Morale never been higher for Coventry Blaze

175px-CoventryBlazeFor the first time, I have never seen a team with more enthusiasm and grit then the Coventry Blaze this past week and a half.

Too bad it’s come at the end of the season.

I don’t know if it’s the fact the Soderstrom is out of the picture or if it’s Lefebvre’s ultimatum of the players having to play for their jobs but for the past two games, the Blaze have come out of the gates hungrier then ever. They say a change does you good and it certainly proves true with this club.

After another big win over the Braehead Clan, the focus now shifts to playing more as a unit. The defense needs to come together and help out goaltender Mike Zacharias or else they’ll be completely screwed come playoff weekend. Being able to control your emotions the way Ryan Ginand did with Chris Frank is a big attribute to have this late in the season. Frank suffered a three game suspension for his cheap shot, not a bright move.

Whether or not the Blaze are playing their hearts out is because of a change, one has to wonder if newly appointed head coach Marc Lefebvre has what it takes to lead this group past the end of playoff weekend. Will he do enough in this small amount of time to earn himself a complete full schedule next year? I’m not sure. I don’t know if the Blaze brass was looking at this as a short term solution or a long term investment.

However, whatever he’s did the past two games seem to be working. It could be fate that the powers that be will let this season end on a positive note. Lord knows it’s been nothing but bad news after bad news for the mighty blue. When the off season comes around, where do you start looking? What do you need to add to compliment your core players, that is if they even stick around?

The more moral may be at an all time high for the 2013/2014 season. The long term championship goal however seems light years away.

Coventry Blaze earn first win for new bench boss Marc Lefebvre

175px-CoventryBlazeWho the heck is this team?!

Some kind of Blaze was lit underneath Coventry last night down in Wales. Coventry came out the gates hard and thumped the Cardiff Devils 7-3 all underneath the watchful eyes of new head coach Marc Lefebvre.

Earlier in the week Lefebvre had issued the ultimatum that the players were in fact playing for their jobs. It was time to man up and be held accountable for their actions. To say they answered that call is a bit of an understatement. This was not the same team we saw earlier in the year under the guidance of Matt Soderstrom. Lefebvre juggled some lines and brought Michael Henrich from defence up onto a offensive line and it worked wonders as he netted two goals. It will be interesting to see if Henrich stays in that position.

The unstoppable and beauty to watch Ryan Ginand continued his league leading ways adding his own two goals to the bunch

Granted, I know it’s only been one game and it was an away game at that. Most teams don’t feel the brunt of the pressure that’s on them until they are in front of their own fans in their own barn. That test will come this Sunday as the Braehead Clan come to town.

Lefebvre with Dayton.
Lefebvre with Dayton.

Marc Lefebvre, a native of Kanata, Ontario, started his career off spending three season in the Ontario Hockey League before heading across the pond. His crack at coaching didn’t come until 2011 when he was hired as GM and head coach of the now defunct 1000 Island Privateers of the Federal Hockey League. The next year, he was hired on by the Dayton Demonz.

I’ve heard numerous stories about Lefebvre surrounding his time in the FHL and most aren’t very good and very encouraging. However with this first game and win under his belt, the jitters are gone. The team is has responded and understood the message that’s been clearly sent.

You want to keep playing for Coventry, you need to Bleed Blue.

Coventry Blaze woes continue as season looms on

175px-CoventryBlazeThe Coventry Blaze weekend road trip to Braehead and Sheffield ended in losses with their second and third in 8 eight games. Those losses end up knocking them down a notch in the standings to 8th position. As the sadness continues, fans have taken up arms to decide whose fault this is and why this season has been such a disastrous one.

If there’s one thing we can take out of this season is the Blaze’s ability to adapt to the situation when things take the down slope. I’ve seen teams come out way worse with the injuries and politics that Coventry have endured. That being said, where do you start pointing the finger? Do you point it behind the bench at Matt Soderstorm? Do you point it at the brass? Do you point it at the players themselves? It’s a combination of everything one would think.

However, I might be a little naïve but it’s only one season. The 2012-2013 season might have been under different circumstances but the Blaze did finish a very respectable 4th in the league standings and ended up 3rd in the playoffs. That’s not a shabby finish I’d say. So what if things have taken a bit of a downfall? After this season, there’s nothing to do but regroup, take a look at the good and bad while making the appropriate changes.

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

Do I think Matty Soderstorm is right for the job behind the bench? Given the hand he’s been dealt, I can’t really make a fair assumption. He’s doing what he can with what he’s got. It’s only his first season as Head Coach. Give him a bit of a break.

