Wednesday, 26 April 2017

NHL - Playoffs - Round 1 - Pittsburgh Pengiuns vs Columbus Blue Jackets - Pens Win Series 4-1

Game 1 - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - Pens Win 3-1

Less than a half hour before puck drop, Marc-Andre Fleury didn't expect to start Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins. But Fleury did start, and he made 31 saves for a 3-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets to open the Eastern Conference First Round at PPG Paints Arena. Matt Murray, who won 15 games last postseason when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, was going to start but was injured during warmups. Murray was scratched, and Tristan Jarry became the backup. Fleury won a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the first time since April 18, 2015, when he made 23 saves in a 4-3 win against the New York Rangers. He appeared in his 101st playoff game, which tied Tom Barrasso for the most by a Penguins goalie. Shortly after becoming the starter, Fleury stopped all of the Blue Jackets' 16 shots in the first period. The Penguins had three first-period shots. Bryan Rust gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 1:15 of the second period. Evgeni Malkin crossed the blue line before passing to Phil Kessel, who used his skate to direct the puck to Rust for a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky's blocker. Kessel made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 3:45. Malkin had two assists in his first game after missing 13 with an upper-body injury believed to be to his shoulder. Nick Bonino extended the lead to 3-0 at 16:25. After Olli Maatta sent a stretch pass off the end boards behind the Columbus goal, Bonino retrieved the puck and dumped it to Patric Hornqvist, who shot off Bobrovsky. Bonino got to the rebound and wrapped a shot around the goalie.
Matt Calvert made it 3-1 at 12:41 of the third period.

* After receiving a pass from Justin Schultz, Kessel held the puck for a few seconds while drifting toward the middle of the left circle. He then shot past defenseman Scott Harrington for Pittsburgh's second goal in 2:30.
* Sullivan said he expected more information on Murray on Thursday. … Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey played his first Stanley Cup Playoff game after playing 907 regular-season games in 14 NHL seasons. Hainsey had two blocked shots in 19:25. … Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski returned from missing four games with an upper-body injury. He played 25:19, which was third on the Blue Jackets.

"I think we didn't play a good first 20 minutes. After, we played our game. I mean, we used our speed. … We scored the first goal, and after we felt so much better." Evgeni Malkin
"I just tried to approach it as a regular game. It was fun. It's been a while. I was a little nervous in the beginning, maybe from not expecting it. The guys did a great job in front of me too, all game long, blocking shots and taking rebounds away. At the end, it was a great feeling." Fleury said.
"The fact that we have [Fleury] and Matt, I think gives us a comfort level, because we know they're both No. 1 goalies. I said to these guys all along, 'I need both of you.' It's just the way the game is." Mike Sullivan said

Game 2 - Friday, April 14, 2017 - Pens Win 4-1

For more than a decade, Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury have been at the forefront of Pittsburgh Penguins victories in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were again in Game 2. Crosby had three points, and Fleury made 39 saves to help the Penguins defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round at PPG Paints Arena. Crosby scored his 50th Stanley Cup Playoff goal in the first period before assisting on goals by Jake Guentzel in the second and Evgeni Malkin in the third. Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 2-0.

Game 3 is Sunday at Columbus. The Blue Jackets outshot the Penguins 8-0 before Crosby's goal at 8:31 of the first period. Fleury allowed one goal in each of two starts in place of goalie Matt Murray, who is recovering from a lower-body injury sustained during warmups before Game 1 on Wednesday, a 3-1 win. Fleury has 55 playoff wins but won consecutive postseason starts for the first time since three straight victories against the New York Rangers from May 4-7, 2014. Crosby gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead after goalie Sergei Bobrovsky turned behind his net to retrieve the puck. Pittsburgh forward Conor Sheary dashed to the end boards to force a turnover and passed to Guentzel out front. Guentzel kicked the puck to his stick before passing to Crosby, who scored before Bobrovsky could recover. Columbus forward Brandon Saad, who was benched in the third period of Game 1, tied it 1-1 at 7:00 of the second period. Guentzel gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead 51 seconds later. Malkin scored to make it 3-1 at 2:01 of the third period. It was his first goal since returning after missing the final 13 games of the regular season with an upper-body injury; he had two assists in Game 1. Patric Hornqvist made it 4-1 on an empty-net goal with 46 seconds left.

* Crosby drove into the Columbus zone on a 2-on-1 with Guentzel facing defenseman Gabriel Carlsson. Crosby passed through Carlsson to Guentzel, who shot past a sliding Bobrovsky.
* Bobrovsky has allowed 19 goals in six straight losses (0-6-0). He last won March 28, when he made 41 saves against the Buffalo Sabres. … Crosby has 50 goals in 126 playoff games. He, Mario Lemieux (76) and Jaromir Jagr (65) are the only players to score that many for the Penguins. … Fleury played his 102nd playoff game, one more than Tom Barrasso for the most by a Penguins goalie. Fleury's 55 wins are one behind Barrasso for the Penguins record.
"They're three really good players [the Guentzel-Crosby-Sheary line]. I think they play the game with a lot of courage. They go to the battle areas. They have great hockey sense and they're quick. They're hard to defend." Mike Sullivan said.
"It just comes down to execution. If you execute, you make that little pass or that 10-foot pass, or you're able to beat that guy, then there's a chance to be had. So, I thought we did a better job as a group of doing that." Crosby said.
"I was more comfortable, more relaxed [than in Game 1]. [Knowing I was going to start] is always a good thing. It's fun when you're home and get that much support from the crowd." Fleury said.

