By Ed Kimberley
It has not been a happy 3 weeks for the Blaze. Following a big 6-2 win against the then league leading Dundee Stars, things looked good for Matty Soderstroms boys ahead of a tough schedule. The Blaze have since been hit by injuries to key members of their blueline which has tired out their defence and caused some critical mistakes leading to other teams scoring. Unfortunately, they have been their own worst enemy and it has been soft goals conceded that have led them to lose games.
For instance in Nottingham, (after the Blaze lost 6-1 the week before), they took a 5-3 loss to the defending champions in their own barn. The result could have been a tied game. A give away by Mike Zacharias led to a Panthers goal and with the first shot of the game a soft shot slipped under his pad. Zacharias stood on his head, and was ultimately MVP for the Blaze on that night including a great pass that led to the Blaze first goal, but had it not been for those two goals, the Blaze could have been level and sent the game into overtime.
The other similar result was against Cardiff on Saturday. The Devils struck twice shorthanded through Ben Davies following a give away by Zacharias almost identical to the giveaway he gave versus the Panthers the week before. Mike Devin was beat on his own blueline by Matt Myers who converted the play. Every goal scored was a special teams goal. A Ryan Ginand hattrick left the game tied had it not been for the Blaze giving up two shorthanded goals.
All year the Blaze have been short on the blueline for one reason or another. Promising Briton Steven Chalmers is yet to ice this year following a lower body injury and Mike Egeners replacement Mike Devin came in just 7 games ago, just before the slump. Tough guy Ben Olson, who’s no nonsense approach to defence has also been sorely missed as he recovers from a hand injury. Because the Blaze have been short on the blueline, Olson has also not been as free to enforce and has had to play very smart hockey to avoid putting his fellow defenceman even more shorthanded.
Swede Kenny Kallstrom is also now on the sidelines. Guys are logging a lot of minutes and Blaze swiss army knife Russ Cowley, (who the Blaze have been trying to use more at his natural forward position) are having to have him back on the blueline. One positive of this is the play of young Brits Matt Selby and Ross Venus. Venus has shown a lot of promise since his mid teens and has seen some icetime on the Blaze topline with Ryan Ginand and Adam Henrich.
Today the Blaze announced they had signed Gerome Giudice, who iced for the Blaze in the early part of last years campaign before moving to Italy. The energy Giudice will bring to the Blaze will be very useful as he is a gritty forward who skates hard and is very good at getting under the skin of opposing players. It’s a good fit in this respect, and that Gerome can slot into the team and the city without the acclimatisation period that comes as a norm for new imports.
However, and this is no disrespect to Giudice, he isn’t what the Blaze really need right now. He is a terrific energy forward but has never produced the offensive numbers the Blaze need and need to find from their depth players. He also has a tendency to sit a lot of penalties, getting 102 in 26 games last year for the Blaze. Ill discipline has cost the Blaze dearly recently, and as their Defensive units are already under-strength they will be fighting further fatigue should Giudice spend a lot of time in the box.
Giudice could however turn out to be a terrific signing. He may not be in the mould of Ginand or Adam Henrich but he is a spark plug, and might be the catalyst to fire up the likes of Brian McMillin who is under performing offensively. Giudice’s addition also take some of the weight off Kevin Harvey, who has been trying to draw penalties, agitate and fight without Ben Olson to share the load. Harvey’s play in the offensive zone has been terrific, however he is taking a lot of penalties and needs someone to share this gritty role with, especially as Olson is still out.