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Champagne's future on ice as talks begin

THE dust has barely settled on the Elite Ice Hockey League campaign, the bruises are not yet healed from the punishment taken by some in the weekend's play-off finals.

Purple reign: Joel Champagne scored 30 goals for Clan this season. Picture: Al Goold
Purple reign: Joel Champagne scored 30 goals for Clan this season. Picture: Al Goold

Yet Ryan Finnerty's thoughts have already begun to wander to what could be next season for Braehead Clan, and what tools he will have at his disposal to achieve it with.

The Glasgow club capped off an inaugural appearance in the end-of-season play-off showpiece in Nottingham with a respectable third-place finish, just reward for the Canadian's first season in charge. But there are already doubts hanging over the future of a number of last season's team, with the coach admitting two of the men at the heart of this year's success may look to move on.

The main concern revolves around Joel Champagne, the man who netted two of their goals in a 7-6 win over Fife Flyers in Sunday's third-place play-off. He has netted over 30 goals in his first campaign in Scotland, but Finnerty is bracing himself for the prospect that one of his star attractions could be drawn elsewhere.

"Unfortunately there are some who will want to test the European market, people like Joel Champagne," said the coach, who also is unsure of the intentions of English forward Lee Esders.

"It would be a big signing if we could get him back, but we'll see. He's young and has had a great year and he deserves to move up the ranks.

"But Joel is a guy who enjoyed his time in Braehead and while it is definitely not a no, I think he will probably go and look around a bit and see what is out there for him."

More fuel was added to the fire yesterday when Champagne himself tweeted: "Time to leave Scotland... I would like to thanks all the fans for the support this year!" However, it is thought this immediate departure comprises a holiday back home rather than anything long term.

On the future of Esders, Finnerty added: "I'm not sure what he is looking to do. I've had him for three years now [At Sheffield Steelers and at Braehead] so it will be interesting to see what happens."

It is not all doom and gloom around the Braehead Arena, however. The coach admitted he has already had informal chats with some members of the squad he wishes to hold on to, with more talks due to take place over the coming weeks.

"We're starting to put some things together and it's nice this season because I have something to build on, unlike last year where the club exploded and I had to put it back together," he said.

"We have a pretty good idea who we want to retain and where we need to improve in the summer, but I'm not a guy who rushes into signings. I'm excited about the future.

"We've had brief discussions with some guys and the players I want to retain are interested. You have always got to look at getting better but I also like continuity and you want to build around a certain group of guys. I have identified who they are and we've spotted where we want to improve.

"I don't like to talk about it, I don't think it's good for the chemistry in the room when you talk to some guys about coming back and others don't get the call. We'll let this week set in and get the guys back home, then we will hopefully get some news out to our fans."

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