By Will Martyn (@BoxingGeek)
THE SEASON THAT WAS
The 2018/19 season was a happy one for the Guildford Flames and its supporters. Building on a successful debut EIHL season that surprised many, the Flames ended the campaign as Patton Conference Champions, secured a fifth place league finish and reached both the Challenge Cup final and Play-off finals weekend. Not a bad return for a team in only its second EIHL season.
Roster wise, Paul Dixon built on the Flames’ inaugural EIHL line up, bringing in size and AHL experience in the form of 6’5″ Corbin Baldwin and added to his University of Alberta core, with the skilful TJ Foster.
But Dixon’s key objective was to retain the core of the successful Flames line up, which had attracted suitors from many of the arena teams.
Captain Jesse Craige and slapshot king, Calle Ackered, both built on excellent seasons and the stellar top line of Watters, Reddick and Dunbar was as good as any in the league. Centreman Kruise Reddick was the pick of the bunch with 81 points across all competitions.
The Flames no longer looked like the new boys, who had flair but were regularly out muscled. They now looked like a unit who had learnt from the previous season, made key personnel changes where required and were able to challenge the very best in the league on a consistent basis.
Dixon will have been satisfied as he reflected over the summer break.
This summer, the Flames have rightly prioritised retaining the majority of the 18/19 roster, built around the nucleus of University of Alberta alumni (Craige, Ferguson, Reddick, Foster and Crooks).
As we stand, only third liners, Kevin King and Evan Janssen are confirmed as not returning, with goalie Chris Carrozzi and centreman, Evan Ritt, also not expected to return.
In addition, the club have focused on strengthening an area that will please fans and bring balance to the team – its British contingent.
Stevie Lee returns to the club he joined as a teenager in 08/09 and is somewhat of a coup, bringing experience, quality and joining off the back of a successful post season campaign with Team GB.
Equally, re-signing GB hero, Ben Davies, will be a hugely popular signing with Flames fans and further highlights the ability of the club to hold onto the players that it sees as most valuable.
The promising Owen Griffiths has also joined from MK Lightning and alongside Josh Waller, offers a glimpse into what the Flames’ British core could look like in years to come.
The Flames’ “signing of the summer”, however, took place in early August with defenceman Jordan Rowley joining from Pelicans in Finland’s Liiga, reuniting with his ex Alberta Golden Bears teammates, bringing experience, high level skating ability and offensive upside.
He’s certainly one to watch – only one piece of the jigsaw remains vacant – the second of the Flames’ two import netminders.
With Chris Carrozzi not expected to return, Flames need to bring in a high end goalie, able to share the load with Travis Fullerton. It’s a key signing that could be the difference between silverware and not. Watch this space.
Overall, the Flames have again strengthened in the right areas and fans will be delighted with the summer’s recruitment activity.
The Guildford Flames and its fanbase move into the 19/20 campaign with a sense of optimism, coupled with a healthy dose of realism.
Yes, the team has been unquestionably strengthened, building on strong foundations and it’s a more balanced roster with added depth and homegrown quality.
However, the Flames’ rivals have also had equally impressive off seasons and the arrival of talent direct from the KHL, SHL and AHL is a reminder that the Flames are not yet amongst the biggest hitters in the league.
But the optimism is justified. The Flames have added talent consistent with the DNA of the team – further speed, skill and compete level.
Wholesale change were not required and evolution rather than revolution was the correct call. Dixon, the owners and the fans will be hoping for some form of silverware and with this roster, it can’t be ruled out.
Flames fans can be a noisy bunch, both in the away section and on The Hockey Forum, but watching a team like this home & away is a joy and the fans have a lot to shout about.
MY TOP LINE
Expected top line come puck drop: Watters – Reddick – Dunbar. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.