Slough Jets retained the services of Slava Koulikov who had lead them to the cup final the previous season and after a late finalising of the budget the Jets coach found he had already lost the services of players he had spoken with earlier in the closed season. The biggest blow however was losing the signature of Frankie Bakrlik to Tony Hand’s Manchester Phoenix but still a good team was assembled with four quality imports including new to the UK Ales Padelek and one of the best British line-ups in the league.
A slow start to the season saw the team pick up form and start to climb the table. After a few weeks in the bottom two the team made the top four but then Gregg Rockman suffered a concussion that kept him out through injury. Danny Milton took the starter’s role while Rocky recovered but a wrist injury to Milton saw Rockman back in net for the Jets earlier than expected.
Ryan Watt was an early departure from the Hangar and was soon followed by Rockman as a netminding change was made. To bring in high quality Kamil Jarina to start in goal meant that Tomas Fojtik also was released alongside the club’s original goaltender. After a poor opening period against Basingstoke Jarina set about establishing himself as a game winning goalie, stealing the team games they may have otherwise lost.
Hard hitting Alan Lack strengthened the team when he arrived in November and results started coming in again. Jarina was settling in goal, the out skaters were all performing and despite a weakened defence with a Brit still needed to replace Fojtik the Jets were maintaining a mid table position.
Michael Wales was released in mid November and the former club Captain signed up with Basingstoke Bison. What happened next was probably the two toughest weeks in the club’s history! Newly appointed Captain Dan Scott was made an offer while under contract and left to join Telford Tigers. Ciaran Long then left to join Basingstoke, Dan Davies also headed to Telford. Lee Richardson left to return to Swindon, and Coach Koulikov swapped his player/coach role at Slough for the same in Peterborough. He took with him Darius Plisauskas and Kamil Jarina.
A new era started for the Jets with Craig Moran taking over the Head Coach job and Mindy Kieras the club Captain and assistant coach. Moran rebuilt his team but the inevitable task of replacing so many top quality players mid-season proved near impossible. Instead he went for some extremely talented prospects in the shape of Ryan Webb, Tom Avery, Stephen Balmer, Eddie Temple, and JJ Pitchley stepping up to a full time role in the senior team. Jamie Line also made a return to Slough colours and tough guy Brad Watchorn joined. The vacant import slots were filled by utility player Andrius Kaminskas, returning from an injury enforced absence and free scoring forward Kamil Tvrdek who was surprisingly released by Bracknell.
Netminding was strengthened by the signing of Andrej Vasiljevic from the KHL who started with two man of the match performances. His second was a game winning performance in Telford and the very next day the player’s agent was anonymously asked to name a price for his immediate transfer to another EPL club! Brit goalie Joe Myers signed from Cardiff Devils and also started with a man of the match performance! The signing deadline came, and went, with the Coach still having money to spend in his budget but no players looking to complete mid-season moves.
In truth the Jets were highly unlikely to be completing the run in with non stop wins but Coach Moran built a team that punched consistently above their weight. They took wins from top end of the table teams, they won and lost in penalties against pre-season favourites Guildford Flames, they enjoyed a blow-out win over Peterborough Phantoms and there were road wins in Telford and Sheffield. Ironically there was one more kick in the teeth as Brad Watchorn’s home appearance against the Steeldogs turned out to be his last Jets appearance, that game followed by a convincing incognito disappearing act.
At the time of writing, by closing out the final four games with a 100% winning record and hoping Bracknell close with a 100% losing record the play-offs are still a mathematical possibility however what has happened in 2014 is something to be proud off irrespective of play-off qualification.
The Jets slipped from top-mid table to an out of play-off spot against teams strengthened by the players signed from the Jets but what the Jets have achieved is a solid, stable foundation to build from and take-off again. They have quality imports who play with pride and passion, they have quality Brits who are not afraid to give everything they have for their team and in truth are probably only a couple of signings away from being back to contending in every single game. Exciting times definitely lie ahead.