PHANTOMS PREVIEW: Slava’s boys to finish fifth - MK Lightning to take the title

Action from Sunday's 'Ashes' game against MK Lightning. Picture: Tom Scott
Action from Sunday's 'Ashes' game against MK Lightning. Picture: Tom Scott
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Peterborough Telegraph ice hockey writer Mark Plummer is predicting a fifth-place finish for Peterborough Phantoms in the English Premier League with MK Lightning finishing as champions.

CLUB BY CLUB GUIDE AND MARK PLUMMER’S PREDICTIONS FOR 2016-2017

BASINGSTOKE BISON

Last season: 1st

Rink: Planet Ice Arena

Coach: Doug Sheppard

Imports: Tomas Hiadlovsky (netminder), Petr Polodna (forward), Rene Jarolin (forward), Tomas Karpov (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: The reigning champions are sure to mount a vigorous defence. Teenage speedster Ivan Antonov is a fine addition from Bracknell and Peter Polodna is a new Czech import, but the Bison possibly don’t have the riches that other likely contenders can boast. The unexpected loss of import defenceman Miroslav Vantroba on the eve of the season will also be a major blow. Money can’t buy their grit and determination though, so sure to be in the top four again.

BRACKNELL BEES

Last season: 10th (bottom)

Rink: The Hive

Coach: Lukas Smital

Imports: Martin Pavlicek (defenceman), David Gaborcik (defenceman), Luka Basic (forward), Krystof Kafan (forward), Lukas Smital (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: It’s pleasing just to see Bracknell feature among the list of teams playing in the EPL, but another basement battle awaits for last season’s crisis club. They appear to have much more solid foundations now and a new batch of imports will join coach Lukas Smital, but there is a serious lack of depth to their British ranks. They’ll no doubt hope to unearth a few gems, but another wooden spoon the likeliest outcome.

GUILDFORD FLAMES

Last season: 3rd (won the play-offs)

Rink: The Spectrum

Coach: Paul Dixon

Imports: Richard Ullberg (netminder), Marcus Kristoffersson (forward), Jens Eriksson (forward), Matic Kralj (forward), Marek Maslonka (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: The Flames were the team of 2015/16 in many ways despite only finishing third. They beat Phantoms in the final of the EPL Cup and then added the play-off crown to their collection. Very little has changed in Surrey over the summer with the captures of Slovakian forward Marek Maslonka and Brit defenceman Sam Waller the only additions to a high-class roster. Top four certainties, Top two possibles.

HULL PIRATES

Last season: 9th

Rink: Hull Ice Arena

Coach: Dominic Osman

Imports: Stan Lascek (forward), Jaroslav Sarsok (defenceman), Dominic Osman (defenceman/forward), Ugnius Cizas (forward), Andrej Themar (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: Pirates’ second season in the EPL should be better than their first. Overseas defenceman Jaroslav Sarsok arrives from the Polish League with a big reputation for hard-hitting and even harder shooting. Andrej Themar and Stan Lascek are two more tasty imports while netminder Jordan Marr, defenceman Lee Haywood and forward Ryan Watt are all solid British recruits. Play-offs well within reach.

MANCHESTER PHOENIX

Last season: 8th

Rink: Fylde Coast Ice Arena (until the Manchester Ice Dome is built).

Coach: Tony Hand

Imports: Joni Tuominen (defenceman), Robin Kovar (forward), Roman Malinik (forward), Jakub Langhammer (forward),

Plummer’s prediction: Of the new recruits, Jakub Langhammer, who has won two top-level titles in his homeland, looks a player of some repute. He and Roman Malinik are a pair of new Czech forwards who join their classy countryman, Robin Kovar, in the Phoenix ranks. Joni Tuominen is a vastly-experienced D-man from Finland. Former Phantoms men Greg Pick and Edgars Bebris are solid British recruits. Might sneak into a play-off spot.

MILTON KEYNES LIGHTNING

Last season: 5th

Rink: MK Arena

Coach: Pete Russell

Imports: Przemyslaw Odrobny (netminder), Blaz Emersic (forward), Milan Baranyk (forward), Mikolaj Lopuski (forward), Frantisek Bakrlik (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: There is no doubt that MK intend to leave the EPL behind amid a blaze of glory. They’ve assembled a high-class roster for their final season at this level with an overhauled set of imports including two new Polish recruits and former Phantoms man Milan Baranyk. They also boast as strong a bunch of Brits as any side in the league, with last season’s Phantoms hot-shot Craig Scott among them. Potential champions.

PETERBOROUGH PHANTOMS

Last season: 2nd

Rink: Planet Ice

Coach: Slava Koulikov

Imports: Janis Auzins (netminder), Darius Pliskauskas (forward), Ales Padelek (forward), Petr Stepanek (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: Phantoms’ chances of success were written off two months before the season started by some fans on social media. Yes, they are an import down on most teams. Yes, they have seen a host of top players move on. And yes, their roster features a stack of young players. But their excellent coach Slava Koulikov will mould another hard-working and tough-to-beat side which can secure safe play-off qualification in mid-table at the worst. And then, who knows?

SHEFFIELD STEELDOGS

Last season: 7th

Rink: IceSheffield

Coach: Greg Wood

Imports: Tomas Brcko (defenceman), Pavel Mrna (forward), Donatas Kumeliauskas (forward), Arnoladas Bosas (forward), Adrian Palak (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: Times are changing in Sheffield. The bar-room brawling days of the Andre Payette era appear to be firmly in the past (except for the presence of fight-seeker Callum Pattison in their ranks). Current coach Greg Wood looks to have a handy set of players for his second season in charge with four extremely lively import forwards. Might not have the defensive corps to back it up, but should make the top eight.

SWINDON WILDCATS

Last season: 6th

Rink: Link Centre

Coach: Aaron Nell

Imports: Mark Smith (defenceman) Max Birbraer (forward), Jan Kostal (forward), Jonas Hoog (forward), Tomasz Malasinski (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: Will this finally be the season it all comes together for the EPL’s serial under-achievers? Probably not. Swindon have added former Elite League defenceman Mark Smith and ex-Telford title-winner Max Birbraer to their stable of imports, and in player-boss Aaron Nell boast arguably the best British forward at this level, but the suspicion is they will again find themselves in mid-table rather than pushing for top spot.

TELFORD TIGERS

Last season: 4th

Rink: Telford Ice Rink

Coach: Tom Watkins

Imports: Ondrej Raszka (netminder), Michael Satek (forward), Milan Kolena (forward), Doug Clarkson (forward), Jason Silverthorn (forward).

Plummer’s prediction: The joy of title success in 2014/15 was followed by a major flop of 2015/16 as the big-spending Tigers failed to back-up their status as the top dogs of the EPL. But, following a summer shake-up of their roster, including the introduction of three new imports and the arrivals of a couple of good British signings, they can be expected to challenge for glory. And they’ll be many people’s favourites to top the standings too.

PLUMMER’S PREDICTED FINISHING ORDER

HOW THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE WILL (OR PROBABLY WON’T) LOOK AT THE END OF next SEASON . . .

1 Milton Keynes

2 Telford

3 Guildford

4 Basingstoke

5 Phantoms

6 Sheffield

7 Swindon

8 Hull

9 Manchester

10 Bracknell