This year’s Wightlink Raiders squad. Picture by Robin Crossley.
AFTER a long summer for ice hockey fans, the wait is finally over as the Wightlink Raiders get set to go for English National League glory.
Full training for the new-look squad began last week, with their first game taking place tomorrow (Saturday) against last year’s champions, Chelmsford Chieftains in the league’s cup competition. The Raiders’ league campaign gets under way on Sunday with a trip to Bracknell.
Player-coach Jeremy Cornish, in his online blog, said: "We had our first training session last Tuesday and I must admit, the first session of the year is always horrendous. I had an opportunity to skate a few times while I was at home in Canada, but the first serious session is always the worst.
"Everyone was there, which shows the guys are excited and ready to get the season started."
He told the County Press: "It’s been a very long summer but the wait is finally over and I think the team is a little stronger than it was last year. Tomorrow’s game against Chelmsford is going to be a great gauge of where we are."
This week the team announced two more new signings to complete the squad, which now comprises two goalkeepers, six defenders and ten forwards.
Outstanding goalkeeper Matt Colclough will take top spot between the pipes, with Dan Weller-Evans a great young back-up, while the defence features captain Damon Larter, Dan Pye, Ben Lock, Nick Compton, Niall Bound and new signings Yousif Abu Saada and, announced this week, teenage prospect Simon Hobbis.
Hobbis, 17, is signed on a two-way contract with EPL side Basingstoke Bison.
Cornish said: "I skated with Simon this summer and Doug Sheppard from the Bison thought it would be in Simon’s best interests to join us on a two-way this season. He’s young and keen to learn and I hope the Island gives him the best opportunity to move up."
The forwards are led by Cornish and new import Matt Vizzari, and joining them are returnees Craig Tribe, Kieran Annis, Corey Watkins, Richard Facey, Nathan Taylor, plus new signings Alex Barker and Steven Osman.
Completing the ten is this week’s other signing, Richard Nembhard, 24, a former Raider who has spent the last three years with Solent and Gosport Devils.
Face-off for tomorrow’s Chelmsford game at Ryde Arena is 6pm.
Meanwhile, the Island’s other senior ice hockey team, the Wightlink Tigers, start their English National League Division 2 South campaign on Sunday, with a home match against Slough ENL Jets, face-off 5.30pm.