Will Kerlin Left Exposed by Nottingham Panthers: Elite League Takeaways

Will Kerlin has struggled for ice time since signing for the Nottingham Panthers (Images: Panthers Images)
Will Kerlin has struggled for ice time since signing for the Nottingham Panthers (Images: Panthers Images)

It’s no secret that fans of the Nottingham Panthers have been disappointed by their club’s performances this season.

Gui Doucet, the organisation’s director of hockey operations, was tasked with constructing a roster capable of challenging the Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils, and Sheffield Steelers for silverware. Halfway through the campaign, it was clear he’d failed.

Nottingham were runover on New Year’s Day by the Manchester Storm, handed a 4-0 drubbing on the road. Two days later, the Giants touched down in the East Midlands and ended Tim Wallace’s reign behind the Motorpoint Arena bench with a 7-2 hammering.

The Panthers were sixth in the Elite League when Wallace was dismissed, a decision Doucet later defended in a club statement.

“It was a very hard decision, not just professionally but personally too,” he explained. “This is a results-based business, it’s an entertainment-based business and the results just weren’t good enough.”

While Nottingham briefly rallied after the Canadian’s departure, little – if anything – of substance has changed since. The Panthers, now fourth in the EIHL, are 29 points off the pace in the title race and haven’t entertained their own fans in months.

On Saturday [2 April], the Panthers’ season completely unravelled after Kevin Carr was added to the injury list. With his starting netminder unavailable, Mark Matheson parachuted Will Kerlin – his 21-year-old backup – into the crease cold. It ended atrociously.

After a busy week in the Elite League, it’s time to break down the leading talking points. Sorry, Panthers fans.

Nottingham Panthers Humiliated by Coventry Blaze, Sheffield Steelers

After a heavy defeat, it’s often cheap to blame the goalie. That’s not to imply netminders are always blameless in heavy losses, it’s just to say they are rarely the main culprit. In this case, it would be beyond cheap to identify Kerlin as Nottingham’s weakest link – even after he shipped 16 goals on 65 shots.

In case you missed it, here’s how Nottingham’s weekend went:

  • Sheffield Steelers 6-2 Nottingham Panthers
  • Nottingham Panthers 4-10 Coventry Blaze

Before puck drop on Saturday, I wasn’t alone in pointing out that the Panthers were about to throw Kerlin in at the deep end without armbands.

And, to the surprise of nobody, the 21-year-old looked out of his depth, allowing several tallies Carr would’ve stopped. He also made a string of impressive stops, including a double save in the second period versus Coventry.

Coaches, not Kerlin, Responsible for Blaze Humiliation

Kerlin wasn’t the Panthers’ weakest link – and I wouldn’t blame him for the team’s capitulation even if he was.

Nottingham have failed their goaltenders this season. Carr has played too much, while Kerlin hasn’t seen enough action. The organisation’s coaching staff sleepwalked into disaster by allowing a young, untested goalie to wither away on the bench for most of the year.

In addition to letting Kerlin’s match sharpness slip away, the Panthers have also wasted a year of his development year. It’s an incredibly disappointing situation, especially considering progress made by Jordan Hedley in Coventry and James Downie in Manchester.

Related: James Downie Q&A

Before last weekend’s round of fixtures, Carr owned a 99.11 per cent share of league ice time in Nottingham’s crease. Kerlin, on the other hand, was deployed for less than one per cent of the league minutes available.

Sitting Kerlin for so long was a farcical situation always likely to end in defeat – and that’s before we take the Panthers’ shambolic lack of defensive effort against the Blaze into account.

Kevin Carr, Nottingham Panthers (Image: Panthers Images)
Kevin Carr ranks third in the EIHL amongst netminders for minutes played in 2021-22  (Image: Panthers Images)

Nottingham’s 10-4 loss to Coventry marked a new low in the team’s history, it was the first time they’d conceded double figures at home. And it was thoroughly deserved.

“We started off okay, we were winning 4-2,” assistant coach Dave Whistle said post-game. “But we took some bad decisions defensively, we tried pinching when we shouldn’t have been pinching.

“We had a two-goal lead [and] I thought some of our shots early in the game shouldn’t have gone in but did. And all of a sudden you get a bit of momentum going, but we didn’t keep it going and I think that was our biggest downfall.”

Absolutely brutal, Panthers fans deserve better.

Elsewhere in the Elite League

Aside from Nottingham’s masterclass in self-sabotage, it was an eventful week at both ends of the standings.

On Sunday, Ryan Finnerty’s Storm shook up the title race by beating the Steelers on penalty shots.

Manchester’s win opened the door for Belfast to extend their lead at the top and they duly obliged. Adam Keefe’s Giants won out 5-1 on Friday [1 April] versus the Glasgow Clan and 5-0 on Sunday [3 April] versus the Guildford Flames.

Ahead of their double-header next weekend, the Giants lead the Steelers by a three-point margin at the top – though Sheffield have a game-in-hand.

In the middle of the pack, it was a huge weekend for the Blaze. Danny Stewart’s side went on a goal-scoring frenzy to hit the .500 mark. They’re now only three points behind the Panthers, opening the possibility for a late chase for fourth.

Towards the bottom of the table, Sunday was a massive day for Manchester and the Fife Flyers.

The situation facing Fife is stark, they’re effectively one bad result away from elimination. Hence the importance of their 4-3 win over the Dundee Stars.

Manchester’s win over Sheffield, coupled with losses for the Guildford Flames and Glasgow Clan, also holds major significance. The Storm, though still on the outside looking in, are now only four points back of Guildford in the chase for eighth.

In other news, the Stars might’ve won assist and celebration of the season on the same play:

It’s getting spicy in the Elite League. We’re in for an exhilarating final month. Don’t miss it.

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