Game 3 - Sunday, April 16, 2017 - Pens Win 5-4 OT

Jake Guentzel scored his third goal of the game 13:10 into overtime to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 5-4 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Nationwide Arena. Guentzel became the first Pittsburgh rookie to score a hat trick in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when he beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky off a pass from Sidney Crosby from behind the net for his fourth goal of the postseason. The Penguins trailed 3-1 after the first period, but Bryan Rust (5:21) and Evgeni Malkin (13:25) each scored in the second to tie it 3-3, and Guentzel scored his second of the night to make it 4-3 at 11:48 of the third. Brandon Dubinsky scored off the rebound of a Jack Johnson shot to tie it 4-4 with 4:49 left in the third. Cam Atkinson scored 11 seconds into the game to give Columbus a 1-0 lead. It was the fastest goal in a playoff game in Blue Jackets history. Guentzel tied it 1-1 at 3:17, but Atkinson beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a backhand at 5:02 for a 2-1 lead. Werenski made it 3-1 when he scored a power-play goal from the top of the left faceoff circle at 6:10 of the first. Werenski did not play in overtime after he was hit below his right eye with a shot by Penguins forward Phil Kessel at 13:15 of the second period, 10 seconds before Malkin scored. Werenski returned to play seven shifts in the third period. Bobrovsky made 42 saves, and Fleury made 33.
* The Blue Jackets gave Crosby just enough space behind the net, and he made them pay with the pass to Guentzel for the overtime goal. "[Guentzel] made a great play to pop out and get away from his check and find an opening. It squeezed in there between the posts," Crosby said.
* Werenski scored in the first period with a shot from the left circle that hit the post in the right corner and caromed underneath the back bar so quickly the referee signaled no goal because the puck was stuck and did not drop to the ice. Video review showed the puck crossed the goal line.
* Guentzel is the second NHL rookie to cap a hat trick in the playoffs with an overtime goal, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The first was Gerry Plamondon of the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of the 1949 NHL Semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings. ... Guentzel is the second Pittsburgh player with a postseason hat trick that included an overtime goal, joining Ron Francis, who did it in Game 4 of 1992 Patrick Division Final against the New York Rangers. ... A shot by Blue Jackets defenseman Gabriel Carlsson hit Penguins center Nick Bonino in the head five minutes into the game. Bonino went to the locker room but returned shortly after. … The Penguins are 7-2 all-time in the playoffs against the Blue Jackets, including 3-1 at Nationwide Arena. … The Blue Jackets are 2-11 all-time in the playoffs and have never won a game in regulation. … Columbus forward Sonny Milano made his NHL postseason debut, replacing Matt Calvert, who was suspended one game by the NHL Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Pittsburgh forward Tom Kuhnhackl in the third period of Game 2. … Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno, Crosby and Malkin each had two assists.
"The resilience and the resolve we show is part of the fabric of our identity, and it has to be to have success in this league at this time of the year." Mike Sullivan
"It's kind of out of my head, kind of weird, but a pretty unique night. Things were bouncing my way. Two off the back boards was pretty lucky." Guentzel said.

Game 4 - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - Pens Lose 4-5
The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in Game 4 to avoid being swept out of the Eastern Conference First Round at Nationwide Arena. William Karlsson, Boone Jenner and Markus Nutivaara each had a goal and an assist for the Blue Jackets. Jack Johnson and Josh Anderson scored, Brandon Saad had two assists, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves. Columbus won a playoff game in regulation for the first time; it is 3-11 in its history, with all of the wins against Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel scored a shorthanded goal while Pittsburgh had an extra attacker to make it 5-4 with 28 seconds left in the third period, but the Penguins did not have another shot. Columbus built a 3-0 lead 4:48 into the second period. Pittsburgh pulled within 3-2 when Patric Hornqvist and Ron Hainsey scored. Phil Kessel had two assists, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves. Karlsson made it 4-2 on a wraparound off his shot 27 seconds into the third period. Tom Kuhnhackl scored for the Penguins at 2:10 of the third to make it 4-3, but Jenner tapped in a shot by Saad at 5:37 for a 5-3 lead. Nutivaara, a rookie defenseman playing his first Stanley Cup Playoff game, made it 3-0 at 4:48 of the second period when he scored off a rebound of a Jenner shot. Hornqvist scored a power-play goal at 6:43 to make it 3-1, and Hainsey, a veteran of 907 regular-season games, got his first goal in his fourth playoff game, using a screen by Bryan Rust to score from a low angle at 16:24.

Karlsson persevered in scoring the fourth goal for the Blue Jackets, taking the initial shot on the right side and coming around the net to beat Fleury to the left post.
* Guentzel scored with a shot from the high slot while everyone was scrambling around him in the closing seconds.
* Crosby did not have shot attempt. … Guentzel, a rookie, has five goals to lead the series. … Karlsson's assist on Anderson's goal was his first NHL playoff point, in his fourth game. … Blue Jackets center Lukas Sedlak, who was out with an injury the first three games, was 6-0 on faceoffs. …The Blue Jackets have allowed at least three goals in each of their 14 playoff games and 10 times have given up four or more. …Columbus defeated Pittsburgh twice in the 2014 Eastern Conference First Round.
"I don't think we were good enough. You have to give them credit. They came out with a lot of urgency. We certainly talked about it before the game, being ready." Mike Sullivan
"You earn your bounces. They were better. They earned the win. We didn't have the desperation we needed to win the game." Sidney Crosby said.
"They've all been good games. It's been a competitive series. They've had great starts in the games that we've weathered and come back and played well for stretches at a time. It hasn't been a one-team-dominant series to this point. We knew they were going to come out, try to get one game. They've got nothing to lose. They got the job done. We've got to get ourselves regrouped tomorrow and get ready for Thursday." Ron Hainsey

Game 5 - Thursday, April 20, 2017 - Pens Win 5-2
The Pittsburgh Penguins weren't at their best, but Marc-Andre Fleury was at his. Fleury made 49 saves for the Penguins in a series-ending 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at PPG Paints Arena. The defending Stanley Cup champions won the best-of-7 series 4-1 and advanced to the second round, where they will play the Washington Capitals or Toronto Maple Leafs. It was Fleury's 57th playoff win, which surpassed Tom Barrasso for the most by a Penguins goalie. Fleury allowed four goals on 123 shots in three home games this series, after becoming the surprise Game 1 starter when Matt Murray was injured during warmups. Fleury said he would rank the win near the top of his list of victories in Pittsburgh. Bryan Rust scored twice in the second period, after Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Phil Kessel in the first. Sidney Crosby and Scott Wilson scored for the Penguins in the third period, and Evgeni Malkin had three assists. He leads the playoffs with 11 points (two goals, nine assists). After Blue Jackets forward Sam Gagner was called for holding at 8:41 of the first period, Kessel gave the Penguins the lead at 9:07. He shuffled the puck to Justin Schultz along the blue line before receiving a pass back near the left circle. Kessel shot from the outer edge past teammate Patric Hornqvist for his second power-play goal of the series. Kessel also had two assists. Rust scored 1:07 into the second period to extend the lead to 2-0 and at 3:50 to make it 3-0. He had five goals in the series. William Karlsson made it 3-1 at 9:30 of the second period and Boone Jenner made it 3-2 with a power-play goal at 12:24. Jenner's goal was upheld following a review that determined it was not scored using a high-stick. Columbus outshot Pittsburgh 51-32, 36-20 in the final two periods. The Blue Jackets thought they tied it 3-3 3:52 into the third period but Alexander Wennberg was called for goale interference. The Penguins took a 4-2 lead on a power-play goal by Crosby at 5:31 of the third period and made it 5-2 on Wilson's first NHL playoff goal 51 seconds later. Columbus forward/captain Nick Foligno (lower body) was scratched after skating with usual linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson during warmups. Washington and Toronto are tied 2-2 in their first-round series with Game 5 on Friday.