While I agree that there’s no reason why a team like the Coventry Blaze should be that far down in the standings in the 8th spot, come next season, they’ll turn it around. You’re not the Edmonton Oilers for crying out loud.

Ryan Ginand’s performace should make Blaze brass think long and hard

175px-CoventryBlazeThe league’s leading scorer opened up the length of his domination this weekend after a Blaze dismantling of the Edinburgh Capitals and Nottingham Panthers. Now at 42 goals on the season with four coming this past weekend, brass of the Blaze now have to start looking at their prized possession seriously in order to keep him attached for next season.

The 27 year old American is in his first campaign in the Elite league and is proving to be a force. He spent last year floating around the East Coat and American leagues with the majority suiting up for the Orlando Solar Bears and Houston Aeroes.  Of course there’s more of a competition in North America so he only registered 25 points. His Elite league totals now sit at 77.

With everything’s that happened with Coventry so far this season, it would be wise of them to think up a substantial offer to keep Ginand happy. Unless of course there’s family issues, or a desire for him to be back home in North America, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. He has been a godsend for them this season through all the politics and injuries.

Ginand's impeccable penalty shot. Photo: Scott Wiggins. www.scottwiggins.co.uk
Ginand’s impeccable penalty shot. Photo: Scott Wiggins. http://www.scottwiggins.co.uk

He’s not the only Ginand out there with hockey skills. His brother, Phil Ginand, skated a bit in the New York Islanders system with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers and spent some time down under with the Perth Thunder in the Austrailian Ice Hockey League.

This weekend the Blaze look to keep the momentum going as they head into Scotland to take on the Purple Army in the Braehead Clan. Saturday’s puck drop is at 7pm local time. The following Sunday they head to Sheffield to take on Jeff Legue and the Steelers.

The 2013/2014 Coventry Blaze and the Series of Unfortunate Events

175px-CoventryBlazeBeing a resident of North America, I have never had the chance to fully enthrall myself with the hockey of the EIHL. I knew it existed, players from my hometown have excelled there (I.E. Jeff Legue), and it’s one of the better leagues on the planet. Thanks to the power of modern technology, I have been able to catch a few of the Coventry Blaze home games. While most of what I watched is talented and entertaining hockey, a very frightening percentage of it was just god awful.

Now, I might go out on a limb here and say that this season is probably not a usual one for the Blaze. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong but I would like to think the Blaze ice a pretty competitive team. I also like to think a series of unfortunate events have led to their immediate downfall.

A 5 game losing streak at the beginning of the season may have attributed to goaltender Mike Zacharias and his ensuing Twitter scandal. May have been a lot on his mind. That being said, he has seemed to return to form but a lack of strong defence is what is keeping pucks in the net.

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

This is hockey and unfortunately injuries do happen. Sometimes they happen at the worst possible time as well which seems to be an unadulterated plague to the Blaze. Benn Olson missed 17 games with a broken finger. (Which has since forced him to drop the 2014 campaign). Gerome Giudice missed 8 games from what I can only assume was a concussion. However just when they seemed to be down and out, they emerge with the signing of fan favourites Mike Egener and Shea Guthrie. Finally, a ray of hope seemed to beckon down on the faceoff circle at the SkyDome.

Unfortunately that spot of sunshine didn’t last too long. Guthrie broke his own finger and at the time of writing is still a couple weeks away from return. Kevin Harvey also decided to give his notice and head back to his native Canada. A very untimely decision but sometimes the cards don’t fall the way you want them too. Upon taking all of this information in, you can just imagine the moral of the team and how that would affect statistics. Shockingly, goals for and goals against are neck and neck. On the other hand, it’s no surprise that the Blaze are the most penalized team in the league. Frustration mounts over time.

That being said, from here on in the Coventry Blaze need to start playing defensive hockey. Not that they haven’t been before but it’s time the defence core turned it up a notch and delivered. Yes, there’s a gap to fill with Olson gone but it’s possible with the caliber of defencemen on this team.

index2I’d like to say that the forwards need to step it up but they have. Ryan Ginand is the leading the league with 71 points. In fact, the Blaze have 3 scorers in the top 15. The only other team that matches that is the league leading Belfast Giants.

There’s plenty of time left to mount somewhat of a comeback and recapture the season. There’s not one person to blame for the plunging in the standings,  so don’t even start to point fingers at Matt Soderstrom as he was dealt a lame hand. It’s a combination of things. Thus the Coventry Blaze and the Series of Unfortunate Events will enter a rink near you.

