The Great North Race
Posted on Mon 10th March, 2014
I am painfully aware that certain members of my club will probably cringe at the fact that I am writing an article about the Division 1 North title race and ultimately the win for the Eagles, but I cannot help it as there is a lot to be said not just for the Eagles, but for the race itself. Of course my focus will be towards the Eagles, as that's where my involvement has been, but I cannot ignore the bigger picture.
From my perspective it was hard to feel as confident this season as I had done heading into the 2012-13 season. We had lost a fair few players, as is the norm in unversity hockey, and our defensive core appeared to be in tatters. I found myself having to try and work out who might be converted into defence. Luckily, one of our fastest and best skating forwards, Ondrej Appelfeld, put his hand up during the build up to the season and volunteered to play defence. At this stage I thought we had five defenders to work with, but as time progressed the juggling commenced.
On top of the defensive situation certain background changes were being made in Scotland to the way our players were to be registered, which ultimately would lead to us losing the chance to play three strong players, one of whom was a defender and one who was utilty player. I will not go into these changes as there is lot to be worked out in relation to what is going on, but it is suffice to say that the changes have left the players with their fair share to think about off the ice too.
Moving on and looking at the season in general it would be possible for me to go through each game at a time, but I think that would be quite tedious for everyone. I will look at the race and really why this season in my ten years involved in BUIHA hockey has been the best finale ever. I guess it starts with one thing from the Eagles' perspective and that is the fact for the first time in history we completed every single one of our allocated cup matches. It has been something which has frustrated us for years and this year it finally happened. It meant no dark clouds about having forfeit wins. In fact as far as I can see there were absloutely no forfeits in the whole of the North division, which to me is a massive improvement.
The race for the North Division 1 title was a three horse race ultimately between Sheffield Bears, Nottingham Mavericks and of course ourselves. Each team in the race had wins against the other in the race and the only team to drop points elsewhere were Nottingham when they tied Hull. The four games the Eagles were involved in against the Mavericks and Bears were all out battles, which I am sure all players ended up with some knocks they were feeling the next again day. I would go on record as saying that (with no disrespect to the Bears) the Mavericks looked like the best coached team that I could remember facing.
To cut a long story short the Eagles season went down to the last day of the season with the Bears being too far behind on goal difference should the Eagles equal them on points. Nottingham were the only team standing in the Eagles way. The Eagles had to win the game on 9th March with Nottingham following the loss to Sheffield the week before, a loss which was the first Eagles loss at home in many years. Forty eight seconds in and the Mavericks took the lead off a rebound. The Mavericks showing real hunger to kill the Eagles off early. It took a whole period for the Eagles to equalise, through Court Howlett-Ben, who this season has been switched position nearly every game. A few minutes later and James Reed scored the goal which ultimately won the division. The game finished 2-1.
The Eagles finished the season 8-2-0 and plus 81 in goal difference, which was enough to seal the deal. However, whilst the record and goal difference are impressive there are other facts which made this year so sweet for us. Firstly in terms of goal tending the Eagles fielded six different goaltenders this season with five different starters, as there top goalie and Co-Captain, Berke Ricketti, sustained a season ending injury playing out against the Sheffield Bears B team. Without Berke the Eagles went 5-1-0. The Eagles also played up a grand total of fifteen regular Beagles and James Reed, a Beagle, scored the game winning goal. On defence there have been eleven different players who have played defence at some point and several with little to no previous experience.
The Eagles have won three out of the last four Division 1 North titles, but this year is the sweetest, because of the great battles with our foes (in a sporting sense) and also because given the involvement of the Beagles' players this is a victory that the whole club can share.
The race this year was a total thrill ride and every club involved played its part to create the most exciting Cup season this old weekend warrior can recall.
I look forward to April and I know for certain that at least three clubs will be all in after a season to remember.
Richard 'Rambo' Gray (Edinburgh Eagles Head Coach)