* Crosby re-established Pittsburgh's two-goal lead when he dropped to one knee and one-timed a shot from the bottom of the right circle inside the right post.
* Jenner scored after Seth Jones was left alone for a shot in front of Fleury. A glove save denied Jones' shot, but Jenner crashed the crease to bat the puck out of the air with Rust attempting to keep it from crossing the line. Jenner's shot trickled in for his second goal of the series.
* Columbus has not won a playoff series since entering the NHL in 2000-01. Each of its three playoff wins (3-12) have come against Pittsburgh. … Bobrovsky, who had a 2.06 goals-against average and .931 save percentage during the regular season, had a 3.88 GAA and .882 save percentage in the series. ... Fleury is 57-46 in the playoffs. … Columbus forward Scott Hartnell played 8:31 after being a healthy scratch in Game 4. … Crosby needs three playoff points to tie Jaromir Jagr for second in Penguins history (147) and three playoff assists to tie Mario Lemieux for the most in Penguins history (96).
"I think there are a lot of things we can improve on and get better. We just played one of the top teams in the League in the first round. … I believe that our best hockey is ahead of us." -- Penguins coach Mike Sullivan
"This was up there," the 32-year-old said. "To be here at home in front of our fans and to be able to get that win with the support that they gave me throughout the season, throughout all these year, I still get butterflies and goose bumps when you hear the crowd chant. I'm happy I was able to contribute and get that win tonight." Fleury said.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

NHL - Stars - Round Up - April 01-08, 2017

Stars @ Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 - Saturday, April 01, 2017
The Carolina Hurricanes fell six points behind in the race for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, losing 3-0 to the Dallas Stars at PNC Arena. It ended Carolina's 13-game point streak (9-0-4). Cam Ward made 21 saves for the Hurricanes (35-28-14). Jason Spezza scored in the second period, and Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves for the Stars (32-35-11), who have been eliminated from playoff contention. Lehtonen had to make several difficult saves, including a close-range stop against Teuvo Teravainen early in the third period, but the Stars defense limited traffic in front of net and second chances. John Klingberg scored an empty-net goal with 1:57 remaining, and Devin Shore made it 3-0 with an empty-net goal 32 seconds later.
Stars @ Tampa Bay Lightning 3-6 - Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Tampa Bay Lightning moved within three points of third place in the Atlantic Division with a 6-3 win against the Dallas Stars at Amalie Arena. The Lightning (39-29-10), who are 5-0-1 in their past six games, trail the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators by three points in the race for third in the division. Tampa Bay has four games remaining, and Toronto and Ottawa, which holds the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, each has five. The Lightning will start a three-game road trip Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, who are in second place in the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of Tampa Bay. Adam Erne scored twice, Ondrej Palat had a goal and two assists, and Braydon Coburn, Brayden Point and Anton Stralman each scored. Peter Budaj made 23 saves for his 30th win of the season, third with the Lightning since being acquired Feb. 26 in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings. Gemel Smith, Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie scored, and defenseman Esa Lindell had three assists for the Stars (32-36-11). Kari Lehtonen made 19 saves. Erne gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead at 11:27 of the first period when he went wide around Stars defenseman Dan Hamhuis on the right side before dragging the puck around Lehtonen at the top of the crease and scoring inside the left post. Smith tied the game 1-1 at 1:49 of the second period when he scored off a deflection of a Lindell shot. Spezza gave the Stars a 2-1 lead at 10:57 of the second when he beat Budaj with a wrist shot into the left corner of the net from the top of the right faceoff circle. Coburn scored his fourth goal of the season to tie the game 2-2 with 18 seconds left in the second. The Lightning scored four of five goals in the third period. Point gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead at 5:43. Rookie defenseman Jake Dotchin passed to Point, who was open in the slot and beat Lehtonen. Palat put Tampa Bay up 4-2 with a 4-on-3 power-play goal at 13:27 off a backhand feed from Jonathan Drouin. Erne scored his second goal of the night, third of the season, at 14:37 to make it 5-2. Ritchie got Dallas within 5-3 on a power-play goal at 16:40. Stralman scored into an empty net with 1.4 seconds left to make it 6-3. Lightning coach Jon Cooper won a challenge at 4:30 of the second period, getting an apparent Smith goal overturned when video review showed he was offside before scoring. The Stars had two more goals waved off late in the third period. With 1:13 left, an apparent Tyler Seguin goal was overturned when video review showed his stick was above the crossbar when he contacted the puck. Then, with about 30 seconds left, Julius Honka's wrist shot knocked off Budaj's mask, causing referee Tim Peel to blow his whistle before Cody Eakin put the rebound in the net.

