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.

Advertisements

It’s time to bring back the World Cup of Hockey

World_Cup_HockeyOfficiating always comes under subjective scrutiny in any sport. As the sport continues to grow and get bigger and as games get more meaningful, we tend to focus more on the rule enforcers. In international competition, politics come into play and at the very worse can taint your sport for life.

The International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships just wrapped up their 2014 tournament in Minsk, Belarus. Taking place every May, the tournament has attempted to showcase the best of the best in international hockey. However, its timing has always been debated as strange with the NHL playoffs proceeding at the same time. Many people feel, at least on North American soil, that this tournament is really just a waste of ice.

Russia became 2014 World Champions after a controversial defeat over Finland. The Finns got robbed by very questionable officiating and after playing one of the best games in their nation’s history, was forced to be regulated to second. Calls were blown on the ice in favour of Russia and penalties that should have never even be questioned were called against Finland.

Finnish graffiti artist Hende Nieminen went to the walls of Helsinki after the championship game to show his distaste. (Photo: Hende Niemenin)
Finnish graffiti artist Hende Nieminen went to the walls of Helsinki after the championship game to show his distaste. Translated, it says “Silver is not shame, but the judges are.” (Photo: Hende Niemenin)

Talk immediately became not of the two talented teams on the ice but of the black and white striped individuals who dictate the play. Some say the refs played in Russia’s favour to make up for their horrible demise at the Sochi Olympics. You’ll never be able to find out if there was a motive behind their calls or if they’re just terrible international referees but it shines a black eye on the sport.

It’s time to bring back the World Cup of Hockey.

The World Cup of Hockey came to fruition in the mid 1970’s, originally called the Canada Cup. Doug Fisher and Alan Eagleson formed the tournament on the basis of showcasing the best hockey talent of the world through various nations and their competing squads. It would be held every three to five years and would take place in NHL venues before the start of the NHL regular season. As the Winter Olympics were still considered amateur competition and the IIHF World Championships always coincided with the NHL playoffs, this tournament would truly hold the best of the best.

1996USAIn the mid 90’s the Canada Cup changed its name to the World Cup of Hockey. The World Cup was played under NHL rules and NHL officiating. The United States won the inaugural championship beating Canada. Along with their North American counterparts, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Germany and Slovakia each iced their own squad. Another tournament was held in 2004 during the lockout and proved to be successful.

The problem is this tournament is not held often enough to put an end to the IIHF World Championships. There’s talk of another World Cup happening in 2016, a non-Olympic year, which would put a 12 year gap between tournaments. NHL rules and rinks provide the game with the best players on the ice. There’s no reason for international rules and referees to come in a game with a political contest in mind, this isn’t the 1960’s anymore.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be talking about this nor would I be writing this article. I don’t want to read articles about how the refs are putting the sabotage to one side. Leave that to Olympic ice skating. I’d rather listen to Don Cherry scream about the World Cup.

One on One with Olympic official Joy Tottman

(Photo: icehockey.co.uk)
(Photo: icehockey.co.uk)

Joy Tottman is a well-known name among British hockey circles. She’s been apart of Ice Hockey UK as well as the IIHF for over 15 years. What’s even better is she is a strong woman at the top of her game. The past Olympics in Sochi, Russia was her third consecutive time officiating the Winter Games and she held the honour of being selected to run the ice for the women’s gold medal game between Canada and the United States. I caught up with her to shed a little insight into what makes a strong woman referee and to give women here in Canada a chance at stepping into another part of the best sport on Earth.

March Hockey: How did you get involved in hockey? What made you head into the disciplinary part of the game?

Joy Tottman: I first started refereeing at the age of 12.  I had wanted to learn how to skate and my dad had taken me to our local rink and given me the choice of playing hockey or figure skating and I chose hockey.  I was playing under 10s and when we had games no officials were turning up.  My dad was one of the only parents who could skate and so he took the referee course so that we could play our games.  He would then have to stay on to referee the games after my game and so he got me to take the course too so I could stay on with him.  I started to enjoy the refereeing and made the switch to just refereeing at a really young age.  I guess it was a way for me to be involved in the game without the physical element of playing in a boy’s team.

MH: This past Olympics was your third. How do you prepare mentally and physically for an event of that size?

 

( Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images)
( Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images)

JT: The physical preparation was a huge part of going to the Sochi Olympics.  There was a pre-Olympic selection camp in August 2013 where we were tested on and off the ice.  I had a trainer for off-ice who I saw 3 times a week and then did my own programme on the other days.  Because I have a day job this meant training at 6am each morning.  The mental preparation for me was all about getting game experience throughout the season and of course over the years.  Making sure that I focused on each game and learned from the situations within it.  It was about putting myself mentally in a place where I knew I was prepared and had done everything possible to be in the best shape and best frame of mind for the games. Continue reading “One on One with Olympic official Joy Tottman”