Ben Royle summarises Nottingham Panthers season so far.
Christmas has been and gone, the festivities are dying out and Elite League games are coming in thick and fast with Monday’s game at home to Edinburgh opening 2017 for the Nottingham Panthers. The club currently sit 4th in the Elite League, winning 16, losing 10 in regulation and 2 in overtime, leaving the side with 34 points out of a maximum 56. It’s not been memorable, but there’s a lot that can be taken from the events of the past 4 months, some good, some bad, and some just very ugly.
I can think of just one Panther whose been worthy of fitting into this heading, Stephen Schultz. Despite his injury, which has limited him to just 19 league games, the New York native is proving a vital component of the Panthers’ potential success. With 9 goals and 11 assists in the league, providing the former Texas Star with an average of 1.05 points per game, Schultz is on pace for 45 points this season, 16 better than his tally of last year. Like I mentioned in my previous article, when Schultz is in the line-up the Panthers are a better side and he’s living up to the pressure placed on him.
As many of you may know, Calum Chalmers was employed by the Panthers as ‘Marketing and Communications Officer’ during the off season. In simpler terms, Calum seems to be in charge of the social media accounts and most of the statements published on the clubs website, so far proving a welcome addition to the club. An example of the work published by Calum which I really enjoyed was the “In the Green Room” features on the clubs YouTube, where Dan Green interviewed his team mates. These videos provided fans an opportunity to learn more about the roster and players’ previous ventures within the world of professional hockey. It’s a shame that these videos stopped quite suddenly, but features such as these will be more than welcome in the future. Improvements in the social media presence of the Panthers will allow the club to attract new fans in addition to providing current fans a platform to interact with players.
Despite the poor showing in the Elite League so far, there’s no denying that this year’s side have proved successful in the Continental Cup. During the six games played in the two group stages, the Panthers are 5-1-0, scoring 38 and conceding just 14. The Grand Final of the tournament is set to be played in Ritten, Italy on the weekend of the 13th January. Throughout the Grand Final, the Panthers will face off against the Odense Bulldogs, Beibarys Atyrau and Ritten Sport and this is the first occasion in which a team from the Elite League has reached this stage in the competition since the Steelers in 2009. Should the Panthers be successful in Ritten, they’ll become the first British side to win the Continental Cup, a monumental opportunity for success for the club and the league itself.
I’ve previously spoken of my admiration for Cam Janssen, and the club worked hard to bring in a player of Cam’s calibre after his departure but Brian McGrattan has failed to fill the void. McGrattan came over from the San Diego Gulls of the AHL with a better point’s record than Janssen in the NHL, with 13 more points in 19 less games, this however it took a while for such a record to be continued in the Elite League. ‘Big Ern’ didn’t record a league point until the 10th December and currently sits on 4 goals and 4 assist in 24 league games, without providing any blockbuster highlights when dropping the gloves. A team such as the Panthers, who require a spark to succeed need more from Brian McGrattan and excluding his form of late, he’s not living up to the hype.
Away from the ice, the club still refuse to budge on providing a webcast for games played at the NIC, despite clearly having the aptitude to do so. The refusal to provide webcasts could be likened to when former Chicago Blackhawks owner, Bill Wirtz, refused to allow Hawks home games to be televised, in fear of losing out on ticket revenue. Since allowing the broadcasting of games in 2008 the Blackhawks have grown as a franchise, with attendances increasing from 16,000 in 2008 to 21,000 in 2016. Alongside winning 3 Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Now, I’m not saying that the Panthers will ever replicate a fan base such as Chicago’s, but producing webcasts will provide potential Panthers fans with a huge opportunity to become interested in games played at the NIC, whilst rarely causing a reduction in ticket sales.
In recent weeks, the Panthers have been able to ice just 5 defencemen, 2 of which are listed on the club’s website as forwards. Injuries are a part of sport, especially a sport such as ice hockey, contact is inevitable and eventually, injuries will occur, some of which, the club are unable to prepare for. Take Stephen Schultz for example (once again), his injury which came in October against the Manchester Storm, was caused by a hit in the corner which lead to him sliding leg first into the end boards. There’s not much anyone can do about that, but there’s no denying that injuries effect results on the ice. The recent defeat away to Belfast came after a long travel day following a midweek game and with just 5 players manning the blue line it was never really going to end well; the Panthers ran out of fuel in the 3rd and ended up on the wrong side of a 7-4 score line with the 3 final Giants goals coming in the final 10 minutes. This is a comprehensive case of injuries significantly contributing to the struggle of the side so far this season.
As explained earlier, The Panthers currently sit 4th in the Elite League, with 34 points to their name. Should the Panthers continue their fine form shown over the festive period they’ll still face an uphill battle if they wish to win just a second ever Elite League Championship. Cardiff sit comfortably atop the Elite League table, holding an 11 point lead over the Panthers, meaning that any attempt to win the title is already a huge mountain to climb.
On the 8th October, the Panthers faced off against the Dundee Stars at the NIC, Jeff Dimmen grabbing a brace to carry the side to a 2-1 victory. A month and 17 days would pass before the Panthers were next to win another Elite League game. Throughout the 48-day drought the Panthers would lose 6 consecutive league games, conceding 27 and netting just 11, including an abysmal 8-1 loss away to the Sheffield Steelers, leaving the side in such a poor position to mount a league title run.
We all know the of the Panthers struggle with injuries so far this season, with injuries to Jeff Dimmen and Geoff Waugh limiting the pair to just 28 games between the two of them. Injuries such as these, alongside the loss of replacement signings like Kristian Kudroc have left the side thin on the blue line. Limiting the quantity of new signings is having a clear detrimental effect to the performance and the display on the ice with Corey Neilson himself having publicly expressed his opinion towards the policy employed by the club’s management. A club of the Panther’s stature within the Elite League should not be held back by funding, and such a series of events unfolding in recent times is irresponsible on the clubs behalf.
With 24 league games remaining, a lot can change, and Panthers showed last year how success can’t always be predicted at the turn of the new year. The best is hopefully yet to come, both in Europe and domestically.