both points, this time winning 3-1.

Meanwhile London recovered from their slow start to shutout the Panthers at home 3-0 and despite losing 4-1 in Sheffield, beat the Jesters over two games 4-1 and 3-1 to finish in second place.

Quarter finals

The teams move onto the knockout stages of the competition. The bottom placed teams in the groups must play the winners of the British National League groups in a Challenge Round, but to be honest, that shouldn't provide too much difficulty. Therefore the quarter final draw will probably look like:

Ayr        vs Newcastle
Manchester vs Nottingham
Cardiff    vs London
Bracknell  vs Sheffield

Teams will play each other home and away and the aggregate score wins. Games will be played mid-October.

Mike Landers

Preview for a league in Great Britain

(01-09-00 15:11 ada) One more night. Would you believe it? British league starts tomorrow! We would like to bring all the previews for upcoming season from hockey developed countries. Here is the first piece of work - Sekonda Ice Hockey Superleague.

Author: © Chad the Cuddly Wolf Author information
Date: 01-09-00
Other languages: French (by Jack Barron)

The Sekonda Ice Hockey Superleague enters it's fifth season by finally expanding to cover a new club. The Belfast Giants join the eight other members of the league, which promises to be as close as always. However, the league has radically changed this season, with a number of noted tough guys making the hop across the Atlantic to play here.

Things haven't been helped by the reduction in the wage cap allowed to players. The clubs are allowed to pay their players Ł450,000 ($675,000) for the season, a decrease of Ł50,000 ($75,000) on last year. This has meant the departure of many of the more skilled players to other teams in Europe. A couple of clubs were under investigation by the league for breaking the salary cap - yet unsurpsingly nothing was ever proved - so yet more clubs appear to be treating the salary cap as an inconvienience rather than a rule.

There are four trophies on offer:

  • The season starts with the Benson & Hedges Cup, where the clubs play a series of group games to decide an order for the quarter finals. The quarter-finals and semi-finals are two-legs, one home, one away before a big one-off game in Sheffield in early December.
  • The major title is the Sekonda Ice Hockey Superleague title, played over 48 games. Each club plays the others home and away three times. New this year is the addition of a 4 on 4 in overtime rule and tied games will be decided on a penalty shootout.
  • 16 of the SISL games also count towards the BBC Challenge Cup. The clubs are grouped into a separate league table, the top four of which play in semi-finals, one home, one away. The final is a one-off in London in March.
  • The season ends with the playoffs. Eight of the nine teams will qualify for the playoff stages. The teams split into two groups of four and play each other once home, once away. The top two teams in each group progress to the Finals Weekend, to be held in Manchester. The Finals Weekend has semi-finals on Saturday and the Grand Final on Sunday and is the highlight of the year as over 10,000 fans descend on Manchester for a weekend of drinking, partying and hockey.

Ayr Scottish Eagles

Since winning all four trophies in 1997-98, the Eagles have rested on their laurels, without seriously threatening to add to their trophy cabinet. This season, coach Jim Lynch has put together a squad that will definitely be pushing for honours. In comes the league's top two scorers from last year, Ed Courtenay and Teeder Wynne, travelling North from the Sheffield Steelers. On their day, the pair are unstoppable and allied with their old linemate, Tony Hand, the Eagles will certainly rack up the goals.
    The Eagles weakness appears to be at the other end. Courtenay and Wynne only see their own netminder during warm-ups, so there will not be much cover in front of Phillip DeRouville in the Ayr goal.

Belfast Giants

The Giants join the league this year playing out of the new Odyssey complex in Northern Ireland. However, the team will know each other well enough, as the coach and many of the players join from last years championship winning Bracknell Bees squad. Dave Whistle will be behind the bench leading a side that combines fast and skilful players like Kevin Riehl and Colin Ward with enforcer Paxton Schulte. The Giants will be on the road until their rink is finished in December, so league honours are unlikely. However, they cannot be discounted to pick up one of the cups.

