Interviews

FORMER GB and Coventry Blaze coach Paul Thompson reckons the Scots teams will find it tough reaching the play-off finals this year – but doesn’t rule it out.


Thommo, now assistant coach at Swedish side Troja-Ljungby, gave his thoughts on the Scottish quartet with the season beginning this Saturday.

And he admits the Gardiner Conference was far more exciting than the one his Coventry team were involved with in the Erhardt Conference.

Thompson said: “As an outsider, watching the Gardiner Conference was phenomenal last season. 

“It went down to the wire and was far more exciting than what went on in the other Conference in the last two weeks.

“I think the Gardiner Conference and the Scottish teams are improving again and it’ll be tough for at least one of the Scots teams to reach the last four this year.

“I’m not for a second saying it’s not going to happen, but the money spent, from the top three and four teams gives them more of an advantage.”

The four Scots outfits – Braehead Clan, Edinburgh Capitals, Dundee Stars, Fife Flyers – will again join Hull Stingrays to battle it out for the Gardiner title.

Braehead won it last season despite a season disrupted by injury and off-ice problems.

But the competitiveness of their other rivals certainly made it fascinating viewing for observers of the game.

THOMPSON ON BRAEHEAD CLAN:

“I was a little surprised by how disappointing Braehead were last year.  They had good British depth and I thought their roster was a solid one.

“They were up and down all season then there was the coaching change in the middle, with Paul Gardner replacing Jordan Krestanovich, which disrupted things.

“Now Ryan Finnerty’s come in from Sheffield Steelers and to me, he’s building a Coventry-style team that’s feisty and has good scoring.

“He will bring a North American style and make Braehead a pain in the backside to play against.

“I also think coming to a club that doesn’t have the expectation that an outfit like Steelers has will help him and Braehead.”

THOMPSON ON DUNDEE STARS:

“I think Jeff Hutchins did a good job at Dundee in his first season.  They weren’t an overly talented team and I don’t mean any disrespect when I say that.

“They were more a workman-like team and everyone knew they relied a lot on their goalie Nic Riopel, who kept them in games and snatched wins.

“We didn’t have it easy at Coventry and had to win on penalty shots so they were a tough team to beat.

“Dundee have replaced Riopel with Dan Bakala this year and I think there’s more scoring in their roster, plus more talent that can help them edge the tight games.

“There are a lot of coaches who learn year in year out and Jeff has gone back to what he knows.”

THOMPSON ON EDINBURGH CAPITALS:

“Not a lot was spoken of what Edinburgh did in the league last year and for me, it was the best thing that was done with the resources they’ve got.

“They finished in a high position last season and Hartmann doesn’t go around telling everyone what he’s done.  Scott Neil and him just go about things.

“I thought they were the hell of a team last year.  When they were on their game on that big ice, they turned over top sides time and again and were fantastic.

“They had the lowest resources of all teams in the league, however it could be hard for them this year.

“Losing Rene Jarolin’s scoring is a big miss, but Hartmann plays the local kids, gives them lots of confidence and plays the hell out of them.”

THOMPSON ON FIFE FLYERS:

“Fife made a huge improvement last season and I expect them to take another big step this year.  Using their full import quota they were one hell of a team.

“They took Nottingham Panthers all the way in the play-off quarter finals last season and Panthers were undoubtedly the best team in the Elite League.

“If Fife had met anyone else at that stage, they could have been in the final four.  I can see Todd Dutiaume and Danny Stewart building another strong, fast team.

“I think speed is the key on those big ice pads and Fife are steadily improving and they’ll want to do better than last year.

“There’s a plan at the club and it’s not a sprint for them, it’s a marathon and they’re building nicely.”

ICE HOCKEY fans may have all the merchandise their club can supply, know all the players on first name terms, but do they travel the length of the country to support their team at home?


Meet Steve Johnston, from Paisley, who loves his team so much he makes a 700-mile round trip once a month to go and see them.

Steve is a supporter of Milton Keynes Lightning in the English Premier League and will routinely make the journey to watch Nick Poole’s men.

But what possibly tie does a man from Paisley have with a club so far away?

Steve explains: “Basically, I go because I love my team and I like to travel at least once every four or five weeks. I was a Paisley Pirates fan and I moved down south for work reasons 15 years ago.

“I went to see the old Milton Keynes Kings play the Pirates one night and then became a Kings fan until they folded.

