Usual suspects looking strong

The Elite League is now up and running with Cardiff Devils out to defend their regular season title and Sheffield Steelers the reigning play-off champions after beating the Welsh outfit in the Grand Final on April 9.

The league has expanded from ten to 12 teams this season, with the Guildford Flames and the Milton Keynes Lightning joining the party, and the teams have now been placed in three conferences of four teams each.

The Erhardt Conference looks very strong, with Cardiff and Sheffield joined by Nottingham Panthers and Belfast Giants once again as Coventry switch to the newly-formed Patton Conference, and it would not be a surprise to see some or all of the season’s silverware won by these teams.

The Devils have won two from two early on, with Joey Haddad and Justin Faryna outstanding, as the latter bagged the overtime goal that sunk Sheffield.

He was one of five new additions in the off-season, while the fact that the core of their double-winning squad remained in place means they are the team to beat.

Canadian defenceman and reigning EIHL player-of-the-year, Andrew Hotham, has re-signed for a fourth season and given the Welshmen a solid look.

Sheffield are clearly a side who want to win trophies as they brought in eight new faces over the summer, but it is the fact they managed to retain the services of forwards Mathieu Roy and Colton Fretter, netminder Ervins Mustukovs and defenceman Zack Fitzgerald that gives them a fighting chance of glory.

The Panthers qualified for the play-offs but went no further than the quarter-finals last season and it is at the back where they have made big changes.

Out have gone netminders Miika Wiikman, Jindrich Pacl and Dan Green, with former NHL star Mike Garnett, Russian youngster Eduard Zakharchenko and Brit Sam Gospel now on board.

Brett Perlini, the older brother of Arizona Coyotes forward Brendan Perlini, has joined the East Midlands outfit, while former Vancouver Canucks defenceman Yann Sauve, Raphael Bussierres and Zack Phillips will ply their trade at the National Ice Centre.

Evan Mosey is also back and it may be that the Nottingham fans may have something to cheer about this term.

Adam Keefe has taken over the head coach’s role in Belfast after the departure of Derrick Walser and he seems to have recruited a nice mix of youth and experience.

Sebastien Sylvestre, Kevin Raine and Darcy Murphy have been joined by veterans Dustin Johner, Jonathan Ferland and Cole Jarrett and they will surely not be too far away at the business end of the season.

While the rest of the teams are clearly not involved just to make up the numbers, it is hard to look past the Erhardt Conference for possible winners this season but it will be interesting to see how the new boys fare.

Milton Keynes have made a decent start with two wins from three but Guildford have yet to taste victory and it could be a long season for the Flames.

Bookie comparison sites like Bookmaker Advisor list the best bonuses on offer for those who like a flutter on ice hockey betting and it seems as the smart money could be on Cardiff or Sheffield once more.

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