This Fire Burns: Why This Blaze Team Is Something Special

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.

Catching Up: Comebacks, Controversy and New Arrivals

Due to Internet issues Chasing Dragons has been a little quiet over the past week or so. Now, with the Internet fixed, we catch up and consider signings, comebacks  and also why adversity is the best possible thing that could have happened for Coventry hockey right now. Settle in…it’s a long one.

End Of The Line?

Lste last week, it was revealed that Mike Danton’s visa appeal had been rejected after a Blaze fan posted the news on Twitter along with screenshots of personal conversations he’d had with the player.

As of now, the next move is unclear, with both sides waiting for the reasons for the rejection before proceeding. But it seems that the likelihood of Danton pulling on a Blaze jersey is still in the balance.

Blaze on the (Bay)rack

Aside from letting off a MASSIVE Twitter drama bomb on a Friday night, what this news did was mean the Blaze had to act quickly to ease fan concerns, and they did, bringing in former Belfast Giant and Braehead Clan forward Mike Bayrack.

This is a superb signing. As one of the KGB Line along with Jordan Krestanovich and Jade Galbraith last year, Bayrack tore up league defences at times-if he can repeat that form and click with a very talented set of Blaze forwards it could be another happy hunting ground-especially if he pairs up with the Leeb brothers, who are beginning to show some of their serious talent and heating up in a fashion that could be ominous for the rest of the league.

Neilson Hits The Panic Switch

Nottingham Panthers, meanwhile, have reacted to their poor start to the season as everyone expected…they’ve thrown money at the problem in the hope it’ll go away. Corey Neilson hopes that he’s found the solution to the Panthers’ early-season woes in the considerable size of Carolina Hurricanes forward Anthony Stewart, who is the first locked-out NHLer to sign in the UK this time round. Stewart is here initially on a three-month visa, and will make his debut this weekend in the nice, tranquil surroundings of a Sheffield-Nottingham match. In Sheffield.

Well, no-one said he’d come over for a holiday.

Predictably, this signing has caused joy in the Panthers camp and annoyance everywhere else, although the “who can stop the Panthers?” rhetoric has been dialed back a bit this time round-they’ve learned from the last lockout that signing NHLers does not necessarily mean success. We’ll see what effect Stewart has on waking up fellow “star” David Ling, who has been characterised as “lazy and uninterested” by Panthers fans for his performances so far this season.

Night Of The Living Dead (Comebacks)

This last weekend in the EIHL was perhaps the best indication yet of  how close the EIHL is this season. We saw both Belfast and Nottingham come back from horrible starts on Sunday and Coventry secure a battling point in Fife as three out of the five games saw comebacks of varying degrees-the night before Sheffield had taken a 3-0 lead against Nottingham before being pegged back to 3-2.

The comeback teams had varying success, with none of them taking both points (Nottingham lost in OT, Belfast and Coventry on penalty shots)-but the mere fact that these games went right to the final buzzer after one team built a seemingly uncatchable lead shows that there is no shortage of grit in the EIHL this season.

Flying High

Fife’s mercurial start continues too as they come away from another weekend with four points-the Flyers are playing some seriously exciting hockey this season so far with Bryan Pitton one of the emerging stars in the league. It’ll be interesting to see if they can sustain this as the season goes on, though…

That’s the league news caught up on. Expect normal (ish) service to be resumed now…

Numbers Mean Nothing (and 4 Other Things We Learned This Weekend)

Here we are again on a Monday evening, and it’s time, once again, for Five Things We Learned In The EIHL This Weekend)

1. It Ain’t How Much You Got, It’s How You Use It

The bare statistics show that the short-benched Coventry Blaze suffered this weekend, taking one point from four possible against Sheffield thanks to an OT loss on Sunday. The bare statistics show that the team suffered from a short bench. The bare statistics show that this was not a successful weekend.

However, in winning that one point on Sunday, the 2012/13 Blaze did something special. In my eleven years of watching EIHL hockey I’ve rarely seen a more gutsy, backs-to-the-wall, sheer bloody-minded performance. Missing three imports and their top British forward and facing a Sheffield side with the top Brit Pack in the league and two more imports, the Blaze dug in and traded blow-for-blow, hit-for-hit and goal-for-goal for 62 minutes of all-out war with a team that was supposedly far stronger than them, before finally losing in OT. In doing so, they proved once and for all that the brief era where Blaze teams would roll over and die has gone, and signalled a return to the type of Blaze hockey the Skydome knows and loves.

This is definitely a group of players that is revelling in the role of the underdog. And that will breed the kind of siege mentality that will win games they have no right to win over the next few months.

