After picking several prospects to keep an eye on in 2017 & 2018, Jono Bullard has been at it again after covering GB Under 20’s, GB U18 Women, GB Senior Women, EIHA National, EIHA Conference & EHA Women’s Trophy for 247.tv & Freesports over the 2018/19 season. Here are his latest picks of players to watch from the UK’s junior ranks.
Here we are at the end of yet another hockey season and once again I find myself mightily impressed with the talent coming through in all areas of the British game. Once again I’ve had the privilege of commentating on over 130 games this season and watching over 150 from the EIHA junior tournaments, EHIA Women’s Trophy, GB women at senior & Under 18 level, GB U20’s men and the Nottingham Lions.
Once again this year I’ve chosen 10 players who I believe have a bright future in the game in my opinion, whether that be in the UK or elsewhere and once again it was a difficult task to whittle the list down to 10 players. However I chose the players who really stood out in the games that I watched. Before I get to this years incumbents, a mention for those who also impressed me this season.
- Ellis Ricci, Nottingham: A very good skater and excellent provider. Also very good in front of the net.
- Abbie Sylvester, Bracknell/Chelmsford: Excellent in defence but also possesses a deadly accurate slapshot which was used to great effect in the recent Women’s National Finals.
- Joel Meyers, Guildford: Wonderfully calm & assured on defence and shows a maturity which belies his ten years. Also has a very smooth skating style which leads to excellent transition.
- Alex Rushby, Sheffield: Was a big part of both Midlands U11 & Sheffield U11 winning the EIHA Conference & National titles. Great skater and excellent in front of goal.
- Cameron Hamill, Belfast: Instrumental in helping Scotland win the U15 Conference title. Great hands, stick-handling and knows where the net is.
- Evan Nauth, Guildford: Impressive skill set. Good hands, strong on the puck, scores & sets up others.
This years ten players are made up of two netminders, three defenders & five forwards and range from Under 15’s to NIHL players. These are the ten that I feel could have a career within the game given the right development. They are:
Netminder – Ella Howard – Great Britain U18, Raiders IHC, Solihull Vixens, London Capitals, South-East Conference: As well as being part of the U16 Girls National Champions, reaching the Women’s Elite League Final and winning the Division 3 South U18 Championship, Howard really shone in the U18 Women’s World Championships in Dumfries, posting a save percentage of .957 and a goals against average of just 1.37. She has an excellent glove hand and rebound control as well as pulling off the spectacular as this penalty shot save from Norway’s Steena Kjellesvik shows (from 2:43 on the video).
Netminder – Emma Nichols – England, Chelmsford Mohawks, Bracknell Ice Bees, Bracknell Queen Bees, Chelmsford Cobras, South-East Conference: It was always expected that Emma Nichols would be a special netminder as the highlight reel below (which made Sports Illustrated & Yahoo Sports) from when she was at U11’s shows. An unfortunate injury kept Nichols out of the Dumfries U18 World Championships but her performances for Chelmsford Cobra’s during the Women’s National Trophy were nothing short of phenomenal and she was the main reason that Cobras picked up the Premier League trophy with an incredible save percentage of .959, stopping 93 of 97 shots faced over the semi-final & final. It’s hard to believe that she is still just 15 years old, a long future in the game awaits.
Defence – Millique Martelly – Streatham IHC: Great on defence, great hands, very skilful but Martelly’s biggest asset is speed. He is quick, astonishingly quick! His transition play from defence to attack is a sight to behold due to his rapid acceleration when carrying the puck. He is also blessed with leadership qualities, captaining Streatham to the Division 1 (South) & National Under 15 titles as well as scoring at an average of a point a game at Under 18 level for Streatham in Division 2 South. Certainly one to keep an eye on over the coming seasons.
Defence – Archie Hazeldine – Nottingham IHC, Midlands Conference: I’ve seen an awful lot of Hazeldine this season and like his older brother Joe, Archie has been a prolific scorer from defence throughout his junior career. However that doesn’t mean he neglects his defensive role, far from it. He takes care of his own end first but what he does do is transition so well with the puck which allows the Nottingham & Midlands Conference 1st line forwards to set-up in the offensive zone. I expect he will follow in his brothers footsteps to the EIHL, he’s that good.
