By Dino Billington
THE SEASON THAT WAS
Manchester Storm are back for the 2019/2020 season looking to rebuild on a very disappointing 18/19 season which saw the team finish ninth in the league with a 27-27-5 record, a far cry from the lofty second place the season previous.
Manchester has long held a stigma for being a very physical team but with a league eclipsing 1,179 penalty minutes it seems quite obvious why there was never going to be a happy ending for the lads from Altrincham.
For the majority of Storm fans the physical game began getting old as the season wore on, big hits and fights are great on paper, but when you’re constantly a man down you’ll be beaten by the numbers eventually and that is exactly what happened on a consistent basis.
Manchester Storm had three players in the top 5 penalty minutes category, Linden Springer, Dane Byers and Harrison Ruopp, but with the exception of Dane Byers (29-26-55) point contributions were very limited and the players hurt the team.
As a former player and lifelong Manchester Storm fan, I have to admit that I’m more than a little happy to be rid of players that are detrimental to the team. I love fights, hits and explosive action but something much sweeter than that is winning.
Looking into the new season it seems that management has been very busy bringing in amidst a full new team with only a few players retaining their positions.
Fan favourite Dallas Ehrhardt remains the brick wall in defence and in my opinion should be the captain this season after he put up career numbers (16-31-47) along with his defensive partner Declan Balmer who, despite a quiet season in points, remained solid defensively.
One massive blow that the team has taken is the loss of Mike Hammond (18-57-75) and Luke Moffatt (20-42-62) who made up a lot of the offence for Manchester last season and provided many bright spots in an otherwise dark season.
Layne Ulmer made the switch from Cardiff to Manchester this off-season and he brings to the table a wealth of championship experience, not to mention he made it to the show with the New York Rangers and despite only playing one game, he obviously had that talent and it’s something the Storm well be looking to capitalise on.
Jared Aulin is another player that brings NHL experience to the team after paying with the LA Kings, coincidentally he is the brother in law of Layne Ulmer and joins him at Manchester after successful stints in the German DEL and the Swiss NLB/NLA.
A journeyman, Aulin brings goals and assists for every team he represents and this season with the Storm could be something special, definitely one too watch.
The team has brought in a young nucleus that has the potential to see out several seasons together, this first season could go either way.
Expectations for the year must be realistic, a championship should always be at the back of our minds, but a focus should be on the Patton conference title and a strong run into the playoff.
The team that has been built is strong and success will depend on how well the team can meld and work together. If the team can gel quickly than this season could prove to be one of most successful since the Manchester Arena years.
MY FIRST LINE
As for a starting line, I think it would have to feature Ulmer and Aulin alongside the young Adam Barnes, a player that is due great things.
As for a defensive pairing, Captain Dallas is a guaranteed first defensive line but the choice for his partner is a tough one as Balmer and newly acquired Gagnon are both fantastic candidates…
I’ll go for Balmer and there’s only one choice for the goalie…
So first line starters for me would be –
Barnes – Ulmer – Aulin
Ehrhardt – Balmer