Regular columnist, Gary Jackson, reflects on the standings as we move to the second half of the season.
As the first week of 2022 draws to a close, I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts on how the EIHL is shaping up this truly odd season.
As I type this the boys from Queens Quay will be in the Stena Plus lounge enjoying a well deserved if somewhat badly poured Guinness, having secured an impressive 10th win in a row in Kircaldy. After a slightly shaky start to the regular season, the Giants have dragged themselves into real title contention, and I think this run in to the final games is going to be as exciting as it comes.
A lot of the chatter on the EIHL socials over Christmas has been about the covid situations, games being postponed left right and centre, should the league be cancelled, should the cup be binned, will we even have a playoff weekend this year?
At this point I think we should take a moment to appreciate the flexibility of teams who have stepped in to fulfil fixtures, swapping opponents at short notice to keep the league going through the festive period. Despite all the cancellations and re jigging of the fixture lists, the games played column in the league standings reads pretty standard for an EIHL season at this point, with late comers Braehead Clan just 8 games behind Guilford who have played 23, everyone else sitting between 16-22 (including ongoing games). Incredible effort by all the teams and organisations, we are quick to slate the league officials at times but we should also credit them where its due.
However, if you actually put the covid concerns to one side for the moment, and look at the way the teams are playing, and the standings, you’ll see why I am excited about this run in. The top 3 teams are predictable, Sheffield Cardiff and our boys from Belfast. Sheffield at times seem unstoppable, and in fact they have lost just once in the league since being knocked out of the Conti Cup, and even that game went to overtime. In the same time Cardiff have lost 2 games in regulation, they just don’t seem to have clicked this season the way they have done in previous seasons. A good friend of KOTG, Conor “Fush,” Caldwell once suggested to me that a team can only really dominate the league for a period of 3 or 4 seasons and then they need overhauled, and there have been big changes in South Wales, both on the ice and on the bench, not to mention the disruption of the Ben O’Connor situation.
On 28th November Giants lost 2-3 against Dundee Stars in what was a terrible game of hockey, but one which seems to have been somewhat of a turning point in the season. Immediately after that game the covid situation started to affect the league and players, and we went into a number of games immediately after with a shortened bench, calling up the youngsters to fill roster spaces. A loss in Coventry in the Challenge Cup, where the Giants dropped to 3-1 down then came back to 3-2 showed Adam Keefe that this team had finally found some grit and determination, the comments after the game all seemed very positive.
The Giants find themselves currently in 3rd place, played 21, with 32 points, Cardiff 2nd with 25 played and 35 points and Sheffield 1st 21 games played, also on 35 points. Points on the board are more valuable than games in hand, and maybe I would rather be in Cardiff’s position right now, but given the Giants current form we can dare to dream and in the form charts. For 10 and 15 games, we are sitting pretty at the top. I feel that the 2 games we have played in Cardiff where we were largely the better team but came up with 2 loses sting that little bit more on reflection. The way the league fixtures have worked this season means we have not entertained Cardiff nor Sheffield in Belfast this season as yet, with all 3 teams in the hunt for “Not Monty,” (has any one come up with a nickname for the new league trophy?) and all 3 showing such high quality, every point gained every point dropped is crucial as we close in on April.
The 6 games at the SSE Arena between these 3 teams will be absolute barn stormers mark my words. This league season has the feel of 2012 where Belfast and Sheffield were embroiled in an epic battle right until the last couple of weeks of the term, this year, it could go right down to the wire, with the last 2 games of the season currently being a double header in Sheffield. Just imagine if those 2 games are all to play for and you’ll see why I am giddy at the prospect.
Have you caught up on this week’s A View from the Bridge Podcast?
Tyler Soy and Jonathan Boxill join Patrick, Davy, Simon and Joel who are bouyed by the Giants recent form.
Check it out on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcast or whatever your normal podcast client is!
Gary got in touch with us to share his thoughts by e-mailing us a KotG.
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Words: Gary Jackson
Picture: William Cherry / PressEye