2. Fife Are The Real Thing

Sure, Braehead fans will point to still missing two import players, including Jade Galbraith, as the reason for their 5-1 tanking by the Fife Flyers on Saturday night. But everyone else in the league (if they’ve got any sense) will start taking this Flyers team very seriously indeed. After a narrow loss to the Blaze last Sunday, two wins in the Northern Conference show that, in my mind at least, the Flyers should seriously be considered as a threat for the Gardiner title. They aren’t a team of stars just yet but they’re built strongly and Casey Haines looks like a rough diamond already. Look out, EIHL…after a torrid first season back in the top flight, the Flyers are a team to be reckoned with.

3. Hype Is Over-Rated

Four games into the league season, and Nottingham fans have gone from their excitement at David Ling and Bruce Graham to already questioning their commitment to the squad. Ling in particular has come in for some serious stick on The Cage after appearing to look “uninterested” on both Saturday and Sunday. Martin Tuma and Jason Beckett are already on the fan hot-seat also, while Ling, far from “ripping up the league” as Dave Simms and other experts predicted is currently lagging behind the likes of Jade Portwood in Edinburgh and Sam Smith in Coventry-players who you’d expect wouldn’t be in the same scoring timezone. It may be early in the season but if the reports are true and he’s showing all the get-up-and-go of a eunuch’s genitalia, then how long will Ling last?

4. Mac Faulkner Is A Bona-Fide Beast.

Five points last weekend, another five this week for the big centre from King City. He has seven goals already, three ahead of his nearest rival Matt Francis (Nottingham), and is currently scoring at a rate of nearly 3 points a game in Cardiff.

While it’s ridiculous to assume that this rate of scoring will continue, the flying start made by Faulkner clearly shows that he is most likely going to be the linchpin of the Devils’ offence this season.

In fact, if you were in a punning frame of mind you could say he was Faulking awesome.

(tell you what, that’s one hell of a hashtag, Devils fans…)

5. Not Everyone Improves At The Same Rate

While the EIHL has undoubtedly got bigger and faster this season, on early season evidence the refs haven’t moved with them.

I’m all for letting the players play, but the game has got bigger and faster over here this season and so far, the officials appear to be struggling to deal with it at times-some of the decisions that have been made in the early part of the season are curious, to say the least.

Hopefully this is just a case of refs getting back into the swing of things and we’ll see an improvement. The product on the ice is becoming more exciting on early evidence this season all around the EIHL, and the officials are a big part of making sure that while it’s fun to watch, it’s also safe for all concerned, too.

Social Dysfunction And Trash Talk: Why The EIHL Needs To Toughen Up

So, it’s another wonderful Friday in the British Elite League. Another quiet day of preparation for the weekend’s games, professional media releases, and no controversy whatsoever.

Sorry…did I say “no” controversy? I meant “yet more”.

Remember the EIHL social media policy, which was meant to step in and professionalize the game a little more after some abusive tweets back and forth between players and fans (particularly Cardiff’s Devin DiDiomete and Coventry fans, neither of whom have particularly covered themselves in glory over the incident). Remember DiDiomete’s tweets to Mike Danton referencing his past?
Well, Cardiff played Hull last night. After the game DiDiomete was (to be fair to him) getting some stick from Hull fans for not taking on their enforcer Ryan Hand. There were plenty of possible targets for a response, something which Devin is not exactly backwards in coming forwards in doing. However, his one tweet picked a female fan, and said this:

You (twitter name) are what we call a shovel face,it looks as if someone took a shovel and hammered your face with it. #ShovelFace”

Classy indeed. But under the current EIHL policy, allowed.

Also allowed is the ongoing Twitter war between the “voice of British hockey” Dave Simms and DiDiomete. Which is a mix of bad personal insults and the odd innuendo, all faithfully retweeted by Devils/Steeler fans. Pretty sure there aren’t many other leagues where the main media “face” is allowed to exchange petty snipes with one of the players AND the player’s allowed to fire back with personal jibes about weight and appearance.

Then there’s this article in that well known paragon of impartial reporting, the Sheffield Star, which pretty much threatens physical retribution against an opposition player (Coventry’s Brad Leeb in this case). Let’s analyse it, shall we?

Arena supporters will not have forgiven (Leeb) for sucker-punching crowd favourite Jason Hewitt two weeks ago.

Hewitt – who may have his own statement to make at centre ice – suffered a broken nose in the attack from behind.

So, what we’ve got here is a statement of a sucker-punch (which happened-fair enough) followed by a) a hint that Hewitt will seek to gain revenge in a fight (the language is carefully worded, but any hockey fan reading that will know the inference) and a reiteration of Hewitt suffering a broken nose.

