By Paul Brookman
The puck drops for the opening game of Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning’s Elite League campaign on Sunday when Sheffield Steelers visit Planet Ice.
Steelers head coach Paul Thompson brings with him a much changed side with 16 new faces after having a summer clear out following what was for the Yorkshire outfit a disappointing 2017-2018 campaign.
Four of those who have left are now wearing Lightning’s colours this year – Andreas Valdix, Cole Shudra, Tim Wallace and Eric Neiley who was persuaded to postpone his retirement plans by MK head coach, Doug McKay.
Among the new recruits are goalie Jackson Whistle and defenceman Ryan Martinelli who have moved from Belfast Giants. Jackson is joined by brother Brandon – long timehockey fans will know the name Whistle, their father Dave played for many years in this country and was head coach at Cardiff Devils.
Another set of brothers, Ryan and Matt Rupert, were plying their trade in the East Coast Hockey League with Indy Fuel while another ex-ECHL recruit, Josh Pitt, was top scorer with Kalamazoo Wings.
Josh McFadden will have the chance to renew acquaintances with Lightning’s Trevor Morbeck – they played on the same University of Guelph team in the Canadian USports League last season.
It’s among the Brits that one has to look for longevity –captain Jonathan Phillips who is in his eighth season with the club spent a year with the defunct Milton Keynes Kings team while Robert Dowd has been a Sheffield man for six campaigns.
Steelers have had a tough pre-season going down twice to Swedish side Timra IK and winning once and losing once to Leksands IF, also from Sweden, in challenge matches before suffering a 5-2 Challenge Cup reverse to big rivals Nottingham Panthers last weekend.
Lightning may have had a less taxing warm up to the campaign – sharing the spoils with both Guildford Flames and Coventry Blaze in their challenge series – but they know the real test before the home fans begins with Sunday’s clash with Steelers which faces off at 5.15pm.
By then the two teams will have already met once at the Sheffield Arena the previous evening. So will it be a win double for one side or sweet revenge at Planet Ice? There’s sure to be a large Steelers contingent at the game so you are advised to buy your tickets in advance – to purchase them online go to mk-lightning.co.uk/tickets or phone 01908 540020.