Following on from my new season post last year, version1.2010 may I present version 2.2011 Championship Edition! This summer has been one to enjoy if you were a Phoenix fan. Despite the blip experienced in Coventry the Phoenix ended the 2010/11 season as EPL champions. A league championship that has been a long time coming to Manchester. I believe the last league championship was brought to the city by the Manchester Storm in 1999. So it's only taken 12 years, one bankruptcy, two mothballed seasons but we have a new shiny league trophy to show for it!
Coventry weekend was a little bittersweet for many a Phoenix fan, the elation and pride that came with winning a league title was dampened somewhat by the team not quite showing up 100% in the game against MKL. Credit to MKL though, they had a game plan, stuck to it and shut the Phoenix potent offence down. Still, we had a right royal time in the Phoenix blocks. Largest fan base there, a whole end of the SkyDome filled and one massive banner to show off, good times! There was even the seeds of an unholy alliance formed with the Guildford fans next door! I was disappointed to loos to MKL but, I had a great time in Coventry, finally managed to meet up with Anthony (off of Banners on the Wall fame) and form a new hockey friendship!
So the league finished, Coventry happened and everyone left the midlands and went there separate ways for the summer. Holiday's were had, forums went into their scheduled rumor overdrive and now, well into September, hockey gear is being dusted off and rituals prepared.
Oh it's hockey time alright!
After the normal roster explosion the summer is spent rebuilding that which went before. This summer for Tony was even tougher, how do you improve a championship roster with the same budget as last year? With difficulty, Kristoffersson/Huppe departed for pastures new, Gomeniuk/Morgan and G Wood departed for their spiritual home in Sheffield and Adam Summerfield departed for a career with the RAF. The Phoenix did manage to retain a core group of players and have brought in some quality experienced new faces. With the roster finalised im going to split the squad preview in two, today we have the Goaltending and Defence, then the forwards will follow!
Number 31 Stephen Fone
BT returns for his third year between the pipes for the Manchester Phoenix, last season he backstopped the club to the EPL title. I always thought if BT had an injury free year he could be immense for the Phoenix. Thankfully 2010/11 proved to be that year, not the most conventional of goalkeepers Steve Fone continued his improvement. He is a quick goalie round the crease and is flexible enough to pull out some show reel saves. His stats alone show how far he has come, over the two full seasons he has had in Altrincham his GAA has come down from 3.67 to 2.75 and his save % increased from .882 to .906. Granted the defence/team in front improved but he has also. Going with an import net minder carries to many negatives for me, so a brit between the pipes is a must. A quality Brit goalie is hard to find, so I am very happy BT is back for another year.
Number 35 Jorge El-Hage
A product of the Phoenix youth setup Jorge fills the void created by Adam Summerfield's departure to the RAF. Many thanks must be given to Summerfield, he had reached a point in his development where he had to be making regular starts, rather than warming the bench. This was unlikely at the Phoenix, that in addition to his career calling, meant he had to leave. Im right in saying all Phoenix fan's wish him the best! So Jorge comes in to fill the back up position, i'll admit here and now, I know nothing about him! However, if Tony has enough faith to promote him and have him as backup he must be good! He will learn alot training with the EPL side and learning from BT, it will be interesting to see if he is trusted with minutes this season!
Number 4 Luke Boothroyd
Another season back for Luke Boothroyd, another season carrying the captaincy I would have thought! Luke is Mr Dependable, Mr Manchester, you could argue he is one of the first names on the match sheet every time. His point production dropped last season and he didn't register a goal. Now I want my defencemen to be just that...defencemen first and foremost, so I wouldn't expect Luke to be lighting up the scoring charts. But I would like him to offer up some more points next season. That is probably the only area of his game he needs to improve, he is a good captain, he is a brilliant defenceman. He reads the play well, can deliver a great check and despite his size, is one tough cookie!
Number 10 Ryan Johnson
This was a surprising signing for some, Ryan Johnson is no stranger to the Phoenix. I do wonder if, sticking to the same budget, has brought about Ryan's arrival to the Phoenix. But I am not going to complain, Ryan is a big strong fellow who isn't afraid to get rough. Last season he split his time between the Steeldogs and Steelers and managed a 20 point haul from his 54 games. A decent return for a second/third line defenceman. He will add size to the Phoenix blue line, while not the tallest, anyone who has seen him up close will agree, he is built like the proverbial! Another aspect to his game, Ryan can play forward which, like the next two players in this list could give the Phoenix a fourth forward line! Though pig's may fly before the Phoenix run with 4 lines! Another plus side will be the continuation of the 'Ryan Johnson plays for Phoenix, he has a porno tash' ditty!
Number 12 - James Neil
The second in the Phoenix triumvirate of utility players, James Neil has worked his way backwards onto the Phoenix blue line after beginning his career in Altrincham as a center. James is a quick player who has adapted to life on the blue line well. For me, James is a little small and needs to bulk up, but otherwise, like Luke Boothroyd, James is another guy who is becoming a fixture at the Phoenix. For 2011/12 i'd like to see James up his point production please!
Number 15 - Ben Wood
The big man from Macclesfield returns for his fourth year on the Phoenix blue li....err wait! Ben Wood practically invented the utility role at the Phoenix. Played as a forward early on, Ben is most comfortable on defence. He had another frustrating season last year, and it all comes down to Tony's trust in him. In my opinion Ben has the skill to be played, he makes mistakes on the odd occasion, but so do all players. In fact when he had a good run of ice time his play improved considerably. My hope for this new season is, Tony has faith and plays the guy! He is good enough!
Number 44 Ladislav Harabin
Defenceman of the year for many, Harabin played a blinder during his debut EPL season. Part man, part machine, the guy just wouldn't be held down. Most fans across the league will remember his horrible injury sustained one faitful night in Slough, us Phoenix fans will remember reports of his determination to carry on playing in that game, then his hard work to get back on the ice as soon as possible. After the 2010/11 season, a career year for Ladislav, most of the Phoenix faithful were resigned to loosing him. But he surprised us all be re-signing for the Phoenix. Possibly the signing of the summer! Good friend Gomeniuk gone, Harabin will look to his fellow import D man, Spelda, to shoulder much of the Phoenix D responsibility. With a full, healthy, season I see Harabin having another career year and becoming a Phoenix icon!
Number 26 Jaroslav Spelda
The un-known quantity on this seasons defensive corps is the 36 year old from the Czech Republic. Standing at 6ft Spelda is slightly bigger than Harabin and with over 530 games in the top leagues in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Jaroslav has the pedigree to be just as good as the Phoenix number 44. I can't comment much more on Jaroslav until iv'e seen him on the ice, but safe to say, im excited!
Who wants to look at some forwards?