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Saturday, 30 June 2012

EPL 2011/12 Season Review - The Defence

Number 4 - Luke Boothroyd (GP54 Pts 21)Still only 25, it seems Luke has been around forever! Since his debut for the Hull Stingrays in the old BNL Luke has now played over 360 professional games of hockey. Captain fantastic over half of those for the Phoenix. Like is an elder statesman of the Phoenix roster and the past season has been one of his best. Despite his size he is one of the best defenceman on the EPL and one of the few EPL players who could easily hold his own in the import heavy EIHL. The great thing with Luke is, you know he will play his best every game and, when he does, you don't notice it! He does his job without fanfare he just gets on and does it! The 2011/12 season is a high for him with 4 goals, including one special shot from the red line! I posed the question last year, on whether the Phoenix should retied the number 44 shirt for Harabin, on reflection the number 4 is probably the next shirt retirement for the Phoenix.
Season rating: 9/10

Number 10 - Ryan Johnson (GP53 Pts 8)

Ryan is a veteran of the EPL and has divided his recent seasons between the Phoenix and the Steeldogs. Ryan is a simple kind of player, he's not the tallest but he's one of the toughest. Build like the proverbial brick outhouse Ryan is one hell of a player to try and move. He will never light up the scoring charts but he will work hard and make life for the opposition difficult. The past season had seen him play in the utility role playing, primarily on D, but helping out the forwards where necessary. Would I have him back next year? Depends on our budget and who we have signed up, I would take Ryan back but, with the caveat that I would try and upgrade his position.
Season rating: 6/10

Number 12 - James Neil (GP54 Pts 20)

One of the best loved players on the Phoenix roster James is a player who arrived as a forward but has become an intelligent defenceman. The past year has seen James come on along way in his development, learning from the likes of Spelda/Boothroyd he is no longer a weak link. Despite only being 22 James has played nearly 340 professional games of hockey, astonishing for such a young guy. Much like Luke Boothroyd James is not a big guy, but uses his mind with great effectiveness. Which more experience and help from the older guys on D he could become a great EPL defenceman. The 2011/12 season saw James put up his best points total for the Phoenix so I would expect next season to be even better!
Season rating: 7.5/10

Number 15 - Ben Wood (GP53 Pts 9)

Ben Wood is a prime example of why the Phoenix moved to the EPL. He is a guy who has progressed through the ranks of the Phoenix since joining from the Flintshire Freeze. Jake Nurse will be hoping to emulate Ben as he begins his Phoenix career next season. Ben's game is based on confidence and the past year will have done wonders for him. A tall and very strong player Ben is played in the utility role like Ryan. More often on offence Ben is, and has always been, a defenceman. But the past year has seen his hockey sense develop so much. He car read the game better now, place himself on the ice more effectively and is more than willing to get into the corners and battle for the puck. He is also more than happy to take a shot when he can, most of his 6 goals from last season were shots taken through traffic. I really enjoy watching Ben play the game, his enthusiasm is infectious and he is a player I would have back every year! The 2012/13 season will be his fourth full season and should see him pass 200 games for the Phoenix.
Season rating: 7/10

Number 26 - Jaroslav Spelda (GP41 Pts31)

He's got the #moveslikespelda Jaro came to the Phoenix from Italian side Eppan/Appiano the big Czech defenceman excelled in his first season in England. Partnering Harabin as the Phoenix second import D Spelda exploded into the EPL with big hits and mahoosive slap shots! Having a career year Spelda has become a fan favorite and, I may even say this, in my opinion a better player than Ladislav Harabin. I would be delighted for Spelda to come back for a second season in Manchester. He was brilliant for the Phoenix and, when he had his injury mid season, it really affected the club and derailed our title push. I genuinely believe he could play in any EPL team and improve them which, is a big reason I hope he returns to the Phoenix!
Season rating: 9/10

Number 44 - Ladislav Harabin (GP51 Pts44)

Returning for his second season in Manchester Ladislav has had a good year but, possibly overshadowed a little by Spelda. That being said the Phoenix are a better team when he is on the ice. Where Spelda is the stay at home D man, Harabin likes to get forward and has a wicked shot. The past year has seen his best point production in his career and, at the age of 31, he has many more to come. The past year was blighted a little, opposition fans will say this, by Harabin's tendency to embellish calls. Of his 54 penalty minutes im sure most were for diving or clipping. If he returns I hope he can work on this side of his game as everything else is excellent. He is another tough D man and possesses an awesome shot. I would have Harabin back in a heart beat.....unless we can get a second Spelda! If he does return, I just hope he can have an injury free season for us as neither of his past two has seen him play the full compliment of games! Like Spelda, the Phoenix miss his presence on the ice.
Season rating: 8/10

Number xx - John Connolly (GP4 Pts 0)

Very much a journey man kind of player, Connolly came to the Phoenix from the Slough Jets and really helped out the Phoenix defence at a time we were struggling for bodies. A small player John is much in the mould of Luke Boothroyd. An intelligent player who can use his stick to play defence and a player who is willing to mix it up in the corners. John only player 4 games for the Phoenix but I remember being impressed by him!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

EPL 2011/12 Season Review - The Goalies

So, it's about time I got round to posting my 2011/12 season reviews! As is customary the goalies are up first!