Bracknell Bees (League champions)

The first ever trophy in Bracknell history was richly deserved last season, as the Bees were popular champions throughout the league for their entertaining play. However, many predict a "first-to-worst" campaign this time around, as most of the victorious squad have left (mostly for Belfast). Incoming coach Enio Sacilotto has brought in some good signings from around the league, but it could be a struggle.

Cardiff Devils

One of the most successful franchises in British hockey had it's worst league season ever, finishing sixth. A usually hard-working, physical group, the Devils had little or no stomach for the fight in 1999-2000. Out goes long-time coach Paul Heavey and in is former fan favourite, Doug McCarthy. The new squad is built for toughness, with noted enforcers Clayton Norris and Mike Ware prowling the ice. Up front, Ivan Matulik and Steve Thornton will continue to be thorns in the side of opposition defences and the Devils made a good signing in Denis Chasse. Hard to see where this club could go, either battling for honours or struggling to avoid propping up the rest.

London Knights (Playoff Champions)

Win-at-all-costs coach Chris McSorley assembles a new squad of hard men after finally winning a trophy last year. Arguably, the Knights should have won more than the one cup, after missing out on the B&H Cup in a penalty shootout and slumping in the league. Not much is known about the new players for the Knights, except that McSorley will change his roster as often as he changes his underwear. The Knights can be counted on to make the going rough for other sides, McSorley wants to lead the penalty table as well as the points table.

Manchester Storm (B&H Cup winners)

The Storm have new owners, a new coach and a virtually all-new team. Kurt Kleinendorst has left for the NHL, taking his smooth, fast, clean style with him. In comes Terry Christensen, bringing with him a crew of players who will be spoiling for a fight. The key is the form of netminder Frank Pietrangelo. He led the Storm to their championship in 1998-99 before suffering an injury-plagued season last year. He has already announced his retirement after this campaign and will be wanting to go out with a bang. Defensively the Storm look more than capable, though it remains to be seen where the goals are going to be coming from. Much rests on the hands of Marty Flichel and Jason Glover.

Newcastle Jesters

Another new name for the Newcastle club, previously the Cobras and the Riverkings. Owners Jokerit Helsinki have shipped over many Finns, hoping to buld on their surprise appearance in the playoff finals. To add a bit of muscle, Louis Bedard and Craig Binns will be willing to drop the gloves to protect their teammates. Last year the club had a habit of beating the top teams and losing to the lower sides and a similar yo-yo season could be on the cards.

Nottingham Panthers

Finally moving out of their rink into a brand new 9,000 seat Arena, the Panthers have brought out their chequebook this year. Key signing is PC Drouin from Bracknell, who will bring a touch of quality to the forwards. Ex-NHLer Jim Paek adds experience to the defence and Barry Nieckar will be keeping the opposition honest. The Panthers will be challenging for every honour.

Sheffield Steelers (Challenge Cup winners)

Rumours circulated amongst fans that the Steelers were to rename themsevles Panthers after signing half of the Nottingham squad over the summer. Coach Mike Blaisdell (himself ex-Nottingham) rebuilt a squad that had been scoring and conceding goals at an alarming rate. Out came the chequebook to build a team that will certainly give 100% every shift, and probably put a few noses out of joint in the process. Key signings include Scott Metcalfe and veteran Rick Brebant, but can Blaisdell make them gel in the locker room?

Mike Landers

British Hockey

(25-08-00 ada) In the distant past, Great Britain was among the leading European hockey countries. In 2000, though, Great Britain plays in Pool B of the World Championship. Many fans still love to watch ice hockey but the highest "Sekonda Superleague" is played by Canadians. The Ice hockey league is the only sport league common for the entire UK- including Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The youth training of British hockey prospects is at a very low level. However, this may change. There are less than TEN players born in Great Britain playing in the Sekonda Superleague. How many exactly? You can find out in the following article...

