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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Season Preview: – Nottingham Panthers

The Panthers have a habit of putting together what often looks like the best team on paper, but fails to live up to its star billing.  This season coach  Corey Neilson got his team building done a lot quicker than much of the competition, but did he show his hand too soon or have the Panthers set the standard for other teams to look up to.

David St. Pierre was originally re-signed for a second season, but his decision to take a job outside hockey could be a blessing in disguise. His replacement, Craig Kowalski looks to be a step up from St. Pierre having played the bulk of his career in the ECHL with a few stints in the AHL.  Back up netminder Dan Green signs from rivals Sheffield Steelers and will give the Panthers one of the better number twos, more than capable of giving Kowalski the odd night off.

Corey Neilson is joined by returning Brits, captain Danny Meyers, Stephen Lee and Tom Norton.  Lee took to the EIHL like a duck to water last season after making the jump from EPL and will be a welcome return for Panthers fans and Meyers is a fellow GB international. Norton is young and still developing but gives the Panthers the luxury of six on defence. Looking take take some of the offensive load of Neilson is Jonathan Zion who also joins from Sheffield Steelers. While there is no doubting Zion’s skill and offensive up side, his defensive duties were at times called in to question last year in Sheffield. Guillaume Lupine completes the Panthers blue line and will add some much needed size and toughness.

Nottingham's forward Brit pack is one of the best in the league with the high scoring David Clarke and Marc Levers both returning. Robert Lachowicz joins full time after spending last season on a two way deal with the Manchester Phoenix. Also returning after a season trying his hand in the ECHL is Matt Myers giving the Panthers four very capable Brits.  Imports Jay Henderson and Jade Galbraith also return. Galbraith has been one of the premier talents in the league for the last couple of years and is likely to again feature high up the scoring charts. Henderson is an experienced veteran who will give the Panthers depth and leadership. David-Alexandre Beauregard joins the Panthers after a less than spectacular year last season in Italy. Panthers will be hoping he can rediscover the goal scoring form he had in Manchester two years ago. Fellow newcomers Billy Ryan and Dustin Sproat will also be looked at to provide offense while Alex Penner will be looked on to add toughness. Final new signing Ian McDonald only has a few games pro experience but if his junior years are anything to go by he should add to an already very offensive looking line up. Nottingham will again have a number of players on two way deals with Nottingham Lions, though non of these players are likely to see much action with the Panthers and have little if any real impact on the team.

Again the Panthers look one of the strongest teams on paper, so should be there or there abouts at the end of the season.  If Jade Galbraith can provide the “Tony Hand Factor” and return Beauregard to his goal scoring best, Nottingham will have two of the top scorers in the league with a very strong cast of secondary scoring, including two of the best offensive defensemen in the league. Defensively again the Panthers look a little weak, but with their fire power, it could be a case of some very entertaining hockey at the NIC. Come crunch time, the sacrifice of defence in place of offense could see them come unstuck in those big, title deciding games.

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