Hello my fellow Coyote fans, your Manchester correspondent calling! It's been a long time since your last Manchester Phoenix update so I wanted to give you an update on your adopted EPIHL side the Manchester Phoenix.
2013-14 was another good year for the Manchester Phoenix, it ended with the Phoenix picking up their second EPIHL championship title, the club's 3rd major trophy in its existence. The 54-game season finished with the Phoenix sitting pretty at the top with 80 points, a full six points clear of second place. In fact, the biggest margin since the 09-10 season. After lifting the league championship, the Manchester Phoenix, once again, progressed to the end of season playoff final, for the third year in a row. This time the final, and with it the 2013-14 season, ended with sadness as the Phoenix were beaten by the league runners up, the Basingstoke Bison.
Still it was a fantastic season. Steve Fone was superb in the Phoenix net, ending the season with a .912 save percentage.
The Phoenix defensive line, lead by ex-NHLer, Robert Schnabel, conceded the fewest goals in the league. Schnabel, drafted No. 79 by the Islanders in 1997 and No. 129 by.....the Arizona Coyotes! Schnabel was a leader on and off the ice, with the improvement in the British defenseman's play evident throughout the season. It was with much sadness that, during this summers off-season, we waved good by to Schanbel who returned to the Czech Republic for his well earned retirement.
The high-powered offense was lead by second-year man Michal Psurny, who finished the league season with an incredible 99 points. Assisted by British Hockey's Wayne Gretzky, Tony Hand, finished second top scorer, despite his 46 years with 82 points, of which 64 were assists! That epic fire-power was given depth by Phoenix first timers Robin Kovar and Frantisek Bakrlik, who round out the Phoenix top scorers. Not to mention the British core who contributed with nearly a point per game across the board.
Sentimentality has a rare place in British hockey, you don't get many once club players or, players who stick with a club for multiple seasons. Clubs often release much of the roster and rebuild again, coming into the new season with a fresh new roster. After a championship winning season, the Phoenix spent most of summer 2014 tinkering with the roster rather than full scale demolition. Phoenix lost a handful of players to moves, long-term injury or retirement. Johan Burlin came in for Robert Schabel as the Phoenix "import" defenseman and the likes of Bobby Chamberlaine and Shaun Thompson came in to replace some of the Brit core lost over the summer.
Perhaps the biggest changes have come across the league, many teams have significantly upgraded their rosters. Teams such as the Milton Keynes Lightning have upgraded their own arena. Peterborough Phantoms have a stronger budget and roster. Guilford Flames, seen for many years as the money team in the league, will always be in with a shout. Same goes for the Basingstoke Bison who came into the EPIHL with the Phoenix. The biggest change has come on Shropshire for the Telford Tigers. Long-time fan owned and competing at the foot of the EPIHL table, the Tigers, during the 2012-13 season were taken over by multi-millionaire Wayne Scholes. Head of Red Touch Media based in Salt Lake City, think of the effect Roman Abramovic had on Chelsea or Sheikh Mansour has had on Manchester City, Scholes has had that effect on the Telford Tigers. They have gone from the smallest budget to the biggest in the league in one summer. The summer also saw the withdrawal of the Slough Jets, a team long reliant on a wealthy owner to exist, that owner decided enough was enough and withdrew support for the Jets. They sadly folded dropping the EPIHL to 9 teams.
For the new 2014-15 season the authorities introduced a new cup competition which involved EPIHL teams and ENIHL teams. The NIHL is the league structure immediately below the EPIHL in the pyramid. A Northern and Southern section sees clubs from across both leagues compete against local rivalries. The top two in each group playing each other to progress to the final. EPIHL teams would be restricted in the number of "imports" they could dress for each game (two) and the number allowed on the ice at any one time (one), as NIHL teams only have one on their roster. This competition would allow EPIHL teams a chance to bring up some of their youth prospects for some meaningful ice time against good opposition.
As for the season so far for the Phoenix, it has mirrored the Arizona Coyotes a lot to be honest. Inconsistency seems to be the word so far. The star of the season for the Phoenix would see many weekends where the Phoenix would play a cup game followed by a league game. Because of the special restrictions in the cup competition, the roster had to change almost every weekend, as did the line composition. It's perhaps this chopping and changing, plus some unfortunate injuries that saw the Phoenix make their worst start to a season in many years. As the cup competition has reached the end of its groups stage for the Phoenix, the roster and lines have settled down. This has allowed the Phoenix to start climbing the table and, as of this week, the Phoenix currently sit 6th, 17 points behind runaway league leaders Telford Tigers. Phoenix have managed to get some of their long-term injured back on the ice, James Archer (groin), Jacob-Corson Heron (collarbone) but lost starting netminder Steve Fone (leg) to injury. Thankfully, the Phoenix have a more than able backup in Declan Ryan.
We are now over a third of the way through the EPIHL season and, I will admit, do not see the Phoenix retaining their league championship. The Telford Tigers are too strong and, the Phoenix are perhaps, not quite as strong as last season. That being said, we have a team good enough to compete in the cup competitions plus, you never know, teams can collapse. The Phoenix just have to be in contention, they have enough quality on the ice to take a chance!
Manchester and Phoenix may be separated by 5,000 miles but, you would be surprised, there are more similarities than you may think!
So that's your Manchester Phoenix update as it stands, sorry for such a long post but it's been a while! I hope you have enjoyed reading, if you have any thoughts you can contact me on Twitter @theangrybudgie I'm always happy to chat all things Phoenix and Coyotes with my fellow Yotes fans! Let me know if there is anything specific you'd like to be kept up-to-date with too! Thanks for reading!