Author: © Chad the Cuddly Wolf Author information
Language correction: Emma
Date: 25-08-00
Other languages: Czech (by Mishanek), French (by Jack Barron)

At the 2000 NHL Entry Draft held in Calgary, a very rare thing occurred... the Philadelphia Flyers 6th pick, 159th overall, was a player called Colin Shields. A promising forward, Shields became only the second British player in history to be drafted by an NHL side. The first was Tony Hand, who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers with 256th pick out of 256, in 1986.
British hockey claims to be the "most popular indoor sport in the country" and this is probably true. However, such claims conveniently ignore the fact that, despite our miserable weather, most British sport takes place outdoors.

With the creation of an Ice Hockey Superleague (ISL) in 1996, the first ever fully professional league in Britain, it was hoped that a system could be established where British players would come up through the ranks. It has failed miserably. The number of British players in the ISL has dropped from 16 to just 6 this past season. They have been replaced by Canadians, Americans, Swedes, Finns or Russians who come to Britain to play for teams they have probably never heard of. Don't get me wrong, the ISL is the highest level of hockey ever seen in this country - rated between the ECHL and AHL in North America - but this level is too high, too soon and at the expense of our homegrown talent.
    The ISL has taken hockey attendances to a new level. Before 1994, Manchester had a team, the Trafford Metros, whose average attendance was about 500 fans per game. When the Manchester Storm began to play out of the 17,245 capacity Nynex Arena, they drew crowds of over 12,000. Even as the Storm enter their sixth year, they still get about 8,000 customers through the doors. And many of the fans are young kids who are ready to go out onto the ice and learn the sport. The effect of the Storm on the only skating rink in the area has been massive. Hockey schools are massively oversubscribed and the ice is constantly full of kids in Storm shirts, learning to skate.
    Unfortunately there's no structure in place in British hockey to turn these kids into professional hockey players. Talented kids get as far as the national Under-19 squad and then simply disappear.
    Things are not helped by the divide between ISL and the league below it, The British National League (BNL). The BNL was set up at the same time as the ISL and consists of clubs who facilities and budgets do not meet the criteria to join ISL. However, many of the BNL clubs used to be the "top dogs" before the ISL came along and resent the fact that they are no longer at the head of the sport in this country. This resentment has caused much friction in the sport. The ISL swept aside the "old guard" of clubs and their administrators and dragged the sport into the 1990's. It did so in such a brutal way that fans, clubs and officials became alienated from the sport that they had dedicated themselves to for so long. The very people who loved the game the most were discarded for the big money and razzmatazz of the ISL.
    Now the ISL and the BNL are beginning to realise that they need each other. The ISL cannot keep bringing foreigners into hockey just to pick up a pay cheque and then leave. The BNL is noticing that all the attention and money is focused On the ISL and wants a piece of the action. The logical arrangement is that of a "farm team", where the BNL scouts the local kids, trains them and then passes them onto the ISL club. This is how things work in much of Europe and also in North America.
    But it will never work here. The animosity between BNL and ISL clubs is such that even the suggestion of such a transfer makes tempers boil over. "How can you take our best players?" cry the BNL clubs, "Our fans won't like it if our star forward isn't available for the playoffs". But to be honest, this is just a smokescreen. If the BNL clubs were receiving the money and/or players to compensate, then they would take it with both hands.
    There is a crazy situation here in Manchester. The potential fan base is the entire North West of England, some 2.5 million people. At the moment, junior development is concentrated in one place, Altrincham Ice Rink in Manchester. There are waiting lists to join the hockey schools and the ice is always full. However there is another rink, an excellent 3,500 seater complex in Blackburn. The Blackburn management refuse to even consider a "farm team" arrangement, despite the benefits for their own struggling team, the Blackburn Hawks. But the Manchester club will not train at Altrincham as the facilities are too poor. So, they train on the ice at Blackburn, where their money is used to fund the Hawks...
    There was a delicious irony the last time the Great Britain national team played in Pool A. The GB team was stocked full of Canadians who had earned British passports and they met the mighty Team Canada. After the expected huge defeat the Man of the Match awards were presented. For Great Britain, the player selected was Rick Fera, born in Canada. For the Canucks, the player selected was Steve Thomas, born in Stockport, England.

Mike Landers

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