Sheffield Steelers, Cardiff Devils, team-spirit...and the top three goalies in the Elite League

No surrender: GB goalie Bowns shuts the door
No surrender: GB goalie Bowns shuts the door
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The team which can boast the best goaltender in the League at the end of the season, generally ends up with the top honours.

That’s how it tends to work in ice hockey - as stellar netminder Ben Bowns showed at champions Cardiff Devils.

So when Sheffield Steelers decided against retaining the elastic-jointed Ervins Mustukovs in the close season, replacing him with British-Canadian Jackson Whistle, it was a decision which reverberated around the British ice hockey scene. Not least at Belfast Giants, the team that lost him.

Last year, Giants had lent on him heavily, particularly in the series against Sheffield, which they won by 6-2.

The six losses were one of the reasons Sheffield coach Paul Thompson went for Whistle when he became available. The 22-year-old had played in five of those six games.

Thompson overlooked one horror show by Whistle - he conceded six at Sheffield Arena before being replaced, eight minutes before the end of an eventual 8-0 drubbing by Steelers.

Instead, Thommo preferred to remind himself of some of the 215 saves Whistle made against his team over the campaign.

Swinton-born Bowns is a respecter of all opposition goalies both in the EIHL and when he plays for Great Britain - as he did with aplomb in the recent World Championship promotion gold-rush.
Looking back at last season, Bowns said: “I think the goaltending was better than ever, there were great goalies throughout the league.”

But pushed into naming his top three (modestly avoiding himself) he went with: 1: Patrick Galbraith, Nottingham Panthers, 2 Mustukovs at Steelers and 3 Fife Flyers’ Andy Iles.

Bowns expects the competition among goalies and their teams to be even keener next season.

Incoming: Jackson Whistle is on his way to Sheffield

Incoming: Jackson Whistle is on his way to Sheffield

“Every team will upgrade but you know that the Erhardt Conference is going to be unbelievable yet again” he told The Star.

He said that Cardiff: “will be looking to win a third straight league title and fourth straight conference title while the other three teams will be looking to knock us off our pedestal.

“We’ll see a totally different conference with four totally different teams next season but whatever teams are put together, you know all four are going to be great.”

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Ervins Mustukovs; a hard act to follow

Ervins Mustukovs; a hard act to follow

Departing assistant coach Jerry Andersson questioned the team-spirt at Sheffield Steelers after leaving the unsuccessful 2017-18 squad in his wake.

There were no issues at Cardiff, says Bowns, who says an ingredient of their glory was the way players bonded in South Wales.

“It’s well known that the most successful teams are usually the most tightly-knit teams” he said.

“That was definitely true for us last season in Cardiff, it was by far the tightest group of guys I’ve been a part of in Cardiff over my four years there.

“On top of that I thought that when we were at our best, we were relentless on the forecheck and owned the puck down low.

“The forwards we had were so good at holding on to the puck and winning the one-on-one battles down low and I think that caused a lot of problems for teams.

“Probably the most important factor was that we would win the majority of battles in front of both nets. We’d usually be first on the loose pucks out in front, whether that be clearing a rebound in front of my net or banging in a rebound in front of the opposition net.”