Watkins tells of difficult campaign for Tigers

Telford Tigers head coach Tom Watkins has delivered his assessment of a tough season in the English Premier League.

The Shropshire men crashed out at the quarter-finals stage of the play-offs last week, losing 7-2 to Milton Keynes after finishing the league season in fourth place.

Watkins has already pledged to rebuild his side this summer, just twelve months after they were crowned league and cup winners for the first time.

He said: “It’s very difficult to follow up such a successful season and emulate what we achieved. To secure back to back championships is extremely difficult.”

The Tigers chief lost several key stars for large parts of the year, but he dismissed suggestions that injuries were solely to blame for a poor follow-up campaign.

He said: “Our season has been blighted by injuries. It happens and that’s hockey, but ultimately in the big games we haven’t deserved to win.

“We lacked leadership at times and with Weaver and Silverthorn injured simultaneously, we lost that leadership and experience in the dressing room. Others must take on more responsibility and step up to the plate when it is required.

“We lost too many games where we dominated puck possession in the offensive zone and had quality scoring chances. We failed to capitalise and take the initiative, or actually bury games when given the opportunity.

“This is not pointing the finger at the offensive guys. It’s a collective responsibility to make sure we get the job done and sometimes you need a goalie to win you a game.

“Ultimately, the players and myself are very disappointed with where we finished. It hurts to be sitting here doing this interview before the play-off weekend. It’s been a frustrating season, both on and off the ice.”

Telford’s medical team was kept busy by injuries to captain Jason Silverthorn and Jonathan Weaver at the start of the campaign, while Joe Graham suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

Both Silverthorn and Weaver returned to the squad in November, but the pair also missed out during the February run-in, alongside Dan Davies and at one point, Joe Miller.

Watkins added: “I don’t believe in advertising the details of our injuries, as another team could potentially target those.

“This season we suffered a lot and lost a lot of players, so we tracked the number of players unavailable for selection for game days.

“I’m not sure what the final total was, but the number was very high, and the highest it’s been in my coaching experience. That puts pressure on others physically and mentally. Not once did we play with a full team this year.”

The play-off defeat to Milton Keynes Lightning came after a testing run of eight games in 15 days during the final weeks of the season.

Telford clawed back a string of games in hand during that sequence, eventually finishing 13 points adrift of eventual champions Basingstoke.

“I was very concerned by what affect that would have on our play-off chances,” Watkins said.

“The sheer number of problems, to play with five to seven guys unavailable, along with the number of games in such a short space of time, took its toll.”

“The games against Milton Keynes were always going to be tough. All credit to them, but we never got our legs going on the Saturday, so we were flat and couldn’t get into our stride.

“I thought on the Sunday we were better and started well, but we started to tire and make sloppy mistakes. Our puck management was poor, and coming from behind meant we had to take some chances early in the game to turn the momentum.

“I think not capitalising on the five on three opportunity was the difference, as to cut it to a one goal game would have been a huge lift mentally. It would have really energised the fans.

“We’re all disappointed, we don’t need anyone else to tell us that. All these guys are professionals and all take a huge amount of pride in what they do.

“For these play-off games alone we had several players playing through the pain barrier.

“One came back two weeks early with a broken thumb, one came back from MCL injury early, another was prepared to play with a Grade Two MCL strain and another was playing with hernia and ankle ligament damage.

“In addition to that, we had a guy playing two weeks after dislocating his shoulder and also rushed another back into the lineup from hernia surgery previously.

“You can’t out perform your capacity and when your capacity is limited by the current condition of your roster it makes it extremely difficult.”

Watkins’ vow to improve the Tigers squad will see him scour both the EPL and Elite League this summer, although any transfer targets will remain a closely-guarded secret.

He added: “Of course we will look to improve. We were extremely fortunate to win a league and cup double, and are keen to get back to that level.

“I am actively working recruiting for the 2016-17 season. Several players we have already secured, while some guys will move on and be replaced with new faces.

“Myself and the players would like to thank the fans for their support during the season. It’s very much appreciated.”

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