My top fighters in the Elite League

This season, enforcers have dropped their gloves in ice rinks up and down the country all in the aid of some “gentlemanly fisticuffs.”

While not part of the game, Ice Hockey and fighting is a way of settling arguments without the intervention of the referee. Tensions are released while the players are given five minutes in the penalty box as a slap on the wrist as the match continues as if the amateur pugilism never occurred.

With that in mind, here are my top fighters in the Elite League’s 2015/16 campaign.

Cam Janssen is an elite level enforcer, so much so that the 32-year-old spent nine years in the NHL throwing punches with the best of them. In his first campaign with the playoff winning Nottingham Panthers, he finished second in toe-to-toes and appeared in some of the bloodiest and most entertaining of them.

To prove that the right winger is not one to be messed, you can ask Tyson Marsh of the Cardiff Devils who was knocked out by a haymaker.

With a win percentage of 58% in 12 contests, he ranks only second to the big cheese of the British game, Zack Fitzgerald. Janssen’s compatriot had 15 fights in 52 outings. In comparison, the Dundee Stars squad had 14 bouts. He is the reason that the Sheffield Steelers topped the win percentage in dust-ups.

Fitzgerald won nine of his battles and picked up the other knockout seen this season. For me, the defenseman appeared in more entertaining ding-dongs and showed the heart that drove for the Steelers to the league title. It also left the others to focus on their craft, safe in the knowledge that the Michigan born battler will back them up when needed.

This is why when picking between the two “Goons,” I think he is the best in the league.

Luckily for us the spectator we have seen these behemoths face off on numerous occasions, including a couple in back-to-back nights. The tale of the tape is pretty even. Zack has a couple of inches on Cam, as he stands at 6ft 2in, but is outweighed by a single pound as both would be classed as heavyweights if they decided to turn their talents to Boxing. These face-offs between the tough guys were too close to call.

My favourite brawl featured in a match with two fired up sides as three fights broke out. Cardiff Devils’ Andrew Lord, who would have picked a fight with every member of the Coventry Blaze if he was allowed to.

It was not only the players that night who enjoyed a physical conversation. The fans took part in an aggressive tete-a-tete which evaded the cameras.

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.


Fife Flyers awards night

David Brown and Matt Delahey were the big winners at Fife Flyers awards night at the Bay Hotel, Kirkcaldy as the regular season drew to a close.

Delahey was signed last summer and earned the respect of his teammates as they voted the defenseman the Players’ Player of the Year. The Canadian said:

“It’s nice to win awards. Obviously, throughout the year you focus more on team achievements. Especially being a guy like me who maybe doesn’t put up a lot of points, plays defense and kills a few penalties. Awards are not something that I think about. However, to win one, and one that was voted for by the players means the world, so I’m thankful for that.”

It was not his only victory of the night. The Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan native dedicated his Defenseman of the Year trophy to his on-rink partner Kyle Haines. The ex New Jersey Devil said:

“Yea, I guess anytime you win, it has to do with the people around you. I mean, almost every shift I played out there was with him. He makes me look better and I owe him a lot.”

His compatriot, David Brown was honored that the supporters voted him their Player of the Year. The net minder said:

“It’s very special, It’s a big honor. The fans come out to every game. It’s an incredible fan base and to have their support is something I cherish and appreciative of.”

Hailing from Stoney Creek, Ontario, he had stiff competition from forwards Justin Fox and Ryan Dingle. The latter won Forward of the Year and was the side’s top points scorer with 57. The former NHL draft pick said:

“Those are two of our top players and performers. They are two unbelievable guys that know how to put the puck in the back of the net and it could have gone to either one of them.”

Having come to Scotland in time for the 2015/16 campaign from the now defunct Hull Stingrays, he has enjoyed his debut outing in Fife. He added:

“It has been incredible to have the support and everything here in Kirkcaldy. Being able to go to the old arena and performing in front of this fan base is special. The ‘Broonie’ chant is something that I will remember for the rest of my life, so it has been amazing.”

On that special relationship with the fans, the goalie commented:

“Yes, absolutely. It grew organically throughout the season. I appreciate it and try to acknowledge them back. It motivates me to do better and give them the victory that they deserve.”

Local lad, Stephen Gunn celebrated a decade with his hometown team by picking up British Player of the Year. The runners-up were two other Kirkcaldy-born men in the guises of Kyle Horne and Thomas Muir.

The now retired Danny Stewart was awarded Unsung Hero for his tireless effort at both ends of the rink. Stewart plied his trade as a defender or a winger and certainly put the work in for the cause.

Dingle was the recipient of Goal of the Season award for his first effort against the Edinburgh Capitals.

Ryan Dingle’s Goal of the Season

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL’s end of season awards

Ice Hockey’s Elite League handed out its annual awards as part of the festivities of finals weekend.

