Elite League Preview – Games 12/3/16 – 13/3/16

This weekend sees the penultimate series of games in the Elite Ice Hockey League, and with standings so close at the top and the bottom of the table it is sure to be a vital weekend for a number of sides.

Cardiff Devils v Belfast Giants – 12/3/16 and 13/2/16

The Cardiff Devils finally open their new rink following the move from their temporary home, the big blue tent, into the brand new Ice Arena Wales. It will be a vital game for both sides as they are in the title race with Cardiff sitting second and Belfast in fourth place.

The Devils come into the game with four league defeats on the bounce and also a loss in overtime in the Challenge Cup final. However, their last win did come against Belfast in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

The Giants had been on a resurgence bringing themselves back into the title race after winning six out of seven league games since the Olympic break in February. However their one loss in that run of games came last weekend after the Braehead Clan defeated the Giants 2-1 in Belfast.

In the previous three visits that the Giants have made to Cardiff this season, the Devils have come out on top on all three occasions so they will be hoping this continues this weekend. The Giants will look to take advantage of the bigger ice pad in Cardiff as they try to overtake the Devils in the league standings.

Edinburgh Capitals v Dundee Stars 12/3/16 and Dundee Stars v Edinburgh Capitals 13/3/16

Both of these Gardiner Conference game sees two sides out of form meet at both the Murrayfield Ice Rink and the Dundee Ice Arena over the weekend. The Capitals come into this tie on a 16 game loss streak. The Dundee Stars will be looking to edge closer to securing their Play Off spot with a win in the Scottish Capital, but will need to put an end to their three game winless run if they are to do so.

In the four games that have taken place between the sides in Murrayfield this season the Capitals have won one with the Stars coming out on top in the other three.

In the Dundee Ice Arena the results were the same with the Stars winning three of the four games and the Capitals coming away with the one win.

Nottingham Panthers v Sheffield Steelers 12/3/16

This game sees two sides who are both still in the title race clash at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham. The Panthers will come into the game with a mixture of fortunes after winning the Challenge Cup on Sunday but then lost away to the Coventry Blaze in midweek.

The Steelers however are sitting at the top of the league after beating Fife convincingly last weekend and will be hoping to extend their lead at the top of the standings.

In the games at the National Ice Centre the Panthers have come out on top winning three out of five games, including the second leg of the Challenge Cup Semi-final.

Braehead Clan v Manchester Storm 12/3/16 and Manchester Storm v Braehad Clan 13/3/16

The Braehead Clan go into this weekend having revived their hopes of taking the Elite League title. On the other hand the Manchester Storm still have slim hopes of securing the last Play Off spot.

The Clan head into this game in fine form, winning their last three including an impressive victory over the Belfast Giants at the SSE Arena. On the other hand the Storm lost to fellow Gardiner Conference rivals the Fife Flyers putting a dent into their chances of making the Play Offs.

The Clan have the upper hand in the games played at the Braehead Arena with the Scottish side winning two of the three games.

It is exactly the same story in the Silver Blades Ice Rink Altringham as the Clan have skated away with two victories over the Storms single win.

Sheffield Steelers v Coventry Blaze 13/3/16

This game sees the Coventry Blaze head into Sheffield looking to continue with their impressive form of late as they are currently on a five game winning streak.

A win here would almost certainly secure the Blaze a Play Off spot as they look to retain the championship they won last year, by beating the Sheffield Steelers in the Play Off final.

In the four games that have taken place in Sheffield, the series is tied two apiece. Both sides will be hoping to come out on top in the last regular season game between the sides.

Fife Flyers v Nottingham Panthers 13/3/16

Fife head into their only game of the weekend with confidence after a convincing 8-2 win away to the Manchester Storm. With their Play Off place all but secured, the Flyers will be hoping to put a dent in any hopes the Panthers have of winning the league title.

The sides have only met once so far in the Fife Ice Arena with the home side winning the game 5-2.

