Opponent Preview: 2017/18 Milton Keynes Lightning
The Milton Keynes Lightning are one of two ‘new kids on the block’ in the 2017/18 Elite League and with the new conference system (geographically speaking at least) they have become the Coventry Blaze’s closest rivals. Pete Russell, the MK and Team GB coach and is rightly chomping at the bit to start the new season. He, and the new owners had a big challenge over the summer to upgrade from the EPL where only four imports were allowed, to build a team with a maximum of fourteen that could compete at the EIHL level. Blaze TV’s Ed Kimberley takes a look:
The Devil’s in the detail
Pete Russell realised that the Lightning would need goals and has signed a lot of them in the form of Gui Doucet from last year’s League and Challenge Cup winning Cardiff Devils. Doucet already has over 100 Elite League regular season goals to his name in 175 games split between Hull, Nottingham and of course Cardiff. He is likely to be the go-to-guy for Russell in every situation, and he’s unlikely to disappoint.
Also, arriving from the Cardiff Devils is Denny Kearney, a mid-season addition to the Welsh side last season. Kearney is a curious one, he left the EBEL where he was having a good season with Bolzano having scored 37 points in 50 games, but could only manage 1+4 in 11 with the Devils. He has good pedigree though, coming from the Ivy League school Yale where he won the ECAC title in 2008/09. The 29-year-old also did well in Briancon winning the French title in 2013/14 and could prove a shrewd signing for Russell.
The French connection
Pete Russell is looking to hit the ground running and finding ‘ready-made chemistry’ is important in achieving this. Russell, has it seems lifted and shifted an import line from French champions Gap in the form of Christian Isackson, Kyle Essery and Kevin King.
All three men proved vital to the glorious Gap playoff run, the American Isackson particularly scoring 11 goals, 7 assists in the 16 playoff games. He also registered 28 points in the 40 regular season games. Essery, who possesses experience in the Danish Metal Ligaen with Herning and Unibet Stars had a symmetrical 10 goals 10 assists in the regular season and 4 goals in the playoffs. Finally, King, who is also a previous WHL Champion posted 31 regular season points and 9 more in playoff action. Last season was his first after he decided to take up the CIS university route rather than turn pro immediately upon graduation from college.
Also, set to provide goals (although confirmed as missing from Saturday's game) is French-Canadian centreman Francis Verrault-Paul. Although only fitting loosely into the “French Connection,” the 30-year-old from Roberval in Quebec, had a career year last season scoring 27 goals in 32 games for Sterzing/Vipiteno in the Alps League. He is quick, and played with new Blaze winger Marc-Olivier Vallerand in Greenville during the 2012/13 season for 32 games. He had 7 goals, 14 assists in his time with the Road Warriors.
MK had a reputation during the EPL years for having the strongest young Brit-pack in the league, including James Griffin and Lewis Hook who have also featured for the Blaze. Despite the move to the Elite League, they are still a very young team though with an average age of just 25. So, to protect their skill players and add that little ingredients of experience, Russell quickly drafted in veteran tough defenceman Matt Nickerson. The 6’4” former 3rd round pick to Dallas should play in his 200th EIHL game this season. In that time with Fife and Belfast, he has amassed over 700 penalty-minutes and has had 30 fights. He’s no doubt going to be a popular figure at Planet Ice Milton Keynes and prove to be the perfect face to lead the franchise into their first season in the Elite League.
International Man of Mystery
The only import player that Pete Russell decided to retain was the most important piece - the netminder. Przemyslaw Odrobny, a Polish international goalie was arguably the best netminder in the EPL last season. The masked man from Gdansk ended the year with a stunning .933 save-percentage, lifting the Playoff trophy and EPL Cup along the way. Odrobny has 86 caps for Team Poland and has multiple awards in D1A. He is a domestic Champion having won the Polish Championship and the Polish Cup with KH Sanok back in 2011/12.
Tickets vs. MK on Sunday at the Skydome (5.15pm)
No queing, guaranteed seat - show ticket on your mobile device – no need to print!
or call/visit the Skydome Arena box office in person - 02476 630693.
The box office is open from 9am every day and you can also pay on the door when you arrive, however it is recommended that you book online to save queing.
Milton Keynes Lightning fans, please book tickets in block 7.