Cardiff Devils goalie Ben Bowns was given the nod for British Player of the Year. The Rotherham born keeper also earned Netminder of the Year. This was due to him leading the league in goals-against average (2.50) and save percentage (.918).

Bowns’ teammate, Andrew Hotham was named Defenceman of the Year. He was the highest scoring defenceman for the second campaign in a row. The Barrie (not Barry Island) born skater was responsible for 16 goals and 68 points in 63 regular season and Challenge Cup matches.

Mathew Sisca of the Manchester Storm secured both the Elite League top goalscorer and leading points scorer titles. His coach, Omar Pacha collecting the trophies on his behalf.

Sheffield’s Paul Thompson earned Coach of the Year plaudits after securing back-to-back titles.

Player of the Year went to Cardiff’s Joey Martin, who notched up 31 goals and 84 points in all competitions. The Canadian’s performances were good enough to be Forward of the Year.

The All-Star teams were also announced.

Bowns and Hotham were both named to the first team. As were Steelers’s Ben O’Connor and Tyler Mosienko. Joey Martin and Nottingham’s Juraj Kolnik completed the set.

Coventry Blaze goaltender Brian Stewart was the standout on the second team. Belfast player/coach Derrick Walser made the side along with his trusted centre James Desmarais. Two Storm players also made it in the guise of Paul Phillips and Mathew Sisca. Then last year’s outstanding skater, Mathieu Roy took a step back but was good enough to be honoured.

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL playoffs: Finals weekend review


#2 Cardiff Devils 2-6 #8 Coventry Blaze

Forward Chris Bruton’s hat-trick earned him the man of the match award as the reigning playoff champions return to the final.

The eight seeds stunned the regular season runners-up as the West Midlands-based outfit were 4-0 up in the opening 20 minutes.

Brett Robinson, Cale Tanaka and Josh Godfrey were also on the scoresheet for the Blaze. And they will now matchup against the weakest squad they have had to play in this year’s competition.

Joey Haddad and Gleason Fournier added consolation. However, Cardiff ends a promising season empty-handed.

#4 Nottingham Panthers 4-1 #6 Fife Flyers

Corey Neilson’s side took control with two quick goals in the second period. David Clarke found the top corner then Logan MacMillan scored on a counter attack.

Fife’s top point scorer, Ryan Dingle had a spectacular goal that gave his Flyers some hope early in the last 20 minutes to be played.

However, Brad Moran restored a two-goal lead. Shortly after Evan Mosey ensured it would be the home team that would face Coventry in Sunday’s final at the National Ice Centre.

The Blaze had beat Cardiff Devils 6-2 in the first semi earlier on in the day.

Third/Fourth-placed match

Cardiff Devils 6-0 Fife Flyers

In the match no player wants to participate in, the Flyers were the less interested of the two sides.

Luke Piggott and Chris Jones hit doubles while Ryan Russell and Jake Morissette both netted singles.

The Welsh side, who led the Elite League for the majority of the season before losing it to Sheffield Steelers, were 3-0 up in the first period.

A couple more goals arrived in the second session, and Devils achieved their shutout with a sixth three minutes from time.


Nottingham Panthers 2-0 Coventry Blaze

It is a cup double for Corey Neilson’s side as they also lifted this year’s Challenge Cup at the National Ice Centre. They led at the end of the first period thanks to a strike by Stephen Schultz.

Blaze goaltender Brian Stewart made many saves that kept his team in the match going into the closing stages.

However, it would not last. Schultz turned provider and set up Kevin Quick to fire the second past Stewart and into the roof of the net.

Panthers keeper Miika Wiikman was able to secure a 30-shot shutout, having made many fine saves throughout the course of the match.

Although, Nottingham was worth their win. On their own patch, they could have won by a greater margin had it not been for the Coventry netminder.

The Canadian also saved on breakaways from Brad Moran and Evan Mosey before a great stop to deny Juraj Kolnik.

The focus now turns to the offseason and for the out of contract Panthers Head Coach Corey Neilson is looking to extend his stay. He said:

“There are a lot of great places out there, but this has always been special to me. If they want me back, of course, I will consider it. Hopefully, they recognise the things I’ve done.”

The Canadian was solely a player for two years with Nottingham. He then combined the role with coaching for the next five before switching his focus to the sideline full-time in 2013.

“I was privileged enough to wear the jersey for so long, now I get to be in charge of the biggest club in the Elite League. Over the 10 years, I feel we have had a great amount of success with championships and trophies that we are proud of.”

The Nottinghamshire based squad bounced back in 2016, having failed to win anything in the 2014/15 season. That campaign was the first time in seven years that they did not celebrate with silverware.

“It’s always a blast to be in your home rink and to be able to raise the trophy in front of all these great people that support us through thick and thin, high and low. Every game this year, these guys have given their hearts. They have not been great every single game, but they certainly gave everything they had. I could not be prouder.”

Fans and players alike will be hoping that Neilson stays on and will be coaching them to further success when the season starts in October.

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.