by Adam Robinson (@adghog)
THE SEASON THAT WAS
Thinking back to how I felt about last season, my emotions were mixed.
The Steeldogs’ primary goal was to repeat as league champions, and on that front, they came agonisingly close. Losing, at home, to bitter rivals Hull on the last game of the season is a bitter pill to swallow but coming one game short of playing in every possible game is something to be proud of.
The Dogs were able to lift silverware in Telford, following one of the most complete performances I’ve seen in a long time, in that home leg. That was a thrill. But the manner of losing in the playoff semi-final in Coventry was upsetting. I felt particularly for Brandon Stones who looked totally dejected after the final whistle.
The Dogs generally beat the teams they were expected to, were given tough games by the teams that were expected to and had close-fought games with the teams that they will largely face this season.
My expectations at the start of the season were for the Dogs to be in the mix for all trophies and they certainly were.
We kept the core together but did lose one or two key players. So, expectations were high. For the most part the Steeldogs delivered; but I still think the league title race ending the way it did disappointed everyone. Could it have lingered into the playoffs, perhaps, but hopefully it can act as a catalyst for the next season.
Behind the bench Greg Wood returns in a non-playing capacity. I imagine Morgs and Greg will see very much eye to eye on a lot of detail.
They’ve known each other for a long time and played together for a long time. Perhaps they won’t think as one, but with Greg off the ice – and perhaps more autonomy than previous bench coaches – then perhaps that different perspective could be telling.
However, the biggest changes have been firmly on the playing side. Almost half the team have departed, with every position group affected. Both “Imports” have changed, and every line affected in some way. The link-up with the Steelers is also a long-overdue, but welcome addition to the Steeldogs’ toolkit.
It will be interesting to see how frequently the players named, play at the NIHL level as that could be key to dictating how the Steeldogs go this season.
There has been so much change, it’s hard to pick out a couple of players who could stand-out this season, but I’m curious to see how the two imports adapt to the league.
That and how the inevitable change-up in lines mesh together, how some players adapt to life in the NIHL National and certain young players cope with expectations on their shoulders.
It’s also difficult not knowing how much we’ll see of the likes of Kieran Brown and Cole Shudra at that level. If there is “one to watch” I suspect it has to be Alex Graham. He burst on to the scene at the start of the year and on turning 16.
He’s still young but already has U-20 GB and a Steelers’ apprenticeship on his resume, so I think this could be his opportunity to shine.
New league, new structure, new teams. Where do I see the Steeldogs stacking up? Copout answer, it’s really hard to gauge when there’s so much change to the roster and to the league.
At this stage some teams look a little light on numbers, so with those remaining spots to be filled it could be that they tip some of the balance in certain circumstances.
My gut feeling is that we will be competitive. We have strong goaltending, an experienced D-core who are supplemented by young players on the up and a forward group that contains a mix of speed, power and skill.
Also one that blends experience and youth, with some players looking to prove they belong at a higher level. If that attitude can be properly harnessed it could be dangerous for any opposition.
I think on any given night we can go into a game and expect to get something out of it. Games will be close. Swindon, for sure, will test our defensive prowess. Peterborough will test the tactical mettle of the team. Hull will test a lot of things, particularly our special teams play, but each game should be competitive and neither team will be clear favourites.
My instinct says we should be in the top half of the table, based on how things stand as they are now. With a bit of luck and fair wind, we could even be pushing top three.
On any given night I believe we can beat anyone else, but will that be enough to win the league, who knows.
Will that be enough to win something? I sincerely hope so. Currently, I do not think we are the favourites to win it all, but I do think we are amongst the chasing pack and we do have a chance.
MY TOP LINE
Spurr – Danecek – Graham.
I’ve said elsewhere that I think Alex Graham will be afforded the opportunities that Liam Kirk was a few years ago. And that will mean major ice time to “prove himself”. The early results from last year were positive, lets see if he can replicate now that he’s a marked man.
I think the top line will be centred by an import, and Jan looks to me to be the natural centre of the two, but I think the other wing could be either Calvert or Spurr.
I’ve plumped for Spurzy. Why? Because he has generally been Morgs’ “go to” on the top line, except when coming back from injury. He does all the little things well and can pop up with timely goals from nowhere. So I’m sticking my neck out and saying him (until I’m wrong and Calvert is there).