Craig Summerton is a die-hard Coventry Blaze fan who also runs his own blog dedicated to hockey of the United Kingdom. It might be new but his post gives an in-depth look at Team Great Britain and the Blaze in general. He gives me a look at the Blaze, how they will cope with the loss of Captain Shea Guthrie, and how they continue to Bleed Blue.
March Hockey: Where are you located and how did you first get into hockey?
Craig Summerton: Born and bred in Coventry, living and working in London. Coventry Blaze season ticket holder so every game is an away game for me. On recommendation from a friend I attended one of the first Blaze games at the Skydome and I’ve been hooked ever since.
MH: What makes you a passionate fan of the Coventry Blaze and the EIHL in general?
CS: I used to be a Coventry City season ticket holder but after attending a few ice hockey games my passion quite quickly shifted to the Blaze. After my first season of ice hockey, the Coventry City season ticket wasn’t renewed (sorry for my part in the state that club are in today!) and I found myself travelling around the country following the Blaze most weekends. I enjoy being part of a fairly small community of UK hockey fans, I’ve met life long friends of all ages through ice hockey. One of the big attractions of the sport for me is how it breaks down age barriers. I’m 29, one of my best friends who I met through hockey is 82. It really makes no difference. I like the fact that fans of all teams, can make friends and come together after a game without fear of trouble. Can you imagine bringing ten sets of football supporters into one venue for a whole weekend like we do in the UK for the playoff weekend? Mixed with alcohol, it would be chaos. It’s a shame more ‘closed minded’ football fans won’t give ice hockey a chance in the UK.
The EIHL has taken a lot of criticism over the years (deservedly so in the most part) but I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the old British National League days in which Coventry used to compete or indeed for my club to move to the current EPL. Don’t get me wrong, the EPL has its merits & some of my best hockey memories come from the days when Blaze competed in the BNL. However, I feel that the EIHL as a ‘product’ is a major step up in quality over the old BNL and current EPL and that’s where I want my team to compete. The level of import being recruited to play in the EIHL seems to be improving each and every year. Many clubs have done a good job forging links with local Universities in order to offer high calibre pros the opportunity to study and play. Younger guys from across the pond seem to be using the league as a stepping stone to get into the higher paying Euro leagues and British players appear to be reaching levels beyond what we have seen in the past. The ever-widening gap between the rich and poor in the league is a worry but the introduction of the conference system (with the prospect of tweaks in future years!) has to be considered a success.
MH: Captain Shea Guthrie has signed on with IF Troja/Ljunby in Sweden for next season. How do you think the team will adapt to the loss of Guthrie?
CS: Shea Guthrie is arguably the most exciting player we have had at Coventry in terms of his ‘offensive explosiveness’. Losing Guthrie after his first season with the Blaze would have been a major blow. Losing the Guthrie of last season, arguably not so much. Apart from one huge performance in the playoff quarter-final 2nd leg vs Sheffield, Kevin Saurette of Belfast Giants pretty much ruined the Guthrie Blaze fans knew and loved in a collision of knees last December. I hope that Shea has recovered fully from that injury as his speed is his greatest asset and a reason why I feel he will be a major success in Sweden where skating is everything. Compared to when the Blaze lost Dan Carlson, losing Guthrie is a minor issue. To this day I’m still not sure Blaze have adapted to, or come close to finding a replacement for Carlson.
MH: Who’s your favourite Coventry Blaze player and why?
CS: Given how many new imports Blaze have signed can I answer this one at the end of September?! I am a huge fan of Mike Egener’s style of play but from the current squad, although I suspect his brother may well earn this honour over the season, for now I would have to say Adam Henrich. The reason being that my all-time favourite Blaze player is Adam Calder because he was a clutch player. When you needed a goal, he’d get you one. I like players, who when they are on the ice you feel like your team offers a huge offensive threat. Luke Fulghum at his peak was also one of my favourites. From the short period of time that Adam Henrich was with us last season I felt like he did that.
MH: Does the EIHL do enough for fan interaction and to keep fans interested?
CS: The league itself does a decent job of getting highlights on YouTube and Sky. The website is generally kept up to date and they also provide a weekly podcast building up to the weekend’s fixtures. From team to team it varies significantly. I don’t think anyone has heard a word from Edinburgh Capitals for months whereas Sheffield are constantly churning out PR’s, though not all of interest! I think Cardiff Devils and also my own club do a pretty good job, using a number of mediums to keep fans updated and connected with the club.
MH: Let’s talk NHL. Who’s your favourite team and player and why?
CS: My favourite team would have to be the Maple Leafs – the late Wade Belak takes the blame for that one. My favourite player though is Alex Ovechkin, for the reasons stated when answering the question about my favourite Blaze player. He’s a guy who consistently produces where it matters most, on the scoreboard.
MH: Could the NHL do more for fan interaction in the UK?
CS: Does the NHL know there are hockey fans in the UK?! Do they care?! The whole Premier Sports, Game Center live blackout thing is typical of the issues NHL fans in the UK face. Access to regular, quality NHL content has always been restricted for one reason or another.
If you are a passionate hockey fan and want to feature your team or league, I want to hear from you! Find me on twitter @MarchHockey or send me a message on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/MarchHockey