Blaze welcome back Egener and Guthrie

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

It has been an up and down season for the Blaze so far and although the roster  has some game changing talent, there are other areas which have caused fans discomfort in their  seats. The two issues highlighted by many, including current and former Blaze coaching staff are secondary scoring and a weak defence.

175px-CoventryBlazeIn light of the second problem, it largely hasn’t been the current line-ups fault. The Blaze have battled injuries at the blueline all year and without the likes of Benn Olson (who has sat for a lengthy period following injury), the toughness at the back has suffered. Opposing players on the power-play are encroaching deeper towards Mike Zacharias in net, causing a lot of problems for the talented American netminder. Former coach Luc Chabot attributed this to the defence “not playing tough enough”  in an interview during the Blaze loss to Sheffield on Saturday. Opposing skaters weren’t scared to play against the Blaze defence and that they need to stamp their authority in the zone they were defending.

Enter Mike Egener.

I wrote about the hole Egener would leave following his fight with guillain-barré syndrome and they never really replaced him like for like. While I expect he will be a few weeks away from the full Egener who terrified opposing players and was a rock in his own end, it is a good move by Coventry to bring him back. Who better to replace Egener then…well, Mike Egener. There has been talk about even giving him the Captaincy that he would have worn had he been able to come to Coventry. Doing this, however nice a gesture would be a massive show of disrespect to Ashley Tait, currently wearing the Captains badge and currently very much in form playing with the top line of Ginand and top Blaze point scorer Adam Henrich.

Shea Guthrie. (Photo: eliteleague.co.uk)
Shea Guthrie. (Photo: eliteleague.co.uk)

The first problem was secondary scoring. The Blaze are relying heavily on the above-mentioned top line who have combined brilliantly. Bringing in Shea Guthrie is simply superb. Rumours were that he was Sheffield bound to further increase their frightening strike force. Guthrie is very much the missing piece in the Blaze offensive puzzle. He is a smart playmaker who possesses good hands and is a good passer. He also can shoot the puck which he proved when he scored 35 goals in his first year with the team. Having a player as versatile as Guthrie will undoubtedly provide the Blaze that missing link as his versatility can work with players the Blaze already have.

The one drawback would be Guthries injuries. However, on a line with grinder Kevin Harvey to do the physical work, watch Guthries’ back and be able to keep up with the Carelton Place, Ontario natives blistering speed will be a force to be reckoned with. Their other partner in crime is a moot point. Now that the Blaze have added Egener and Guthrie, they are either carrying spare imports or will have to cut someone when Olson returns. Personally I would have Harvey on a versatile line with Guthrie and Tanaka, a speedy 2nd unit to back up Tait, Henrich and Ginand that plays with grit, is solid on the forecheck and will undoubtedly boost the secondary scoring numbers.

Blaze Challenge Cup chances downed as Erickson leaves

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

The Coventry Blaze went crashing out of the Challenge Cup race on Wednesday following a 5-2 loss  to the Hull Stingrays. It was a reverse of the score line that saw them down Hull in the league competition. Ryan Ginand scored twice in both games but it was Ashley Tait who was the star of Sundays meeting with a 5 point night.

175px-CoventryBlazeSundays game was also the last for Blaze Defenceman Sean Erickson who  announced he would be leaving the club shortly after the game. In fairness to Erickson, who never looked totally settled in Coventry, he stuck with the team through their injury crisis which ravaged their defence. It was a shame that Erickson has left the club as his 3 point night and generally solid defensive play was indicative of what the American had done while playing in Tulsa of the CHL. However, likely because he was never entirely settled witht the Blaze, he didn’t live up to many fans expectations. Although the Blaze are searching for a replacement it has been stated on a BBC CWR interview that there wasn’t much out their suitable. This seemed an interesting comment as at the same time the Nottingham Panthers secured the signing of Finnish Defenceman Tuukka Makela. Erickson is heading back to the Central league with the Rapid City Rush.

Wednesdays game was won by the Stingrays largely thanks to their special teams. They went 3 for7 on the powerplay and they also tallied shorthanded through Jereme Tendler. Their performance on the penalty kill was terrific. They killed 6/7 powerplays and the Blaze lack of secondary scoring cost them; both goals came from Ryan Ginand, his 20th+21ST goals of the season.

Adam Henrich (Photo: coventryobserver.co.uk)
Adam Henrich (Photo: coventryobserver.co.uk)

The Blaze 1st line of Ginand, A. Henrich and Tait have combined for 90 points this year however secondary scoring, and production offensively from the Blueline has been sparse. There are rumours of further changes in the Blaze camp, many speculating that Erickson will not be the only player to leave in the coming weeks. Erickson’s replacement, in my mind needs to be a player in the mould of Mike Schutte, who iced for the Blaze last year (and went 12+46 in 57GP), an offensive defenceman who can make and finish plays. This would hopefully kick-start some secondary scoring for the Blaze.

