EPL ICE HOCKEY: Manchester Phoenix have stunned the English Premier Ice Hockey League by announcing the signing of ex NHL defender Robert Schnabel.

The 33 year old Prague-born defender stands at 6 feet 5 inches and 238lbs and will be a brick wall to get past in the EPL this season.

Schnabel is a product of the Slavia Prague junior system in the Czech League and played four games for the Slavia first team in 1996 before being drafted to the NHL in the 3rd round by the New York Islanders, icing in the Western Hockey League with Red Deer Rebels. Drafted again in 1998, this time by the Phoenix Coyotes, he played for their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, and spent three years on the blue line with them. At the end of the 2000-01 season he iced briefly for Timra in the Swedish Elitserien before returning across the Atlantic, signing for the Nashville Predators. He played his minor hockey with the Milwaukee Admirals for three years, and was called up to the big show with the Predators no less than 22 times.

Schnabel returned home to Prague to ice for his home team in 2004. The wanderlust took over again and he moved to the prestigious Finnish SM Liga, donning the colours of Helskinki IFK and Jokerit. He only left Helsinki as he fell foul of the 4 import rule in Finland after HIFK signed Billy Tibbetts. He was awarded the title of the league’s most penalised player that season. The tough defender picked up a league silver medal in 2006 when he helped Jokerit to the play off final.

Heading back to the Czech Republic in 2007, he iced for Kladno in the Extraliga and Mlada Boleslav in the second division before making the short journey into Slovakia to play for Skalica and Slovan Bratislava. Last season he started with Plzen before moving to Fassa in Italy.

Now the big man moves to England for the first time and a blue line job with Phoenix.

Schnabel said: “I didn’t know too much about hockey in England but asked a few friends who have played there and I am looking forward to playing. I am going to bring my best game to Phoenix. Work ethic is my strong point and this is very important to me. I have played most of my career as a defensive defender but played a more offensive role in Italy last season. I play both roles so we will wait and see what is required. I am really looking forward to coming over, I have heard Phoenix have a passionate band of fans and this is good for me.”

Delighted Phoenix coach Tony Hand said of his new defenceman: “Robert will be fantastic over here. His pedigree of 22 NHL games and over 280 in the AHL is first class and speaks for itself. He is big and tough and knows how to handle himself and look after his team mates if the occasion arises.

He is the full package and I cannot wait for him to come over. I think the Phoenix faithful will love him and opposition fans will enjoy watching him play.”


The Rochdale-born youngster was on the bench last season as back up to Stephen Fone and iced in 2 games for Phoenix.

El-Hage started his career in 2009-10 with the Manchester Phoenix under 18 side. He moved up to the Trafford Metros in 2011 and also played 13 times for the under 18 team. Tony Hand asked him to step up to the senior bench last season, a chance Jorge grabbed with both hands.

El-Haje said: “I am really glad to be back. Last season was a fantastic experience for me. I have learned so much from Stephen Fone and Tony, not just on the ice, but off-ice in the way a professional club does things. I am hoping for a bit more ice time next season as my development continues. The new squad is looking very promising and I cannot wait to get back to business.”

Tony Hand said:”Jorge came on well last season and was very dedicated in everything he did. I am looking for him to continue the development that I saw last season and hopefully there will be a bit more ice time for him.”