11 IN 11: As we build for the 2018/19 season, we look at each team every day, working from the lowest league position up so we start with Milton Keynes Lightning and reflections on their debut Elite League season.
MILTON KEYNES LIGHTNING
2017-18 Coach: Pete Russell
Current Coach: Doug McKay
Final Overall League Position: 11th (42 points)
Final Conference position: 4th (17 points; Patton Conference)
Challenge Cup: Quarter Finals
Play-Offs: Did not qualify
Milton Keynes Lightning embraced life in the Elite League in the best possible way as they made the step up from the English Premier League with what seemed like an effortless transition.
However injuries took hold and although they ended the season one place up from bottom of the table, you sense the management of the club have learned a lot about life in the EIHL.
It wasn’t just the move from one league to another that everyone at Milton Keynes had to adjust to, but a new ownership under Graham and Monica Moody as a new era began.
Victories over Belfast Giants and Braehead Clan set an early tone for the MK as they made their first steps into the higher league and it seemed like they belonged there.
Qualification from their Challenge Cup group ahead of then holders Cardiff Devils was also a massive achievement for a new team as they reached the quarter-finals.
Bringing in seasoned Elite League campaigners such as Matt Nickerson, Guillaume Doucet and Jonathan Boxill, you could see what Russell was looking to do in hoping to give Milton Keynes a good yardstick for future campaigns.
Form away from home was a problem though as they couldn’t quite get the results they would have liked on the road to help boost what was already an impressive haul on home ice.
It’s fair to say the fans bought into the step up and got behind their team, even when times started to get tough for them, particularly in the latter half of the campaign.
Injuries affected them badly and loss of form saw them lose six straight games over the Christmas and New Year period and only two victories in January.
That being said, the performance levels were still there for the most and while Russell was left frustrated at times when it came to results, he never wavered in his praise for the effort his team showed.
Big results against the more glamorous opponents in Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants showed the foundations were there, but there was work to be done.
Pete Russell announced in February his three-year association with the club was to end so MK faced a summer of change again as they did their best to end the season on some kind of high.
Ultimately, the play-off hopes were dashed as Lightning ended the season with 42 points from 56 games, second last and bottom of their Patton Conference section too.
This campaign can be filed under ‘learning curve’ so it will be interesting to see how they build on those foundations next year.
TOP POINTS SCORERS (All competitions):
Denny Kearney (F) 78 points (28 goals + 50 assists)
Kevin King (F) 68 points (29 goals + 39 assists)
Francis Verrault-Paul (F) 67 points (16 goals + 51 assists)
Guillaume Doucet (F) 60 points (33 goals + 27 assists)
Paul Phillips (D) 47 points (7 goals + 40 assists)
Stats info by R & J Stats
While last season ended on a disappointing note in terms of the league position, there were a lot of positives to take from Milton Keynes’ maiden campaign in the Elite League.
They’ve had a change in coach with vastly experienced Doug McKay coming in to replace Pete Russell, who announced his decision to move on before the end of last season.
An improvement on second bottom certainly goes without saying, as does looking to reach the play-offs, but picking up points on the road is something they have to improve on.
McKay is already building a team in his image and if MK can get a decent start, then keep it going is essential to any relative success they have.
Perhaps another Challenge Cup qualification would be good as well, but with Coventry, Guildford and, of course, Cardiff improving, it could be a harder task.
ROSTER 2018-19: (Updated up to 20 August 2018)
Adam Goss (NM)
Patrick Killeen (NM)
James Griffin (D)
Owen Griffiths (F)
Adam Harding (F)
Radek Meidl (LW)
Cole Shudra (F)
David Norris (F)
Joonas Huovoinen (F)
Tim Wallace (F)
Georgs Golovkovs (F)
Michael Fine (F)
Ryan Lannon (D)
Martin Mazanec (D)
Clay Anderson (D)
Nelson Armstrong (D)
Eric Neiley (F)
Trevor Morbeck (F)