“I built a time machine to escape from
All the pain in the back of my car
Living’s a problem because everything dies babe
Save yourself you’re not too far away”
Biffy Clyro – “Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies“
The Coventry Blaze, however they sold making the playoff finals, had the worst season they’ve ever had last year. Bottom of the league for the first time ever during the season, barely scraping into the playoffs, and being quietly outclassed by Nottingham in the playoff finals as they fought desperately for redemption after a massively underwhelming season, the Chuck Weber era ended with a whimper. And that whimper was “but there’s much to be proud of this season”.
This is a new Coventry Blaze season, though. This year, they’ve gone backwards to come forwards, hiring Blaze legend Danny Stewart as the new head coach. Stewart is exactly the type of coach a team that has almost unashamedly betrayed its oft-trumpeted claim that “OK is not good enough”…it’s been more than sufficient for the Blaze for about five years now, in fact. Whatever the claims may be.
Can Danny Stewart succeed where so many others have failed and deliver the raze-and-rebuild this team needs? Can he finally light the raging fire under the Blaze which has long since gone out?
#41 Brian Stewart, #30 Renny Marr
It’s the same goalie pairing as last year…which means you can almost copy-and-paste what we said last season. Brian Stewart has often been seemingly carrying the Blaze single handed on his broad shoulders during his time at the Skydome, and has proved time and again that he can be a bona-fide matchwinner…he is, in fact, arguably the greatest reason Coventry have any titles since 2012. Renny Marr, meanwhile, is a young British talent given the chance to spend another year learning behind arguably the best starter in the league this season.
#7 Jordan Stokes (2-way with Hull, EPL) #11 Jim Jorgensen, #15 Josh Godfrey, #26 Marc Cantin, #27 Shawn Boutin, #56 Kevin Noble, #58 David Clements, #64 Matt Selby
The key thing with this defensive unit is that Danny Stewart has kept the lynchpin (in Jim Jorgensen) and the great new hope (David Clements) while adding around it. In Josh Godfrey Stewart has given a second chance to a player who was to some degree a victim of his own hype last year – he was trumpeted as an elite offensive D with a huge shot but his 13 points were a disappointing return indeed from a player who was supposed to drive the team forward. As for playmaking – only Clements had fewer assists than Godfrey, and his six goals were eclipsed by his supposedly more defensive partner Jorgensen comfortably.
Kevin Noble will be his usual playing-on-the-ragged-edge self on defence – although it will be interesting to see how teams deal with him now they’re aware of his “wind-up-at-any-cost” style and if they allow him to take penalties without giving the many retaliation penalties he drew so well last year.
The new additions to this unit are the most valuable. The Quebec pairing of Shawn Boutin and Marc Cantin are both sold as calm, minute-munching two way players equally at home anywhere on the ice and in any situation. Add them to Jorgensen and the Blaze have a very strong top two pairs indeed, along with the delightful-to-watch Clements and pugnacious and brutally effective Matt Selby to fill the gaps.
This is a very well-put-together unit on paper, and will provide the Blaze with a nice mix of speed, skill and defensive power in front of Stewart – a much more well-balanced one than last season.
#9 Darcy Zajac, #16 Jordan Pietrus, #17 Russ Cowley, #18 Bjorn Bombis, #19 Garrett Klotz, #21 Ashley Tait, #23 Brett Robinson, #28 Matt Marquardt, #59 Ross Venus, #74 Liam Stewart, #88 Robin Bergman
Danny Stewart’s first forward crop is built to do everything. It has the pure muscle (Klotz, at 6’5 and 233lbs, is among the most imposing figures on EIHL ice this season), the PR star power (Liam Stewart – yes, he is Rod and Rachel’s son, but he’s also a useful checking forward coming off a solid if unspectacular junior career) the European flair (Swede Robin Bergman and German Bjorn Bombis are both skilled players, although their skillsets lie in different areas with Bergman being the shooter and Bombis the setup man) and the power and two-way ability (Matt Marquardt is a very astute signing indeed – one of the sleeper stars of this roster and indeed the EIHL season, while Brett Robinson, Darcy Zajac, and Jordan Pietrus can be relied upon to contribute either a goal or an assist exactly when the Blaze may need it – Pietrus in particular made a habit of scoring massively important goals almost at will last season). There’s also the experienced Brits in Russ Cowley and Ash Tait, and the massively underrated two-way winger that is Ross Venus.
This is a forward group light-yeats ahead of that assembled the past two years. More importantly, it’s one assembled with an actual purpose in mind.
That makes it potentially very dangerous indeed. If Danny Stewart can do what Chuck Weber, Marc Lefebvre and even Paul Thompson have failed to do the past five years or so and get a forward group playing as a cohesive unit every single night, then this is a very good group indeed.
COACH – Danny Stewart (1st season)
Stewie is just what the Coventry Blaze have been crying out for since about 2013 – a coach fully committed to the idea that his team lives and dies by the example the coach sets. He has served his apprenticeship with distinction in Newcastle and Fife, and now is his chance to bring the club he served so well as a player back to the heights they reached while he was doing so. He is a passionate, thinking man’s coach who will work night and day to solve problems and more importantly, can treat people with respect while having absolutely no time for politics, bullshit or impressing anybody by stroking their ego-two qualities the Coventry organisation sorely needs. He just wants to win. Anything else is a failure.
PREDICTED LINES – FORWARDS
Matt Marquardt – Brett Robinson – Jordan Pietrus
Bjorn Bombis – Darcy Zajac – Robin Bergman
Ashley Tait – Russ Cowley – Ross Venus
Garrett Klotz – Liam Stewart
PREDICTED LINES – DEFENCE
Jim Jorgensen – Marc Cantin
Shawn Boutin – Josh Godfrey
Kevin Noble – David Clements
Danny Stewart’s first Blaze team could be the team Blaze fans have been promised and not delivered for several years – one that’s just as comfortably winning games the hard way as it is the easy way. With a defence much-improved from last season, Brian Stewart should be able to use his talent with repeated tough saves only when necessary as opposed to on every single opposition foray into the zone, and that top line in particular looks like it has a lot of potential goals in it. This is the best-looking Coventry team in some years-one that looks capable of a far better season display than that delivered by peaking for a four game lottery in late March and early April.
The Blaze media and fans have love to talk about how they’re delivering a “bigger and better” team than years past, and promise that it’ll be a challenger for trophies.
This year, Danny Stewart may have done what previous coaches have failed to and delivered a team that’s actually worthy of that rhetoric.
By drawing upon one of the shining stars of their past, the Blaze have finally given themselves a believable promise of a much brighter future in 16/17