Number 31 - Steve Fone )GAA 3.06 Sv% .901)

This past season was a chance to Steve Fone to really cement his place as one of the EPL's top goalies. His first full season with the Phoenix he was still earning his starting goalie spurs, his second season was blighted by a shoulder injury but, thankfully, this past season just gone was injury free. I really think Foney did well this year, the Phoenix have/never will be a defence first team. By that very nature our goalies will face more shots than others. Fone has developed into a very athletic goaltender and one who can see the puck through traffic. Every now and then he still likes to go on a wander from the crease, how I wish he wouldn't, but he has a better understanding of when to do that and when not to. While his season stats are a little high for an elite goaltender we all know stats don't make a player. Other EPL fans will argue there are better goalies out there but, Fone is one of the best and, in all reality, the best the Phoenix can get! Season rating: 8.5/10

Number 35 - George El-Hage (GAA 4.46Sv % .833)

The backup EPL netminder, not the most desired of positions! This post has, in the past, been filled by Adam Summerfield, since he left to take up a post with the RAF the baton has been passed to George El-Hage. George is a big guy, young, and has great potential. Over the past season he has had limited chances on the ice, but he played more minutes this past season than any backup nettie the Phoenix has had. On the ice he looks to stay cool and can cover a great deal of the net. If he is willing to bide his time, for the moment, George has the potential to become an EPL starter. Season rating: 6/10

Next up...the D men!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Desert Dogs-a-Howlin - Stanley Cup Western Conference Final

The Coyotes post season adventure continues and the ride currently runs to the Conference finals and a matchup with the NHL's form team right now, the LA Kings. Having nocked out the number 1 and 2 seeds the Kings were eyeing up the number 3 seeded Coyotes, for what would be a tough series. The Kings are blessed with some hot goaltending and some depth scoring. The Coyotes would have to work very hard and continue with their defence first mentality.

v Kings (L)
Having the first two games on home ice would, usually, be an advantage! Against the Kings this isn't the case, the Kings are hot away from the Staples Centre and this game would be no different. The Kings fought hard and with a relentless forecheck loaded Smith with shots. By the end of the game Smith had faced 48 shots, Dustin Brown lead the way with one goal and one assist and with Quick in outstanding form the Kings took game one by a score of 4-2.

v Kings (L)
Losing the first game was not the way the Coyotes wanted to start their maiden conference final effort, but the Kings, in their current form, were not willing to let up. The Kings offence overpowered the Coyotes and their special teams were on fire as the King's shutout the Coyotes 4-0 to take a strong 2-0 lead in the western conference finals. In this form the Kings are irresistible sadly, for us Coyotes fans. It is going to take a big big effort for the coyotes to come back from the brink.

@ Kings (L)
Down 2 games to 0 and heading back to southern California things are looking bleak for Phoenix. The game saw Phoenix make a better start and score first through Langkow early in the second period. The Kings came right back though, and Anze Kopitar tied the game just about two minutes later. The Kings continued to outwork the Coyotes and their domination in the third period lead, un-surprisingly, to their second and the game winner Dwight King scoring the wrister early in the third period. The Kings now stood one game away from another series sweep.

@ Kings (W)
One final game? One last chance? The Coyotes had to be better! If the unlikely journey was to continue this was a must win for the Coyotes. The players obviously thought so too and the big game guys stood tall and were counted. Shane Doan lead the way with two goals, Mike Smith recorded his first shutout of the series and the Coyotes took one step back from the cliff and recorded a 2-0 win to send the series back to the desert. The Coyotes effort broke the Kings eight game winning streak and showed there were signs of life in the Coyotes.

v Kings (L-OT)
Another must win for the Coyotes back in Glendale. Despite their best efforts the game would be decided on a moment of controversy and one that would see the organisation and many players investigated by the NHL for some of their post game comments. The Kins were victorious in Phoenix and in doing so have become only the second team to nock out the top three seeds in a post season run. The 'moment' occurred during OT when Brown, leading with a knee, took out Phoenix player Michal Rozsival who lay injured on the ice. The ensuing play saw the Kings score, take the win and with it the Western Conference championship. More importantly a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. Its a shame for a game to be decided on poor officiating but, these series are not decided over one game!

@ Kings   (not needed)

v Kings   (not needed)

So the Coyotes dream run is over, it hurts to go out so cheaply but the Coyotes have proved the doubters wrong in getting this far! My hope is for the Devils to now take the Cup!