By Kris Smith
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Game 1: Manchester Storm V Coventry Blaze
When: Saturday 3 April, Face-off: 14:00
The 2021 Manchester Storm:
Head Coach, Ryan Finnerty has surrounded himself with many familiar faces as he drafted in many ex-Storm and Glasgow Clan players that he has previously worked with. The Canadian also brought back last season’s captain, Dallas Ehrhardt and some new faces in the form of Norwegian, Andreas Klavestad and Canadian, Maxime Fortier.
The Storm have a lot offensive firepower and look set for big point hauls to come from the likes of, Ben Davies, Ben Lake and Ciaran Long, who all have a history of recording big points in the Elite League.
The 2021 Coventry Blaze:
Danny Stewart will lead the Blaze once again and has constructed a young but hungry squad. Former Stars defender, Paul Swindlehurst will be one of the team’s most experienced Brits
Chris Pohlkamp, Nicolai Bryhnisveen and Janne Laakkonen are all returning to the West Midlands club from last season and last season’s EIHL top point scorer, Luke Ferrara will be available to Coventry once the Polish season concludes and he can fly back to the UK.
Stewart will also be looking to see if Vanya Antonov can impress on his debut in the British topflight, after finding great success in the English leagues.
Between the Pipes:
Both teams have strong goaltending trios and a mix of British and import netminders that can all make the difference on their night.
Manchester can look to Canadian shot-stopper Sean Bonar but know they have other reliable options with serial winner and former Star, Stephen Murphy and ex-Panther, Sam Gospel.
Meanwhile, ex-Fife Flyer goaltender, Shane Owen can play a pivotal role for the Blaze and he will be supported by Jordan Hedley and Will Bray, who are both well known around the Skydome Arena.
These two teams last met on March 7, 2020 and the Blaze were 4-1 winners in Altrincham. Ferrara (1+1) and Laakkonen (0+2) both had two point games, while Ross Venus and Manchester’s Finlay Ulrick both tallied one assist each.
Game 2: Nottingham Panthers V Sheffield Steelers
When: Saturday 3 April, Face-off: 19:00
The 2021 Nottingham Panthers:
Head Coach, Tim Wallace and Head of Hockey Operations, Gui Doucet utilised the Elite Series Draft to build a team that contains a core of top-quality Brits and topped that off with strong imports to fill their roster.
Dundee Stars hot prospect, Craig Garrigan will be playing alongside some of the nations other rising stars, including his former teammate, Jordan Kelsall.
The other bunch of young guns who will be looking to prove a point for the Panthers will be; Liam Stenton, Joshua Tetlow, Oliver Betteridge, Owen Griffiths, Lewis Hook and Morgan Clarke-Pizzo.
The 2021 Sheffield Steelers:
Sheffield boss, Aaron Fox has a solid foundation after re-signing a number of players from his 2019-2020 roster that lifted the Challenge Cup and were challenging for the league title.
Josef Hrabal, Brendan Connolly, Tanner Eberle are all back on board and also returning after a few seasons away from the club is Jason Hewitt.
However, the Steelers also posses a lot of young talent and after his time in North America, NHL Draft Pick, Liam Kirk is back in Yorkshire but he will be the leading example for other youngsters such as Kieran Brown, Joshua Waller, Alex Graham, Sam Jones and Balint Pakozdi.
Between the Pipes:
There is no lack of talent in either teams crease but the Panthers look unarguably strong with the British trio of Ben Bowns, Jackson Whistle and Sheffield’s back-up shot-stopper from last year, Will Kerlin.
However, the Steelers also have some hot prospects in their goaltending department including Ben Churchfield and Curtis Warburton, who will be competing with Canadian John Muse.
The last time these big rivals clashed was February 22, 2020 and the Steelers were big winners on the road. In a 6-2 victory, Sheffield’s Josef Hrabal, David Phillips and Nottingham’s Mark Matheson all set-up one goal each, while Brendan Connolly had the final touch for a Steelers goal.
Game 3: Sheffield Steelers V Manchester Storm
When: Sunday 4 April, Face-off: 14:00
The most recent clash between the Storm and the Steelers was on January 25, 2020 and it was Sheffield who were 4-2 winners.
That night Eberle led the way and posted four points (1+3) for Sheffield and Connolly scored a single goal and created another for his teammate.
Meanwhile, Manchester’s Cam Critchlow assisted on both of Manchester’s goals.
Game 4: Coventry Blaze V Nottingham Panthers
When: Sunday 4 April, Face-off: 19:00
March 1, 2020 was the last time the Blaze met the Panthers and it ended with Coventry taking the extra point after winning on penalties.
Laakkonen was on form with Coventry with three points, including the game winning penalty shot, while Ross Venus added one goal and Ferrara one assist. Whereas, Brett Perlini netted one of Nottingham’s three goals.