Defence – Joel Gavigan – Sheffield Academy: Gavigan is an important component in both the Under 18 & Under 20 teams at Sheffield Academy, not least because he’s a defender that defends! That’s not to say he doesn’t have offensive skills but what stood out to me over the Under 20 & Under 18 National Tournaments is how well he controls the blue line. Positioning was also excellent from what I saw and was very difficult for forwards to get past in one on one situations. An excellent defensive defenceman, I’d like to see him in the senior ranks sooner rather than later.
Forward – Chamonix Jackson – Nottingham Vipers, Nottingham IHC: What really stood out for me while watching Jackson in the Under 15 Nationals and the Women’s Nationals was how strong she is on the puck for one so diminutive in stature. Once on it, you can’t get her off it, especially as she possesses great hands. She knows where the net is as well, scoring in the Under 15 final after moving up to the first line due to injuries and slotting in seamlessly. She played her first senior games for the Vipers in the Women’s Premier League this season and averaged over a point a game
Forward – Cade Neilson – Yarmouth Mariners (CAN): While no longer based in the UK, Neilson has been a player I’ve been mightily impressed with over the past three seasons and won the MJAHL Championship with Yarmouth this past season. For me, he shone in the U20 World Championships in Tallin for Great Britain, scoring 2+4 over 5 games in the tournament. What I like most about Neilson’s style of play is the way he seems to have so much time on the puck and the way he can bring team-mates into the game. At 18 years old now he will be looking at his next steps. While an NHL draft spot seems unlikely perhaps a spot on a CHL (Canada) roster isn’t out of the question.
Forward – Jack Hopkins – England, Nottingham IHC, Midlands Conference: Jack Hopkins is the stereotypical points machine. An astonishing production throughout the 18/19 season saw him score an astonishing 141+68 in 56 games for Nottingham U15 & U18, Midlands U15 & England U15. What sets Hopkins apart for me is while he is an exceptional goalscorer, he has the ability to bring others into the game as his 68 assists shows but also the confidence to keep the puck and wait for the right opportunities, whether that be a pass to a line mate or a shot on goal. To be involved in 209 goals over one season is an incredible return, watch out for this lad.
Forward – Tyler Nixon – England U19, Sutton Sting, Sheffield Senators, Sheffield Academy: Having played up to NIHL1 this season Nixon clearly has talent. He’s offensively gifted, excellent at carrying the puck but also as good playing in defence which makes him a great asset. However the main reason I’ve chosen him for this list was his leadership of the Sheffield U18 team as they claimed the National Championship, scoring 4 points over two games and showing great captaincy and decision making in the final against Okanagen which Sheffield won comfortably. A player who certainly should be playing regularly at NIHL level this coming season I feel.
Forward – Alex Graham – Great Britain U18, Sheffield Steeledogs, Sheffield Academy, Midlands Conference: An excellent season has seen Graham earn an apprentice contract at Sheffield Steelers for the 2019/20 campaign. Playing for the Sheffield Steeldogs in NIHL1, he scored a point a game earning a call into the Great Britain Under 18 team where he scored a more than respectable 2+5 over 5 games in Hungary. Whenever I’ve watched him this season I’ve felt he could create or score a goal whenever he has the puck in the offensive zone, he’s truly exceptional at junior level, he no needs to show he can be exceptional at Elite level, which I believe he can be.
As the above list shows, that talent is there in the UK but it has to be identified and nurtured. There maybe be others that those reading this may feel I’ve missed out on, but this is just my opinion and others may feel differently.
Too many players are being lost to the game once they reach the junior limit, it’s now up to the governing bodies in this country to work out how these players are taken to the next level, and it also needs input from the Elite League as they simply can’t expect British players to turn up ready for EIHL minutes from day one.
When I wrote this article last season, British hockey was riding a wave of euphoria after the national team qualified for the top level of the World Championships. Shortly after the first British player in a generation was drafted to the NHL after Liam Kirk was selected by Arizona Coyotes. The wave of euphoria continues after GB managed to hold on to their world group status, but now more than ever we need a production line of talented Brits coming through to provide competition for places and replace older members of the squad. A new generation of youngsters are turning to hockey thanks to the incredible achievements of the national team, they now need to be able to see a realistic pathway to the top that they can achieve.
You can follow Jono on Twitter @JonoBullard