Ice hockey: Storm warning in cup

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The Independent Online
The Superleague could be set for a changing of the guard this season as Sheffield Steelers, Cardiff Devils and Nottingham Panthers are on the brink of being supplanted.

The trio shared the three trophies on offer last season, with the Steelers taking the play-off crown, the Devils the inaugural Superleague championship and the Panthers the Benson and Hedges Cup. This season's cup competition starts tomorrow, with Manchester Storm, who reached the quarter-finals last season, entertaining last year's semi-finalists Sheffield Steelers, and Paisley taking on Telford.

Financial restraints have resulted in the Sheffield and Cardiff squads being reduced considerably while Nottingham, who were on the brink of collapse before an eleventh-hour rescue by Aladdin Management, have suffered a summer of upheaval.

In contrast, teams like the Storm, Ayr Scottish Eagles and Newcastle Cobras have set about building strong squads over the past few months. The Storm, in particular, have added strength in depth under their new coach, Kurt Kleinendorst, whose career began as a top-draft pick with the New York Rangers in the National Hockey League.

Eleven players were dropped by the Storm, with a dozen experienced recruits brought in from Canada, America and Germany. Although the side may take time to gel, it appears that when the Storm click into stride, success will not be far off.

The Steelers should still be a force despite the release of nine players over the summer. The acquisition of defenceman Mike Ware from Cardiff is a major coup for the club, and they are certain to be challenging for honours on all three fronts this season providing their small squad can stay injury-free.

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