“From then, the Lightning started up and I’ve been following them ever since.

“I lived there for 10 years and moved back to Paisley five years ago for family reasons and I found I was getting withdrawal symptoms by not going.

“So I started making a point of going once a month as well as the away games at Sheffield Steeldogs and Manchester Phoenix as they aren’t as far to travel.”

For this season, Lightning are having to play their home games at Coventry’s Skydome Arena, home of Coventry Blaze as refurbishment is carried out at their Planet Ice home.

The 45-mile diversion won’t be a problem for Steve, who insists he will still make his way south of the border despite the change of venue.

He added: “Although the team have to play their home games at the Skydome, I’ll still do it the same way.  I’ve got friends in Milton Keynes and I’ve got work down there so once the work’s out of the way, I’ll still go.

“I have my own car valeting company, Miracle Klean Valeting, so having work to do keeps me out of the pub all day.”

Steve also follows his local team, SNL champions Paisley Pirates and was delighted to see them win the league and win it in the way they did.

He admits he’s not struck with Braehead Clan, who also play out of nearby Braehead Arena and Elite League hockey.

And he also reserved special praise for the Turley family, who have oversaw the club as they claimed the SNL title last season.

He said: “In the weeks I don’t visit MK, I’ll go and see the Pirates, but I won’t see Braehead Clan.  I’ve seen them before, but I’m not an Elite League fan.  I just don’t rate that level of hockey.

“I think the Turleys have done so well resurrecting Paisley Pirates into what they are now and getting them back up there on the budget they have.

“The whole family are the driving force behind it and I was delighted for them when they won the SNL last season.  It’s certainly good to see some success at the club now.”

As the new season looms large, Lightning have prepared for their return to the ice and included the arrival of a third Scot to their ranks.

Jordan Cownie was added to the roster, joining Lewis Christie and alternate captain Grant McPherson, making up what he calls the “Jock Mafia”.

It’s that affinity with his countrymen that makes Steve sponsor their play-off jerseys.

In terms of the club’s fortunes though, the 45-year-old believes the year in Coventry could affect things on the ice and predicts an underwhelming campaign.

He said: “Signing Jordan makes it three Scots in the team and that means we can add him to our “Jock Mafia” photo along with Grant, Lewis and myself.

“It’s become a tradition now as I always sponsor their play-off shirts so I’m pleased there’s another Scot signed for the team.

“As for the season ahead I think this will be an up and down season for Lightning.  With every game being an away game basically, it’s going to be tough for us.

“Mid-table is probably the best we could do, perhaps fifth or sixth, just purely down to the upheaval.  Not every fan is going to travel to Coventry every week.

“Finances could play a part and while the club have reduced ticket prices, there won’t be that same following you get in Milton Keynes.”

“I’m just looking forward to going down and getting involved again regardless.”

FORMER Braehead Clan forward Matt Schepke says he tried to talk former team-mate Nathan Moon into staying at Evansville Icemen.

MARTIN CINGEL says the thought of coaching wasn’t something that entered his mind as he looked ahead to next season.

 

LEE ESDERS believes his move to Braehead Clan can give him a better chance of winning silverware.

by Craig Anderson, photos by Derek Black (www.centre-ice.co.uk)

TRISTAN HARPER admits he didn’t see eye to eye with Dundee Stars coach Jeff Hutchins – but is looking ahead to his new start with Braehead Clan.

EXCLUSIVE by Craig Anderson

KEVIN BERGIN revealed he applied to be the head coach of Braehead Clan – but is just as excited at becoming the club’s player-assistant coach instead.

by Craig Anderson

JEFF HUTCHINS is hopeful new capture Francis Meilleur can give Dundee Stars an aggressive edge.

by Craig Anderson, photos by Joanne Ham (www.joanneham.com)

COLIN SHIELDS says he is excited about working under Belfast Giants’ new coach Paul Adey – and believes the off-ice problems last season has galvanised the club.

by Craig Anderson, photos by Derek Black (www.centre-ice.co.uk)

CRAIG CHALMERS admits he’s going to have to up his game now that he’ll be an Elite League netminder with Dundee Stars.

by Craig Anderson, photos by Dean Woolley (follow Dean on Twitter @woolster80)

CHRIS FRANK says not reaching the play-off weekend this year was one of the worst experiences of his career – now he wants to make amends at Braehead Clan.