Preview: MK Lightning vs Nottingham Panthers (7 Oct)
Nottingham Panthers ride into town on Sunday to present Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning with probably their toughest challenge yet this season on home ice.
Panthers have a new coach at the helm this term with Canadian Rich Chernomaz replacing the experienced Corey Neilson but that has not stopped them taking charge at the top of the Elite League – albeit having played more games than all of the teams below them.
The clash follows a double header trip to Belfast Giants for Lightning with games at the Odyssey Arena on Friday and Saturday. Travelling supporters will be able to renew acquaintance with former MK hero, Lewis Hook, who moved over the water in the close season – it’s fair to say though he has yet to make an impression with Giants.
A look at the Elite League top scoring individual charts shows Panthers dominating with players in four of the leading positions – Justin Kovacs who scored the winner against Manchester Storm on Saturday with 2mins 29secs is in pole on five goals and seven assists while Alex Guptill is one assist behind. Mark Hurtubise with three plus seven occupies third spot and in sixth spot is Luke Pitcher on five plus three. All figures are before any post mid-week games.
But reigning Continental Cup Champions of Europe Panthers can be tested as Guildford Flames proved on Sunday – the Midlands outfit running out narrow 3-2 winners after they conceded a late Corbin Baldwin goal.
While only three of last season’s overseas players remained at the club – Brett Perlini, Michael Garnett and Tim Billingsley the Panthers boast a Brit pack most Elite League clubs would give their right arm for.
Robert Lachowicz, Robert Farmer and Stephen Lee have all made big contributions to the team over a number of years while Ollie Betteridge and Josh Tetlow have also established themselves. One notable absence though this term is that of last year’s player assistant coach, David Clarke, who hung up his skates for the last time in April.
However two almost permanent fixtures at Panthers are assistant coach Rick Strachan – a familiar face to long time hockey fans in Milton Keynes, having twice coached the former Kings team. The other is long time servant, general manager, Gary Moran, father of Paul who played for Kings under Strachan.