MATT SUDERMAN 1983-2016

It’s never easy to lose someone.

It’s even harder to lose someone close unexpectedly. You’re not prepared for the emotional toll that follows the days, months and even years after one’s death. But a death is much more then mourning. It becomes a time to reflect and celebrate a life once lived to its fullest.

When the unexpected news of Matt Suderman’s passing arrived on my plate this past weekend, I was stunned as many of you were. That news is still bothering me which is only natural. When I started writing, Matt was one of first players I became good friends with. While I only caught the end of his career, I could tell that he was a special guy; especially by the way people spoke about him.

At 6’3 and 235 pounds, Suderman was a giant, albeit a very friendly one that most can testify too. A big boy coming out of the prairies with a solid junior career with the Saskatoon Blades under his belt, Suds was never known for his goal scoring prowess or point totals. No, he was that big body you wanted in front of the net, to block shots and to know you’re safe on the ice whenever he was around. Everyone needed a guy like him in the locker room.

Being a likable character and knowing his role on the ice lead to being a very late draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in the 7th round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Yes, that may be a late round pick but being drafted is being drafted and it’s a fantastic accomplishment. Sudsy played his entire career bouncing around the minors. That’s not unusual for most. But being able to get paid to play a game you love can sometimes be a reminder to one self that you’re one of the lucky few.

matt_sudermanSuderman was a fan favourite almost everywhere he went. Whether he was dropping the gloves against Mario Joly and Erick Lizon with the Arizona Sundogs, blocking shots for the Dundee Stars or taking the lead with the Hull Stingrays, Suderman was a man who commanded respect. And that respect was given to him a million times over.  In Hull we saw him fight for what was right and for what he believed in.

Matt Suderman was also diabetic.

I find this must be mentioned for all of young athletes out there struggling with the terrible disease or those who have just been diagnosed and thinking they have give up the sports they love. While there famous hockey stars that played and continue to play through it (Bobby Clarke and Max Domi come to mind), it’s important to know that even the tough guys and guys who you have more in common with then you think you know, also have to fight through something. Sudsy never let the illness define him. That’s one of the main reasons he’ll always be a close friend to me.

Yes, we must mourn our loss. Another great human being has left this Earth way too young. But let’s honour and celebrate our friend’s life and career with laughter, smiles and fond memories.

I leave with you a message I received one morning from Sudsy.

“Ashley, I swear to god if you use the words “semi-pro” again, I’ll slap you in the arm. Not the face, but the arm. Stings more.” 

I haven’t used that word since.

#RIPSudsy. We’ll miss you.

 

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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)

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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Why you shouldn’t count out the Scots this upcoming EIHL season

More than ever, the Scottish EIHL teams are showing just how much they belong in the world of competitive hockey. Not only that, they’re proving the need of junior development in their ranks. While I’ve written about in the past that they were starting to make waves; it seems like the rest of the EIHL is starting to keep an eye on those lads to the north.

The newly appointed partnership between the Braehead Clan and the Scottish League’s Solway Sharks is one of the best things to come out of this offseason. Keep the junior wheel rolling and in time there will come a day where a team will ice a roster of pure Brits.

All the bickering and need for money is clouding the judgment of how British hockey should be developed in mainland England. While I can’t knock them for the needing money pretense, the overpowering need to win is putting a hold on junior development. We want our hockey and our teams to flourish. Why always the need to depend on imports? It’s time to start embracing the teams of the EPIHL and create lasting partnerships. Sadly, it’ll never happen while the old guard is in place.

Back to our friends in the north. Time to take a bit of an in-depth look at how these squads are shaping up. They’ll be a huge force.

Dundee Stars

dundee-starsFinishing third behind the Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers in 2013/2014 is nothing short of amazing work done by the lads in blue and red. Not only have they gained a respect that was much-needed but a boost of confidence to improve the moral. This season is proving to shape up to be no different. Among securing a huge sponsorship deal with Coors Light, they’ve managed to tackle signing a big 6’0 forward by the name of John Mitchell.

