Just like that, we’re at the halfway point of the competition and a chance, albeit a brief one, to reflect on the competition so far.
We didn’t know just what kind of competition we would get as the four teams – Nottingham Panthers, Coventry Blaze, Sheffield Steelers and Manchester Storm – all came together after such a long time out.
It’s fair to say they’ve all more than delivered and have found their stride, both individually and collectively, with varying degrees of success.
So let’s look at each team and measure where they are in the competition and weigh up whether they can all the way
They went into the tournament hoping to, in some say, try and at least match how good the 2019/20 team was and while there have been flashes of it, there are areas to improve on in the Blaze team.
Shane Owen’s form in goal is no surprise, given how well he’s served Fife Flyers and Belfast Giants in the past and defensively, they’ve been fairly steady. Having someone who’s not shy to bomb forward and help the offensive lines in Nicolai Bryhnisveen is certainly no bad thing.
At the halfway stage, coach Danny Stewart can be quite pleased with what he’s seen from his team and his only complaints have been the games against Sheffield Steelers, where they were poor the full game in the first meeting and blew out in the third period in the second meeting.
On the up side, Tristan Keck looks like a great bit of business and one Stewart may already be eyeing up for next season possibly, if one goes ahead. The return of Luke Ferrara has given them a boost, but it’s too early to judge his impact on Coventry in this series after only a couple of games.
Early signs are the tussles with Storm and Panthers will decide their fate in this tournament, but Stewart and his coaching staff can be satisfied with their progress although improvements can be made as games go on.
GRADE: B –
Solid effort, but needs more work and improvement a must
MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYER: TRISTAN KECK
One player Danny Stewart will enjoy having right now if the start to his Elite Series is anything to go by. Fast skater and handy around the crease too. The Blaze fans will be hoping he’ll keep wearing the Coventry blue next season, if there is a full campaign.
From the outside, Ryan Finnerty’s roster is one he built sensibly, adding some talented Norwegian league talent to a group of Brits he knows well from his time working in the UK.
The additions of Josh Batch, Ben Davies, Matt Haywood and Craig Peacock, not to mention the return of Ciaran Long from Belfast was a clever move by Finner, putting those guys in with the likes of Tyson Fawcett, Scott Simmonds and Dallas Ehrhardt.
Straight away, you have a group familiar with each other, albeit as opponents so the time to gel is greatly reduced and you would have to say it’s paid off so far.
The decision to trade the first pick, allowing Nottingham Panthers to pick up Ben Bowns raised many eyebrows, but Sean Bonar has proved to be a decent pickup for the Storm coach.
They’re in a similar boat to Coventry in terms of their form, but the fact they’ve saw half their fixtures go to overtime, from which they’ve won two of them shows the character in the team.
A steady team, but with three defeats in their last four, another team who need to find their winning rhythm again.
Form has slipped in recent games, but results in their next couple of games could get them back on track
MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYER: SCOTT SIMMONDS
Finnerty has always spoken of how underrated Simmonds was for his team in 2019/20, but his production and points have been good for the team so far. Fast becoming, if not already, a key player for Storm.
At the time of writing, Panthers managed to get only their second win of the competition, edging Manchester in overtime and one that could do them the world of good in the long run.
Tim Wallace’s side have shown flashes of what they can do, but it’s taking a little longer to click than perhaps the other teams so far and you hope now, it’s starting to come together.
Ben Bowns hasn’t been his usual standard, but illness counts towards that, but Jackson Whistle has proved to be more than capable when he’s been called upon.
Defensively, they haven’t been as strong as you would expect from a Nottingham team, although Liam Stenton and Brendan Ellis’ performances hasn’t gone unnoticed as they impress.
There’s talent in the forward lines, particularly Kevin Domingue and Austin Cangelosi plus Christophe Boivin has picked up some important points too.
There’s definitely more to come from this Panthers team in the second half of the regular season games, but they have to hit their stride sooner rather than later.
As stated already, we haven’t nearly seen what this team is about, but there’s time for that to change.
MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYER: KEVIN DOMINGUE
For a first year pro, Domingue has certainly been a standout for the Panthers and one that perhaps Messrs Doucet and Wallace might already have pencilled in for a full season, all going well. He hits a good shot and finds the pockets of space to execute so could be a good longer term pick up.
What else can you say about the team who have won five of their six games so far, with almost as many goals as Manchester and Nottingham combined? Steelers have been excellent and are playing as a team with a lot of confidence.
Losing John Muse in the first game was undoubtedly a blow for Aaron Fox, but what a talent they have in Ben Churchfield, who has grown in confidence with every game. He won’t want to lose his spot easily, that’s for sure.
Bringing back Jonathan Phillips, Davey Phillips and Rob Dowd were always going to be smart moves. The return of Tanner Eberle must be a real bonus for Fox, given he hasn’t played in over a year, not to mention how good Liam Kirk has become on his return to these shores.
Imports wise, Jeremy Beaudry looks every bit as impressive as Ben O’Connor was, with the ability to produce points as a D-man when joining the offence.
Plus Sondre Olden has come into his own in the last two or three games, adding another edge to an already talented group of players.
Steelers have got into the groove early and, as the other teams can testify, will punish at any given opportunity. You can expect more of the same in the rest of the games to come.
That one loss to Manchester is the one small gloss to take of Steelers’ shine, but an otherwise excellent campaign that can get better for them
MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYER: TANNER EBERLE
For a player to come in cold after over a year out of action to be leading the scoring charts is impressive and even he would be amazed to be in this position. This was a difficult choice, but Eberle edges it because of his previous inaction so wait for when he really hits his stride.