EPL Down the Stretch
The EPL is now a little over half way through but it has already been a very exciting season. There are battles at the top and the bottom and changes all over the place that make it possible for a number of teams to make strides down the stretch.
Here is my take on the season so far for each team.
Since dropping down from the EIHL Basingstoke have not really put together a championship side. This season it could have. For much of the first half the Bison have been the third placed team in the hunt but the Christmas spell has changed that around. A new year win over Manchester gave the Bison day light at the top and no longer can they be classed as the other team.
Predicted Finish: 2nd. Losing Joe Miller to Telford will not help in the running and the Bison need to find a way to fill that scoring hole. Away form in Manchester and Guildford could also be the deciding factor.
The start of the season was promising for the Berkshire side. A new ownership looked to have the side on a strong footing but those footings have become shaky. The Bees have lost coaching staff including head coach Gareth Cox under who had looked strong. Good wins over Basingstoke, Guildford and Manchester are highlights but it will be the games against the clubs around them that make the difference.
Predicted Finish: 9th. The Bees will need to pick up the points against teams around them but not having a bench coach with a young squad could prove costly.
The Flames have started the season like they always do, hot. After matching Manchester for most of the season the Christmas period has given them a little hiccup. The big question for the Flames is can they win in Basingstoke and Manchester as the head to head tiebreak could come into play and having lost 6-0 in Manchester this is ground to make up.
Predicted Finish: 3rd. It will be very close between Guildford, Manchester and Basingstoke at the top but with Flames dropping points at home to Basingstoke and the big loss in Manchester I think they will be just short this season.
The Phoenix had a dream start to the season. Scoring was for fun as they despatched Sheffield, Peterborough and Slough for double figures. More recently they have slipped up slightly and injuries have become a factor. Two injuries in particular have hurt the Manchester side. Losing Frank Bakrlik is a major blow and there are some question marks around goaltender Stephen Foneâ€™s fitness following their loss in Basingstoke. Despite this they are in good position at 2 points behind and 3 games in hand over Basingstoke and 4 games over Guildford.
Predicted Finish: 1st. If the Phoenix can stay healthy their goal scoring means they are capable of hanging in with anyone home or away. Keeping up with Basingstoke and Guildford with those games in hand will be a major boost.
Milton Keynes Lightning
It has not been the easiest of seasons for the Lightning with playing games on the road in Coventry whilst their Planet Ice rink is refurbished. Nonetheless they have performed well. In general the Lightning have picked up points against the teams they below them and lost them to the teams above. It may be interesting to see if the Lightning make the playoff finals if all that ice time in Coventry makes a difference or not.
Predicted Finish: 4th. There are battles at the top and battles at the bottom of the EPL and then there is Milton Keynes sandwiched in the middle neither up nor down.
It has not been another easy season for the Phantoms. Their off ice issues have again been raised with questions around their financial stability but they are still here. Slava Koulikov has taken over the helm but it has not made a huge difference to their on ice fortunes. The Cambridgeshire side are in a dog fight now though and need to kick on if they are too make the playoffs.
Predicted Finish: 10th. Reinforcements could be needed in Peterborough but if they keep picking up points against the teams around them it will be close.
Chaos and the Steeldogs are two words that normally go hand in hand but whilst the teams around them have been scrapping the Yorkshiremen have lifted themselves up and created a little gap. A win over Bracknell and overtime loss to Guildford to start the year was an ideal tonic for the Steeldogs. Andre Payette will be looking to his side to carry on as they have been doing picking up points against the teams below particularly on the road.
Predicted Finish 5th. The Steeldogs have a nice gap over the rest and they could need it. More wins rather extra time losses will help as well.
The Jets are another of the EPLâ€™s financially worrying teams. A spell of losing players to other EPL sides including head coach Slava Koulikov and captain Dan Davies have not helped at all. The ship has been steadied somewhat but there has been a lack of consistency. There are games in hand though and could count in their favour.
Predicted Finish: 8th. The Jets need will need to put a good run together to improve their chances of making the playoffs and improve their consistancy.
Swindonâ€™s season had promised so much and the signings of Matt Towe and Stevie Lyle were major headlines in the summer. Once the summer had gone though the Wildcats season seemed to like Matt Towe signing for Braehead have gone up the â€˜Clydeâ€™. Things have improved since then but more consistency is needed.
Predicted Finish: 6th. If Wildcats can improve their consistency and get a run together they will make the playoffs. Their 4 games in hand on the teams around them will help as well.
The Tigers will be expecting the season to end in very different fashion to how it started. The change of ownership has brought in a ruck of new players. Joe Miller, Tom Murdy and Adam Walker to name but a few of the changes. Owner Wayne Scholes may consider the Tigers top four material but more wins over will be needed over the teams around them. A good new year has seen the Tigers into a playoff spot for the first time in a long time but they need to stick there.
Predicted Finish: 7th. The Tigers lost ground at the start of the season. A good run is in them but it may fall short having played more games already.
The EPL is very tight at the moment. 3 points separates the bottom 5 teams and 2 points between the top 3 teams. There have been a lot of changes to teams as well and everyone is beating everyone, which makes it very difficult to predict. If a side can get on a run they can make huge steps up the league but getting on that run is going to be hard. I am not confident in any of my predictions except one and that is that it will close and exciting to the end.