It goes without saying that it’s far too early to start making predictions about who will win the EIHL in 2019/2020. The dust has only just settled on last season, and the clubs are still in a period of assessment and reorganisation. We’re already starting to see new rosters taking shape however, and from the looks of things, some potentially strong line-ups are being pulled together all across the country.
Last season saw the Cardiff Devils and the Belfast Giants reassert their position as the “Big Two” of the EIHL for the second year running. Both have qualified for the Champions’ League this autumn, and their respective performances in the European tournament will be key indicators of their potential as we go into the next season. Any predictions for a league or Challenge Cup winner will almost certainly be based around those two teams.
That’s not to say that their northern rivals in the Erhardt Conference are entirely out of the running. Both the Sheffield Steelers and the Nottingham Panthers have been making significant changes that could well tip their fortunes for the better. Things look less hopeful for the Coventry Blaze however. The loss of Ben Lake to the Giants makes a spectacular comeback even less likely, and although they’ve been importing some respectable Canadian talent (notably 6′ 4″ Justin Hamonic) the Midland’s veterans are outside chances next season at best.
The league champions and Challenge Cup winners are in an enviable position ahead of next season. Not only do they have an excellent existing roster imbued with world-beating confidence, but they’re able to attract the brightest and the best as well. Tyler Beskorowany was named player of the year and net minder of the year after his first season with the Giants, while Darcy Murphy won forward of the year and Adam Keefe was named coach of the year.
Additionally, three of the six players nominated to the First All-Star Team were Giants: Beskorowany, Murphy and Defenceman Josh Roach. A fourth, Ben Lake, has since signed with the team for next season. Ciaran Long, named British player of the year, has also come on board after two seasons with the Manchester Storm, and Patryk Wonka arrives after a very successful season at GKS Katowice.
Indeed, the only cloud on the horizon is the departure of Captain Blair Riley, but otherwise the Giants have retained most of their winning talent. No odds have been announced yet, but keep an eye on the latest sportsbook news as the Giants are sure to start off as firm favourites.
The reigning EIHL playoff champions lost the league on the final day, with a 3-1 defeat against arch-rivals Coventry Blaze. They’ll be determined not to see anything similar happen next season, and with Andrew Lord having signed a new five-year deal to stay on as head coach, the Devils could be the ones to cut the Giants down to size. Lord has engineered an impressive comeback for the Welsh wonders, guiding them to two challenge cup victories, two league championships, three conference titles and back-to-back playoff championships.
Josh Batch, one of the toughest players in the League, has re-signed for his ninth season, and Joey Haddad is back for his sixth season. Haddad struggled with injury at the end of last year, but that shouldn’t eclipse his impressive record of 104 goals and 154 assists in 324 games over the last five years, adding up to 258 points as a Devils player. To the surprise and joy of fans, Ben Bowns will also be back in the net, and it seems that Cardiff are following the formula of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to the roster. Ultimately all they need is for luck to be on their side to complete their amazing comeback next season.
The Panthers and the Steelers
Nottingham Panthers have added defenceman Mark Matheson to their coaching team, but have lost defenceman Steve Lee after ten seasons. New coach Tim Wallace is revitalising the team with some young blood, adding top prospects Joe Hazeldine (aged 18) and Jordan Kelsall (aged 19) alongside returning GB Internationals Robert Lachowicz and Brett Perlini.
Over at the Steelers, forward Tanner Eberle returns for a second season, and he’ll be joined by goal machine Brendan Connolly, who scored 31 goals in 58 games with the Glasgow Clan last season. It’s goodbye to defenceman Josh McFadden, but hello to Swedish veteran Jonas Liwing, New coach Aaron Fox also confirmed that Cole Shudra will be playing with the Steelers next season, after being loaned to MK Lightning in 2018.
Unofficially the Giants have to be favourites for 2019/20, with the Devils their only real competition. That said, it really is too soon to say for certain who will walk off the ice the winners. Time, as ever, will tell.