Adversity. They say it breeds champions, but funnily enough, no-one, fan or player, ever goes out at the beginning of a hockey season and says “y’know what? I want it tough. Do ya worst, Fate…MAKE US EARN IT!”
Of course they don’t. We all know what the traditional cycle of events is when a sports team suffers a run of bad luck.
Fans start to mutter about “curses”. Coaches come out with that old excuse “sometimes you just don’t get the breaks”.
The old clichés are trotted out about “staying strong” and “taking it one game at a time” in pre-game talk after post-match-interview.
In fact, when the injury bug bites or Lady Luck decides to talk to the other guy at the bar counter night after night, most of the time, that has a detrimental effect on the morale around a team or the thoughts within it. The whispers of doubt start to rise unbidden in the back of minds-however quickly shushed they might be. The excuses keep flowing as people convince themselves that it’s just a blip and we can ride this one out.
You can sense it around a team when you’re involved with them, however peripherally. I’ve seen it happen at times over the past few years with the Blaze. The music seems a little quieter, people are a little less noisy at the rink, and the warmups seem a little less purposeful.
The killing thing, though, is watching a team react when this happens. There is no worse feeling than seeing a team in a bad-luck streak go a goal down and feeling the wave of discontent sweep the arena and settle over everything like an invisible grey blanket of fear, discontent and, most painfully, resignation. Seeing an arena react to a team in this situation is often like watching a Gulf Coast town prepare for a hurricane, as the organisation collectively hunkers down and hopes merely to weather the storm without too much damage.
Oh, Christ. Batten down the hatches, folks. Time to hide and ride this one out.
However, just occasionally, the reverse happens. As injuries sting and the hockey gods keep throwing bolts of misfortune, a tingle sweeps through the air as somehow a team decide with a collective will that they’re not going to hide from the storm, but stand up and scream into the wind:
Come on then, hockey gods. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.
It takes a rare group of men (and or women) to do that. It’s not a decision that can be made by one person or even a decision that’s explicitly stated, but it’s shown in the actions of every member of the team, from the first-line forward to the back-office staff.
And when it happens, it’s a rare and wonderful alchemy-the kind of thing that can win a team a championship some say they have no right to.
Ladies and gentlemen of UK, hockey…be afraid. This Blaze team has found that formula., and the evidence is everywhere,
Sign 1: In the opening pre-season game Mouth Of The South (Wales) Devin Didiomete met Benn Olson in a scrap that was relatively unremarkable as a fight in itself (Olson won), but notable for the reaction of the rest of the Blaze bench.
They were roaring Olson on all the way, stood up on the bench and stepping in to back their team-mate up.
Sign 2: The first games v Sheffield saw captain Shea Guthrie lay down a marker for his team in two performances that saw him fly round the ice like a bat out of hell, setting the kind of example that doesn’t so much encourage team-mates to follow as challenge their manhood if they choose not to. Sure, a weakened Blaze (already missing d-man Jerramie Domish) lost the home game after winning the away game the night before but the message was already beginning to get through.
We may be outnumbered, but we’ll never let ourselves be outgunned.
Sign 3: In the first home league game against Fife it was new arrival Brad Leeb’s turn to take the initiative, as he returned from a three game suspension for a sucker punch against Sheffield in the away PS game and scored twice, including the winner mere seconds after he’d returned from taking a penalty for the powerplay which gave Fife a late equaliser. And another message was sent loud and clear.
If you mess up on this team, you make damn sure you make up for it. This is what we do.
Sign 4: As injuries mounted, young players brought up from junior and lower levels played (and continue to play) out of their skins, not least Dale White, who last season was playing mainly NIHL hockey and now has earned a regular shift on the Blaze’s third line, scoring his first EIHL goal against Sheffield two weeks ago.
Sign 5: Devin Didiomete returned to the Skydome last Sunday in the wake of Mike Danton’s visa refusal, having loudly mocked the team and Danton on Twitter. The Blaze fans hoped for retribution. The honour of their club was being called into question. The Blaze family was being attacked.
Benn Olson stepped up and made himself responsible for revenge. Five minutes into the home game on Saturday he dropped the gloves to dance with the Devil once again and left him battered like a Scottish Mars bar. Later that same game he took on another challenger, Tyson Marsh, and won. His celebration, mimicking putting on a heavyweight title belt, said it all.
Take the team on, you take me on. And don’t expect to win, either.
The Blaze fans have responded to this already. Watching the players interact on Twitter or on the ice you can see that this is a group already moulded into a unit and ready to go into battle. An elite unit in which everyone knows their roles.
From “Big Bad Benn” Olson providing the muscle to Mike Schutte prompting attack after attack to “the Silent Assassin” Brad Leeb providing the rapier-sharp attacking edge.
From Mike Egener’s implacable calm on the blue-line to the darting forward thrusts of the quicksilver Greg Leeb or the no-nonsense straight-up/straight-down rushes of Dustin Cameron.
From the snap and snarl of Gerome Giudice to the steady goaltending of Peter Hirsch or the youthful energy of the Brit Pack.
This is a team that has very quickly worked its way into the hearts of Coventry hockey fans in a way that few teams have since the Grand Slam year of 2004/05.
A team that, as the marketing slogan has it, will Bleed Blue.
Injuries or not, there’s a buzz around the Skydome right now on every hockey night, even this early in the season.
And everywhere the posters, the players’ efforts on the ice and the whispers in the Skydome air say the same thing.
We. Are. Blaze.
The dragon is awake, Elite League,
And it’s getting stronger all the time.