by Ben Callaghan (@bcallaghan89)
THE SEASON THAT WAS
The 2018/19 season for the Swindon Wildcats will always go down in history as the year we secured our first league title under the Wildcats name.
Despite an indifferent start the 2019 form of the Wildcats ensured we won 15 games in a row on our way to league success.
Although not being able to defend either cup competition from 17/18, the focus on the league was fulfilled in the second period break of a home game against the Bracknell Bees in March.
Skating out for the final stanza as champions will be something the fans in the Better Link Centre will never forget.
Club stalwarts Sam Bullas, Stevie Whitfield and Floyd Taylor had stellar years in their roles and new arrivals Sam Jones and Tyler Plews bedded well into the team.
A familiar face in Jonas Hoog returned on Christmas Day and was a big part in the run to the title through the first three months of 2019.
One of the highlights of the season was a late winning goal from Chris Jones against the Peterborough Phantoms between Christmas and New Year, as our number 11 made his way to being named the NIHLS1 player of the year.
Overall it was one of the most memorable season in Swindon Wildcats history and the class of 18/19 will go down in history alongside the league trophy they won despite at times being well behind the early leaders the Peterborough Phantoms.
The summer of 2019 proved to be one of the less eventful ones at the Better Link Centre for the Wildcats.
Early retirements for Jan Kostal, Jonas Hoog and Max Birbraer led to Head Coach Aaron Nell hit the market for two brand new imports going into the new national league, but more importantly key members of the British core were kept in Swindon.
Renny Marr, Tyler Plews, Eddie Bebris and Chris Jones were all confirmed early before the massive summer news that Tomasz Malasinski would return to Swindon on a three-year deal from Poland.
Later in the summer it was confirmed he’d be joined by Tyler Vankleef who moved down the M4 from Bracknell, but will be missing the start of the season through injury.
As we go to write, Jan Kostal and Max Birbraer have just temporarily come out of retirement to help cover Tyler and ensure the team are as prepared as they need to be for the new national league season.
Generally the squad is the same squad who battled to league success last season and that will truly help the club going forward for the new season.
I think the entire league know the quality that Tomasz Malasinski will bring to the side and after three years in Poland and playing in competitions like the Continental Cup he will show no signs of slowing down on his return to the UK.
Overall the squad is as ready as it can be to launch a challenge for all silverware available starting this weekend against London and Hull.
As I’ve mentioned previously there’s an element of expectation around the Swindon Wildcats.
As one of the most well run clubs outside of the EIHL, in the last two seasons we have secure three trophies and the whole club and fan base will be expecting some more silverware this year.
Whilst there is still an element of unfinished business around the end of season playoffs, we will be looking to become the inaugural national league champion, the winners of which will be the most consistent team over the course of the season.
With a very competitive National League about to get underway no team can be taken lightly and it seems that is exciting the Swindon fans ahead of the new campaign.
The opening weekend will show how tough it will be between now and March, but the club have prepared themselves as well as they can to be as successful as they can be.
The core of the team have all won trophies in Swindon now and the experience and the youth really do balance out.
The organisation know what it takes to win trophies and that is a huge boost when we get to the business end of the season.
Generally there is a feel of expectation and excitement around the Wildcats and no-one can wait for the opening puck to drop against the Raiders this weekend.
MY TOP LINE
I think the top line this season will depend on the availability of Max Birbraer. If he is available on his part-time contract then I expect him to ice alongside head coach Aaron Nell and star forward Tomasz Malasinski.
If he is not available then other names to join this pair on the top line could be Sam Bullas, Toms Rutkis or has been the case in pre-season so far, Loris Taylor.