The off-ice report

Wednesday, 3rd August 2005
The Elite League will be without some of the stars of the 2004-2005 campaign, with the NHL restarting this October.  London racers will be without defenceman Eric Cairns who will be heading to Florida to play for the Panthers, and Scott Nichol will be returning to the Chicago Blackhawks.  Coventry will lose Wade Belak, who is expected to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Cardiff Devils will be losing Rob Davison back to the San Jose Sharks, and Nottingham will most likely be without Ian Moran and Nick Boynton who have both been offered contracts by the Boston Bruins.
However, the formulation of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in the National Hockey League and the resultant return of NHL ice hockey ready for the coming season hasn't stopped Elite Leaguers Belfast Giants from aiming high and reaching an agreement with NHL star Theo Fleury.  With over a thousand games in the NHL at clubs ranging from Calgary Flames to Chicago Blackhawks, Fleury has reportedly agreed to sign for the Northern Irish team.  Giants General Manager John Elliot reveals that "Theo is one of many players which our new investor Jim Yaworski has approached," and goes on to confirm that "I've spoken to Fleury and known for a few weeks that he is keen to come here, however there are always paperwork and work permit hurdles to overcome and although I join our fans in their excitement, I'll not be able to confirm his place on the roster for a few weeks yet."  Fleury is listed as a 'potential player' on the Giants' website.
Basingstoke Bison have added to their forward lines with the signing of Latvian Edijs Brahmanis, who comes to the Bison after two seasons with ASK Ogre.  Bison General Manager Mark Bernard is pleased with the signing, revealing that "Edijs comes very highly regarded from one of my former players that spent time with him at the Pool A World Championships.  He's a guy that is a good skater and has a nice touch around the net."  Bernard goes on to say that he thinks the forward will deliver the goods for the fans.  "Edijs is a great kid that has a lot of talent," says Bernard. "There will be an adjustment period but I know he will do very well and help keep the Bison faithful on the edge of their seats."
It's been a busy week for Mike Blaisdell's Nottingham Panthers, with no fewer than five players putting pen to paper for the club.  Canadian forward Brad Patterson comes to the Panthers from the Wichita Thunder in the CHL, and was reportedly a target for four other EIHL teams before choosing to sign with the Panthers.  Coach Blaisdell sees the value of the player, saying that "Brad is an important signing because he doesn not need a work permit and he is a fast skater with good skills who is not afraid to go in the corners and who works hard at both ends of the ice.  He is a gritty kind of player who gets under the opposition's skin.  I like what I hear about him and the fact that so many teams were chasing him bodes well." 
Nottingham have also added four Brits to their 2005-2006 roster, with the return of Lewis Buckman, Jason Buckman and Rhys McWilliam on two-way contracts, the Buckmans with Peterborough and McWilliam with Solihull.  James Neil will also be training with the first team this season despite being only 15 years old, and Coach Blaisdell is quick to stress the importance of local players, saying "The Nottingham club has always taken a great deal of pride in its use of British talent. You only have to look at the part the British players, including the youngsters that were called up, played in Nottingham’s survival last season and the fact that the organization was in there, competing right to the end of the season, is testament to the investment the club has made in this area."
London Racers will be without the services of Richard Hargreaves this season, with the forward signing for Swindon Wildcats to play alongside his brother Mike.  The Racers have added two new faces to the roster for the forthcoming season, with Troy Smith serving on defence and Jay Woodcroft bolstering the forward lines.  Smith joins the Racers after icing for the Quad City Mallards of the UHL last season, and Racers Coach Dennis Maxwell is looking forward to adding him to the squad, saying "He is a really good team guy.  He is a stay-at-home and I think he'll fit in really well with the more offensive defenseman like Mark Gouett."
Woodcroft joins the Racers after playing for the Stuttgart Wizards last season.  Coach Maxwell is pleased with the signing, saying "Woodcroft's ability is unquestionable.  He has proven he can score and we are really excited to have him in the line up."
