As if I can work it out !
Anyway, as is tradition, here’s the lowdown and predictions for the season ahead as I see it …….
BASINGSTOKE BISON (5th)
Having to start another season unsure as to whether they’ll have a rink to complete it in but Ashley Tait will be back as player coach and he has been mighty impressive in both roles since dropping down from the EIHL. The annoying Tom Ralph was a surprise departure to the Steeldogs but, that aside, its pretty much as you were so far as Bison’s strong collection of British talent is concerned. On the import front, Bison will welcome Canadian forward and former Streatham hot-shot Alex Roberts along with French journeyman forward Filip Martinec.
Tait’s impressive start at Bison fused a threadbare looking roster into a very tight and well drilled side so expect them to be rock solid from the start with, once again, the impact of their new imports key to determining if they are to be a threat to the top sides.
BRACKNELL BEES (7th)
Doug Sheppard in charge once again and most of his Bees/Bison disciples are back in camp, perhaps with the noticeable exception of import Roman Malinik. Netminding duties will presumably rest with 6′ 2″ Curtis Warburton who Bees have secured on a two way deal with EIHL Steelers. On the import front, free scoring Slovakian journeyman forward Dominik Gabaj is an interesting newcomer and will share his playing duties with an assistant coach role. Joining Gabaj will be highly rated Swedish forward Niklas Örnmarker who has put up big numbers throughout his career.
Solid and experienced rearguard. Much will depend on the two new import forwards but if they settle well then Bees will once again be a tough opponent.
LEEDS KNIGHTS (9th)
Big statement signing in appointing vastly experienced Dave Whistle as new GM and Coach. The roster looks short on numbers at the moment but has been significantly boosted in pedigree by incoming Cole Shudra (Coventry), Matty Davies (Hull) and Brandon Whistle (Telford). No imports signed as yet.
Will need at least a couple of impact (import) signings if they are going to compete at the top end of the table.
MILTON KEYNES LIGHTNING (3rd)
Lewis Clifford in charge once again. Some decent players on the bus out of MK with netminder Lawday off to Telford, Bebris back to Swindon, NM Skinns to Swindon and Ferguson to Glasgow. Brandon Stones looking likely to start as netminder and there are several “is he really a Brit” newcomers on board to join Liam Stewart who returns after his impressive last season at MK. No imports signed as yet.
Offensive quality all over this roster but how strong is that rearguard and netminder ? It was their Achilles heal last time out and the coaching of Clifford never convinces me so, although any import signings will be key, I’m not as convinced as some that they already have one hand on the trophy …. but I admit they’ll be close at least !
PETERBOROUGH PHANTOMS (6th)
Significant disruptions off-ice since the last season as the club change ownership but tactical supremo Slava Koulikov once again leads from the front as coach. The retired Ferrara brothers are the biggest losses for Phantoms but, aside from that, their well drilled Brit Pack is back for another season along with a sprinkling of youthful newcomers. Import forward Ales Padelek returns for another season of proving that age is no barrier but the second import slot remains vacant at the moment.
Koulikov knows the British game better than any coach and will guarantee another season of very well drilled, tactically astute hockey and while the roster may look less glamorous than some others, it will compete in every game it plays.
(ROMFORD) RAIDERS (8th)
Sean Easton in charge once again and his roster of hard skating, high impact, physical youngsters was one of the highlights of the last NIHL campaign. A fair few departures including key players such as Knaggs (to MK), Flynn, Huska and Jackson (to Invicta), Sullivan (to Manchester) and Novak (coaching in Norway). They have brought in Relf (Steeldogs) and Grinell-Parke (MK) and have announced the return of imports Piatek and Sladovsky.
More of the same from Raiders, especially in their rink which they have established very quickly as a fortress. Their road games let them down last time so if they can travel better then who knows but on the face of it they are going to be an impressively irritating side once again but not one equipped to challenge near the top.
SHEFFIELD STEELDOGS (4th)
Greg Wood at the helm once again and along with the best of last season’s Dogs, there is an impressive list of new inbound migrations along the M62 with Hewitt, Towner, Kirk, Bonner and import Bissonnette from Hull and Relph from Basingstoke. Only one import so far but not especially obvious that they need another !
After so many seasons of battling to avoid the wooden spoon and boosted by the best of the defunct Hull side, this really could be the Season of the Dog !
SWINDON WILDCATS (2nd)
The ever frustrated Aaron Nell is going to give it his all once again to nail that #1 spot and, once again, he has it won on paper with a strong roster ! Most of last season’s top Cats are back and added to the mix are Eddie Bebris (MK) and a string of talented Okanagan youngsters on two way deals with Bristol. Import VanKleef has not re-signed but Malasinski has …… along with new 6′ 4″ Czech forward Emil Svec. On top of a decent roster in its own right, Cats ability to put out a line of Nell, Bebris, Malasinski gives them a potency that no rival will be able to match !
Cats always win the league on paper but generally come up short on ice. Only their traditional and periodic meltdowns stop them running away with the title ….. their rivals will be hoping it will be same again !
TELFORD TIGERS (1st)
Champions coach Tom Watkins is back to lead Tigers attempts to retain their deserved title last time out. Not surprisingly the championship winning roster were keen to return and have done so but they’ve also found room to squeeze in netminder Lawday (MK) and some young talent from Raiders, Bees and even the EIHL Blaze. No imports signed as yet but another roster that hardly needs them. If they do bring in a couple to ice their cake then the trophy won’t be going far !
It’s at least as good a roster as the one that dominated the last campaign so it will be up to others to step up if they are to stop Tigers retaining the title ….. I’m not sure they will succeed !
So there it is, the NIHL National League 2021/22 will possibly finish something like ………..
1 Telford Tigers
2 Swindon Wildcats
3 Milton Keynes Lightning
4 Sheffield Steeldogs
5 Basingstoke Bison
6 Peterborough Phantoms
7 Bracknell Bees
8 Romford Raiders
9 Leeds Knights
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