by Ian Mowforth (@IMowforth)
THE SEASON THAT WAS
Fans of Hull/Humberside ice hockey teams are used to experiencing an unabated decline in their fortunes. Rising from the ashes of yet another collapsed team in 2015, the reformed club gave renewed confidence to what had become the sport’s most cynical set of fans.
Moving into the 2017/18 campaign, there was a high expectation of silverware until hopes were dashed by an impressive Sheffield Steeldogs side who ran out deserved winners of the Northern Conference.
In fairness to Pirates’ MD, Shane Smith, he persisted with the same coach and mainly local born players for the 2018/19 campaign. However, by Christmas, injuries to key personnel, suspensions and loss of an import netminder left Hull adrift.
Vital to the Pirates’ revival was the signing of Sonny Karlsson, Lubomir Korhon and Kevin Phillips and in a series of epic clashes, Hull triumphed over rivals Telford and Sheffield, taking the Northern Conference and Northern Playoff titles.
The stage was then set for an unexpected treble.
The Coventry Playoff Final was an heroic game where, after a scare against Bracknell, Hull met Peterborough Phantoms.
The game was a tour-de-force for the NIHL1 as Hull triumphed courtesy of an astonishing overtime save from Ash Smith and a wonder goal from Bobby Chamberlain, but the hero of the hour was undoubtedly, Sonny Karlsson.
The diminutive Swede led his side by example, pitching in two vital goals, one shortly after returning onto the ice with a lip severed in half.
After a wait of 27 years since Hull/Humberside last achieved league success, there was not a dry eye among the long-suffering Hull supporters.
Hull is lucky to have only lost James Archer among their senior GB players but recruitment of new players has been fraught.
Supporters, who only months earlier heralded Shane Smith’s success, began to sound their displeasure at what was perceived a cumbersome recruitment process.
Unfazed, Shane, Commercial Manager Andre Payette and Coach Hewitt held their nerve and recruited wisely right up to the first faceoff of the new season.
On paper, the squad appears little different to last season’s but one year on, Hull’s young players are more mature and battle-hardened.
More taxing, is replacing the departing Karlsson and Korhon, two of the league’s standout players the previous season.
Off ice, Hull continues to improve but such an embryonic club is bound to suffer teething problems, not least from a heightened level of fan expectation.
The Pirates’ recruitment of Peter Fabus and Olegs Sislannikovs, replacing their outgoing imports, is an intriguing piece of business.
Neither player offers what Korhon and Karlsson delivered yet this is a more foreboding league requiring different talents.
Both players are new to the UK and will take time to settle but they have great pedigree and should succeed.
Where the Pirates’ player strength lies is in the depth of GB talent. Few National League teams can compete with the devastating firepower of Jason Hewitt, Bobby Chamberlain and Matty Davies, a true match for any imports.
I expect all three to be among the leading points scorers in the league but believe that this is a season when Lee Bonner will mature to be the player that I and many others have been anticipating.
Improvements in media, forming innovative partnerships with local colleges and businesses, has brought a refreshing impetus but like most teams in the new National League, there is an element of the unknown dictating development.
Until every team has met there is little likelihood of even the most knowledgeable pundit predicting the outcome of the 2019/20 season.
There is a perception that the Pirates are brittle in defence, although it is not a theory that is supported statistically, there is no denying that Hull focus heavily upon offence; they are after all the most exciting team to watch below the EIHL.
Expect Assistant Player-Coach Kevin Phillips to be a standout D-man, especially following injury early in the campaign to club captain and fellow blue-liner, Jamie Chilcott.
It is also a year in which netminder Ash Smith will continue his steady improvement, belying his tender age.
I never engage in predictions but expect Hull Pirates to be somewhere above second place in the inaugural National League season.