The Mobilx-sponsorsed Newcastle Vipers have signed netminder Trevor Koenig to replace the departing Doug Teskey.  Koenig comes to the Vipers following a stint between the pipes with the Atlantic City Broadwalk Bullies in the ECHL, whom he joined following a spell with the San Diego Gulls where he recorded a 90.4% save percentage and 2.79 goals against average in 18 games.  Vipers Coach Rob Wilson confirmed that Koenig had been a target for the club, saying "We have been speaking to Trevor for two months now.  There has been considerable interest from clubs throughout the hockey world including some of our Elite League rivals, so we are extremely happy that Trevor has agreed to join the Mobilx Vipers."
Coventry Blaze have re-signing members of their Grand-Slam team in advance of the forthcoming season, with defenceman Pavol Mihalik, netminder Dan Shea and defenceman James Pease all coming back for the 2005-2006 season.  The Blaze have also added Joe Miller on a two-way contract with Telford Tigers.  Pavol Mihalik was sidelined with injury for the second half of last season, and Blaze Coach Paul Thompson is keen to have him back out on the Coventry blue-line.  "I'm looking forwad to having Pavol back," says Coach Thompson.  "I think we were just starting to see the best of him when he suffered that shoulder injury.  It was a terrible accident and something I'm still upset about. I thought I'd want Pavol back as he recovered fully.  He will complement the other elements in next year's defence.  He is mobile, feisty and has a great shot."
Speaking about Joe Miller, Coach Thompson explains where he spotted the young player. "Joe originally came through the Cardiff system and I spotted him at Telford when I was keeping an eye on Tom Carlon and Adam Brittle.  He's a big lad - when I first saw him I thought he was carrying too much weight but his physique has improved."  Coach Thompson goes on to say, "I think Joe has continued to improve as a player at Telford, and he got good numbers last year, especially for an English player in a side with just one import forward - his coach Claude Dumas. We might not see much of him in games but I can have a good look at him in training and he has got the chance to learn from being in a professional set up."
Back-up netminder Dan Shea impressed Thompson enough last year to ensure a place on the team this year.  "Dan had the hardest work ethic last year and he came on a lot," explains Thompson. "Before he came to us he didn't have much senior experience and he progressed a lot mentally.  He has come out of his shell a bit this year and keeps improving.  It's tough for him but he knows that he could be thrown in at a moment's notice, so he has to be ready."
Returning for a tenth season with the Blaze, James Pease has earned a contract following years as a two-way player.  Coach Thompson says "We've rewarded James with a contract that is much improved from last year and that reflects the progress that he has made.  He thoroughly warrants his place in the EIHL.  Last year he never directly cost us a goal.  He worked hard on improving.  For the first time he used his size and stature to his benefit.  Now he has a chance to move on further and show me that he can be a number four defenceman and save me bringing in an import next year."
The new Coach of the Belfast Giants, Ed Courtenay, has announced the first four signings for the 2005-2006 squad.  The players confirmed by Courtenay are Marc Levers, Shane Johnson, Todd Kelman and the ex-Phoenix captain George Awada.  Coach Courtenay had this to say regarding the four: "There are a number of new names and faces in the pipeline, but I have also been quick to ensure some of the players from pervious years are secured. I’ve played against Todd and Shane and they are formidable defenders to face our Elite League rivals. George Awada is simply a player that we had to have in our team next season after last year’s performance as the Giants top goal scorer and also as an inspiration to other players in the team. Marc Levers is one of the best young British players and having scored 10 goals for the team last year he will be a valuable asset to the third line. All four guys have consistently delivered superb individual performances and that sets a benchmark for the forthcoming season. The ability to gel as a team on the ice and in the locker room is equally important to me and I know this a solid base to start with and one which the fans will be equally as happy to see confirmed."
by Richard Allan