Retiring Question

After calls in some quarters for David Ling’s shirt to be retired by Panthers, Cat’s Whiskers Podcast presenter Andy Haywood says no, and he explains why

After the sudden news of David Ling’s departure from the club social media and forums were awash with messages of best wishes and memories of his time over here in this league with the Panthers.
A couple of the things that I read on various different mediums, I saw it at least once on each of the big 3 sources, Twitter, Facebook & The Cage Forum, that Panthers should or could retire his jersey, and this idea is what has given me the motivation to actually (and finally) write something of a blog for The Cat’s Whiskers. I will start off with the David Ling situation and why he shouldn’t have his shirt retired and hopefully as it goes on it will develop into a discussion as to who should deserve it and who shouldn’t and why, in my opinion. This won’t be a slagging off David Ling piece (he was arguably the best player I’ve ever seen play for us)
I’ve been following this sport for 15 years now, so I am not going to profess to know the ins & outs of some of the older players from times gone by in the old rink. But with the help of the internet and people’s time and effort in the past in keeping hold of records and statistics I am going to try and sum up my feelings towards the often touchy subject of jersey retirement using said statistics, records and history of the club.

Some of the first things I read were “No. 71, one number Panthers can retire without any objection from anyone”, “Would be nice to get Linger’s jersey retired as a tribute”, “some players come and go as they do in all sports, but some leave lasting memories for their contributions”, “It shouldn’t be how long you have been with a club, it’s what you do while you are in the club. Look how long Lachowicz has been there, but I couldn’t care if he stayed or left, he never does anything”.
I’ll be getting to that last one a bit later on.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there will some objection to that, even if it is only from me, but I believe I won’t be the only one. What David Ling did whilst here was nothing short of great. He was an entertainer, a pure old school player who did what it took (and often more) to win games of hockey, and unfortunately that is a dying breed of hockey player these days, but that’s a story for another day perhaps. But all in all he was here for a season and a half (and if you take into account how he was performing at the start of his first season you could potentially argue he was only here for a year) and put up good numbers. In his 101 games for the Panthers he posted 51 goals and 96 assists for a total of 147 points at 1.455 points per game, which is brilliant and he certainly was a brilliant player.

However the idea of retiring his jersey for me is quite preposterous. Not because he wasn’t good enough to deserve that accolade, but because of the raft of other players that will have to have their jersey retired also, because of the benchmark set.
To put this into perspective, here are David Ling’s positions on our All Time Lists (taken from Elite Prospects and only accounts for EIHL League Games I believe, and not Playoffs or Challenge Cup Games)

Appearances: 77th with 91 Games
Goals: 43rd with 49 Goals
Assists: 34th with 92 Assists
Points: 36th with 141 Points
PIMs: 38th with 227 PIMs
Points Per Game: 27th with 1.549 PPG
Points in 1 Season: 33rd with 95

As you can see, despite his undoubted skill and talent, he was never a chart topper within the organisation in any of the main attributes that you could possibly argue warrant retiring a jersey for (Ok, PIMs might not be a great indicator, but I have heard people mention that Nieckar deserved to have his jersey retired… I suppose a lot of those people probably believe this because of what happened 15 years ago yesterday, ironic timing I know). There is a criteria that I think that jersey retirement has to meet, and for me it has to be done in the following order.

Longevity is the key one for me. If you’ve been here as a dedicated servant to the club for a substantial amount of years (10?!) then, for me, you can fall into the category of potentially having your jersey retired.

The second key criteria is Achievement and Contributions to the club during that spell. Contributions to the club are obviously goals, assists and points (possibly PIMs but probably not). Other contributions can be defensive responsibilities or netminding (these guys aren’t necessarily going to trouble the goal/point scoring charts), talent & ability and leadership.
Achievements are what the player has helped win whilst at the club. Were they an integral cog to a league title, or did they win multiple silverware whilst at the club.

Tick those two boxes and in my opinion you deserve to have your jersey retired by the club. Now the argument is that if you live by rules word for word then eventually, years down the line, you’ll end up with no numbers left. Realistically the chances of players fitting this bill becomes slim as the sport evolves and the league and players get better as their ambitions do to, so we don’t see too many players staying in the club for that kind of a length of time.

Now another name that always gets brought up is Craig Kowalski. Kwall is undoubtedly the best netminder I have ever seen play for Panthers and his achievements and contributions to this clubs recent success is probably second to none, but personally I don’t think his number of years here justify seeing the #33 hanging from the rafters (metaphorically obviously).