The same “broken nose” that was unprotected by a cage or full visor when Coventry took on Sheffield the night after the incident.

Following that, there’s an admittance that any revenge attack would be at least implicitly approved of by coach Ryan Finnerty:

Coach Ryan Finnerty probably wouldn’t be surprised if there was some element of retribution when Coventry return to the Arena tomorrow (7pm.)

Swiftly followed by a blatant covering of backsides:

But any personal score to be settled comes down the team’s list of priorities, he says.

Of course.

One paragraph later, though, the article all but admits that there’ll be a good chance of a fight off the opening faceoff:

Asked if Hewitt would be in a starting line up with gloves ready to be dropped, Finnerty replied: “We’ll see…”

So far, we’ve had veiled hints of retribution that are basically saying “WE’RE GOING TO GET BRAD LEEB BUT WE CAN’T SAY IT PUBLICLY!”

Then, just in case the message hasn’t got across, Dave Simms chimes in, as is the law when Sheffield are involved:

“Whilst I am sure not one of our players will openly say that there is to be some retribution, I think Brad Leeb will end up having to pay the price for his actions this weekend.”

Well done, Steelers. In one sentence you’ve tried to regain the high-ground and then tumbled off it by all out saying “REVENGE IS COMING! WE’RE GONNA GET YOU, LEEB!

So basically, in the past two days what we’ve had is an EIHL league player attacking a female fan on Twitter, followed by a team official saying in an official media publication and RTing on Twitter that his team will be planning on targeting an opposition player for revenge.

That social media policy-working well, isn’t it? Fairly sure that had a similar article appeared in the press saying one Premier League player would be looking to “send a message” to another, with quotes about hard tackles and that kind of thing, the FA would be considering disrepute charges.

I’d be interested to see what’ll happen if (heaven forbid) Brad Leeb is actually injured this weekend as a result of a Steeler players’ actions after the coach and media official have said in not so many words that he’s got a massive bullseye on his back as far as they’re concerned.

(The Blaze, meanwhile, have chosen to focus on the issue of the team’s injury struggles in their hype ahead of the weekend, avoiding any mention of previous events such as Hewitt’s vicious check from behind on Steven Chalmers which started the whole Leeb melee in the first place. Good on them for not being drawn into the war of words Sheffield clearly want)

I’m fairly sure (well, I hope) this article is merely harmless posturing, the like of which we see in leagues all over the place (although in the NHL or other leagues they’re usually fined for it). But even if it is, it throws up an issue in British hockey.

When I’m calling games, I have to be VERY careful what I say because a) the Blaze are conscious of how it’ll reflect on them and b) I, too, am conscious of professionalism. Sure, I’ll go near the knuckle sometimes, but as far as I’m aware I’ve never actually crossed it on air-and this blog, like all the others, is very carefully worded to get my point across without actually crossing the line. I’ve learned the hard way what happens when you let your mouth run away with you in public forums, even if your original point might be solid.

It seems that the Blaze are far more conscious of their public image than some other teams in the league.

Right now, someone in the EIHL hierarchy needs to have words with teams and players, and remind them that, while hype is a good thing, articles like this are the kind of thing that just make teams look a little silly at best, and liable to accusations of premeditated violence at worst. Not exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a supposedly professional league and media outlet-nor from the supposed “voice of British hockey”. At least not if the sport wants to be taken seriously in the wider world.

Tell you what, though. If nothing else, this weekend’s double-header should be interesting…

Midweek Musings: Awards Anarchy and Merch Meltdowns

A few midweek thoughts on the Elite League:
If in doubt, we’ll pick a Brit, lads. If not in doubt, we’ll still pick a Brit anyway“:

The first Elite League Player Of the Week award has been given out, and, like most things the Elite League do, it’s caused a little debate. Coventry Blaze’s Sam Smith gets the award for three assists over the weekend in the Blaze’s two wins over Dundee and Fife. A good performance indeed, and fair play to Sam for being selected.

However, I can’t work out the thinking of the EIHL (I know, it’s a novelty for this to be the case). Cardiff’s Mac Faulkner gets a natural hat-trick against Sheffield on Sunday, assists twice the night before in a Devils win IN Sheffield, scores a penalty shot and still doesn’t get considered.

In EIHL maths, a five-point weekend is seemingly less impressive than a three-point weekend.

The award has been greeted with confusion by many, with Devils fans (naturally) sticking up for their guy, neutral fans around the league going “um…did the awards people actually SEE the games this weekend” and even Blaze fans going “hm. That’s something of a surprise”.

Sam Smith was impressive on Sunday night at the Skydome, landing several big hits, assisting on two goals and generally being a valuable asset to the club on the ice. He had a very good weekend and will doubtless be in the running for many POTW awards this season.

