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Neil Chiplen:

Talking loyalty

Hockey reporter Neil Chiplen examines the biggest story of the new EIHL season

Neil Chiplen - Neil Chiplen Posted 31st August 2012 view comments

Amidst the changing narrative of the summer of 2012, the lead story has been tucked away.

Mike Danton's paperwork, Devin Didiomete's social media policy and the restructuring of the Elite League have combined to overshadow what should be, and, underneath it all, really still is the number one headline.

Nottingham Panthers will contest the 2012/13 season without Danny Meyers

Nottingham Panthers will contest the 2012/13 season without Danny Meyers

It now feels like ancient history swept under the rug. Just a sidebar hidden on page seven. We shouldn't have let it happen, but the emerging characters have hijacked the off-season and led us away down another path, forgetting what should be first and foremost.

At the time it happened it shook the foundations of the Elite League. It reverberated like that scene in one of the Star Wars movies where Darth Vader's boys blow up a planet and a million voices cried out at once, or something like that.

Danny Meyers. The sacrificial lamb, slaughtered on the altar of the more offensive defenseman. That loyalty, that character, that love for the jersey all chucked down the toilet in the name of a few more stretch passes from the blueline. Again, nothing wrong with that at all. If that's what you believe in as a coach, if that's what you value then it's fair game. But let's not gloss over the facts now.

Neil Chiplen
Quotes of the week

The forgotten story is the captain of the Nottingham Panthers, Danny Meyers, being dumped like a bad habit by Corey Neilson.

In pre-season training and in his first few games with the Sheffield Steelers, Meyers will be hindered by the injury he sustained when he was hit by the bus Neilson threw him under. The captain. The heart and soul. The man who embodied the Nottingham Panthers. More than any other player. More than Neilson. Way more than Neilson. Kicked out onto the pavement by a coach who knew all along that the next logical step for him - in a pure matter of practicality - was to sign with the Steelers.

Meyers, his ego broken, battered and bruised, responded in predictable fashion. With complete class and dignity in a statement issued to Panthers fans, Meyers dusted himself off, dried his tears and said goodbye Nottingham, hello Sheffield. He will be the ideal figure to help glue the Steelers locker room back together.

Whatever Neilson said to him, Meyers had effectively been told that: "Jonathan Weaver gives us more chance of the league title than you do." No matter how sugarcoated it was in their private conversations, forget that nonsense about "a different direction," the message was crystal clear: "You're not good enough for us in Nottingham, go join the Steelers and we look forward to winning the league without you."

Vital

There is of course, absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. Neilson made his bed. Now he's falling asleep in it every night until April with a clear conscience. Neilson envisioned his September roster, sized up all the moving parts and figured how Meyers would fit into it. He wouldn't. Neilson compared the abilities of Weaver and Meyers, their ages, injury histories and talent level and chose his man. In a vacuum, many coaches would choose Weaver. But for Neilson, it was a bold and ballsy move. The kind of move that Neilson has been too scared to make during his reign as Panthers player coach. Neilson had to sacrifice the bond he shared with Meyers and any idea of loyalty that permeated the locker room. The Panthers hadn't come close to winning the league with Meyers, why not try a different approach? That logic would also dictate a change in coach, but that would be too tough to fathom in Nottingham.

Beyond that, Neilson's reasoning was dripping with the usual selfishness that many fans have come to associate with him.

"When I go behind the bench (Weaver's) offensive contributions could prove vital in keeping the balance right," Neilson said.

"We're all about winning hockey games, and the forwards can't score all the points on their own."

Danny Meyers. The sacrificial lamb, slaughtered on the altar of the more offensive defenseman. That loyalty, that character, that love for the jersey all chucked down the toilet in the name of a few more stretch passes from the blueline. Again, nothing wrong with that at all. If that's what you believe in as a coach, if that's what you value then it's fair game. But let's not gloss over the facts now.

If this decision was made by any other coach in the league, it wouldn't feel quite so harsh. Despite his recent playoff superiority, Neilson is still striving for the same respect around the league afforded Christiansen, Adams and Thompson. The other coaches would probably have valued loyalty above perceived ability though, holding onto Danny Meyers and finding another way to keep the powerplay ticking over while they manage the game from the bench.

Neilson doesn't seem to care by how he's perceived outside of Nottingham though. He knows he's the bad guy. He was comfortable playing Shawn Michaels to Danny Meyers' Marty Jannetty and throwing him through the barbershop window. That's who Corey Neilson is. Even when he's drenched in champagne and bathing glory, he couldn't see the trophy he's holding because it's obscured by the giant chip on his shoulder. Just ask anyone who was at the post-playoff final press conference. That's why the fallout amongst the Panthers fanbase doesn't matter. He knows they'll pony up for their season tickets and he knows they'll be cheering when he wins the playoff title again.

The stakes for both are high. Meyers will dress for every game with a little voice telling him: "Jonathan Weaver's better than you. You're not good enough for Nottingham. Jonathan Weaver's better than you." Personal pride is on the line. Meyers has each and every game to prove to the league that Neilson made the wrong choice.

Neilson's judgement won't come until the title is handed out. If he receives it, he will be vindicated and proven to be a strong minded coach who achieved his goal by any means necessary. They can build a statue for him in Nottingham.

If he doesn't win the title and Sheffield do. He will have sacrificed everything for nothing. Meyers, however, would refuse to taste the sweet revenge. He's got far too much class for that.

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