by Ryan Goldstone (@RyanGoldstone)
THE SEASON THAT WAS
The season before last Raiders stole a well deserved fourth position to break up the old EPL teams. Last season Raiders lost some guys and added some guys.
The start was up and down with being on the wrong end of some one goal games, great for a mutual but not for a Raiders fan.
Adding Ashley Jackson proved to be a masterclass move by coach Sean Easton as he helped drive a nine-game winning streak, which caused a huge spark for the season in the Raiders camp.
Aaron Connolly and Dan Scott proved to be consistent throughout the season as Raiders continued good home form, but struggled on away ice, something I’m sure the coaching staff will want to improve on this year in the National League.
Finishing fifth last season was for some, a disappointment, but in other ways it was a transitional period with a new captain and leader at the helm.
Having Bracknell as play-off opponents for the second year in a row was always going to be interesting as Raiders came out on the top the previous year, but this time the Bees were the victors, meaning for some the season ended on a sour note.
However, the whole organisation were anticipating what the off season would bring in regards to signings and relevant positive changes off the ice too.
The new season sees Sean Easton and Alan Blyth lead the team from the benches again, two coaches who couldn’t care more for the club.
Keeping the core of the Raiders from last year including players like JJ Pitchley, Jake Sylvester, Ollie Baldock, Brandon Ayliffe and others provides great depth through all lines.
The big talking point was the two new imports in Lukas Sladkovsky and Marek Malinsky, who have both have played in a high level of European hockey.
They’re both quick, powerful and look to be hungry to prove to the organisation they are what the Raiders need long term to push on.
Also throughout the summer, Raiders see the return of Olegs Lascenko, Jacob Ranson and Ross Connolly, all having previous experience with senior hockey with the Raiders.
The big signing is Jack ‘Le Fridge’ Flynn, who brings an aggressive and speedy approach even though being way over six feet tall.
He’s a real competitor who wants to win and nothing less. I can’t really pick two guys who will stand out to anyone over the course of the season. Each players brings their own game to the team and will contribute whether it be scoring goals, making big hits or breaking out the zone and driving the team up ice.
The real deal this year was keeping Aaron Connolly and Dan Scott for another season and these guys will spur everybody on with their natural leadership skills and all round nice guy approach with the squad.
For me personally the three captaincy roles couldn’t have been chosen any better, great move by all involved in decision making.
Expectations this year for Raiders as a whole will be all about being competitive each night and have great home form. This should drive the team up the table.
Last year Raiders struggled with injuries and suspensions and is something that will have to become more positive in order for the guys to be where they want to be.
Raiders have some great assets in the team and a great blend of different playing styles whether it be somebody like JJ Pitchley, who plays on the edge and has more than enough potential to put up big points.
Or you have Jake Sylvester, who last year grabbed bucket loads of points or Mason Webster, who brings size, grit and power on every shift played.
I could sit here all day and write positive things about every player. This year Raiders have no weak player throughout the roster and for me, have no first line or third or fourth line.
Every line and every shift the guys will be given a job and a task to accomplish. Reaching the all elusive Coventry weekend, which is back to the old format, will be on the minds on every member of the Raiders squad and organisation.
A lot of people are writing the Raiders off this season, but being the youngest team in the league who all have a number of years high level senior hockey under their belts will be a positive thing.
Outskating, outworking teams in all games are how Raiders will win over the doubters and as Sean Easton said, Leicester City won the Premier League, so why can’t this happen in any other sport.”
MY TOP LINE
Top line this year for me is difficult as I don’t think Raiders will have a top line.
Every line has depth, every line has something which another doesn’t. For me personally, I would love to see Aaron Connolly with one of the imports and Jacob Ranson on forward, all bringing a personal touch to the line.
On defence I think Dan Scott and Callum Wells work well together and have the ‘boom factor’ from the blue line with their vicious slap shots.