It has been an intense season for the London Raiders.
The past 30 weeks have been characterised by slow and powerful improvements as the Raiders, a Romford club transplanted to a new location in east London just a few seasons ago, worked their way to an improved league position.
An unpredictable season
With the exception of the Chelmsford Chieftains, who led the table since the very beginning and ran away with the title, the league has boasted its most competitive table in years.
John Scott, CEO of the London Raiders, pointed out: “With just two weekends to go it was mathematically possible for the second through [to] sixth-placed teams to change order. Whilst first to second had an 18-point gap, second through sixth had only 10 points between them.”
The lack of a proper gap between the higher-level teams and the clubs below them in the table always guaranteed hard-fought contests, especially from the Raiders, who despite the upheaval from the east London move that still impacts them today, put together a successful season, staying focused and competitive.
Up in the league
The successful campaign for the Raiders saw them make some progressive improvements in league position as they concluded the season three positions farther up the table than the past few years, and easily qualified for the playoffs.
Scott thinks London could have gone even higher, had not injuries and player absences played such a crucial role.
“Many will think fourth or even third place would have been possible with less player injuries,” said Scott, who added that he was pleased with the results his team achieved.
Not only has the league placement improved for the Raiders this year, but they also managed to beat every single team at least once this season, which is a definite improvement compared to the past few years.
Junior system woes
But as Scott observed, a clear obstacle for the Raiders this season has been a lack of players who could take over in any tough situation.
The absence of their leading goal scorers, JJ Pitchley and Slovakian international Marek Nahlik, strongly affected the outcome of the last few games, as with them on the ice the Raiders could potentially have turned around some close games and achieved better results.
But Scott confirmed, “Team building for the new season has been in planning for some months and the Raiders are confident that their gradual climb up the league placing will continue.”
The CEO doesn’t deny that the lack of a junior system from which the club can promote players has been a major limitation, particularly as other clubs have made such effective use of juniors.
The league champions, Chelmsford, have utilized their junior system exceptionally well in recent years, building up a solid base of youth and regularly promoting promising young players. Those juniors are now part of a team that competes for the league title each season, rarely disappointing the expectations of the management team, the supporters and the player themselves.
“One only has to look at Chelmsford to see how a developed junior system and their Division Two team Chelmsford Warriors has helped to gradually provide senior squad players,” said Scott.
As Scott hinted, the Raiders are planning to sign some key additions to the team during the offseason, not only to lengthen their historically short bench, but especially to bring more intensity to their games and the quality of their performances.
This strategy, Scott explained, is a long-term plan which will hopefully bring results when the Raiders return home to the new Romford ice arena for the 2018 season.
Scott said: “The return to Romford in the 2018/2019 season has been a major part of the off-ice planning and the Raiders have every intention of being a competitive squad from the first game. That means that next season’s team will be assembled very much with an eye for having some familiar faces and some continuity and stability for the new venue.”