 

This is going to be a huge weekend of Ice Hockey all around the Elite League with key games taking place over both nights. We could be one step closer to finding out who will be lifting the Monteith Bowl at the end of the season when this weekend is over.

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Will the Elite League Import increase hurt Team GB in the long run?

The 2016/17 Elite League season sees the level of non-British talent allowed in the league rise to 14. Many people will think that this is a positive move for the league but what will this mean for young British players looking to gain appropriate ice time?

There is no denying that the 2015/16 Elite League season is going to have the most exciting end that has ever been seen. Currently the top five teams are separated by just six points with only two weeks remaining in the regular season campaign.

The interest isn’t only at the top of the standings, as the battle for the remaining Play Off place also has huge interest with five points separating the teams in eighth and ninth.

However how much support does the Elite League give to British players and Team GB?

In February of this year the GB men’s team travelled to Italy to take part in Olympics qualifiers for the 2018 games. Unfortunately they came up just short after losing out to the host nation 6-2.

The Italian team were given weeks to prepare for this tournament showing how important the Olympics is to them. However the Elite Leagues clubs were still playing less than a week before the Olympics Qualifiers began.

In fact, the League even had fixtures on the weekend that team GB were competing with teams forced to go without any players that were picked to participate.

The increase in Import numbers in the past has seen players move down to the English Premier League.

Players such as Matt Towe who played for the Belfast Giants in 2012/13 season and Kevin Phillips who has played for the Braehead Clan and the Belfast Giants over a six year span have been forced to move down to the English Premier League to get ice time.

With players of this calibre available and able to be signed is there a need for the import levels to be increased, especially when in the long run it is going to hurt Team GB?

The Elite League and British Ice Hockey should be helping each other out and be on the same page when it comes to Ice Hockey in the UK. At the moment it seem like both want to get the best for each other and not work together. I can’t see this being resolved anytime soon and expect the Team GB Ice Hockey team to be a casualty of this with players not getting enough ice time and being left behind in their World Championship Group.

Britos the surprise package in successful Hornets season

On July 22nd 2015 it was announced that Watford had signed Uruguayan defender Miguel Britos from Napoli as part of the deal that saw Brazilian midfielder Allen move from Udinese to the fellow Serie A side from Naples.

As with most signings these days as soon as it was announced fans went straight on to YouTube to see highlights of Britos. The one that stood out for most was his last game in Italy where he received a straight red card for head-butting Alvaro Morata in a league game against Juventus.

This wasn’t the best start for him at Watford as this incident carried over a three game suspension which meant he missed the first few games of the Premier League campaign.

He was finally able to make his debut in the League Cup second round tie away at Championship side Preston North End. However this game would end up in a very similar fashion to his last outing in Italy with the Uruguayan receiving his marching orders, this time for elbowing Preston’s Bailey Wright at a corner.

However this was the last time that controversy would surround Britos in a Watford shirt. He had to wait patiently for his chance to return to the starting XI but this break came when fellow summer arrival, centre back Sebastian Prodl returned from international duty with Switzerland with an injury.

This led to Britos embarking on a run of starts for the Hornets playing in 14 successive games, including the impressive run of five wins on the bounce that included three successive clean sheets.

On this run Britos showed the Watford fans that he was much more than a player who had been written off for his antics that led to red cards. He established a great understanding in the back four alongside Northern Ireland international Craig Cathcart.

He has also showed that he is comfortable playing the ball with either foot. An example of this came in the home league win against Newcastle United in January when the left footed Britos crossed with his right foot that led to the second goal scored by Craig Cathcart.

For a player who arrived with a reputation as someone who had a temper and could boil over at any point, he has been a revelation for a Watford side who have shocked many people as the look set to stay in the Premier League in their first season following promotion, despite being the bookmakers favourites to go down back in August.

The former Napoli centre back has turned out to be one of the signings of the season as far as Watford are concerned, being a stand out performer in a solid Watford defence and these performances could result in interest in the summer from some of Europe’s big clubs.