Phoenix Coyotes @ Stars 2-3 OT - Tuesday, April 04, 2017
Julius Honka scored with 1:15 remaining in overtime to give the Dallas Stars a 3-2 win against the Coyotes at American Airlines Center. Honka's first NHL goal came on a slap shot from the slot. Antti Niemi made 24 saves for Dallas (33-36-11). Brett Ritchie gave the Stars a 1-0 lead at 13:54 of the first period after a giveaway by Anthony DeAngelo in front of the net. Christian Dvorak won a faceoff back to DeAngelo, who inadvertently passed the puck to Ritchie, who scored his 16th goal of the season. The Stars took a 2-0 lead at 17:12 of the first period. Adam Cracknell forced a turnover and Jason Dickinson scored on a wrist shot for his first goal of the season. On the next shift, Dvorak scored on a rebound to make it 2-1 at 17:24. Dallas had a several chances to extend its lead in the second period, but Radek Faksa's shot at an open net was blocked by Peter Holland, and Jason Spezza hit the crossbar. Phoenix tied the game 2-2 at 15:33 of the third period when Anthony Duclair scored off a pass from Max Domi from behind the net.
Nashville Predators @ Stars 7-3 - Thursday, April 06, 2017
The Nashville Predators remain in contention for third place in the Central Division after a 7-3 win against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.
Viktor Arvidsson had an NHL career-high four points (two goals, two assists), and Craig Smith had two goals and an assist for Nashville (41-28-12), which trails the St. Louis Blues by one point for third place in the division. The Blues, who defeated the Florida Panthers 6-3, would have secured third if the Predators lost. Nashville and the Calgary Flames are tied for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Each has one game remaining. Calgary holds the first tiebreaker, regulation/overtime wins (ROW), 41-39. Jason Spezza, Radek Faksa and Jason Dickinson scored in the second period for the Stars (33-37-11). The Predators scored four goals on 12 shots in the first period. Arvidsson scored to put the Predators up 1-0 1:06 into the game when he beat goalie Antti Niemi through the five-hole off a pass from Smith, who made it 2-0 at 13:02 when scored on the rush. Niemi was replaced by Kari Lehtonen after he allowed two goals on eight shots. Kevin Fiala made it 3-0 at 18:16 on a wrist shot, and Arvidsson pushed the lead to 4-0 at 18:52 when his shot banked in off Jamie Oleksiak's skate for his 31st goal. Harry Zolnierczyk gave Nashville a 5-0 lead 1:06 into the second period. Spezza beat goalie Juuse Saros with a wrist shot at 2:47 to make it 5-1, and Faksa deflected a Dan Hamhuis shot to make it 5-2 at 10:30. Dickinson scored on the rebound of a Faksa shot at 12:51 to get Dallas within 5-3. Defenseman Roman Josi scored on a 5-on-3 power play with 2:33 left in the second to give Nashville a 6-3 lead, and Smith scored his second of the game at 13:52 of the third to make it 7-3. Saros made 30 saves, and Lehtonen had 21 on 26 shots.

Colorado Avalanche @ Stars 4-3 SO - Saturday, April 08, 2017
Tyler Seguin scored the only goal in the shootout and the Dallas Stars defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 at American Airlines Center. Kari Lehtonen stopped Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen to seal the win in the final game of the season for the Stars (34-37-11). Jeremy Smith made 42 saves for the Avalanche (22-55-4), who have one game remaining. Dallas appeared to have won the game with 1:08 remaining in overtime when John Klingberg scored on a wrist shot, but Colorado challenged the play was offside and the goal was overturned. Devin Shore gave the Stars a 1-0 lead at 13:40 of the first period. Greg Pateryn took the initial shot that was deflected by Cody Eakin and snuck through Smith. The puck sat in the crease before Shore went to the net and scored his 13th goal. Jamie Benn pushed the lead to 2-0 37 seconds into the second on the power play. Rantanen scored to make it 2-1 at 17:35 when he deflected Tyson Barrie's point shot past Lehtonen. Gabriel Landeskog tied it 2-2 on a deflection at 5:37 of third period. MacKinnon gave Colorado a 3-2 lead at 8:24 on the power play on another tipped shot. Seguin tied it 3-3 at 13:44 when he deflected Esa Lindell's point shot past Smith.

NHL - Stars - Round Up - March 16-30, 2017

Stars @ Vancouver Canucks 4-2 - Thursday, March 16, 2017
Tyler Seguin and Radek Faksa scored in the third period to help the Dallas Stars to a 4-2 win against the Canucks at Rogers Arena. Dallas was coming off a 7-1 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday and had lost its previous three games by a combined score of 17-4. Seguin converted the Stars' first power play at 9:07 of the third period with a one-timer from above the right circle that beat Miller high on the glove side. Faksa made it 4-2 at 15:31. Ales Hemsky and Esa Lindell also scored and Kari Lehtonen made 26 saves for the Stars (28-32-10), who played without captain Jamie Benn in the third period because of an upper-body injury. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said Benn will be re-evaluated Friday and wasn't sure if he would be able to play against the Calgary Flames. Benn didn't play after a fight with 6-foot-7, 265-pound Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin with 3:29 left in the second period. Ben Hutton and Sven Baertschi scored and Ryan Miller made 32 saves for the Canucks (28-33-9), who lost all five games on their homestand (0-3-2). Hemsky scored his first goal in his eighth game this season to give the Stars a 1-0 lead at 8:41 of the first period. Baertschi tied it 1-1 at 13:27 of the first period on a rebound after Lehtonen slid across to rob Tryamkin on a backdoor tap-in. Lindell gave the Stars a 2-1 lead with 7.2 seconds left in the first period, but Hutton scored on a power play with 0.3 seconds left in the second to make it 2-2. It was the Canucks' second power-play goal in 34 chances over the past 14 games.

Stars @ Calgary Flames 1-3 - Friday, March 17, 2017

Mark Giordano had a goal and two assists, goalie Brian Elliott won his 10th straight game, and the Calgary Flames defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1 at Scotiabank Saddledome. Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk scored for Calgary (40-27-4), which won its first game after ending a Flames-record tying 10-game winning streak with a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. The Flames, 11-1-0 in the past 12 games and 16-3-1 in the past 20, lead the Edmonton Oilers by one point for third place in the Pacific Division. Elliott made 24 saves in his return after missing the loss Wednesday because of illness. Elliott, 14-1-1 since Jan. 26, won nine games with a 1.74 goals-against average and .943 save percentage during Calgary's streak. Brett Ritchie scored, and Kari Lehtonen made 21 saves for the Stars (28-33-10), who have one win in the past five games (1-4-0) and remained 13 points behind the St. Louis Blues for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Dallas played without forward Jamie Benn, who sustained an eye injury in a 4-2 win at the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Frolik gave the Flames a 1-0 lead on Calgary's sixth shot of the game at 16:07 of the first period. Tkachuk put the Flames up 2-0 at 5:20 of the second period, and Giordano scored on a wrist shot from the point that deflected off Hamhuis before beating a screened Lehtonen at 8:32 to extend the lead to 3-0. Ritchie scored to make it 3-1 at 13:19 of the third period after a turnover in the slot by Flames defenseman TJ Brodie.

