Rhys Williams writes about the current Panthers crisis…
I like to compare Nottingham Panthers current situation to Manchester United in football. Winning the league in 2013 has been followed by a devastating decline with domestic cups (and in Panthers case, also a European one) here and there for both clubs who are by far the laughing stocks of their leagues with fans questioning those in charge. For Nottingham, that lack of faith has been evident with crowd sizes dropping, most noticeably against Sheffield, a fixture which has been sold out weeks in advance during previous seasons. An away bus trip to EIHL powerhouse, Cardiff has had to be cancelled due to lack of interest, and you only have to read twitter after yet another loss to realise fans are angry, disgruntled and bored out of their minds at what is happening.
It’s no secret the club has an ethos problem and a lack of drive to win the holy grail. Obviously the coaching staff and players have to take a chunk of the blame but as Corey Neilson, Rich Chernomaz and now Tim Wallace have struggled for results, the common denominator is the ownership. Whilst I have defended our young and hungry approach, I can’t help but feel it’s down to a lack of investment with minimal experience from the more prestigious leagues in comparison to other teams and that’s consistent with the fact Doucet and Wallace have only six months experience in off-ice roles combined. I won’t sit here and pretend to know the ins and outs of our budget, but Neil Black being the chairman of Glasgow Clan means there is that conflict of interest element that is hard to ignore.
Fixture arrangement puts us at a disadvantage too, with only two home league games so far this season and long road stretches which doesn’t appear to be the case for the rest of the league. Whilst players have stated it does help team moral, the absence of home ice advantage doesn’t help our campaign, where your early season form can make or break the overall outcome.
The next issue is the clubs lack of urgency. After an excellent solo goal on the opening night of the season, Swedish forward Jens Jakobs became a weak link in the side with a poor offensive zone presence and was therefore released from his contract following a fifth consecutive loss. Good move, right? Not necessarily. No replacement was bought in meaning the Panthers played the previous weekend two imports short with Alexis Loiseau also departing after his sudden retirement. In comparison, Sheffield Steelers replaced the underperforming Martin St. Pierre instantly and have since added two standout defencemen to address their injury problems at the back. The Steelers have learnt from their mistakes that lead them to a 7th place finish last season, yet the Panthers continue to go backwards. In 2017/18, we were out of the title race by Christmas, then in 2018/19 it was November. Could we soon be saying that for October?
Whoever we sign to fill our forward vacancies will be a big factor in determining how serious the club is about being a title contender, which is the furthest we’ve been away from it since I’ve been a supporter. When you look at the fact so called ‘lower’ teams such as Dundee and Manchester are giving teams like Belfast, Sheffield and Cardiff a run for their money, would it even be too dramatic to suggest merely getting a playoff spot could be a challenge in itself? The fact I even pose that question shows the embarrassment we have become.
Looking at the on ice product itself, the one positive I will take is the teams work ethic with our transition from offence to defence being quick and urgent. But once we’re in the offensive zone, there seems to be a series of unimaginative passes as if its a game of hot potato that doesn’t result in any kind of genuine scoring chance. It doesn’t help that three of our standout attacking additions in Bulmer, Golovkovs and Quist have combined for a grand total of one (yes, one) of the teams thirty one goals scored this season. Sam Herr became the first import forward to find the net since Jon Rheault back on the 21st of September which continues to make it evident our attack is, to be frank, woeful.
Game management isn’t up to standard either. In both of our trips to Sheffield this season we have blown third period leads, and conceded late on in our home series against the Clan. Perhaps the most extreme example is being 2-1 ahead with ten minutes to go in Guildford on Saturday before conceding five in yet another humiliation. Add that to the fact Kevin Carr has had to face near 50 shots on two occasions this season and it makes for bleak viewing and I don’t see many differences between this Panthers team and your average mid to lower table team.
As a sports fan, ups and downs are all part of the experience, but when your club seems to be on a downward spiral that seems to be getting faster, it really does start to take the fun away from it and has many fans (myself included) questioning their overall loyalty to the Panthers. When you look back to 2013 when Panthers often ripped teams apart for fun and cleaned up all three major trophies, it makes me sad to see how we failed to build on that. Yes, we’ve won trophies since. Yes, we’ve raised the leagues European prestige, but are we really an Elite League giant? I don’t think so anymore. It may be early days this season, but the Panthers need to get their act together, and fast. Somehow though, I don’t see it happening but with our resources such as budget and contacts our staff and players will have, why isn’t that being utilised? It almost makes me feel gullible for opting to continue being a season ticket holder. Surely the fact this is the overarching attitude in the fanbase this early in the season emphasises the mess we really are in.
You can follow Rhys on Twitter @RhysWilliams79