Elite Ice Hockey League mid-term report: Braehead Clan

Drew Miller, Braehead Clan, October 2012.
Drew Miller has been the focus of the headlines around the Braehead Clan this term.©: Kris Jack

Since September, the new-look Elite League has thrown up surprise after surprise for the Scottish sides, due to the new Conference system.

Although there is still some division amongst the Elite League between the Gardiner sides and the Erhardt teams which are currently making up the top half of the overall table, the northern sides have shown in patches that they are capable of hanging with their southern counterparts.

As Fife Flyers, Edinburgh Capitals, Dundee Stars, Braehead Clan and Hull Stingrays approach the Christmas period and a busy spell of games which could be fundamental in shaping the rest of their seasons, it's now time to take a look at how each of the Gardiner Conference teams have performed in the first half of the season.

All of the sides have had good and bad spells so far, with some suffering slightly more than the rest due to injury, signings/non signings, ill discipline and downright bad luck.

Others have thrived in certain situations, with a couple of the sides putting together some really good home runs in their quest to finish top of the Conference.

We'll look at each side in terms of their best and worst results, their standout players and whether or not the first half of the term has exceeded, met or under achieved in regard to expectations at the start of the season.

The first of these half season reviews will focus on the early favourites for the Conference, as well as the other silverware on offer, Jordan Krestanovich's Braehead Clan.

BRAEHEAD CLAN

GARDINER CONFERENCE RECORD: Won 9 Lost 6

MVP: Ash Goldie

Despite having arguably the strongest roster in the Gardiner, the Clan have struggled against their Conference cohorts, having initially been tipped to win the division comfortably.

With Jade Galbraith playing injured for much of the season, and NHLer Drew Miller making the biggest headlines for the Clan in their third season, Ash Goldie has perhaps gone under the radar a little in his efforts.

With 16 goals and 25 assists in his 28 games so far, the former Las Vegas Wrangler is having a busy debut season in the EIHL, and with the Clan being short benched for so much of the term, is probably grafting harder than he expected he would have to.

His puck handling and speed have been key attributes for an under-performing Clan side this term, but his knack for picking out the likes of Miller, Krestanovich and Galbraith where it counts has been a highlight of their season so far.

BEST WIN: Braehead Clan 4-3 Fife Flyers

With Miller Time in full swing, and the Clan building up their steadiest run of form of the season, the visit of Fife in late October produced one of the best nights at Braehead since the club's inception.

After a low key performance in the first period, the Flyers had taken a two goal lead through Caisey Haines and John Dolan after just eight minutes and looked in complete control. However, just 29 seconds in to the second, Bobby Chaumont halved the deficit, before drawing the Clan level.

Kris Hogg restored the visitors lead, before Chaumont completed his hat trick near the end of the second, to tie a tense game going in to the third.

With barely seconds remaining, Red Wing Miller got the decisive goal, to send the Braehead Arena in to uproar, as the Clan claimed not just the win, but bragging rights over the side with whom they have built up a fierce rivalry.

**WORST LOSS: Edinburgh Capitals 8-4 Braehead Clan*

While the Clan have not had their problems to seek on the road this term, particularly on their travels to Dundee, it was November's trip to Murrayfield as part of a weekend double header against the Caps, that threw up the Clan's worst performance and defeat thus far.

Having won the first tie of the weekend 6-1 in a lacklustre game at Braehead, the Clan would have been expected to go to the Capital to do the same the following night.

However, it wasn't to be, as Richard Hartmann's side kick started somewhat a reversal of fortunes with a thumping win over their West Coast rivals.

First period goals from Peter Holecko, Martin Cingel and Marcis Zembergs scrubbed out efforts from Steve Birnstill and Ash Goldie, to give the hosts a 3-2 first period lead, before Richard Hartmann and Holecko once more, made it 5-2 in the second.

With starting nettie Garret Zemlak pulled after the fifth, Mike Will would go on to let three by him in the third, from Hartmann, Cingel and Rene Jarolin. Bobby Chaumont and Goldie again found the net for Clan but it was in vain, as the Caps were worthy of their huge win.

