Manchester Phoenix player-coach Tony Hand has secured the return of ex-NHL defenceman Robert Schnabel and battling forward Andy McKinney for the 2013-14 EPL season.

At 6’5” and 238lbs, Czech giant Schnabel was a formidable force on the blueline for the Phoenix last season, notching eight goals and 18 assists – along with 126 penalty minutes and some memorable scraps – as the team claimed the EPL playoff title.

The 34-year-old, who iced 22 times in the NHL for the Nashville Predators, also brought experience to the bench, which proved particularly useful when Hand was away on Great Britain duty.

Schnabel told Phoenix TV: “Last season was great. Winning the playoffs is special. If you win your last game of the season, you have a great summer. Hopefully, we will carry on from Coventry.

“I really enjoyed the club and the fans, who are great. Hopefully I can avoid injury and play the full season.”

Hand commented: “Robert was excellent last season and really showed his experience in key games. He has great leadership skills and his role was important to the team. I thought he was great in the playoff weekend and I am very pleased to have him back again this coming season.”

McKinney, meanwhile, has signed a one-year extension.

The 22-year-old’s gritty, high energy style made him a big hit with the fans during in his first full season in a Phoenix jersey and he chalked up 13 goals and 15 assists for 28 points in 52 games, along with 105 penalty minutes. He spent most of the season anchoring the third line but also stepped up to centre the top offensive unit.

McKinney, who was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but was raised in Chester and played his junior hockey in the UK, has previously had stints with the EPL’s Telford Tigers, the Hull Stingrays of the Elite League and the Squamish Cougars in the WHA Junior A League in Canada. McKinney also played seven times for the Phoenix during his stint with the club’s English National League affiliate, the Trafford Metros, in 2009-10.

He said: “Last year was the highlight of my career so far. Winning in Coventry was awesome and it was great to get a trophy for the fans. I am really looking forward to the new season and to give it a real go for all three trophies.

Hand added: “I thought Andy had a good season with us and he worked well with different lines when we had to move things around due to injuries. His 13 goals was a good return for his efforts and the physical side of his game was important. He is a young lad and I am looking for even better things for him in the forthcoming campaign.”

By Andy Jowett