EHL ROUND1 starts here; find out more about all the teams lining out in Barcelona

The eleventh season of the Euro Hockey League gets underway at the Pau Negre Stadium with new horizons and some big new rules changes. To set the tone, here’s an overview of the four groups and all the battles ahead this weekend.

Pool A
Former champs Bloemendaal return to the EHL, looking to start their journey to a possible third Alain Danet Trophy success, making their opening game of the tournament against Wimbledon – who reached the FINAL4 last season – on Friday at 16.15 (CET) a highlight of the weekend.

The Dutch side won the Hoofdklasse regular season last year and feature a number of superstars including German striker Florian Fuchs, Belgian hero Manu Stockbroekx, Spanish trickster Xavi Lleonart and global legend Jamie Dwyer who arrived in Europe this week.

Add them to Dutch European Championship winners Glenn Schuurman, Thierry Brinkman and Floris Wortleboer and former international goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann and it is a class act.

Wimbledon, though, have also strengthened their hand significantly over the summer with Ali Brogdon and Iain Lewers adding to their hand which already featured England internationals Henry Weir, James Bailey, Ian Sloan, Phil Roper and Simon Mantell.

SV Arminen will enter the fray on Saturday. The record Austrian champions enjoyed their last trip to Barcelona in 2014, becoming the first Austrian side to win a game in the competition and made it through to the KO16 when they stunned Atletic Terrassa.

Dariusz Rachwalski was the player-coach back then and he is in situ once again. He brings a side that has plenty of recent, top level hockey under their belt with Sebastian Eitenberger, Alexander Bele, Daniel Frohlich, Patrick Schmidt, Michael Minar and goalkeepers Michael Mantler and Mateusz Szymczyk all being in the senior Austrian panel at the Euros.

In addition, Andreas Kapounek, Lorenz Klimon and Max Trnka were all in the Under-21 Euros in Valencia, showing the club’s ability to develop talent.

Pool B
Uhlenhorst Mülheim are the number one seed in Pool B on their return to the competition after a three-year break from EHL action but they have a number of high profile injuries on their card that could open the door for challengers Dinamo Elektrostal and Cardiff & Met.

For Uhlenhorst, Thilo Stralkowski has previously netted ten times in EHL action and will captain the side with his vicious drag-flick and powerful presence in the forward line. But injuries to Timm Herzbruch, Benedikt Furk and Lukas Windfeder sees some of their stars on the sidelines for the club that won the old European Cup nine times in succession.

Their first challenge is against a Cardiff side who became the first Welsh club to win an EHL game last season when they beat Italy’s SG Amsicora. A good showing against UHC Hamburg – losing 3-1 – showed they will not be overawed by German opposition. They do have changes with Dan Kyriakides moving to Reading in England while Rhys Gowman is out injured but youngster Rhys Bradshaw is one to watch.

Dinamo Elektrostal play on Saturday and Sunday in a busy week. They finished off their Russian league championship last weekend as runners-up after a two-leg final against Dinamo Kazan. They have plenty of Russian internationals in their selection and will look to carry their league momentum into this weekend.

Pool C
While Racing Club de Bruxelles are the group’s fancied side, they will be wary of Irish Senior Cup winners Banbridge who eliminated Belgian opposition last October in ROUND1. Poland’s WKS Grunwald Poznan, meanwhile, are back for an 11th successive EHL season, making for some potential fireworks in Pool C.

Racing, though, have the glittering names of Jerome Truyens, Cedric Charlier, Tom Boon and Jeremy Gucassoff – all in Rio for Belgium’s Olympic silver medal – along with Irish Olympian Conor Harte. Add in rising stars like Augustin Meurmans – who won Euro silver in Amsterdam – and national Under-21 captain Martin Lambeau and they have lots of excellent options.

They take on Grunwald Poznan on day one (14.00 CET) who have added Polish international Dominik Kotulski to their ranks from Royal Wellington in Belgium while Jakub Janicki is another young charge. Otherwise, they have plenty of very experienced faces in their selection with plenty of know-how in the EHL. They come into the competition in good form, running up a 4-1 win over nearest rivals KS Pomorzanin Torun last weekend with Artur Mikula scoring twice.

Banbridge play on Saturday and Sunday. They were the surprise package last season, coming out of a group featuring Royal Leopold and Saint Germain. Since then, defenders Matthew Bell (Crefelder HC), Kyle Marshall (Beeston) and Jake Rowe (golf scholarship in the US) have moved on, meaning changes with Zach McClelland, Alex Tinney and Luke Witherow all coming in.

Injuries to Eugene Magee and Jonny McKee could prove crucial, leaving them shy of some major skill and experience. They played just once in the build-up in the Irish league, beating Railway Union 4-0.

Pool D – Home comforts
Club Egara are the local side hoping to fire up a big local support at the Pau Negre Stadium but they will have their work cut out for them. They will hope Pau Quemada and Quico Cortes are on top form when they meet the Scottish champions Bromac Kelburne along with French runners-up Saint Germain with some big battles on the cards.

Another key name to add to Egara’s list is Vincenc Ruiz who is back with the club following a spell with HGC in the Netherlands though he has not play yet this season. He did not play against San Sebastian last weekend, their first league win of the season, 1-0, after a 5-1 defeat to Club de Campo in their opening tie.

They meet Scotland’s Bromac Kelburne who have won a national title in each of their last 13 seasons. The Paisley club is famous for producing international talent though many of them tend to move on to clubs around England and beyond with Lee Morton the latest to make a move south.

The likes of Chris Nelson, Michael Christie, Iain Scholefield and Johnny Christie are experienced heads who will guide them through what looks a competitive group.

Saint Germain have a side packed with international players with Francois Goyet, Guillaume Deront, the Genestet brothers – Hugo, Tom and Martin – and goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry giving them plenty of quality. They have started the French league with three wins and a draw on their card from four games.