Coventry extend losing streak to 6 but add Gerome Giudice

By Ed Kimberley
Conventry, England

175px-CoventryBlazeIt 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. Continue reading “Coventry extend losing streak to 6 but add Gerome Giudice”

EIHL Round up: First Steps for the Dundee Stars, Coventry Blaze, Fight Night in Nottingham

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

We have had 2 weeks of games now in the EIHL and although teams are still finding their feet, one in particular has stood out, the Dundee Stars.

dundee-starsUsually one finds the Stars propping up the league but this year is another story altogether. In their first 4 games they have chalked up 4 wins. This itself is no mean feat but considering Dundee have half the budget of those they have beaten, (Sheffield, Coventry, Braehead and last years “grand slam” winners the Nottingham Panthers) necks are snapping to look at them as they skate by.

They are a team that stifles others really well and have a strong defensive core. Although they focus on protecting underrated netminder Dan Bakala, Dundee has defenceman Roy Rawlyk. In 4 games played, Rawlyk is tied for top points scorer on the team with 5 and has been extremely impressive at both ends of the ice. Bakala. also in 4 has posted a 1.75 with a .959 save percentage. Impressive for a goalie in only his 2nd year pro. Their offensive strength comes from counter attacking plays, often fed by a Rawlyk first pass. Incidentally Rawlyk won the Gardiner Conference player of the week last weekend. The Stars will almost certainly not finish the league without a loss or two, but they are certainly looking to upset Gardiner Conference favourites Braehead Clan and make a case for their first appearance in Nottingham at the playoff finals weekend. Continue reading “EIHL Round up: First Steps for the Dundee Stars, Coventry Blaze, Fight Night in Nottingham”

Fighting in the Elite Ice Hockey League: Part Two

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

index2What does this mean for the EIHL fighting mix? Teams need tough guys but they need to be able to do something more than be an out and out fighter. Just as an example I will use the Coventry Blaze from 04/05 then 05/06. In 04/05 they won everything, and had a lot of fights with Payette, Wade Belak etc. year after they employed Graham Belak who like his brother was a big fighter with a lot of AHL experience that never quite made the NHL and Dave Kaczowka. Both had NHL contracts at some point in their career. Kaczowka was quickly cut and although Belak carried on, he injured his back and didn’t look as imposing as his brother despite this fight with one of the toughest ever players Mel Angelstad:

Jeff Hutchins (now coach of the Dundee Stars) made his EIHL debut for the Blaze that year and had 16 scraps. Now looking at it from my point of view, Graham Belak who played D despite chalking up most of his career as a Forward was an experiment that didn’t work. Although he could clear the crease, it was clear he didn’t have the defensive talents of his brother. Kaczwoka couldn’t do much else but fight and even then the only win he chalked up in the EIHL was vs Shawn Maltby of Sheffield, not known for his pugilistic talents. He lasted all of 3 regular season games and both Kaczowka and Belak would have commanded quite a wage bill. Although Kaczowka was replaced by pacey winger Dan Welch it seemed too many cooks spoilt the broth. Did the Blaze need to spend that much on Belak? Later the Blaze would sign Jason Robinson who split that year between London and Sheffield, if they hadn’t had signed Kaczowka, hypothetically got the cheaper Robinson for Belak they could have had enough money to sign another scorer who could’ve made a difference while Hutchins and Robinson carried the fighting load.

Players that come to the EIHL can generally get a new lease of life as a player, enforcer or not. Brian McMillin comes to the Blaze this year following a career where he was pigeonholed to be a checking 3rdliner. Last season he led the Allen Americans to the playoff championship, and won playoff MVP with 12 goals in 19 games. This year the Blaze want him to carry offensive responsibility. Also Hull Stingrays star forward Jereme Tendler came into the league after a 30pts in 60games season with the Corpus Christie Ice Rayz and he scored the most goals in the EIHL last year (43). In regards to tough guys there is no better case in point is Brad Voth, who was one of the most talked about players in his time with the Cardiff Devils. Every other team wanted to sign him year after year but he stuck with Cardiff. He came to the UK in 05/06 for his skills with gloves off and despite this racked up 220pts in 322 games. Not bad for a guy signed as an out and out fighter. A conclusion for me is that if a team in the EIHL are singing a tough guy, he needs to be able to do something else other that fight. Continue reading “Fighting in the Elite Ice Hockey League: Part Two”