As far as the next generation of players that we will be seeing getting the greatest personal honour in hockey I think we have one dead cert and three possible candidates depending on how the remainder of their careers pan out with the club and what they achieve during that time.

I think when he retires it won’t be long before the #5 is retired in honour of David Clarke, who is one of if not the most naturally gifted goalscorer that Great Britain has ever produced. By the end of this season he would have surpassed Randall Weber in most appearances for Panthers. He also has always had a letter on his chest, including 4 years as captain during his 12 years here making him one of the greatest leaders this club has had. He is the 4th all-time leading goalscorer, 5th in all-time assists and 4th all-time leading point scorer. Add to that that he is also currently only a handful of points behind Ashley Tait for the all-time Leading point scorer in the entire EIHL since its inception. He has also won one League Title, 6 Challenge Cups & 4 Play-off titles, as well as a host of personal achievements and accolades with Great Britain.

The next three will divide opinion, and in my opinion they still have a fair way to go before they are considered worthy of such accolades, but they still have that chance.

Firstly is the #8 jersey for Matthew Myers. This is his 9th season and he his in his third spell with the club. If he was to stay here for a few more years and get his testimonial and keep on performing to the high standard that he has done previously then I don’t see why not. He is currently 6th in appearances, 16th in goals, 10th in assists and 12th in points. He has won one League Title, 4 Challenge Cups and 4 Play-off titles Now as it stands thetis not quite good enough for me, but like I said, a few more years under his belt and you can’t deny the effort and contribution he has made to this team.

Secondly, and I said I’d be bringing this up earlier, is the #7 jersey for Robert Lachowicz. This will split opinion because of his recent form. This season is Robert’s 9th with the club, but the first 3 were probably to a lesser extent due to two-way contracts with Manchester Phoenix and lack of any time on the ice. During his nine seasons he is 7th in appearances, 18th in goals, 13th in assists & 15th in points. He has won one League Title, 6 Challenge Cups & 3 Play-off titles. For me Lachowicz would have to stay here for another 5 seasons and continue to rise up the scoring charts before he could be considered, but that is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

The final possible candidate for a jersey retirement would be the #45 jersey for Steve Lee. This is his 7th season at Panthers and despite recent form has been a stalwart on the blue line for the majority of his time here. He is currently 13th in appearances, 15th in goals amongst defencemen, 8th in assists amongst defencemen & 10th in points amongst defencemen. He has won one League Title, 5 Challenge Cups and 3 Play-off Titles. If Steve was here with the Panthers for another 5 years also and continued to contribute in the way that he has done at the back then I feel he too will have done a considerable effort to raise the argument to have his jersey raised to the rafters.

On the other end of this is the players that already deserve to have their numbers retired by the club but haven’t, for whatever reason. There are three that I feel definitely should have their numbers retired by the club, and they are Chick Zamick, Les Strongman and Simon Hunt. Now I have never had the pleasure of seeing them play for the club, but I feel that the contributions they have given this team during its fantastic history warrants this kind of honour. I apologise if any of the following is inaccurate, but I’m getting my information from various websites, social media and friends and family’s stories.

Simon Hunt was by all accounts the epitome of a one club, local player who gave his all every single shift. He spent his entire 12 year career with the Panthers (he also came out of retirement after 12 years to play for the Nottingham Lions in the NIHL during the 2012/2013 season) and during that spell notched up 140 goals, 101 assists for 241 points as well as being Panthers highest ever PIMs taker.

Chick Zamick & Les Strongman are names that are synonymous with the Nottingham Panthers and their part of this club during the history of the club cannot be underestimated.
Chick Zamick is 4th in appearances, 1st in goals, 1st in assists, 1st in points and was twice voted “Sportsman of the Year” during his 11 seasons with Nottingham. He scored 94 goals and 75 assists in just 62 games in the 1954/1955 season and is a key part of how and why this club that we all love exist.

The other person is Les Strongman. During his 11 seasons with Panthers he ended up 5th in appearances, 3rd in goals, 4th in assists & 3rd in points. On top of those fantastic achievements he had with the Panthers in the early years he was also part of the coaching staff when the club reformed in 1980, he was part of the club committee and followed this up with coaching junior teams in Nottingham.

I believe the main issue regarding Strongman and Zamick is that nobody is sure on what number they officially wore, or if they only wore the one number, and that has become a sticking point with regards an official jersey retirement, but I for one personally feel that their names should be above the current five numbers (and the #13) that hang at the far wall of the arena.

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