The 2017/18 Elite League is upon us and fans are finally able to see the new format in action after a long summer wait.
Instead of two conferences of five, we now have three conferences and each contains four teams. The newcomers are Milton Keynes Lightning and Guildford Flames, who will play in the newly created Patton Conference, along with Coventry Blaze and Manchester Storm. Scottish quartet Braehead Clan, Dundee Stars, Edinburgh Capitals and Fife Flyers now compete for the Gardiner Conference. Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils, Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers form in the Erhardt Conference.
The teams will play each side in their own conference four times at home and four times away, and will do battle with teams in the other conferences twice home and twice away, meaning they each play 56 games in the season. There is plenty of hockey to look forwards to then, and it is worth analysing the leading contenders and their chances of seizing glory this season.
A review of the leading betting sites shows that many bookmakers with trustworthy reputations are offering odds on the 2017/18 season, showing that the league is growing in popularity. As things stand the Cardiff Devils are currently the 13/5 favourites with Paddy Power and that is understandable after their success last season. Cardiff won their first league title in 20 years, wrapping it up with a fantastic 6-2 win over the Sheffield Steelers.
They have bolstered their roster in the off-season by snapping up 6ft 4ins Canadian defenceman Drew Paris, who joins from MODO Hockey in Sweden. “He is a great skater and very mobile,” says coach Andrew Lord. “He is a big strong guy that is going to win battles in the corners and in front of the net.” Also in at Cardiff is another Canadian, Justin Faryna, who scored 59 goals and got 59 assists in 113 matches with the Dundee Stars. They strengthen an already impressive roster and the Devils will take some stopping this season, especially after recently pulling off a magnificent victory over HC Davos at Ice Arena Wales.
However, the Steelers will fancy their chances after denying Cardiff a grand slam last season by winning the playoffs 6-5 in second overtime against the Devils. They are the 7/2 third favourites with Bet365 and have at their disposal the precocious talent that is Liam Kirk. The 17-year-old has caught the eye of NHL teams thanks to his speed, quick hands and raw talent, and he is tipped for a great future. But he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground and is fully focused on the Elite League. It was flattering, but I try not to think about things like that, really – there’s no point in putting pressure on myself,” he said, before admitting that it is every youngster’s dream to cross the Atlantic and make it in the NHL. With Kirk in their ranks and a strong and settled side, they look a dangerous team.
But one team that is really fancied to challenge Cardiff are the Nottingham Panthers. While the Devils were beating HC Davos, the Panthers – playing their second season in Europe – beat SC Bern 4-2, making it a great week for British clubs. “It was special for everybody involved,” said coach Corey Neilsen after seeing the Panthers top Group F with three wins from four. Most of the action among punters is going on the Panthers, who are 11/4 with 10Bet, a generous price when Paddy Power will only go to 15/8. They offer greater value than the Devils and look to be in fantastic form heading into the new season, so they look a great option right now.