Stars @ New Jersey 2-1 OT - Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tyler Seguin scored a power-play goal 20 seconds into overtime to give the Dallas Stars a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Ales Hemsky scored and Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves in his sixth straight start for the Stars (31-33-11). Dallas is 13 points behind the St. Louis Blues for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference with seven games remaining. Seguin won it for the Stars when he took a pass from Jamie Benn and beat Keith Kinkaid with a wrist shot from the right circle. Steven Santini was penalized for cross-checking with 54 seconds remaining in the third period. The Stars are 11-21-5 on the road. Blake Coleman scored his first NHL goal and Kinkaid made 30 saves for the Devils (27-35-13).
Hemsky's power-play goal tied it for the Stars with 6:36 remaining. After having his initial shot from the right circle blocked by Andy Greene, Hemsky put the rebound past Kinkaid. Coleman, a native of Plano, Texas, gave the Devils a 1-0 lead 11:02 into the first period.

Stars @ Montreal Canadiens 1-4 - Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Montreal Canadiens increased their lead in the Atlantic Division to four points with a 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars at Bell Centre. The Canadiens (43-24-9) gained a point on the second-place Ottawa Senators, who lost 3-2 in a shootout at the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. The Senators have one game in hand. Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Radulov scored, and Carey Price made 27 saves for Montreal. Curtis McKenzie scored and Kari Lehtonen made 32 saves for the Stars (31-34-11). Andrei Markov tied Guy Lapointe for second place in points by a Canadiens defenseman when he got his 572nd with an assist on Lehkonen's goal, which made it 3-1 at 13:02 of the third period. Radulov increased the lead to 4-1 when he scored with a backhand on a 2-on-1 with Pacioretty at 17:58. McKenzie gave Dallas a 1-0 lead with his sixth goal at 1:47 of the first period after cutting off a clearing attempt by Andrew Shaw inside the blue line. McKenzie's initial shot from the top of the slot struck defenseman Jordie Benn's stick and sailed high, but he continued to drive to the net for the rebound off the glass and shot the puck inside the right post before Price could scramble to his left. Pacioretty, who assisted on Radulov's goal, scored his 34th to bring Montreal even at 1-1 at 15:49 of the second period. Gallagher made it 2-1 at 3:21 of the third with his ninth goal.

Stars @ Boston Bruins 0-2 - Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Boston Bruins kept pace in the Atlantic Division race with a 2-0 win against the Dallas Stars at TD Garden. The Bruins (41-30-6), who have won three games in row, trail the Toronto Maple Leafs by one point for third place and the Ottawa Senators by three points for second. Toronto defeated the Nashville Predators 3-1, and Ottawa lost 5-1 to the Minnesota Wild. Boston is three points ahead of the fifth-place Tampa Bay Lightning, who defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-3, in the race for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Tuukka Rask made 27 saves for his seventh shutout of the season, tying his NHL career high, and Brad Marchand set a new NHL career high with his 38th goal. Rask has 37 shutouts in his NHL career. Marchand scored 37 goals in 77 games last season. The Bruins have allowed two goals during their winning streak, which followed a four-game slide. Torey Krug had a power-play goal for Boston, which ended a three-game home losing streak against Dallas. Antti Niemi made 22 saves for the Stars (31-35-11), who have lost two in a row, in his first start since March 14. The Stars had 58 shot attempts to Boston's 51. Marchand scored his first goal in six games at 15:14 of the first for a 1-0 lead, and Krug made it 2-0 1:18 into the second period.

NHL - Stars - Round Up - March 02-14, 2017

NY Islanders @ Stars 5-4 - Thursday, March 02, 2017

Defensemen Nick Leddy and Dennis Seidenberg scored the first two of three straight goals in the third period for the New York Islanders in a come-from-behind 5-4 win against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. After Andrew Ladd scored to get New York within 3-2 at 14:49 of the second period, Leddy got a fortuitous bounce 25 seconds into the third to tie it 3-3. His shot bounced hard off the end boards and banked off goalie Antti Niemi's skate into the net. Seidenberg gave New York a 4-3 lead at 7:46 when his point shot beat Niemi on the glove side. Nikolay Kulemin scored to make it 5-3 at 9:30. Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal with 2:51 remaining to make it 5-4. It was his second goal of the game, 23rd of the season. Ryan Strome had a goal and two assists, and Thomas Greiss made 21 saves for the Islanders (30-22-10), who are 3-1-0 on a nine-game road trip. Tyler Seguin had two assists, and Niemi made 28 saves for Dallas (25-29-10). Strome scored on a breakaway at 9:29 of the first period when he beat Niemi through the five-hole to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead. Benn tied it 1-1 with 7.4 seconds remaining in the first when he beat Greiss with a wrist shot on the power play. Radek Faksa gave the Stars a 2-1 lead at 7:33 of the second period when he finished off a pass from Patrick Sharp. Jason Spezza pushed the Stars lead to 3-1 at 10:14 of the second. John Klingberg got the assist after faking a point shot and passing to Spezza.
Stars @ Florida Panthers 2-1 - Saturday, March 04, 2017
John Klingberg scored with 1:07 to play, and Kari Lehtonen made a season-high 41 saves to help the Dallas Stars defeat the Florida Panthers 2-1 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. Klingberg beat Panthers goalie James Reimer with a wrist shot on the stick side. Jamie Benn kept the play alive when he gloved the puck down near the blue line and made a pass to Tyler Seguin, who connected with Klingberg. Benn scored, Seguin had two assists, and Dallas (26-29-10) ended a six-game road losing streak. Reimer made 32 saves for the Panthers (29-24-11), who lost two games in a row 2-1, including at the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. Benn gave Dallas a 1-0 lead at 11:01 of the first period. Florida tied the game 1-1 when Jonathan Huberdeau scored on the power play at 16:20. Jonathan Marchessault and Aleksander Barkov had the assists on Huberdeau's fifth goal of the season. Lehtonen, who made 40 saves twice this season, made 16 in the first period.

