The off-ice report

Monday, 29th May 2006

Following the unexpected departure of Mike Blaisdell after the end of the season, Nottingham Panthers have ended their search for a new coach with the announcement that Mike Ellis has taken the position 'with immediate effect'.  The former Bracknell Bees player-coach and GB International isn't expected to be a part of the Panthers' on-ice team, but can be expected to pull on the skates and take to the ice if his team needs him, according to the Panthers website.  Nottingham Chairman Neil Black is relieved to have appointed a coach, and feels happy with the choice of Ellis, saying "Mike is a solid individual with a proven track record as a coach at many levels.  He has an excellent work ethic and pays great emphasis on ensuring that his teams are excellently prepared for every game.  He has many good ideas with regard to recruitment and his existing contacts will hopefully work well for us next season."

Ellis himself is equally happy with the move to Nottingham, saying "I am thrilled at the prospect of coaching a big club like the Panthers.  The club needs success and I want to be a winner with them.  This is a great opportunity for me, I'm looking forward to moving to the city and meeting the fans.  The recruitment of players for the upcoming season is an immediate priority."

It's a case of two in, two out in Coventry, with the Blaze announcing two new signings in the same week as two of their players move on to a rival Elite League team.  First up is the arrival of Calgary blue-liner Reid Simonton, a former member of the Bracknell Bees who iced last season for Herning Blue Fox in Denmark, where he first caught the eye of Blaze coach Paul Thompson during the Continental Cup.  Having seen Reid go up against the Blaze when they played against Herning, Coach Thompson was quick to secure his signature.  "Reid has played in leagues of a much higher standard and his signing is a great coup for the club," says Coach Thompson.  "He is a great open ice hitter and has the sort of physical presence that we missed last year.  He is not a goon but is the sort of player who makes opponents keep their heads up when they are skating."

The Blaze have also added winger Michael Wales to the squad, signing him after a spell with Milton Keynes Lightning and Basingstoke Bison on a two-way contract.  Wales was part of the EPL Play-Off winning Lightning squad, and has made the tough decision to leave the club with which he had great success.  "The one thing that has made it a lot easier is knowing that I am going from the best setup in the EPL to the best setup in the EIHL," says Wales. "The prospect of being part of a team that has been so successful in the EIHL and still has that ambition to succeed made my decision that much easier.  My role in the team will be bringing the energy and jump to the third line and the team."

But with the news of the arrival of Simonton and Wales comes the news of the departure of Russ Cowley and Lee Richardson.  The news follows much speculation as to the future of Cowley, who has been a part of the Blaze organisation for the past five seasons, and Devils coach Ed Patterson sees the potential in the player, saying "Russ is a great player who brings a lot to the table.  He can score, play on the powerplay and kill penalties.  He is one of those players who is ready to break out and take on a bigger role for his team.  We are confident that Russ will have one of those years for Cardiff next season."

Richardson, on the other hand, has moved on after a season with the Blaze, where he'd moved following a season with Bracknell Bees.  Lee will be rejoining his brother Mark, who has already signed for the Cardiff team.  Coach Patterson is taking a chance on a younger-orientated Devils squad, and feels that Richardson fits the bill.  "I think Lee is one of those players who is just a late bloomer," says Coach Patterson.  "I've seen him play lots over the past two seasons and I think he has great potential.  For a young player it's hard to gain confidence when you don't get regular ice never mind going from one team to another. I believe with a solid role and regular shifts his confidence will grow and his game will reach a new level."

Sheffield Steelers have confirmed the return of former Manchester Phoenix player Mark Thomas, who iced for Sheffield last season following a move from London Racers.  Steelers Coach Dave Whistle was keen to sign Thomas quickly in order to fend off rumoured competition from Phoenix, saying "This feels like a new signing, what with all the gossip about Mark joining Manchester.  I was very impressed with Mark as a player and as a person, he is a top guy and one we see being here in Sheffield for the long term."

Newcastle Vipers have announced the return of Shaun Johnson, with the Durham native signing for a third season with the Tyneside club.  "Shaun has always been a very hard working player and brings that never-say-die attitude to every game," says Coach Rob Wilson.  "The British players are at a premium this summer, guys who have the drive and experience of Shaun don't grow on trees so I am delighted he has agreed to return."

by Richard Allan