The visitors tonight are the Telford Tigers and we welcome them to the Link Centre. We have previously faced off in Swindon as part of the Autumn Cup. In the league stage of the Autumn Cup Telford took the spoils with a 2-1 win but Swindon exacted their revenge by defeating the Tigers in their two-legged Autumn Cup semi-final to advance to the final. In the singular league meeting Swindon took the spoils in a very close and very entertaining 4-3 win after a shootout with Reed Sayers getting the game winner. The last time we played against the Tigers it was a victory for the Wildcats on the road, we took the points courtesy of a 3-2 win.
On the coaching front the Tigers will once more be led by their long-time head coach, Tom Watkins, he is back for his 12th consecutive season as the Telford head coach. The Tigers are the reigning NIHL National champions and Watkins has once more assembled a very good squad that will have a good chance to defend that title earned in 2020.
There are two key signings back for the Tigers and they are two of the team’s leading points scorers from the last campaign, veteran forwards Jason Silverthorn and Scott McKenzie are both back for another year with Telford and they will be expected to lead from the front. Two other veteran leaders that the younger Tigers players will be looking to are both legends in the British game, Jonathan Weaver returns on defence and Rick Plant is back again in the forward ranks.
In goal Watkins has signed a very strong starting goalie, which is vital to any team that wishes to challenge for trophies, Brad Day has re-signed for another year in Telford after leading them to the league title with a strong performance in net during the previous season.
On the blueline the key returning players are well known to the Tigers fans, Daniel Rose and Corey Goodison have signed again, both will prove to once more be great players for the Tigers. Joining these two are 3 more defencemen in their prime, Ross Connolly, Tom McKinnon and Nick Oliver. Along with Weaver the Tigers have a strong group of 6 defencemen who are then ably backed up two promising young players in Deakan Fielder and Jack Price.
In the forward ranks Watkins has once more brought back Andy McKinney; he is the sort of player that every team needs, McKinney can put up the points but also provide the toughness and grit that makes him a nightmare to play against but also a firm favourite for your own fans. Another returnee who will be important to the Tigers this season, Jack Watkins will once more be suiting up in Telford and will again look to contribute positively to the team’s ambitions. The Tigers have also added one of the best youth prospects in the country, Bayley Harewood has signed after leaving the Bees in less than ideal circumstances but with Telford’s proven track record of developing young British players he will have a great chance to excel in orange and black.
After some early struggles, mainly with scoring power, Watkins has made the decision to boost this with import forward Vladimir Luka joining the Tigers for the remainder of the season. Even at 39 years old Luka boasts an impressive pedigree and during his time with the Sheffield Steeldogs he scored good numbers so he should provide the spark required.
This is a strong roster that is performing well even if a little inconsistently, the Cats players certainly won’t be able to switch off and they will need to be at their best tonight to secure the two points on offer.