Tough future for the Warwick Panthers

It appears that it’s going to take a monster effort for our Panthers to claw their way to the top of the BUIHA league this year. Aside from the demoralising effect of excessive feline related puns in their news coverage, the “old breed” of top flight talent has been depleted significantly as forwards and wingers alike flee the brotherhood of Warwick to seek cushy jobs in local government and accountancy firms.

Last year saw mixed results for the Warwick Panthers. For the B team, a stunning performance throughout the season gave an unbeaten record and a victorious return from the Nationals in Sheffield. In a season described simply as “amazing” by golden-boy Tristan Sambruck, Warwick were able to clock up a goal difference of +86 in the regular season, brushing aside their long term rivals, the Cardiff Redhawks. The forward pairing of Sambruck and Tim Donnison was unstoppable in attack, whilst in defensive Pyung Lee and Chris Anthony left Captain Dave Nicol’s goal impenetrable.

By contrast, the A squad had a much tougher season. Competing in the much tougher First Division pushed their astonishingly talented players to the limit, but the pressure was rumoured to have lead to a lack of coordination and cooperation both on and off the ice which would ultimately be their downfall. Despite the spectacle they provided at Varsity ‘11, a disappointing early exit from the Nationals capped off what proved a troublesome year for Warwick’s premier hockey players, who managed just three wins from ten games.

The start of the 2011/12 season suggests that both teams may be heading for uphill struggle if they cannot find a way to overcome the main structural problems they face. A single win by forfeit from three games from the A team and a disappointing draw in the only game for the B team can be somewhat attributed to this year’s training.

Disagreements over the length of training slots at Coventry’s Skydome Arena and a lack of formal coaching staff for both sides have lead to significant uncertainty and thus disorganisation within their preparation. Training sessions have often been erratic and as a consequence players have either not been present or have not been able to make full use of the ice-time.

B Team regular Ava Labelle, who has used her experience training peewee hockey to aid her fellow teammates as a stand-in coach had this to say: “It’s been tricky not having a proper coach… even though everyone on the team are friends I think it’s important to have someone from outside of the team as a coach. It feels strange telling your own team what to do, when they should be your equals.”

Whilst both have rectified this issue somewhat over the Christmas break, the B team in particular have been confronted with the more pressing issue of a depleted roster. Top goal scorers Tristan Sambruck and Tim Donnison have both entered full time employment, whilst Pyung Lee has deservedly been promoted to the A squad. Left at the helm of a largely inexperienced side is former Club President James Prescott and Chris Anthony, along with long term forward Sam Evans.

Despite having a wealth of potential, the B team will likely struggle against the goliaths of Nottingham. In addition, they will have to be wary of potential upsets at the hands of Cambridge Women, who despite their physical disadvantage have a disciplined and organised line-up.

Fortunately for the A team, their roster remains peppered with household names. The stars of Warwick’s Varsity team largely remain in the form of Richard Belfitt, Ross Nicol and Veit Dinges among others, whilst Coventry still provide the likes of Ignas Romaškevičius and ENL regular Joe Day. One significant loss, however, has been Rikki Bryniarski, whose goal in the final two minutes pipped Warwick to the post at Varsity ‘11.

Despite the myriad of trials that will be faced by both teams this season, the players seem less discouraged than one might expect. Stefan Buckingham played just three games last year for the B squad but is now playing full time this year. He said; “we’ve got a lot to live up to, what with being unbeaten and winning the league and nationals. especially since we’ve lost a lot of good players from graduation. But, we’ve also got a lot of potential within the new blood so it should be a good year. More challenging possibly, but it means the wins will feel better when we get them”.

Likewise, veteran defence-man Chris Anthony, who has moonlighted for the A team despite remaining loyal to division three added his analysis: “This year we’ll probably have to be a lot more focused on working together as a team to do as well, rather than relying on individuals. It’s also a lot harder without a designated coach, as we don’t seem to achieve as much after each training session”.

So, it seems it will be ill advised for anyone to put their student loan on the Panthers winning the league, but this would be missing the point entirely. Not only do they provide a controlled environment for young men to beat the living daylights out of one another, they also foster a fraternity that will exist regardless of whether they win or lose.

It sounds cheesy to peddle the old adage that “winning isn’t everything”, but, as Varsity ’11 proved, what really matters are the moments that players and fans alike will remember. People quickly forget that Warwick actually lost to Coventry that year, but it will take a generation to forget Matti Konsala getting annihilated in that ridiculous blue helmet. Best of luck this year Panthers!

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