Stars @ Washington Capitals 4-2 - Monday, March 06, 2017
Kari Lehtonen made 42 saves to help the Dallas Stars end the Washington Capitals' 15-game home winning streak with a 4-2 victory at Verizon Center.
Washington hadn't lost at home since Dec. 29. Devin Shore, Radek Faksa, Jason Spezza and Sharp scored for Dallas (27-29-10), which is five points back of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie scored for Washington (44-14-7). Braden Holtby was pulled after allowing two goals on four shots in the second period. Philipp Grubauer made 11 saves in relief. Shore scored 1:48 into the game for his 11th goal of the season. He was pushed into Holtby by Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik and stayed in the crease to jam the puck over the goal line. The Capitals challenged for goalie interference but were unsuccessful. Faksa gave Dallas a 2-0 lead at 4:04 of the second period. Backstrom turned the puck over in the slot to Faksa, who scored his 10th goal. Spezza scored 1:54 later to make it 3-0. Backstrom scored to make it 3-1 at 15:52 of the second when he redirected Kevin Shattenkirk's shot past Lehtonen. Oshie made it 3-2 at 12:26 of the third period, his 25th of the season. Sharp sealed it for Dallas with an empty-net goal with 1:18 remaining.

Ottawa Senators @ Stars 5-2 - Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Craig Anderson made 35 saves for the Ottawa Senators in a 5-2 win against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. It was Anderson's 146th victory with Ottawa, tying Patrick Lalime for the most in Senators history. Cody Ceci, Viktor Stalberg and Fredrik Claesson each had a goal and an assist, and the Senators (37-22-6) won their fourth straight. The Stars (27-30-10) lost for the first time in three games. Chris Wideman gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead at 13:41 of the first period on the power play. Stalberg set up the goal with a cross-ice pass. The Senators made it 2-0 at 15:21 when Claesson scored after a clean faceoff win by Zack Smith against Radek Faksa. Jean-Gabriel Pageau gave Ottawa a 3-0 lead at 3:21 of the second period. The shot from the slot beat Kari Lehtonen through the five-hole, and the Stars goalie was replaced by Antti Niemi after allowing three goals on 18 shots. Tyler Seguin made it 3-1 at 4:30 when he scored on a sharp-angled shot after a pass from Jason Spezza behind the net. Remi Elie had the secondary assist for his first NHL point in his third game.
Stalberg put Ottawa ahead 4-1 at 18:09 when he scored on the power play.
Spezza scored on the power play at 8:04 of the third period to make it 4-2. Ceci made it 5-2 when his point shot deflected in off Stars defenseman Stephen Johns at 9:01. Anderson is 146-96-31 in seven seasons with Ottawa. Lalime was 146-100-30 (ties) from 1999-04.

Stars @ Edmonton Oilers 1-7 - Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Benoit Pouliot ended a 28-game goalless streak for the Edmonton Oilers in a 7-1 win against the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place. Seven players scored and four had two points each to help the Oilers end a three-game losing streak (0-2-1). Pouliot scored for the first time since Dec. 8 at 12:12 of the first period for a 1-0 lead. Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, David Desharnais, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid also scored for Edmonton (36-24-9) and Cam Talbot made 22 saves. Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl and Zack Kassian each had two assists. Brett Ritchie scored for Dallas (27-32-10). Antti Niemi gave up five goals on 20 shots before being pulled at 11:29 of the second period. Kari Lehtonen gave up two goals on nine shots. Klefbom gave the Oilers a 2-0 lead on the power play at 18:01. Nurse put Edmonton up 3-0 at 2:06 of the second period, beating Niemi with a low shot off a rush down the left wing. Ritchie made it 3-1 at 5:42, finishing off a nice passing play by Adam Cracknell and Curtis McKenzie on a rush up the middle. Desharnais made it 4-1 at 9:30, taking a long bounce off the end boards off a shot from Anton Slepyshev and shoveling the puck past Niemi. Maroon put the Oilers up 5-1 at 11:29. Nugent-Hopkins scored at 12:17 of the third period when a centering pass bounced in off his skate. McDavid scored at 14:00, converting a pass from Maroon on a 2-on-1 rush.

British Hockey Set for Major Shake Up
It seems we were always going to be set for a busy summer following the announcement that the EIHA want to restructure the Hockey league set up in Britain, but this week that was ramped up following the announcement that five of the existing English Premier League [EPL] clubs had formally requested to join the National Ice Hockey League NIHL.
The demise of the EPL probably began last season when long-standing sides Bracknell Bees and Telford Tigers announced they had financial problems. That should have been a warning sign to the other teams but instead they pushed through a rule which increased the number of paid imports each side could use.
That was certainly the final nail in the coffin for a Manchester Phoenix side that were left ‘homeless’ the year before, following the controversial re-awakening of the Storm, who moved into their Altrincham rink and promptly kicked them out, forcing Tony Hand’s team to play games in Widnes and Deeside in an attempt to keep going.
It was finally too much for the Phoenix however and they reluctantly resigned from the league before the campaign was completed. Around the same time Milton Keynes Lightning and Guildford Flames both announced they had been accepted into the Elite League, meaning the EPL would shrink from ten members to seven and prompted EIHA chairman Ken Taggart to release a statement regarding the future of the structure.
Various meetings took place with the EIHA favouring a two-tier system [Elite League and NIHL with the EPL disbanding], while the remaining EPL sides countered with a ‘new’ competition called the Premier Ice Hockey League [PIHL] which would see the number of imports cut from five to three. However, Taggart admitted to having concerns over the financial sustainability of the proposed PIHL and ‘recommended’ that those sides gain entry into the two import NIHL via an email sent to the remaining seven sides on Sunday evening.
“Over the last months there has been discussion and face-to-face meetings between our clubs in the PIHL and NIHL around the future structure, especially in Tier 2. Our colleagues at IHUK have also been involved in these discussions to try and formulate a national UK-wide second tier of senior ice hockey. The current position is that not one of our current NIHL clubs are willing to commit to joining a Tier 2/Premier League structure so that leaves just seven clubs. It is my opinion that for those clubs a new Premier League would not be feasible and would be at risk should any of the issues that PIHL clubs went through this year surface again in the new season.
“My recommendation that they apply to join the NIHL structure would mean a lower cost base in terms of travelling and player budget and lower risk that financial issues could affect the whole league. NIHL South have their clubs’ meeting on 7th May with NIHL North shortly thereafter, so it was important to start the ball rolling as soon as possible once it was clear that the proposed Premier League was not viable.”