Before you start freaking out, no it’s not the current Colorado Avalanche player. This John Mitchell has spent his entire pro career in the AHL; having his best year with the Tampa Bay affiliated Syracuse Crunch in 2010-2011. He’s not afraid to throw the gloves off either. In fact, during that year with Syracuse, he threw punches in five different fights.

RobRicciSCOn the flipside of things, another import for the Stars comes in the shape of not so physical Rob Ricci. (I would die if he skated out with a Mike Ricci mullet but that’s another story for another time…) Ricci had a couple of huge years with the South Carolina Stingrays in the East Coast league before taking off to Europe. The guy knows how to read the puck and will come in handy as a young mentor to some of the other players.

Do I think Dundee will do as well as last season? Considering the roster of the other teams; on paper, it’s not likely. But this is the Elite league and stranger things have happened.

Also Dundee, I love ya but ask Coors Light to help you update your website. I feel like I’m stuck on a 1990’s Geocities site.

 

Edinburgh Capitals

Edinburgh-capitals-logoOkay, everyone get your laughs out now. This team is the hockey version of “The Little Engine That Could” but I love every single things about them. I’m about to love them even more.

The Caps have signed themselves a little enforcer by the name of Riley Emmerson. Emmerson has been playing pro since 2006 and has a fight card of 120 fights. Hell, two years in the WHL put him at 24. At 6’8 and 250 pounds, this left winger is definitely going to throwing his body around and this might just be what the doctor ordered for Edinburgh.

What better way to get fans out to the games then a hockey fight? Everyone loves hockey fights! Even your grandma! Emmerson will easily turn himself into a crowd favourite not only at home but across the league. This is Edinburgh’s chance to develop a bit of a cult following. I’m not saying turn all goon squad but marketed right, it could be huge.

Unless he gets knocked out in the first game and throws my theory into submission. Lovely.

I don’t think much will change for the Caps this season other than having the best jerseys and photo marketing in the league. Chins up though! Times are changing!

 

 

Fife Flyers

FlyersI don’t know if it’s just me but I haven’t heard much from the blue and gold this offseason. Other than Matt Nickerson returning (with that glorious beard…am I the only woman who doesn’t like it? Anyways..) there hasn’t been much on my radar. Maybe I’m not following the right people on Twitter. That means Fife fans, you need to get at me!

After doing my research, it’s come to my attention that Fife has signed former Wellington Dukes Junior A star Chris Auger. I’ve seen Auger play live and if he’s still anything like he was in Junior A then Flyers fans you’re in for a treat. This kid can go on a tear like nobody’s business. He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. Interesting to note, he was drafted higher than Leafs superstar Leo Komarov and Braehead’s Chris Frank. Keep that handy for trivia night.

 

 

Braehead Clan

Clan_LogoOh you Purple Army. What will I ever do without you.
The black and purple are going to be on tough squad this season. Not just with skill but with the mitts off as well. Signing one of the biggest enforcers going in Zack Fitzgerald, the Clan has somebody to do battle with on the blue line. As a Philadelphia Flyers fan, I’ve kept an eye on Fitzgerald as he’s spent the past two years with our AHL affiliate. Easily going to turn into a crowd favourite and might even be able to give the aforementioned Capital, Riley Emmerson a run for his money. He has more on his fight card, I know that much.

Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald.

 

On the skillset side, the Clan have already locked Chris Frank, Leigh Salters, Neil Trimm and Tristan Harper but joining them is 31 year old Matt Keith. Keith might be on the down slope of his career but he’s going to be a huge presence not only on the ice but in the dressing room. Someone to keep the boys level-headed is a much-needed ploy in this league.

Also, Braehead signed themselves a couple of Brits in Zach Sullivan on defence and forward Ben Davies. There’s that need to add to the homegrown talent.

The Clan should definitely be a team to watch this upcoming season. On paper they’re coming in exceptionally strong and might ruffle a few feathers on the way to the top. I could easily see a top 3 finish.

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”