Elite Ice Hockey League mid-term report: Dundee Stars

Dundee Stars v Braehead Clan.
The Dundee Stars prepare to face off against Braehead Clan in a highly charged Scottish derby.

Having looked back at the season so far for Braehead last time out, this week's blog will look at how things have panned out thus far in the City of Discovery for Jeff Hutchins' Dundee Stars.

Hutchins has done really well to build a team capable of competing for the Gardiner Conference title, and has amongst his ranks one of the most prolific forward lines in the EIHL.

It has been the performances of Mike Wirll and Sami Ryhanen that have kept his side at the top end of the northern table, while Nic Riopel in goal has been as solid as the Stars fans could have hoped this season.

DUNDEE STARS

GARDINER CONFERENCE RECORD: Won 8 Lost 5 (1 shootout loss)

MVP: Sami Ryhanen

The top points scorer in the Gardiner and third top marksmen in the overall Elite League, Ryhanen is having a cracking term in Dundee. His 17 goals in 29 appearances is a great return rate, but when you add his 32 assists to that number, you can see just how much of an impact he has had on the Stars season so far.

One man who has benefitted from the forward play of Ryhanen is Mike Wirll, who himself has been free scoring throughout the season as well for Dundee. Between them they are just shy of 100 points for the season so far, which is no mean feat at this halfway point.

The 32-year-old Finn is in his second spell in the UK, having previously played for the Nottingham Panthers and his experience has been integral to the Stars spending intermittent weeks atop the Gardiner Conference. With one goal and three assists in the Stars last two games against Fife Flyers, he shows no sign of letting up going in to 2013.

BEST WIN: Dundee Stars 4-1 Braehead Clan

When it comes to home performances, the Stars have put on fairly close affairs for the most part. However, possibly the highlight of their season in their own barn has been their three wins over Braehead so far.

Having bested the Clan 2-1 in the early stages of the season, Hutchins men went on to inflict a 5-3 victory over the Paisley based side, before ensuring a 4-1 win over the early favourites on December 9.

The Stars took the lead at 8:40 through recent addition Tim Kraus, before Matt Haywood levelled for the Clan 90 seconds later. It remained level going in to the second period, before Billy Bagron stepped up to take control of the game for the hosts.

He assisted on Ryhanen's game winning goal just before the 32 minute mark, before bagging two of his own in the third, one of which was a shorthanded goal, to round off a thumping victory over Braehead.

The Clan are firmly on Dundee's mantelpiece and will be a record that Jeff Hutchins will be looking to maintain for the rest of the term.

WORST LOSS: Copventry Blaze 6-0 Dundee Stars

While the Stars home form had been very good throughout October and early November, their away form had not been as impressive. With two games in two nights against Erhardt Conference opposition, it wasn't expected that things would turn around, and so it played out.

Having lost 5-2 at home to Belfast Giants on the Friday night, despite a spirited performance, Hutchins and co travelled down to the SkyDome to take on Paul Thompson's Blaze side, who had recently added NHLer Matt Beleskey and bad boy Benny Olsson to their lineups.

The fresher Blaze side took the lead through Ross Venus early in the first, and despite the Stars forcing Peter Hirsch in to eight saves in the opening period, they could not find a way past the Blaze nettie. Instead, Thompson's men showed their clinical side by going on to rout the Stars in the next two periods.

Four goals in the second period put paid to any hopes of a comeback for the Stars, as Venus, Brad Leeb, Mike Schutte and Gerome Giudice put the hosts 5-0 ahead going in to the final period.

Shea Guthrie added number six early in the third to compound the misery for the Dundee side, with Hutchins tweeting an apology to the Stars fans in the aftermath, showing that his players were hurting from taking such a road beating.

PERFORMANCE v PROJECTIONS

At the beginning of the season, most would have positioned the Stars as falling in behind Braehead and Fife, based on strength and depth of squad. However, the way the Conference has panned out so far, Hutchins and is on and off Ice team need to be commended for the way they have gone about their business. With a number of stints at the summit of the Conference, and having two of the EIHL top scorers amongst their ranks, the other sides are beginning to take notice of the threat they could be.

Even David Simms, the self proclaimed voice of the Elite League and presenter of the highlights show, has been trying to unsettle Hutchins and his side, suggesting that the form of their forwards could see them picked up by some of the Erhardt sides in the coming weeks.

The focus now for the Stars will be to get their home form back on track so they can keep competing near the top of the Gardiner in the run up to the playoffs. With back to back losses to Fife Flyers in the last week, those hopes have taken a little bit of a dent, but they should still make the playoffs with relative ease, barring a disastrous second half of the season.

The Stars will be looking ahead to this weekend's matches against Nottingham and Cardiff to bounce back form their two defeats to Fife over the Christmas period. On Sunday they lost out in a shootout at home to the Flyers, after the game had ended 3-3 in regulation. Flyers' Jason Pitton was ejected from the match for a sucker punch and subsequently given a three game ban for his actions.

On Thursday night, the Flyers again put Hutchins side to the sword, as John Dolan and Kris Hogg inspired the Kirkcaldy side to a 6-3 win, to do the double on the Stars. With a trip to the Panthers ahead of welcoming the Devils, they will need to work hard to prevent the unwanted gift of five straight losses.

Elsewhere in the Gardiner, Edinburgh's recent resurgence came to an abrupt halt at the hands of the Hull Stingrays, going down to a solitary goal from Jereme Tendler on Thursday evening. The caps fans have been in good spirit of late as December has brought with it some cracking wins, including a 5-2 win over Dundee last weekend. On Saturday they travel to Braehead, looking to follow up their 5-3 win over the Clan from earlier in the month, before welcoming Fife to Murrayfield for a Hogmanay humdinger on New Years Eve.

The Clan will go in to the Capitals game full of confidence but short of bodies yet again, after taking the Belfast giants to overtime on Thursday night, only to lose 4-3 in the extra period thanks to a late goal from Greg Stewart. Without Martin Tuma and Jade Galbraith for the trip to the odyssey, Jordan Krestanovich will be hoping both are fit to ice against the Caps and Fife, who they visit on Sunday. Hull's final game of 2012 sees them travel to Belfast to take on the Giants.

THIS WEEKEND

Saturday
Hull Stingrays @ Belfast Giants
Edinburgh Capitals @ Braehead Clan
Dundee Stars @ Nottingham Panthers

Sunday
Coventry Blaze @ Sheffield Steelers
Cardiff Devils @ Dundee Stars
Braehead Clan @ Fife Flyers

Monday
Fife Flyers @ Edinburgh Capitals

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