The few next few days following that announcement has seen a flurry of club statements as to their league future, but the first team to jump the sinking ship that is the EPL came as somewhat of a surprise. The Swindon Wildcats were seen as a model for success at that level so the announcement of Managing Director Steve Nell on Tuesday took many by surprise.
After receiving the email from the Chairman and his thoughts regarding the sustainability of the EPIHL moving forward, we have taken the decision to make the application. The NIHL meeting will be on Sunday 7th May where the teams of the NIHL will hear our application”. Nell Said.At the fans forum on Tuesday 28th February we told the fans we would keep them updated as and when we have more information to share. With that in mind we wanted to share the detail we know so far at the earliest possible opportunity. With regards to a season schedule for the 2017/18 season we will have to wait until after the meeting on 7th May before we can give any additional details to next year’s league structure and schedule.”
Nell then went on to reassure fans that there will be hockey in Swindon over the next few years and a further update will be made after a meeting due to be held on May 7. Swindon were already making plans for next season with the assumption they would be in the new PIHL and so some of their imports had been reduced. Robin Kovar was one of those that had left but Polish international Tomasz Malasinki had agreed to sign up for another season in Wiltshire. With the club making their announcement this week, to join the NIHL, it means a reduction from three to two imports, causing further headaches for next season plans.
Later on Tuesday came news from Humberside that the Hull Pirates had made an application to join the NIHL Division 1 North. The fans in Hull have certainly been put through it in recent years, and were in the Elite League as recently as two season ago, before effectively being replaced by the Manchester Storm and taking up residence in the EPL for financial reasons.
Pirates owner Shane Smith said he made the decision to make the application following the email from Ken Taggart on Sunday. He admitted that the email was unexpected and was a curve ball from the governing body which he felt left his side with no other choice but to make the application.
After we received the email from the Mr. Taggart containing his thoughts about the EPIHL, and how he saw the future, we took the difficult decision to make the application. The NIHL meeting will be in late May where the teams of the NIHL will hear our application. What we can also say is that there is still an alternative scenario, however we won’t know any more about this until the end of April. Again, once this has run its course we can let everyone know what hockey in Hull will look like for the 2017/18 season. We have always taken great pride in keeping our fans as informed as possible, and this is no exception, unfortunately we don’t know a great deal other than what we have said here so far.” Smith said.
“Although this is not the scenario we had in mind for the upcoming season, it has come about quite late in the day and so we have little choice as things stand. But make no mistake, we are building for the future, that’s what we said when we founded the club and that ambition remains the same. We will bring top flight hockey back to Hull within a stable organisation built on financially sound foundations. This is an opportunity to develop top British talent ready to perform at the highest level domestically and internationally. To underpin this ambition and our long term goals we can also announce that Jason Hewitt will be returning as player-coach. I am convinced that he is exactly the right person to bring success to Hull and his loyalty and positivity has been humbling. It would have been easy for Jason to have walked away, but he hasn’t, and that speaks volumes about him and his belief in our future. He is working tirelessly to build a team for the season to meet your expectations, we would ask you all to buy into our vision for the future.” He continued.

Next up came Peterborough Phantoms who on Wednesday released their own statement, with owners Dave and Jo Lane echoing Hull’s sentiments about the email taking them by surprise. As far as they were aware the owners were awaiting news at their next meeting and had been in the process of planning next season in the PIHL. The Phantoms have reluctantly applied to join NIHL South but will still be looking for an alternative option of a rival league.
“We understand this is a turbulent time for fans across all of the leagues including the NIHL, but we will be doing our utmost to make sure Ice Hockey remains in the UK and locally. Phantoms want to compete at the highest level and pursue our team ethos in developing players to a high standard. The Phantoms are a strong and sustainable business model and have strong financial foundations, which we have built and worked hard on over the years”. Phantoms owners Dave & Jo Lane commented.
With four teams remaining in the EPL it came as no surprise when the Sheffield Steeldogs announced they had made an application to join NIHL Division 1 North, a competition they last played in during the 2004-05 season as the Sheffield Scimitars. Indeed the Scimitars were champions three seasons in row between 2003-2005, and that prompted their decision to move up a level in the first place. Once again though the Steeldogs admitted the email came out of the blue with plans for the 2017-18 season well underway, but after considering the situation presented to them, owners Robin Grayson and Ali Cree made the decision to apply to the NIHL, with both taking the positives from what has unfolded.

“We have worked hard to include two way players and prospects over the last season as part of our development plan. The NIHL 1 league would also allow this to continue in an even bigger way, opening up the roster to even more talented young players, especially with a decreased import number.
Due to the recent vote against the proposed Tier 2 structure by IHUK this does come as a surprise to many however I do feel that the possibility to join NIHL 1 we can work with this set of clubs who have grown a great league and also to continue to add further to its status. If approved the NIHL 1 League offers a clearer parity across the league as was seen in the run up to the playoffs held recently at Sheffield. A total of 6 teams were battling for the last few playoff places with only a week to go in the season. This is something I'm sure many of our fans would like to have seen in previous seasons gone by”. Cree said.

“We have always run the Steeldogs with a sensible and sustainable budget and will continue to do that in the future as we build on the good foundations we already have. Earlier today I spoke with Charles Dacres of the EIHA who advised me that our application was being looked upon favourably. We also chatted for some time about the opportunities for developing the league and British players going forward. Whilst this was not the direction we had planned to take the Steeldogs in this coming season, we will fully embrace the opportunity to help develop the league and British players to their full potential”.  Grayson said.

