Ashley Tait and the IIHF Continental Cup

(Originally published in the October 2015 edition of On Fire, the Coventry Blaze match night program) 

The Coventry Blaze are embarking on an already busy schedule for the 2015-2016 season. This October, the schedule will throw a dagger into what the players are used too. Having won the league championship, the year before, the Blaze earned themselves a spot to compete in the IIHF Continental Cup. Coventry’s group play will be held in Tychy, Poland and the Continental Cup tournament will see the top teams in European countries play for the title of Europe’s best.

No team from the UK has won the Continental Cup since its creation in 1997. However, many teams have entered. The 2001 London Knights squad came close having lost in the finals to the ZSC Lions from Zurich, Switzerland. The Blaze are no strangers to the tournament. This will mark the fifth time that Coventry has entered into the challenge since the cup’s inception in 1997. They’ve finished in some very respectable places as well, no doubt a nod to the fine recruiting the brass does each year.

One person on this year’s Coventry squad has graced European ice with Continental Cup experience.

That man is your captain.

Ashley Tait was apart of the 2005-2006 Blaze squad that traveled over to Grenoble, France for their group action. Their bracket included the Amstel Tigers from the Netherlands, the Herning Blue Fox out of Denmark and the hosts, Bruleurs de Loups Grenoble.  Coventry eventually lost to Grenoble in the last round of their group play and it signaled a start to the decline of the rest of the season as the Blaze fell into injury after injury. Nevertheless, it is an experience that Tait holds dear to his heart. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play in two Continental Cups and enjoyed them both,” remembers Tait fondly. “I always enjoy experiencing foreign cultures and generally just getting to play in and see another part of the world is a nice perk that being a hockey player gives you.”

As the underdogs, the 2005 Blaze had no pressure going into the tournament. It will likely be the same for the 2015 Blaze when they commence their journey as well.  Tait holds the key to leadership. If you don’t believe me just look at this stat: Ashley Tait has iced for the Blaze for eight seasons and he’s been named captain for all of them.Obviously I’m very proud to be in that position,” said Tait. “But I’d like to think how I play and conduct myself on and off the ice wouldn’t differ if I was wearing a letter or not.”  There are a lot of fresh faces on this Blaze roster who are new to not only the EIHL but to Continental Cup play as well.   will be a good place to test skills and determination; come back to the homeland as better players. Tait will be called upon to keep the locker room calm and rally the troops to burst when needed. He’s also tasked with keeping the players in check. No partying on game night, right? The players will listen. Why?

11063768_10154228779069622_1366693762254966378_nBecause Ashley Tait is well respected.

Tait has had quite a career thus far in British ice hockey. At 40 years old, the man can fly up and down the rink like the latest North American import who has just gotten off the plane. He has a vast amount of championships written to his name including IIHF World Silver and Bronze medals. His accomplishments allowed him to be chosen on a side that played against the Boston Bruins. Tait literally has no down side to his game. His work ethic is applauded by many and desired by all.

As the Blaze make their way over to the Stadion Zimowy in Tychy, Poland, all areas of the game must be addressed. Will travel and fatigue become a factor in the tournament? Tait doesn’t think so. “Not especially. It’s not too far for us to travel and we’ll travel on a day we don’t play.” The extra rest will help but there’s another thing that gives Tait a minor worry. “I think adjusting to the bigger ice will be more of a concern initially.”

“It’s generally (the tournament) a very quick 3 games in 3 days. It’s really all about being ready for the games, not worrying about being tired and making sure you enjoy it.” This year’s Cup presents another challenge for Ashley as well. “Unfortunately I’ve haven’t been able to progress beyond the first round. Hopefully I can help change that this time.” The Coventry Blaze have been pooled in group C in the second round of the Challenge Cup competition. In their bracket, the Blaze will face GKS Tychy (Poland), CSM Dunarea Galati (Romania) and the winner of group A. The second round of the Continental Cup tournament takes place October 23-25 in Tychy, Poland.

Kevin Noble – Ready To Bleed Blue

(Printed in the September 2015 edition of On Fire, the match night program of the Coventry Blaze)

By: Ashley March

When the Coventry Blaze were looking to fill another defensive slot for their 2015/2016 season, an unfamiliar name popped up on their radar. A 28 year old Canadian out of Sparwood, British Columbia, came into the forefront of the Blaze roster picture. Having just spent a full season with one of the best teams in the East Coast Hockey League, the Tulsa Oilers, Kevin Noble had started earning himself a reputation. No, it wasn’t on the scoresheet but it was with his fists.

Noble connected for 125 penalty minutes in 68 games with the Oilers. His 6’1 frame saw him collide with fellow ECHL tough guys, Garrett Clarke and Jean Phillip Chabot, earning him respect during his first full professional season. With every squad he’s had the chance of icing with, Noble has been one of the top leaders in penalty minutes. Don’t let that stat deter you though. Those penalties were taken for a reason and not for granted. As signings in the Elite Ice Hockey League continued to get stronger with rival teams signings ex-NHL tough guys this summer, the Blaze needed toughness. With Noble, that’s exactly what they’ll get and fans in the SkyDome will be sure to be entertained.

For Noble, a spot on the Blaze gives him the chance to learn from some of the best in professional hockey; not only with the team but the league itself. Already a proven leader, Noble was granted captaincy of the NCAA’s Mercyhurst College Lakers in his senior year. Majoring in Sport Business, Noble majored in assists on the ice. His natural play-making ability combined with his skill to be two steps ahead of the play worked in his favour on his quest to the professional ranks. While he bounced around the ECHL and the now defunct Central Hockey League, Noble found himself at home with the Oilers In Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the state of minor hockey in North America got shuffled around, rosters were changed and some players were left without a home. With changes come new jerseys and for Noble, the perfect fit was Coventry blue.

From his Junior A days on the west coast of Canada with the Nanaimo Clippers, Noble has been an exceptional ray of light on any team he’s been a part of; especially when the course went down the stretch and into the playoffs. Noble helped the Clippers to a playoff berth 42 points in 59 games during his last season. All 200 pounds of him on the blue line kept opponents in check and as always, something an EIHL playoff bound team will need.

Noble also has the chance to learn from one of the best coaches the sport of hockey has ever seen, Chuck Weber. However, in return, Weber gets to mold a fresh, young and newly professional player and have him fit to his game plan however he wants. That’s very unique for an import in the league to be fairly new to professional hockey. Noble will be ready, willing and extremely eager to prove to not only Weber, but to the Blaze ‘Blue Army’ that he has what it takes to make an impact in UK hockey.

The past off season has seen Noble run a hockey school with two other fellow BC native hockey players. Based in Invermere, British Columbia, the Columbia Valley Hockey School is thriving with helping churn out the next generation of junior hockey players in Canada.

He has the book smarts and he has the ice smarts. The future of professional hockey for Kevin Noble is clear sailing and the sky is the limit. Just make sure that sky is blue.

Blaze blue.

 

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR: Dundee’s case to remain relevant

dundee-stars
Let’s be honest.

Unless you’re a Dundee fan, the Stars are never really prominent on your EIHL radar. Aside from what was a shocking turn around in the 2013-2014 campaign (finishing 3rd in the league and were Gardiner Conference champions), the Stars can usually be found chipping away at the bottom of the field. Is that their fault? The majority of it is no, it’s not.

You can only do so much when you’re handed a budget that is probably half of what teams like Nottingham, Belfast, Sheffield and Coventry are dealt. You’re limited to a few imports and can’t ice an entire roster of Canadians and Europeans like certain clubs. Some fans might get frustrated year after year of this but in my opinion, this makes your club that much better to not only watch but to cheer for.

The players on the Stars realize the reputation they have and that’s going to make them work harder than ever to eventually erase that. They need to be seen and they need to be heard in the mainstream EIHL world.

(Left: MCClusky. Right: Swindlehurst.)
(Left: MCClusky. Right: Swindlehurst.)

One thing that Dundee does for not only their team, but for the good of UK hockey in general is their use of locally and nationally developed players. The budget constraints forces them to work with what they have in front of them. Case in point locally developed defenseman Sam McClusky and national team phenom Paul Swindlehurst have cracked their own dents into the EIHL foreground.

This upcoming season poses to look a bit different.

Throwing away the prominent player/coach role that has seemed to serve the Stars well in the past and going with one permanent man behind the bench seems to intertwine a new era of sorts. To me, that sounds like the club has a bit more money to dish out.

The appointing of Marc Lefebvre as coach seemed a fair bit scary to me. Hear me out! This story has a happy ending, I promise!

Lefebvre had a decent playing career, there’s no doubt about that. Prior to the EIHL, Lefebvre’s only coaching jobs however came in the form of the Federal Hockey League, a league I’m fairly acquainted with unfortunately (I got to lift the championship with the Akwesasne Warriors, but I digress.). The skill level of that league at that time well, was terrible. It was pretty much a free for all.  Locker rooms were very rarely kept and I heard a few behind the scenes rumors that would make your skin crawl.

I mean, when your whole play is “keep Pierre Dagenais cherry picking the blue line so we can get the puck to him better”, you’ve got problems. (That wasn’t Lefebvre’s team by the way.)

(Awwww. To be young again.)
(Awwww. To be young again.)

I wrote a piece last season praising Coventry for appointing Lefebvre as their head coach. Looking at his past with the FHL, I cringed but after spending a year assisting with the Sheffield Steelers, (which is whether you like it or not, a very successful hockey organization), I figured he may have learned a thing or two and this would turn out great.

Obviously it didn’t.

I won’t get into how much a travesty that season was for Coventry, but a lot of the blame was put on both Lefebvre and the players. As it usually does. I got to thinking and in my thoughts I came along the notion that Coventry was too big of a club for Lefebvre to man without any major head coaching experience.

Which is why he’s going to be a great fit and will do great things for Dundee.

F0alwEjPThe Dundee Stars are the perfect mix of low key media presence, reasonable expectations and players for Marc Lefebvre to commandeer. He can learn from the mistakes made in Coventry and grow on successes he built in Hungary from last season. Now that Dundee has a guy that can focus 100% of his time on coaching, you might just see a bit of difference in the Stars this season. Not saying that nobody exceled in the player/coach role but that can’t be easy, especially mentally.

Lefebvre has also taken on the role of the “UK Don Cherry” apparently, so I for one am excited to see what suits he’ll be decked out in. Ha.

So far so good for Dundee this offseason. Keep it up.

(And hurry up with your website! I still feel like I’m stuck in 1998. #geocities)

(Photo: Derek Black)
(Photo: Derek Black)

The Devil Went Down To Cardiff: How the Cardiff Devils earned back your trust

“Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.” – The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil.

5jmehRiiThe opening line of the The Rolling Stones’ 1969 classic Sympathy for the Devil could very well be written for Todd Kelman, a man who – with the help of a few key players and staff – has turned the Cardiff Devils into a position of power from a probable laughing stock of the Elite Ice Hockey League.

Kelman, who was a late round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, headed overseas for his hockey career after a solid performance with Bowling Green State University. Apart of the original Belfast Giants lineup that started the EIHL, Kelman retired from the game in 2007 and accepted a GM role with the Giants. Kelman thrived in his new role behind the scenes having managed the teal squad to numerous championships – six trophies including the 2014 EIHL championship. With that much success, one has to wonder what it was that made Kelman go from teal-green to red.

Devil red.

The 2013-2014 campaign of the Cardiff Devils was devastating. Shady owners are not surprising in the hockey world. Most players will see one or two in the course of their career. Some will leave the game unscathed, others will leave battered and bruised from the head games and financial turmoil.

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Todd Kelman. (Photo: Kelvin Boyes, The Globe and Mail)

I don’t know all of the ins and outs of what was going on behind the scenes at the Cardiff Bay Arena but I’ve been around the hockey block a few times to get a bit of a grasp of what was transpiring.

Canadian goaltender Dan LaCosta could have been a part of a great and long era with the Devils. After suiting for a few games in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL and even apart of the CIS with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, LaCosta was well versed in the ups and downs of professional hockey. However, nothing could have braced him for being refused pay of almost 4500 pounds after being injured in play.

The man being accused, (and it’s never been proven it was him for the record) of refusing payment was former Owner and GM Paul Ragan.

After countless PR screw-ups and if I remember correctly, fans staging protests, the bright light in Cardiff was slowly diming. Attribute that to the play on the ice with the Devils finishing a distant 9th, thus not entering the playoffs, something big needed to change to win back the fans that had no doubt turned their backs on what was now a disgraced name. Out of nowhere, Ragan sold the team.

To a bunch of Canadians.

owners_1
Brian, Craig and Steve. Proud new owners. (Photo: Terry Phillips, walesonline.co.uk)

Four Calgarian businessmen, Steven King, Brian Parker, Kelly Hughes and Craig Shostak saw a valuable investment in the Devils and fellow brass Neil Francis brought the aforementioned Todd Kelman into the mix. It would have been a no-brainer for Kelman to jump ship. Have a stake in a franchise and be able to run it and make the decisions exactly how you want it.

With four solid business oriented men and one solid hockey head at the helms, the Cardiff Devils were now looking to put honor back in the name. After many solid seasons with Belfast, fans could trust Kelman right away without having to earn it. His resume speaks for itself.

“Yes, I’m living at a pace that kills.” – Van Halen, Runnin’ With the Devil

No other line in David Lee Roth’s 1978 opus could describe the 2014-2015 Cardiff season. With promise, a sense of pride and trust in the brass in charge of the squad, it was time for the players to hit the ice with pedal to the floor. They did just what Roth said.

Skating with a pace that kills.

A much younger pace.

martin_2
Joey Martin. (Photo: Terry Philips, walesonline.co.uk)

A 26 year old, Joey Martin, from Thorold, Ontario, quite shockingly flew under everybody’s radar in mainland UK media and over here in Canada. The former captain of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers connected for 83 points in 62 games. Leading the league in assists got him a spot on the EIHL First All-Star team and a contract extension.

Morissette. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)
Morissette. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)

Jake Morrissette, a small forward from British Columbia was awarded the “A” on his jersey for the last and upcoming campaigns and he filled into his role swimmingly. In 64 games, he only took a total of 16 minutes in penalties and combined that with 73 points. It’s his best EIHL season yet and at 32 years old, it’s his best since his Junior A days in the BCHL.

The biggest part of the roster no doubt comes in the form of goaltender Ben Bowns. In the best and most exciting campaign of his career, Bowns backstopped the Devils in 62 games and ended the season with a 2.56 goals against average. That’s insane.

Did I mention he’s British?

Bowns. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)
Bowns. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)

Bowns picked up some big accolations to add to his resume including British Netminder of the Year and for his performance at the Worlds representing Great Britain, he earned himself a silver medal and best goals against average of the tournament. This kid is going to be a key part of the Cardiff Devils in the Kelman era and should not be ignored.

With these components and a couple of other talented players and maybe tough guys, (David Clarkson’s, yes THAT David Clarkson, brother Doug racked up 209 penalty minutes), the Devils combined an incredible mix of talent which led themselves to third place in the EIHL standings and took home the Challenge Cup. Not a bad change from the depression of last year.

Success comes in the form of good leadership as well. Kelman giving Andrew Lord double duty as player-coach proved to be a smart and cheaper decision. Lord excels at his post to invigorate his fellow players and it shows. Another key piece of the Devils puzzle for next season.

So after all of this, what’s next?

It’s an exciting time to be a Cardiff Devils fan. A brand new, city-funded arena is being the built for the Devils to call home. It also comes rent free which is a huge quality to have in the finance department. The fact that the city is on board and is giving the team major support is a big deal; the city sees growth and that the Devils are a profitable organization.

And they are. They could be a huge destination for Wales in general and showing the EIHL that they won’t back down. Cardiff will come for that number one spot.

Now that the puck, if you will, is in the proper hands, there’s nowhere to go but up for the boys in red. In just one year, Todd Kelman turned this team into a contender. So Cardiff fans, there’s only one thing left for you to do.

                “Shout at the Devil!” – Motley Crue, Shout at the Devil 

(Photo: Richard Murray)
(Photo: Richard Murray)

One on One with Cross Check Clothing

525539_587719924588860_2075320802_nHere in North America, everyone and their grandma seems to be starting up a hockey lifestyle apparel company. As the sport continues to grow worldwide, there is more need to not only develop awareness of the game we love but promote it as well. In the U.K, Cross Check Clothing does both of those things.

Started in 2012, Cross Check Clothing is the premier supplier of hockey lifestyle apparel for U.K. hockey fans. They venture out to the different arenas showcasing their brand and some of their models are even players themselves (Or yours truly who happens to be a proud brand ambassador). For the U.K. hockey scene, Cross Check Clothing is imperative to the growth of the sport.

I caught up with Pete to give not only myself but fans of the clothing line some insight into the brand.

March Hockey: First thing first, what made you decide to start up a clothing line? Why hockey?

Pete: I have always been a keen entrepreneur so to speak. I started my first proper business when I was 20 and always got involved with various business projects here and there. I wanted to start a fresh with something brand new, that people could really get in to, and at the time UK hockey did not really have anything like this. So after a lot of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’, the brand was born. I’ve always admired brands which are born in a specific lifestyle, but also appear to mass market, say VANS with skating or Quiksilver with surfing. They can encourage people to the sport, and if Cross Check can inspire kids to put on some skates and play hockey then i think we are getting it right.

March Hockey: How did you come up with the name?
10509554_935694553124727_6406582245068878320_nPete: Once I decided that this was 100% what I wanted to do, it was just a case of brainstorming ideas. I spent days and days writing down as many variations of hockey related terms I could think of. One day Cross Check came out, and I instantly knew that was exactly what i’d been looking for. One of my favourite hockey players is Arron Asham and I loved the Pens v Flyers Stanley Cup Play Off series in 2012. Asham was a bit naughty in game 3 and that Cross Check probably inspired the name!

March Hockey: How and when did you get into hockey?

Pete: I went to see the Sheffield Steelers play first in 1992 but didn’t start attending UK hockey regularly until about 2009 when my buddy Josh was old enough to attend and he could actually understand what was going on.

March Hockey: Where do you see the brand in 5 years time?

Pete: As long as we are still trading and making fans and friends around the world, then that will be good enough for me. This isn’t a get rich business, or “world domination.” All profits go back in to the brand in order to develop the range and make better products.

March Hockey: Where do you come up with your ideas for designs? What do you pull for inspiration?

10516775_935694543124728_7643491150353706023_nPete: I guess sometimes you see clothing when out and about and think “that would be better if…” but mainly the clothing is based on, “what would i wear?” ideas. Sometimes I just get on the laptop and work on some ideas and it just flows out. Its like, I only wanted to check my email and I’m suddenly in the middle of a brand new hoodie design!

March Hockey: When did you start up the business? Give me a mini history on Crosscheck Clothing.

Pete: The idea was born summer 2012 and the basic logo / web site / social media was set up along with the early merchandise designs. However, I overran for the 2012-13 season and knew I really needed to launch for the start of a hockey year. So I painfully sat on it for nearly 12 months, before finally introducing to the world in September 2013. The store opened in November 2013 and our first month we had sales of £3 (Yes – 3 Pounds) – i thought to myself, “oh my god, what have I done!?!?” but fortunately things picked up and we’ve been blessed with the support we’ve received ever since.

March Hockey: What NHL star, or player in general would you love to see wearing the brand?

Pete: Arron Asham (for the name reference mentioned!) would be awesome, but my NHL team is the LA Kings so seeing Drew Doughty or Anze Kopitar in a Team Cross Check tee would be amazing. Maybe Darryl Sutter in a nice hoodie??

10294499_980592045301644_8892549465715643979_nMarch Hockey: What can fans do to help spread the word?

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Pete: Hopefully the brand speaks for itself, so wearing it out and about, at the rinks, with their hockey buds etc… As long as we keep getting in peoples faces, we’ll continue to grow I hope.I just want to thank everyone for their support. We’ve met some of the most amazing people through hockey and Cross Check and we appreciate every person who is a friend of this brand. We are so, so grateful for everyones love.
Check out Cross Check Clothing here: http://shop.crosscheckclothing.co.uk/ and remember to Keep Your Head Up, Kid.

Scott Robson reflects on Team GB gold

IcehockeyukAfter being relegated to Division II due to an ineligible player, Great Britain and their exciting squad finished the U20 World Championship Group A tournament in spectacular fashion. Taking them off of their homeland to the mysterious country of Estonia, Team GB went undefeated with their games in Tallinn. With gold medals wrapped around their necks, Great Britain is now back where they rightfully belong: Division I.

Scott Robson is an offensive defenseman which made him a no-brainer to add to Team GB. After splitting most of his hockey playing time between the EIHL’s Hull Stingrays and the EPIHL’s Peterborough Phantoms, Robson has picked up enough experience to consider this old hat. I had the chance to speak with him about his league experiences back in September. Here, we turn our eyes towards the international stage.

March Hockey: What’s the biggest difference from playing in the EIHL/EPIHL to international competition?

Scott Robson: Firstly we played on a bigger surface so the game was a lot more, east to west instead of the usual north/south style of hockey played over here in the UK. It was hard to adjust to the huge zones but was a lot of fun adapting. However every team we came up against was hungry to win and pushed us from the first minute to the last which rarely happens in the EIHL/EPIHL. Personally I think it was a challenge for us because of this; it made us play better and raise our game throughout the Tournament.

Scott Robson and Bobby Chamberlain: Brothers from another mother for 10 years and counting.
Scott Robson and Bobby Chamberlain: Brothers from another mother for 10 years and counting.

MH: You played against Korea and coming from a hockey geek like me, that country surprises me that they were in Division II. How were they to play against talent wise?

SR: We played Korea the second to last game and if we got a regulation or an overtime win we knew we would have got gold. Korea played a well drilled fast style of hockey who could hit us on the break as much as anyone. They had a few standout guys who showed more skill than others but none the less they all worked hard and pushed us all the way. They were bottom seeded going into the championships and they for sure proved the other teams wrong thinking they would just be a pushover team. They got silver in the end.

MH: What was going through your head when the game against Korea went to the shootout?

SR: The whole game was nerve-racking even though we had a game spare to clinch gold. The staff and the team wanted to get it the job done against Korea. There was a bit of pressure on myself and the boys but it was good pressure made us more switched on which made usmanage to force OT with Korea. Playing four on four in a world championships was a first experience for me. It was crazy; up and down hockey, odd man rushes and the lot. It was intense. Our goalie Adam Goss made some crucial saves for us and kept us in the game which is always a relief as a D-man knowing you got a goalie of that caliber like Gossy in the net. The shootout forced mixed emotions on everyone on the bench but with Cownie and Gossy pulling us through in the shootout, it was such an unbelievable feeling. I will never forget, it was incredible.

MH: And of course, what was it like not only representing your country but winning gold for them as well?

10846724_10152979797349797_1051231064_nSR: It’s always a honour to be in contention to represent your country at any level and then to be selected to represent Great Britain in Estonia was unreal. To go unbeaten in all our games was out of this world. The unity we had together as one big group was superb and when it got tough we all stuck together and battled through it as one. The belief we had preparing in Helsinki, Finland was that everyone wanted to win gold and obviously that urged and pushed everyone on. I think our coaches Pete Russell, Paul Heavey and Greg Owen also did a great job in making me and the rest of the boys actually believe that we can win we can win gold. Singing the national anthem after every win at the world championships was awesome but to do it knowing we just won gold was an unbelievable feeling. We had such a great group of lads and I know they will never forget it. Our captain Matt Selby was put out of the tournament through injury after the first two games yet he put it aside and pumped up the boys all the same and still played a part in us winning the gold medal.

MH: Now that Team GB will move up, do you feel the competition will be a lot harder?

SR: They move up and are in a lot tougher group but even though half of this year’s team was top age, I still think we have enough young talent for the boys to battle through and compete in next year’s group. I’m sure Pete will select the right team to even force GB into winning a medal. Some of this year’s team will be on the roster next year so hopefully they carry that winning experience from our Gold Medal run in Tallinn.

Cam Wynn, Robson, Chamberlain and Matt Selby
Cam Wynn, Robson, Chamberlain and Matt Selby

MH: Who in your opinion was the biggest part of the team?

SR: I think personally everybody on the team knew their role and executed the roles 100%. Obviously we had players who exceeded expectations and everyone worked hard, committed themselves in the right way and was dedicated to get the job done. The coaches and the staff did a great job in making sure everything run smoothly. Also our equipment manager Craig Cooke did a fantastic job in keeping everyone happy and tidying our locker room and giving off a professional attitude to the players.

MH: Any words for the fans and supporters?

SR: The support we got was phenomenal before we even we set off for Helsinki to start our pre-tournament camp and then as we progressed further on the support just kept on growing. It was a great feeling knowing we all had friends and family watching and keeping track of our performance. I’d like to personally say thank you to all our supporters, families and friends for their support for us during the trip and even now when we’ve all separated and returned back to our club teams.

10872457_10152979796369797_1947038477_n

You’re either a hockey guy, or you’re not

Kurtis Dulle. (Photo: Art Foster.)
Kurtis Dulle. (Photo: Art Foster.)

Last week a couple of articles crossed my path that needless to say left me torn and a little bit speechless to say the least. Both well written articles were by former pro player and Hull Stingray, Kurtis Dulle on his newly tell-all blog. The first, entitled “What I miss about pro hockey” ran a list of things that are no brainers to people who have played some aspect of professional sport; not necessarily hockey. I enjoyed every minute of that piece as I missed most of the things he wrote but in relation to me with fastball. However the second article, ticked me right off.

Naturally his follow up article was “What I DON’T miss about pro hockey”. Fair enough, there’s always going to be things that pop up that you don’t like but the things he listed were not what I expected coming from a guy whose job is professional hockey. Without going into too much detail – actually, you know what? Go read it then come back. I’ll wait. “What I don’t miss about pro hockey” by Kurtis Dulle.

Okay, hold up.

Your full time job is being a professional hockey player. You can’t tell me that you didn’t know all of these were going to happen. Granted, I can see how sharing a bus with 15 or so others guys on an 18 hour drive could get monotonous but that’s part of the territory. This isn’t the NHL; pro hockey isn’t glamorous.

Don’t miss having to wear a suit to and from the rink; don’t miss the promotional sides of the job handing out flyers to fans or scheduled player appearances. Don’t miss having weekends off (even though most of the week is), don’t miss the smell of the gloves, don’t miss cooking pre-game meals – Jesus, doesn’t anybody have that old school passion anymore?

Actually, I know one guy who does.

Hughes in Scotland. (Photo: Derek Black.)
Hughes in Scotland. (Photo: Derek Black.)

Current Brampton Beast head coach, Brent Hughes, had his hockey career cut short prematurely by the untimely passing of his father. After honouring his Dad’s wishes by playing a final game in Dundee, Scotland, Hughes dropped the contract he was under for next season and returned home to be closer to family. A bittersweet decision but one that had to be made. One that he didn’t see coming.

Hughes didn’t get to control the end of his career. He never got that last planned game; that final goal; that last wave to the crowd where he no doubt would have been named first star. No, he came back to Canada with uncertainty of where to turn and a sadness of his career being over. It might have been over but the passion never left.

Jumping into the coaching aspect, Hughes made his way behind the bench in the ECHL. That passion sees him leave for Brampton’s Powerade Centre at 5am, not just to beat the traffic, but to lace up his skates, get out onto the ice and shoot the puck around. By himself. Alone. “Everything that Dulle wrote that he doesn’t miss,” Hughes said. “Is exactly what I miss every single day.”

Hughes taking the time to help out at a hockey camp in Scotland.
Hughes taking the time to help out at a hockey camp in Scotland.

Hughes eats, breathes and sleeps hockey. “I miss those 18 hour bus rides. I miss the aches and pains.” Not only that, he knows the benefits of professional hockey out weigh the cons of being away from family, friends and rearranging your life in a new country. “You may not break the bank playing hockey, but the connections the sport gives you is second to none.” He lays emphasis on those player appearances and the need to suit up that Dulle listed down as a “don’t miss”. “You have to realize this is your job. Both of those things are extremely important. What’s not to like about talking with fans?!”

In the end the game has obviously changed, even in the last ten years or so. I’m not sure if it’s a more “entitled” aspect that players seem to grasp but the old school vibe is starting to fade. Hughes may be another part of a dying breed in hockey, who knows. One thing’s for certain though.

You’re either a hockey guy, or you’re not.

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Have the Coventry Blaze been extinguished?

Mark Lefebvre. (Photo: Scott Wiggins. www.scottwiggins.co.uk)
Mark Lefebvre. (Photo: Scott Wiggins. http://www.scottwiggins.co.uk)

The Coventry Blaze are running out of fire.

In a shutout loss to Cardiff Devils last Sunday and then a 7-2 beating at the hands of the Belfast Giants last night, fans are left wondering what is going wrong. Many are displeased and rightfully so but I feel their anger is being fired in the wrong direction.

Taking the brunt of the accusations and decline is head coach Mark Lefebvre. Some of the “problems” can be attributed to him but in all fairness folks, he’s not the one putting pucks in the net. Lefevbre’s job should be insanely easy with big leadership and take control guys like Steve Goertzen and Ryan O’Marra on the ice. It can also be fairly hard to coach a team of players that look like they don’t want to be there. This is exactly the impression the team is leaving. They just don’t look like they want it enough.

Coaching comes in two parts. Pick the right guys and you’re work is pretty much done as most players in this league are smart enough to provide their own leadership and ability. Pick the wrong guys who need the extra kick in the ass most of the time and you could end up screwed.

Of course, Lefebvre was the one who choose his squad and unfortunately, the chemistry he thought would synch up just isn’t there yet. If it was there, he could sit back and laugh his way to a winning season. Alas, hockey works in strange ways. What works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on the ice. It’s still relatively early in the season though and a fresh player signing or two could be just what the doctor ordered. Kudos to Lefevbre for having the balls to address the adversities on social media as well. Can’t commend him enough for letting the fans know he’s heard their cries.

The Blaze should thank their lucky stars for goaltender Brian Stewart as well. He’s third in the league with a 0.923 save percentage and has played the most minutes out of any other keeper but has a GA of 50. That’s 50 GOALS AGAINST IN 18 GAMES. That includes two shoutouts! Where the HELL is the defence. The signings of Rory Rawlyk, Craig Cescon and Kyle Bochek were supposed to mend this problem from last year.

(Photo: Scott Wiggins. www.scottwiggins.co.uk)
(Photo: Scott Wiggins. http://www.scottwiggins.co.uk)

Riding a three game losing streak into this weekend’s battle against the strong squad of the Belfast Giants isn’t going to do them any favours. The players aren’t stupid, they know they’re not playing well. However, I’ll say it again. This is hockey. Losing streaks are going to happen and fans go overboard in retaliation to it. This is what happens when things get too pumped up into the atmosphere during the summer. It’s a long way down when the boat starts to sink.

Blaze fans, relax a little. Have a couple pops (that’s Canadian for beer), sit back and let the team come into its own. A little slump never hurt anybody. Besides, look at the bright side. It’s not like they’re the Edinburgh Capitals!

…..or the Buffalo Sabres. Connor McDavid anyone?

 

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Jeff Legue: Two Cities and the sport of hockey

Cornwall_RoyalsOn the Ontario shores near the central part of the St. Lawrence River lies a city whose habitants ignite a passion for a cold and frosty game. As most Canadian cities do, this one has been breeding hockey players and fans for the better part of 100 years. The history of hockey runs deep in the hard working and blue collar city of Cornwall, Ontario. Many teams have come and gone; championship memories are few and far between but most residents can recall where they were when the Memorial Cup was raised on three separate occasions and which hometown boys have made names for themselves in the game.

After the demise of the major junior powerhouse Cornwall Royals in 1992, fans were left with a gaping hole in their hearts. Junior hockey had just started to become a major attraction across the country. Prayers were answered quickly however when across the river in nearby Massena, New York, the Junior A team of the Americans were sold over the Seaway International Bridge to Cornwall. Renamed the Colts, the new group quickly grew an intensive following even if it was step down in play from the Royals.

Small Canadian cities such as this always come with their own breed of hockey fan. This fan will not only know the life story of every player to ever step onto the hometown rinks, but every stat that comes flowing in.  It was no different when hometown boy Jeff Legue laced up his skates night after night and stepped out onto the ice at the Si Miller Arena. He felt like a superstar as fans would stop and ask him for autographs and kids would chant his name as they filled the old barn. “Growing up in a small town that has a successful hockey team is any young players dream,” recalls Legue fondly. “When I got the chance to play in front of a sold out Si Miller Arena, I fulfilled that young hockey players dream.” It wasn’t just his dream. Family, friends and fans alike knew how special it was to have a homegrown superstar stay on the city’s squad. “Both my friends and family got to watch me grow and progress as a player and to this day I believe that’s what helped me the most throughout my junior career.”

In the late 1990’s, the Cornwall Colts were nothing short of a wrecking crew. Finishing a top of the Robinson Division in the Canadian Junior A Hockey League, Legue and the Colts captured two Art Bogart Cups which sent the squad to the Fred Page Cup championships. During his second season with the Colts, the dominance continued as they won the Fred Page tournament and headed off to Nationals in Fort McMurray, BbFMg9oCAAAlZhJAlberta. Even though they went winless, Legue remains proud of the accomplishments. “That year stands out to me the most; we played as a team. We all had our own part in helping our team become successful.”

Successful they were. Legue lists off players who he recognises as the “unsung heroes” on the ice that year. Names like Lindsay Campbell, Ross McCain, Sylvain Moreau, Jarret Robertson and Tim Vokey are thrown about with smiles and fondness. The ultimate compliment however is reserved for someone who doesn’t need any introduction to Cornwall hockey circles, Coach Al Wagar. “Al believed in me,” says Legue with authority. “I was put in all situations at the beginning of my career which gave me lots of experience early.” Wagar coached the Colts for the better part of the decade and along with ownership played a pivotal role in the teams’ success. “He told me my job was to go out and create opportunities. He gave me freedom on the ice. Al Wagar was a great coach for me.”

Legue’s skills both on and off the ice started catching the eyes of NCAA recruiters. After looking over a few offers, the Bulldogs that belonged to Ferris State University became the perfect fit for Jeff to start his successful collegiate career. Located in Big Rapids, Michigan, the Ferris State Bulldogs skate out of the Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena; an arena that seats just about 2,500. Along with former Colts teammates Tim Vokey and Matt Verdone, Legue skated alongside current NHLer and Pittsburgh Penguins’ Chris Kunitz; no doubt learning as much as he could from such talented leadership. After contributing a point in each of his 152 collegiate games, it was time to turn professional. After a stint on two different teams in the East Coast Hockey League, Europe came calling. It was time to make some hockey ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’.

In the middle of the United Kingdom lies a city of just over 500,000 people. A hard working and blue collar steel town, the passion for sport runs deep in the city’s inhabitants. Football was a main stay for many in the city of Sheffield and with it came its own special breed of sporting fan. Still reeling from the loss of 96 passionate football fans that were crushed to death in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster two years earlier, a new sport was about to take over in the fall of 1991. Sheffield Arena (now known as Motorpoint Arena) had been built with much precision and its main resident became the Sheffield Steelers Ice Hockey Club. While hockey had been played in the UK for over a hundred years, it just never seemed to catch on. That was about to change.

Arguably the Sheffield Steelers had reached their peak in popularity during the mid-1990s. Partly due to the renaissance that the sport of ice hockey was having and partly due to the squad becoming the first real professional club of its kind in the UK; for all intents and purposes, money talked. You could watch most games from this era and you’d swear it was an NHL game just from the fans that filled the arena. The Steelers were crowned the last champions in 1996 of the Heineken sponsored British Hockey League before the premier of what was the British Ice Hockey Superleague.

(Photo: Dean Woolley)
(Photo: Dean Woolley)

By the time the modern day Elite Ice Hockey League came to fruition, the Steelers were one of the most decorated clubs in the United Kingdom; obviously a selling point for anyone willing to hop across the pond. Legue was offered a spot and made the trek to set up shop in Sheffield for the 2007-2008 season. Admittedly he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. “When I came to Sheffield I didn’t know what to expect because to be honest, I didn’t know there was hockey here in the UK.” The naivety was soon lost on Legue as he made his first strides on ice in front of the home crowd at Motorpoint Arena. “I soon realised that they are some of the most passionate fans imaginable.”

Legue spent his entire seven year Elite league career with the Sheffield Steelers; the city and the club made an important impression on him his first season. Half way through the campaign Legue got a phone call that no one wants to take while being the furthest away from his family. His father and ultimately one of his biggest fans had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. The organisation didn’t hesitate to send Legue back to Canada. “Sheffield became a big part of my life during that first year,” recalls Legue.  “I will always be thankful for how they treated me at that time.”

“My father told me to go back and finish season.” What a finish they had. The Steelers ended up winning the playoffs that year. “Captain Jonathan Phillips made it a point to hand me the trophy first.” With no doubt his father smiling down at him, Legue knew he made the right decision. “That was my most memorable moment as a Steeler.”

Of course, the people he met throughout the city of Sheffield and the success on the ice made it easy for Legue to come back year after year. Meeting his beautiful wife nearby and having his adorable son to raise made it the perfect ending to an illustrious Elite league career.

The game of hockey and the city of Sheffield just couldn’t get rid of him though.

(Payette (7) instructs his Legue (11) and his Steeldog squad)
(Payette (7) instructs his Legue (11) and his Steeldog squad. Photo: Roger Williams)

With the EIHL schedule being so demanding with his new family, Legue dropped down a tier to the English Premier Ice Hockey League and is now suiting up for the Steeldogs. Head manned by another Cornwall, Ontario native Andre Payette, Legue is humbled by the fact that there’s another one with him who knows the trials and tribulations of the city he’s from. “It’s always nice to have someone to back up your stories of the beautiful St. Lawrence River.”

Back on the Canadian side, the hockey doesn’t stop in his family at any point. Legue’s brother in law, Brennan Barker, is suiting up for the Cornwall River Kings of the LNAH. Known for its no holds barred fighting, does Legue have any advice? “Other than keep your head up?” he says with a laugh. “Brennan is a tough cookie and he can take care of himself.  I’ve seen his hands.  I wish him and his team all the best and good luck for the rest of the season.”

As Jeff Legue suits up for the Steeldogs, we can only speculate what’s in his future. Who knows, maybe we’ll see his son continue the tradition and end up back in Canada. The saga continues. For now, this remains how a tale of two cities, with an ocean that separates them for miles, became closer to each other with the power of sport.

 

I leave you with a video from the Cornwall River Kings from last year that some of you in the UK made not have seen.

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Are you a hockey player who can grow a mad ‘stache? Then sign up for #Muzzy4Money!

Chris Frank of the Elite Ice Hockey League’s Braehead Clan and the rest of Hockey Players Assemble are calling for hockey players all around the world to take part in the 2014 edition of #Muzzy4Money!

Everyone knows who the world has transformed November into Movember in which men grows mustaches for the entire month to raise money for men’s cancer research. Well, Hockey Players Assemble turn it up a notch by raising money for not only cancer reseaUnknown-1rch but one of the four charities that are selected by HPA!

Last year they raised a total over $3,000 dollars and they are definitely looking to double next month! There will be plenty of prizes for best ‘staches and ladies, you’re not left out! Prizes will be awarded for your creativity as well! Pick up anything around the house or workplace and turn that into the best handle-bar mustache the world has ever seen.

On November first, you’ll upload your bare face. Every five days you’ll update the world on your fantastic manly mustache.

This campaign is calling for all you fourth line dusters out there. Come showcase your muzzy for money! (Bonus points for your best Lanny MacDonald impression.)

Here’s information on how to register: #Muzzy4Money (click the link)