Telford Tigers’ Head Coach Tom Watkins has pledged to rebuild his team this summer, just twelve months after they were crowned league and cup winners for the first time.
After finishing fourth in the EPL, Tigers crashed out of the play-offs at the quarter-finals stage after losing 7-2 on aggregate against MK Lightning.
Watkins said: “It’s very difficult to follow up such a successful season and emulate what we achieved. To secure back-to-back championships is extremely difficult.”
“Our season was blighted by injuries. It happens and that’s hockey, but ultimately in the big games we haven’t deserved to win.
“We lacked leadership at times and with (Jonathan) Weaver and (Jason) Silverthorn injured simultaneously, we lost that leadership and experience in the dressing room.
“Others must take on more responsibility and step up to the plate when it is required.
“We lost too many games where we dominated puck possession in the offensive zone and had quality scoring chances. We failed to capitalise and take the initiative, or actually bury games when given the opportunity.
“This is not pointing the finger at the offensive guys. It’s a collective responsibility to make sure we get the job done and sometimes you need a goalie to win you a game.
“Ultimately, the players and myself are very disappointed with where we finished. It hurts to be sitting here doing this interview before the play-off weekend. It’s been a frustrating season, both on and off the ice.”
“This season we suffered a lot and lost a lot of players, so we tracked the number of players unavailable for selection for game days.
“I’m not sure what the final total was, but the number was very high, and the highest it’s been in my coaching experience. That puts pressure on others physically and mentally. Not once did we play with a full team this year.”
The play-off defeat to Lightning came after a testing run of eight games in 15 days during the final weeks of the season.
Telford clawed back a string of games in hand during that sequence, eventually finishing 13 points adrift of champions Basingstoke Bison.
“I was very concerned by what affect that would have on our play-off chances,” Watkins added.
“The sheer number of problems, to play with five to seven guys unavailable, along with the number of games in such a short space of time, took its toll.
“The games against Lightning were always going to be tough. All credit to them, but we never got our legs going on the Saturday, so we were flat and couldn’t get into our stride.
“I thought on the Sunday we were better and started well, but we started to tire and make sloppy mistakes. Our puck management was poor, and coming from behind meant we had to take some chances early in the game to turn the momentum.
“I think not capitalising on the five-on-three opportunity was the difference, as to cut it to a one goal game would have been a huge lift mentally. It would have really energised the fans.
“We’re all disappointed – we don’t need anyone else to tell us that. All these guys are professionals and all take a huge amount of pride in what they do.”
Watkins’ vow to improve the Tigers squad will see him scour both the EPL and Elite League this summer, although any transfer targets will remain a closely-guarded secret.
“Of course we’ll look to improve – we were extremely fortunate to win a league and cup double, and are keen to get back to that level,” he said.
“I’m actively working recruiting for the 2016-17 season. Several players we have already secured, while some guys will move on and be replaced with new faces.
“Myself and the players would like to thank the fans for their support during the season. It’s very much appreciated.”
(Image permission: Steve Brodie)