PERFORMANCE v PROJECTIONS

In the aftermath of that loss to Edinburgh, Braehead gave the EIHL one of its biggest surprises of the season, releasing Bobby Chaumont, along with Ryan Campbell. Campbell being let go was no surprise, as injury had limited his impact, but Chaumont going was a shock, as he was good for at least a point a night in the lead up to his release. With Clan's defence their biggest issue, the release of a forward was met with a bit of consternation by the Purple Army.

It has been the defensive frailties that have perhaps prevented Clan from realising the potential that the Conference system looked to allow them.

With the biggest budget, fan base and attraction of the Gardiner sides, Pre season thoughts were that Neil Black's other team were destined for silverware, but the reality is that it's just not worked so far. Of course, there are a few reasons for this.

Starting the season mainly away from home, losing five of eight on the road, after an opening night home win over Belfast Giants, meant that the side had road legs ahead of every game.

Their homecoming coincided with the signing of Drew Miller, and brought with it a win over Dundee and subsequent run of three home wins. However, a big loss to Nottingham in the big league started a streak of losses, where the D and Zemlak were put Nader a lot of scutiny.

Mitch Maunu's recovery from injury was rushed, meaning he injured himself again in trying to help out an already low numbered D, which would result on his release at the end of November.

Davide Nicoletti was brought in to shore up that D and help out, but with further injuries to Matt Hanson and trialist Martin Tuma, the luck of the Clan defence has just not been in.

Adam Walker and Ryan Watt have also seen a lot of the doctor this term, which has meant that the fit players have had to increase their work load. The mercurial Jade Galbraith has also been playing with an injury, resulting in a noticeable dip in his form.

Add to that the signing and then reneging of a contract by former Vancouver Canuck Jesse Schulz as cover for the injury hit side, and you have a number of legitimate factors in Clan's under performance.

That being said, they currently sit two points clear at the top of the Gardiner, have an exciting Challenge Cup quarter final against Coventry Blaze to look forward to and are still the top performing Scottish side in the Elite League.

Jordan Krestanovich and Kirsty Longmuir will be hoping that 2013 will bring with it a slice of luck, as they look to bring consistency and confidence back to the Clan. THIS WEEKEND

Still very much shortbenched, Braehead welcome Cardiff Devils to the Arena this Saturday night, in their only game of the weekend. Gerad Adams side have had a decent season on their own ice and already have a win over the Clan in Braehead under their belts this season.

A win for the hosts would be the ideal Christmas present for their fans and the players themselves as they look to stay ahead of the rest of the Scottish sides.

Elsewhere Dundee Stars travel to a rejuvenated Edinburgh Capitals, who have won three of their last four games, including wins over Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers, aided by the goals of Curtis Leinweber.

The Stars have had a great few months at home, but will be up against it on their trip to the Capital, as Mike Wirll and Sami Ryhanen look to best EIHL Player of the Week Tomas Hiadlovsky in the Caps goal.

Fife travel to Nottingham on Saturday to take on the Panthers, who will still be smarting from their defeat to Edinburgh the last time they faced Scottish opposition. The Flyers will be without Kris Hogg and Danny Stewart through injury, but will look to take their impressive recent home form with them.

Having won their previous five games in Kirkcaldy, their second game of the weekend sees the, make the short journey to Dundee to take on the Stars on Sunday, in what should be the match of the weekend in the Gardiner.

Hull Stingrays have a tough weekend ahead, taking on both Sheffield Steelers and Cardiff Devils, as they look to make a dent in the big league before Santa Claus comes to town.

FIXTURES

Friday
Coventry Blaze @ Belfast Giants

Saturday
Dundee Stars @ Edinburgh Capitals
Sheffield Steelers @ Hull Stingrays
Cardiff Devils @ Braehead Clan Fife Flyers @ Nottingham Panthers

Sunday
Belfast Giants @ Sheffield Steelers
Nottingham Panthers @ Coventry Blaze
Hull Stingrays @ Cardiff Devils Fife Flyers @ Dundee Stars

Kris Jack is a sports blogger and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @krisjack85.

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