As we moved onto Thursday, it was a case of another day another club statement, this time from the Basingstoke Bison, who wanted to ‘clarify’ their position following the previous statements and reports from the clubs, with this announcement from a club official:
Since Sunday evening robust conversations have been entered into with all stakeholders in order to fully understand what this means for the Bison moving forwards. We can now confirm that an application will be made to the EIHA for the Bison to enter NIHL South 1 and that the Bison will be active participants in the section meeting on 7th May, and will be looking at all opportunities and working alongside all stakeholders in order to discuss and agree how we can further develop the sport, bring talented youngsters onto the rosters and ensure that the Herd play at the highest, sustainable level possible within the current league structures. We thank the fans for their patience and once firm details are in place, we will update our fan base accordingly.”Bison Statement:
That just leaves Bracknell and Telford who are yet to make an announcement, but given their financial issues over the last few years and the fact they have no wehre else to go, it seems increasingly likely we will hear from them sooner rather than later. But with all these announcements what does that actually mean for the existing members of the NIHL? One team, the Solihull Barons, felt they needed to speak out, if only to reassure their own fans, with chairman Andy Gordon, having this to say:

“The Premier Ice Hockey League appears to have folded due to the lack of teams available to compete next season. The remaining clubs have applied to join the appropriate NIHL North or South Leagues. Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs have applied to join the NIHL North. The APL Solihull Barons are being kept up to date by the league chairman as to the facts of the matter. We understand there is a level of uncertainty, however we welcome any financially prudent development that is for the benefit to the sport – for the players; supporters and sponsors and allows ice hockey in this country to progress. We will keep you all updated on any facts that emerge over the upcoming weeks. The APL Solihull Barons see it as business as usual and will continue to build a team ready to compete for next seasons league trophy whoever it is we are playing against. The last season was extremely competitive and we look forward to celebrating this at our Presentation Night on 29th April at 8pm in the Ice Rink Function Room. Look forward to seeing you all there!”

Of course with all these announcements going on, it will create uncertainty but what do we know for definite right now? Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs have applied to join NIHL Division 1 North, with Swindon Wildcats, Peterborough Phantoms and Basingstoke Bison having applied to join NIHL Division 1 South. The important word here is ‘applied’ meaning they have not joined yet. The applications are going to be considered but by no means are they a slam dunk. NIHL League Manager Richard Carpenter said:
“At this time, we can confirm that five clubs have made applications to join the NIHL for the 2017/18 season with others to follow. These applications will be considered in the usual fashion at the section meetings. NIHL South will be holding its section meeting on Sunday 7th May, with NIHL North meeting shortly afterwards. At the moment, we are continuing to collect information from the member teams of the (E)PIHL & existing NIHL sides to confirm their intentions for the 2017/18 season and we look to announce further information about this over the coming weeks.”
It seems to me the five clubs who have so far applied to join the NIHL have done so out of necessity, with the view to hoping some sort of agreement or a rival league being organised before the 2017-18 season gets underway. Realistically, that doesn’t seem likely to happen given the EIHA’s preferred choice being to disband the EPL and have all those clubs under the NIHL umbrella. The Ice on the Humber blog has already come up with some interesting ideas on how to move forward and although there will be several more twists and turns between now and next September, it seems they have the most logical one.

That’s a lot to consider but for what it’s worth here are my opinions on the matter.
Let’s start with how things finished in NIHL Division 1 North just earlier this month. The four ‘big’ Northern teams, Whitley, Solway, Billingham and Blackburn finished last season with the most points in the division and would be expected to feature in the push for honours next season too. Throw in the likes of Midland’s giants Solihull Barons who came desperately close to toppling the champions, Solway in the playoff semi-finals and you already have a competitive mix. Then there is Deeside who surprised a few teams this season under the guidance of Scott McKenzie and of course Sutton. If Hull and Sheffield were to join that set of teams we would have an even stronger league next season.
There has of course been some complaints that the teams will simply walk straight into the competition and very likely dominate given their resources, not to mention that when Solway wanted to join from the Scottish National League back in 2011, they were forced to start off life in Division 2 and gain promotion on the ice.
Allowing those teams to join will potentially mean some established NIHL teams missing out on the playoffs for next season, in particular my own team, the Whitley Warriors who are most likely to suffer more than most, given the fact they operate without any imports. Indeed, even without the arrival of Sheffield, Hull et al the Warriors are most likely going to be in a relegation scrap next season. Their dip in form during the run in was alarming and without significant strengthening to their roster, they will be odds on favourites for the drop in 2018. All the existing teams around the Warriors operate with two imports so perhaps it is to be expected the likes of Solway, Billingham, Blackburn and Solihull would finish above them. But when the likes of newly promoted Deeside can afford to sign Finnish and Slovakian players, questions really should be asked as to why money is not being made available at Hillheads. With up to three former EPL sides ‘dropping down’ next season with imports already in place it pushes the Warriors even further down the pecking order. Now surely is the time for rink management to back coach David Longstaff with some much needed talent.
Despite all that though, I am actually hoping Sheffield and Hull do join. The Steeldogs are returning to the place they were originally, when they were the Scimitars, and following the demise of the team that replaced them at this level, the Spartans, it means having a Sheffield team back in the league is a positive thing. The Steel City is a place that is a real hot bed of hockey and in iceSheffield they have a top class facility to go with it. As for the Pirates, it’s been a long time since a team based in Hull has played in Division 1, and even longer still since the Warriors faced the side that once started life as the Humberside Sea Hawks. Hull is another great place to have hockey, and is a venue that the league has needed on its schedule for some time. Trips to Sheffield and Hull to compliment the ones already in place such as Blackburn and Dumfries makes it an exciting prospect for the travelling fans.
Although the Telford Tigers are yet to announce their intentions just yet, it would appear they will join the NIHL and presumably take up residence in the Northern section. Their junior team were relegated just this season, and with the Blackburn Eagles being forced into folding and unable to take their place, it seems the Tigers will be replaced by… well, the Tigers.
All three teams, if they were to join of course, would add something to an already great league. The competition will expand from eight to ten teams and all three already have junior teams in Division 2, making it possible to continue with their junior development.
As for the South, it seems slightly more complicated. Basingstoke, Bracknell and Peterborough already have ‘reserve’ sides in that division so some of them will either have to move down a division or possibly even fold to pave the way for their senior side. However, I’m sure that will all happen in due course.
One idea that was mentioned, was that with the likes of Sheffield, Hull and Telford now in the same league as the likes of Whitley and Billingham, some of those British players on their roster might well head home. If say you were from Newcastle, but were currently employed by the Steeldogs, and you know that you are going to be in the same league next season as the Warriors, why wouldn’t you decide to re-sign for your home town club. Here’s hoping the likes of Jamie Pattison, Tom Ralph and Sam Zajac want to return home to help bolster the Warriors roster.

To sum up, there is still plenty of organisation to be carried out before we know what the NIHL will look like next season, so let’s not jump too far ahead just yet. But for someone who has been clamouring for the return to the old Heineken Premier League era this is the first step towards that. Roll on September.

Other interesting articles of note was an open letter written by former British player Doug Clarkson to the EIHA, stating how disappointed he was with the level of quality in this country:

While the BIHA website has a few take on the matter: