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.

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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.

 

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?

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @MarchHockey, and like the page on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/marchhockey

Coventry Blaze set fire to opening weekend

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

When Marc Lefebvre took over as bench boss towards the end of last season, he was inheriting a beaten and banged up squad. Some wondered if he’d be able to light the match to get the team to compete. As the season came to a close it started to become clearer that he was.

Coaching is 85% who you are able to recruit as players. At the beginning of the offseason questions were asked as to whether or not Lefebvre had the knowledge or willingness to ice a competitive team. Those questions were all put to rest over opening weekend.

The squad that Lefebvre has put together in such a short time is nothing less than brilliant. Yes, I know it it’s only been a couple of games but just take a look at the box score from the game at home against Fife. Same with the home games in the pre-season. The scoring depth on that chart is nothing short of remarkable. It’s not your usual suspects that are coming out of the woodwork. If this Coventry team can stay healthy, there’s no reason they can’t have a shot at being one of the top teams in the league.

New starting goaltender Brian Stewart is a huge welcome addition. Aggressively cutting down his angles with his hybrid style, he’s going to be a tough man to beat and is just what the team needs when coming down the stretch. A career East Coast leaguer with a couple of stints in the AHL, Stewart has always been above .900 save percentage. Decent head on his shoulders and you can’t be displeased with a shutout on your first EIHL game.

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

 

Blaze fans should be extremely excited for the rest of this campaign. Last season’s woes seem all but forgotten with this new blue squad. That’s the key though. Stay healthy.

The Coventry Blaze are back home again on September 13th as they welcome the Dundee Stars to the Skydome. The next night they head to down to Cardiff against the Devils for their first Challenge Cup appearance.

One on One with 2013/14 CHL Bodychecker of the Year, Kyle Bochek

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

kinfdn02The next interview lined up for March Hockey’s partnership with the EIHL’s Coventry Blaze, is former Kingston Frontenac and 2013/14 Central league bodychecker of the year, Kyle Bochek. Bochek will bring the old school vibe to the Blaze lineup as he is a one of a kind pest. Pleased with Marc Lefevbre’s latest acquisition, Blaze correspondent Ed Kimberley caught up with Bocheck during this lengthy offseason.

EK: Kyle, I’d like to extend a huge welcome to the Coventry Blaze and thank you for taking the time to be a part of this series of interviews. How have you been spending the off season

Kyle Bochek: This off season I have been spending a lot of time in the gym conditioning using crossfit to improve my explosive power and strength. I have also been skating with a group of local pros near my hometown. In my off time I have been fishing, golfing and enjoying family and friends and am currently enjoying The Open.

EK: The EIHL/Central League have a lot of shared alumni, how did the move to Coventry come about and in doing your research did you ask advice from any former EIHLers?

KB: The move to Coventry came about by fielding offers from many European leagues. Through talking with my agent and Marc Lefevbre we gladly made the decision to sign in Coventry. The style of play in the EIHL suits my game and after researching the roster and the city of Coventry it made my decision very easy. I talked with a few friends who have played in the EIHL and received nothing but positive feedback on the hockey and Country.

EK: Playing the style of hockey you do, when it comes to the rivalry games (Nottingham in particular) is there a difference in how you view/approach these games?

8171341152_a0fc218c57
Photo: Daniel Russell)

KB: Personally I approach every game with the same mentality and focus. In rivalry games the intensity factor gets me a little more fired up. To me rivalry and playoff games are the most exciting and fun ones to play in. But as I have learned in talking with Coach Marc every game is so important during the season and should be approached with the same intensity.

EK:Tell us about the Checker of the Year award, growing up did you idolize a Scott Stevens type of player? How did this part of your game evolve?

KB: Receiving recognition for my physical style of play was a big honor for me last season. Growing up I idolized and fashioned my play after my favorite player Wendel Clark. The leadership, hard work, intensity, skill and willingness to not back down is something that I have tried to bring to my game my whole career. The passion and physicality he had playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs as captain when I was younger really influenced the way I play. Through my minor and junior hockey career I was always counted on to play physical and mix it up and as I moved on to professional hockey those assets of my game proved to be invaluable.

EK:Who was the toughest guy you have fought in your career so far and why?

KB: To be honest the toughest guy I ever fought was none other than new Blaze defenseman Craig Cescon. He throws hammers.

EK: You are coming off the back of a career year in points, are you looking for increased responsibility offensively?

KB: The coach has put together a team of players with different strengths that should compliment the teams play. I think that my style of play adds a physical dimension as well as the ability to create and finish offensively. Each year I strive to improve my offensive output and look forward to the challenge this season to continue to produce offensively.

Kyle Bochek (15)
Bocheck on Star Wars night. (Photo: Les Stockton)

EK: In your 2nd Press Release you mention you set a team goal of silverware but also a personal goal, what are your personal goals for the year?

KB:For me team always comes first. But personally, to gain the respect of my teammates and strive to improve in all facets of my game. The measure of success is how deep we can take this team in the later part of the season.

EK: With the roster almost complete what do you know about your teammates and how do you see this team’s style?

KB: From what I have seen of the team on paper and from what I have heard and read we have a very fast ,hardworking, physical and experienced group of players not to mention a monster between the pipes.

EK: Once again a big thank you Kyle, do you have any parting words for the fans?

KB: Thank you Ed. I hope that my style of play excites the Blue Army and let’s bring back a championship to Coventry.

One on One with former NHLer Steven Goertzen

(Photo: Trixie Larue, flickr)
(Photo: Trixie Larue, flickr)

Steven Goertzen has had a pretty impressive pro career. After a major junior run with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, the man from Alberta was drafted in the 7th round, 225th overall in the 2002 entry draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He spent time bouncing back and forth between Columbus and their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. Goertzen had a brief stint with the Phoenix Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes before heading overseas. After two seasons with M1 rival, the Sheffield Steelers, Goertzen has made the trek to Coventry to suit up for the Blaze for this coming season. March Hockey EIHL correspondent, Ed Kimberley caught up with Goertzen for a little chit chat.

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England
Ed Kimberley: How will you be spending your offseason?

Steven Goertzen: We spend our off season split between New York where my wife is originally from, and Edmonton, where I am originally from. Summers are usually very busy especially now that we have kids and everyone back home wants to make the most out of the short amount of time that we are back. I will be completing my dissertation as well this summer and I also run many different power skating camps around Edmonton. Needless to say, summers are pretty busy!

EK – I’d like to backtrack a few years to your days in the NHL, every kid growing up that plays hockey dreams one day they will make the show, can you describe how it felt?

SG – It’s obviously an amazing feeling and something that is difficult to describe. I think when you dedicate your life to something and you are fortunate enough to experience playing against guys that you idolized growing up it is extremely rewarding. I look back and I am just very thankful to be able to have those experiences and it is something I will never forget.

EK – What have you taken from your time in the biggest league in the world that is still in your playing style?

SG – Well I like to think that I am responsible on both ends of the ice. I take pride in doing a good job defensively and trying to play the game the right way. The biggest difference in the NHL is the players have an amazing ability to be consistent every night. I might not always have a great game but at the end of the day you want to prepare for each game to give yourself the best chance to be successful night in and night out.

EK – In the press release Coach Lefebvre said you and your agent contacted the Blaze, what attracted you to playing for Coventry?

SG – I have worked with Marc before and Ashley Tait as well, so it is always nice to know a few familiar faces when you come to a new team. I have heard a lot of good things about the organization from many different people so that was a big reason for coming here as well. I think that there is always a great atmosphere in the arena and hopefully we can put ourselves in a position to win some trophies.

(Photo: Trixie Larue, flickr)
(Photo: Trixie Larue, flickr)

EK – Marc made a big impact last year coming in mid-season having played for and against him tell us what kind of coach he is?

SG – Well when he was in Sheffield as the assistant coach he was in a different role, but as a head coach and in talking with him he is going to hold guys accountable. I think that Marc has a good feel for when to push guys and when not too which I think is extremely important in this league and I am sure he will get the best out of all his players.

EK – Would you say he’s building a team that matches his own personal attitudes of hard work and with a direct approach?

SG – Yes I am sure that he has been very busy and will continue to look to sign guys that are willing to come to play every night. It is obviously still early in the summer but I am sure Marc will do a great job putting our team together and steering us in the direction that we need to go.

EK – Having won the playoffs last year, can you describe what it takes to get there, what kind of team you need and how you think the Blaze are shaping up in comparison?

SG – There are obviously many challenges and ups and downs throughout a season and I think last year with Sheffield we were able to battle through some tough situations and stick together throughout the entire season. With the way that the playoff format is and the importance of every game you need to be playing your best leading up to the playoffs. I think that next year it will be important for us to trust the process and make sure everyone is on board and I think it will be an exciting year.

EK – Both Ryan O’Marra and yourself have spoke to former Blaze players who they’re friends with before signing…any chance you can help lure any of your former Columbus, Phoenix or Carolina team mates into coming over?

SG – Ha ha well I am sure that Ryan or I would not hesitate to put a few good words in here or there! Having said that, Marc knows what he is doing and I am sure he will put together a great team.

EK – Jokes aside, do you/expect to have much involvement in the recruitment process outside of giving references to players on the coach’s radar?

SG – I have been in contact with Marc and obviously if there is anything he would like me to do I would be more than willing to try and sway a guy to come and win with us if it would help.

(Photo: Trixie Larue, flickr)
(Photo: Trixie Larue, flickr)

EK – With the new rules regarding EU passport holder and dual nationals essentially allowing more imports to play in the league, how do you think this will change the EIHL?

SG – I am not sure to be honest, I know that it is an area of debate and it will be interesting to see how it plays out and I don’t pretend to be an expert on the matter. However, I think that in reality, there is a lot of quality British hockey players in this league and a lot of them make up the core of the teams that they are playing on. In my opinion I think that it would be a mistake for teams in the future if they were to undervalue what the British players bring to this league both on and off the ice.

EK – Do you have any words for blaze fans before we see you in September?

SG – I hope you guys enjoy your summer, and are looking forward to what looks to be an exciting season ahead!

One on One with former NHLer Ryan O’Marra

750px-Ryan_O'Marra_2011
(Photo: 5by7, Flickr)

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

Ryan O’Marra might catch the name of some Canadian fans. The 27 year old center who was born in Tokyo, Japan was drafted 15th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2005 NHL entry draft. Electing to stay with the OHL’s Erie Otters, O’Marra exploded for 77 points in 61 games. He also racked up 134 penalty minutes. The team you might remember from however, is the Edmonton Oilers. After becoming well versed with the AHL, Edmonton came calling and O’Marra picked up more then a handful of games for the big club.

Here, March Hockey UK correspondent, Ed Kimberley caught up with O’Marra for a little chit chat on his recent signing with the EIHL’s Coventry Blaze.

 

Ed Kimberley: Firstly with a player of your pedigree, a former 1st success in European leagues, it looks like winning silverware follows you around. What would be the highlight(s) of your career so far and why?

Ryan O’Marra: The highlight of my career would be winning two World Junior, under-20, gold medals with Team Canada. As a young kid, I used to get up every Boxing Day and watch the first Canada game with my Dad. It’s something many Canadians can attest to doing. The World Junior tournament is something all young players in Canada aspire to be a part of. I was fortunate enough to play with two incredible teams and players like Jonathon Toews, Kris Letang, and Carey Price.

EK – You’ve been described as a player with an excellent two way game that can win key face-offs, kill penalties and ice during difficult shifts. Coach Lefebvre has already highlighted you will be looked to for these roles, how difficult was it to transition to this style of play when turning pro?

RO – It was an adjustment for sure. It is difficult to change roles leaving junior hockey in the OHL to pro hockey in the NHL/AHL. I was always an offensive player in the OHL and adjusting to the new speed of the professional level and attention to detail required was challenging. It took me two years to adjust to the role and earn the ice time necessary to be successful as a defensive centreman and penalty killer. Once that happened I experienced some success at the AHL level and earned some NHL time, especially in my fourth year.

(Photo: Bridget Samuels, flickr)
(Photo: Bridget Samuels, flickr)

EK – You’re not the first former NHL player to have signed for the Blaze this year, with former Columbus Blue Jacket and Phoenix Coyote Steven Goertzen also joining the club, who also is known for his two way game and work ethic. Your styles seem to match each others, so what type of players would you expect on your line to compliment your style?

RO – I have played with probably every type of player and a vast array of skill levels. I try to make the players around me better, no matter what skill-set they bring to the table.

EK – You spoke to former Championship winning Blaze Defenceman and fan favourite, also a former junior teammate of yours Brian Lee prior to signing. You touched on this in a previous press release, but what exactly did he tell you about the club, city and fan-base?

RO – Brian was my assistant captain my rookie year in the OHL, and then I served as an assistant captain when he took over the ‘C’ my second year. We also played together in my rookie year of pro hockey in the ECHL, during my brief stint with the Stockton Thunder. He is the kind of guy who exudes leadership and is someone who everyone likes being around. His on-ice work ethic was incredible. So it was natural to ask him about his time with Coventry. He raved about the fan base, city, and organization. He told me in no uncertain terms that I would not regret signing with the Blaze. His opinion is certainly one I value.

EK – With rosters throughout the league starting to take shape who do you see as being the main challengers so far? The proof will undoubtedly be in the pudding, but the Blaze last season were accused of being inconsistent, with the return of coach Lefebvre and a new look roster, to what extent do you think these accusations have been addressed?

RO – The past is in the past, I can’t speak to what went on last season. Its a new-look team and I am excited for the new season. As far as challengers, I have no idea. I think its more important that we come together early as a team and take each game as it comes. It’s better to focus internally rather than externally.

EK – While in the World Junior Championships you took part in some fierce rival games with neighbour nation the USA, the Blaze have a few hot rivalries throughout the league particularly the Nottingham Panthers, what have you heard about this rivalry, do you approach these games differently and do you look forward to them?

omRO – I played with David Ling last season in Italy. He gave me some insight into the rivalry. I have always enjoyed playing in games with a lot of emotion. So I am looking forward to our first meeting.

EK – With the contract signed and next season set, what do you do to prepare for the new season?

RO – I just do what I always have, train and skate throughout the summer.

EK – Do you have any final words for Blaze fans before you see them in September?

RO – I am looking forward to seeing, in person, the passion and support I have heard so much about from the Blaze fans.

One on One with Mark Smith of the Coventry Blaze

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

(Photo: Helen Brabon)
(Photo: Helen Brabon)

I caught up with Coventry Blaze defenceman Mark Smith ahead of the 2014/15 campaign. No stranger to the Elite League, Mark, a native of Edmonton, Alberta will be entering his 6th season on UK ice. So far Mark has logged 241 regular season games and 14 playoff appearances with Edinburgh and Blaze rivals, the Cardiff Devils.

Ed Kimberley – Mark thank you for taking some time out of your day to catch up with us, this will be your 6th season in the EIHL, how will you be spending your offseason and how much are you looking forward to pulling on a blaze jersey for the first time?

Mark Smith –The off-season for me has been rather quiet.  Just been staying busy with going to the gym and developing an eBay habit.  Got a few weddings to attend here in the UK coming up as well, so they should be fun.  My wife and I will be heading back to Canada for July also, so I’m looking forward to catching up with all my family and friends.  We have a few road trips planned in Canada as well, which will be a good time. I will also look to get on the ice back in Canada as much as I can.  Aside from that, I am really looking forward to getting the season started with the Blaze.  Obviously big rivals with Cardiff, so it may be a little strange at first, but nonetheless I am really excited for the season, and seeing some of the signing Marc has made it looks like we will have a really competitive team this season.

EK – Coach Lefebvre has described your play as “very good defensively” and you’ve been described by Neil Francis as “consistently great on the ice.” How would you describe your game?

>MS – I would describe my game much like Marc has.  I try to be as sound defensively as I can and really pride myself on being solid in my own zone.   With that in mind also I feel I to have the capabilities of chipping in offensively whenever I can.  Basically I am going to do whatever I can to help the team win.  If that means blocking shots or taking a hit to make a play, I’m going to do whatever has to be done to help the team be successful.   I just try to prepare myself as best as I can before hand and work as hard as possible on the ice, and that is what I try to give every game.

EK – A bit of a lighter question for you, coach Lefebvre said he “didn’t expect a whole lot of offense” from you, now as team mates (albeit in more games) you outscored Marc in Edinburgh, do you hope to surprise both your new boss and the fans with offensive contributions?

(photo: Helen Brabon)
(photo: Helen Brabon)

MS – I am well aware of the expectations Marc has of me, and I am a defensive minded D-man, but with that in mind, as I alluded to in the previous question I do feel I have the capabilities to chip in with decent numbers given the opportunity.  As for outscoring Marc up in Edinburgh, I was quite shocked at that with him being the offensive dynamo he his.  Jokes aside though, I will bring a solid defensive game, but I feel that I will pleasantly surprise people with my offensive contribution.

EK – Marc made an immediate impact behind the bench, carving some key victories to help the Blaze reach the post-season. How important was his return to the helm important for you in signing in Coventry? How did the deal come about?

MS – Knowing Marc and playing with him previously was a huge reason for choosing to play for the Blaze.  I know the kind of person he is and what he brings to the rink every day and I am excited to be apart of that.  I approached Marc if he was interested in having me in Coventry and I got an almost immediate response from him that he wanted me there.  The professionalism from him and everybody within the organization has been fantastic, and I know I will enjoy my time playing for the Blaze.

EK – Although there is a long way to go in the offseason, the team look to have a strong leadership core with Egener, Goertzen, Tait and Cowley, just how important is it to have guys like these on the roster?

MS – It is massive to have a veteran presence like we have on the team.  It is those kind on guys that will do all the little things that need to be done to win games.  That kind of approach to the game is contagious and will rub off on the younger and less experienced guys on the team.  Having those kind of players also makes everyone around them raise their level of play.

EK – Having played numerous games in the Skydome over the past 5 years, how does it feel as an opposing player when the fans turn it into a fortress? And, be honest, did you ever hear the chirping from the block behind the away teams bench?

(photo: Helen Brabon)
(photo: Helen Brabon)

MS – The fans in Coventry do bring a great deal of passion and create a great atmosphere.  And I absolutely heard the chirping that goes on from behind the bench.  I don’t think I personally ever acknowledged whoever is doing it, but I think they gave up heckling me after a couple years cause I ignored them.  But it is pretty funny at times as there have been some pretty good exchanges between them and some of my teammates.

EK – Again Mark, thank you for answering a few questions and we look forward to seeing you come August/September time. However I do have one final question for you….. Rangers or Kings?

MS – No problem, Anytime. I cannot wait to get started in Coventry and in answer to your question. Not sure if this counts now with the Kings being up 3-1, but I am going to say Rangers.

March’s Note: Wrong answer Smith!

Who should be the next coach for the Coventry Blaze and Why

March’s note: Once again, I have the honour of writing a piece and donating it to the fine people of Bleed and Blue, the Coventry Blaze’s fanzine. I took on a hotly debated topic with ease. Check out http://www.bleedandblue.co.uk


175px-CoventryBlaze
The topic given for this article and your reading pleasure is who should be the coach of the Coventry Blaze and why. Good question.

Tough decision.

When Matty Soderstrom took over the helm at the beginning of the season, no one knew what to expect. That being said, everyone had their expectations way too high for a first year coach. Things were going to go wrong, that was inevitable but to sink that quickly? Well, pretty sure nobody expected that.

The Blaze started off this year’s campaign with a good feeling. Somewhere along the line things changed. I wasn’t a fly in the wall in the dressing room, hell I’m far away from the damn country, but it doesn’t take the average hockey fan to realize that the players did not want to play for him. They seemed slow and sluggish. I’d even go on the edge and say that it looked like they weren’t even trying at times.

Of course, management didn’t see this (or maybe they did and turned a blind eye), until it was way too late in the season to salvage it. Canning Soderstrom and bringing in Marc Lefevbre as a rental for hire coach from Sheffield was not the answer to stop the bleeding. However, this happened and there’s no point crying about it now.

Lefebvre with the Dayton Demonz of the FHL.
Lefebvre with the Dayton Demonz of the FHL.

Marc Lefevbre’s head coaching ability and experience come from the Federal Hockey League over here in North America. You think the LNAH runs things to the ground? Try the FHL. The FHL is as bush league as it gets. Don’t get me wrong, there are very talented players playing there (including Lefevbre), but let’s face it: Rob Ford could probably run that league better and that’s saying something.

Is he the right person to lead the Blaze in the upcoming season? If it were me, no.

BUT WAIT….

Continue reading “Who should be the next coach for the Coventry Blaze and Why”

How I became a fan of the Coventry Blaze and EIHL

March’s Note: I had contributed this article to the new Coventry Blaze fanzine, “Bleed and Blue.” It was first published on their website today but it meant too much to me to not throw it up on my blog. Enjoy.

175px-CoventryBlazeI am Canadian.

I live thousands upon thousands of miles away from most of the fans, players and anyone attached to the Elite Ice Hockey League. With my father’s side of the family originating from Southampton, it’s no wonder why I hold the United Kingdom close to my heart.

However, I am as Canadian as they come. I enjoy my Tim Horton’s (except their coffee, disgusting), I’ve definitely taken advantage of my free health care these past couples years, I say “eh” way more often then I should, and it goes without saying that I love my hockey.

When I was in grade school, EIHL player, Sheffield Steeler and most likely Hall of Famer, Jeff Legue was suiting up for our hometown Junior A team, the Cornwall Colts. The city of Cornwall beams with pride whenever someone brings up his name. Many know he plays hockey overseas in Europe but just as many, if not more don’t realize the league he calls home is in the United Kingdom.

I started my blog last year as a way to past the time when I was recovering from surgery. With lots of time on my hands, I decided to become a voice for lesser known leagues around the world. I covered the Australian and New Zealand Ice Hockey League’s with pride and made many new friends and contacts. When the Cornwall River Kings of the LNAH secured Legue’s league rights, he popped onto my radar again after not thinking about him for all those years.

FC41E0E0-B175-44F2-B6E7A758CC5D4ABC_H234_W407In the fall of 2013, I met through the greatness of Twitter and my blog, Paul Wheeler and Ed Kimberley. These two gentleman are the fine play by play webcasters for your Coventry Blaze. Kimberley urged me to sit back and take in a few games. When I decide to become a fan of a team and throw them into my favourites, I tend to fall back and do some research, looking for what kind of a storied tradition they might have. Upon concluding my “studies”, if you will of each team in the Elite league, I could not leave the legacy, tenacity and toughness of the Coventry Blaze behind. They were built to win from the start; their 4 regular season titles say it all. They reminded me of Canadian hockey.

It’s no secret that I have been battling some health issues over the past little while. I have been diagnosed with Liver Disease and a rare disorder called Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction. Essentially my bile ducts are not big enough for bile to flow through and it’s backing up into my liver. This has left me out of work and in constant unbearable pain and in need of more surgery in a couple months time.

The friends, fans, people associated with the team and league that I’ve met as I’ve been going through this has meant everything to me. The countless messages, support and even gifts I’ve received tell me that the EIHL deserves to be known around the world. I have not met a more passionate fan base than I have of the Elite Ice Hockey League. From here in Canada, I am making it my duty to help spread awareness of both the Coventry Blaze and EIHL as a whole to hockey fans here in Canada and around the world.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each and every one of you. I love my newfound UK hockey family. I will always continue to Bleed Blue.

Ashley aka @MarchHockey