The EHL Men’s Hockey League gets underway on Sunday when the Premier Division kicks off what hopefully will be a complete season after COVID-19 forced the 2020-21 season to be declared null and void.
With Alan Forsyth and Zach Wallace now in the Netherlands with HGC, all eyes will be on Surbiton to see how they cope without these two star players. They start the season at home to Holcombe, including star striker Nick Bandurak. Surbiton now have a double penalty corner threat with Gareth Furlong returning from Tilburg to partner Luke Taylor. Adam Buckle and Ben Stevenson join from the University of Nottingham with Ben Park arriving from the University of Durham and Nick Park from Beeston.
Surbiton lost their last game of last season 1-0 at Oxted and they will face the scorer on Sunday as Tim Guise-Brown has moved to Holcombe. Greg Nolan is a former team-mate of Furlong at Tilburg with Craig Wild (Sevenoaks), Sam Paterson (University of Exeter) and Tom Russell (Brooklands) also among the new arrivals in Kent. Holcombe have won one of their last five visits to Sugden Road, but prevailed 3-1 on home turf when the teams last met on opening day in 2016-17.
Old Georgians have big ambitions in the top flight, signing Henry Weir from Wimbledon to bolster their impressive squad. Kyle Marshall has moved south from Beeston and it’s the Nottingham club which are the Surrey club’s first opponents. In 2019-20, Old Georgians won both league matches 2-1 and they will aim to keep the run going.
Beeston have seen several player movements with Adam Dixon retiring, Ollie Willars joining Forsyth and Wallace at HGC and three players moving to Premier Division rivals, Oxted. Richard Alexander has come in from Indian Gymkhana with Kai Aichinger joining from Rot-Weiss Kóln. Jacob Read has made the short trip from Belper and Joe Paul has joined from Olton & West Warwicks.
Wimbledon are likely to battle with Hampstead & Westminster in a hard-fought London derby in South London. Hampstead have enjoyed their visits in recent years after Wimbledon dominated their first few seasons after promotion. Hampstead won 4-1 last season, but having lost Harry Martin to Rotterdam and Jacob Draper to Royal Beerschot, they are pinning their hopes on Dan Kyriakides from Cardiff & Met and Peter Makin from Brooklands with Seb Buddle coming from New Zealand.
Wimbledon have also lost players to the continent with Phil Roper headed to Oranje-Rood, Jack Waller to Gantoise and Rory Patterson to Royal Antwerp. Ed Horler has returned from Belgium, Sam Hooper joins from Holcombe and Ronan Harvey-Kelly returns from Loughborough.
The University of Durham and Brooklands Manchester University have their own northern derby at Maiden Castle as the teams meet in the top flight for the first time after three encounters in the Conference North. Brooklands sneaked a 3-2 win in the first match, but the other games ended in draws, the latest in 2014.
Stefan Ray-Hllls (Alderley Edge) and Sam Perrin (Beeston) will be missed, as Brooklands add Craig Falconer and James Levers from Reading and Callum Middleton from Alderley Edge.
Durham, who struggled before the season came to an early conclusion, have signed Xavier Teyletche, Olly Witts and Max Garner, with Max Denniff moving to Sevenoaks, Sam Weissen going to Scotland to join Grange and Ross Vides to Repton.
There is yet another derby as East Grinstead entertain Oxted in a repeat of their opening fixture from last season. On that occasion, it was East Grinstead who earned bragging rights with at 2-1 win, but Oxted will be keen to get revenge, especially after their surprise home win over Surbiton.
Although Tim Guise-Brown has gone to Holcombe, Oxted, like Durham newly promoted after the 2019-20 season, have signed Lucas Ward, Alex Blumfield and Matthew Crookshanks from Beeston, with Owen Williamson signing from Loughborough.
East Grinstead have managed to get goalkeeper Richard Curtis from Holcombe in what they hope will be a season to move up the table after finishing seventh in 2019-20, the last completed season.