But again, EIHL stats people-FIVE POINTS AND A NATURAL HAT-TRICK. Sometimes, the decision is almost too easy to not mess up.

Or at least it should have been.

“And here we see the first piece of the Blaze 2012/13 clothing collection…what every well-dressed fan is wearing”.

Presented without any comment, this is British hockey moving into high-fashion…a must-own for fans of big no-nonsense d-men everywhere:


Nice. Personally I’d have put a question-mark and quotation marks on the “wanna go?” but there you are.

What d’you reckon?

(you can tell it’s been a fairly slow news week so far, aside from Steven Chalmers signing full-time as expected. Mike Danton has tweeted that he’s expecting to hear from the UKBA any day now on his visa appeal, so let us hope for a good outcome. Good luck, sir).

Reinforcements Coming?

NOTE: I should point out here that I know nothing from an “inside” perspective, and am purely reacting to the news that a Blaze player on a two-way contract has left his EPL club.

I was going to save the discussion over Blaze’s injury crisis for tomorrow, but it appears that they may be already taking steps to solve it.

We’ll be looking deeper into the possible solutions tomorrow, but a brief thought for now:

The EPL’s Telford Tigers have posted a press release confirming that their defenceman Steven Chalmers has left the club.

So why is this of any relevance to Blaze blogs, you ask?

Aside from the fact that Chalmers is (was) on a two-way contract with the Blaze, not much.

The 20 year-old Scot has looked impressive for the Blaze in preseason, showing a calm beyond his years when given a regular shift. The press release also mentions that the 5’11, 185lb native of Kirkcaldy has had offers from several EPL clubs.

Given that Fife are still a little short on their roster import-wise, and Chalmers is a local boy, they may be looking to tempt him back up to his home town team (for whom he’s interestingly never played a senior game, as it happens)

He’s also a former member of the Braehead Clan and a Dundee Star from last season, so you have to figure they’re two of the clubs who may be in the running.

But with the Blaze short on bodies thanks to injuries to Jerramie Domish and Russ Cowley, both of whom do (or in the case of Cowley can) play defence, Paul Thompson may have moved quickly to get Chalmers locked up on a full-time contract.

Chalmers’ thought process will be key in this decision-does he want to go to Blaze and risk ice-time diminishing greatly when Domish returns, or will he return home to Scotland with the potential to become a much more important contributor? The fact that Fife are running five very useful dmen right now may preclude his joining of the Flyers, but Braehead are a body short on defence too and Chalmers is a former Clan member-they’re also local to the player’s home, and would probably be the most logical choice for him if returning North.

 

This could be another example of the Clan sneaking in under the Blaze’s nose to sign one of their players, as was done with Rob Farmer earlier this offseason. The fact that Chalmers is a Brit will also impact Braehead, as it means they will fill their defensive spot and have an import slot open to either strengthen their defence further or add even more firepower to the forward lines, which could make it a VERY astute move by Clan’s coach Jordan Krestanovich.

. But with the Blaze short on bodies and the Clan, too, needing cover on defence, this has come at a very interesting juncture early on in the season.

Why We Were All Wrong About The Gardiner Conference (& 4 Other Things We Learned This Weekend)

The regular season is now off and running in the EIHL, and with that comes the chance to see players tested in the heat of battle under “proper” game conditions. And also the chance to have every pre-season thought, prediction and “educated” opinion well and truly thrown out of the window.

Here, in what will be the first of a weekly series, are Five Things We Learned in the EIHL This Weekend.
1. We were all wrong about the Gardiner Conference.

Remember how everyone said that Braehead would run away with the “northern” EIHL conference and Fife, Hull, Edinburgh and Dundee would just be making up the numbers? Remember that time we thought that the Erhardt teams would “run all over” all of the Gardiner Conference?
Well…the evidence so far says otherwise.

Saturday night, Braehead beat Belfast 3-2. Yup-that Belfast-the one that was supposed to pretty much destroy the Erhardt, never mind the Gardiner. Dundee pushed Coventry all the way, finally losing in a shootout. Even supposed whipping boys Hull pushed their aristocratic Panthers neighbours (the ones who have David Ling so according to a few commentators should be given the trophy now) hard before going down 4-2.

On Sunday, meanwhile, Fife came down to Coventry and lost 4-3 in a pulsating game that required a moment of magic or two from Brad Leeb to win it, while Edinburgh (yes, that Edinburgh who were supposed to be making up the numbers) beat the “Gardiner powerhouse” Braehead.

What we’ve learned this weekend is that teams in the Gardiner not named Braehead are a lot closer in ability to the Erhardt than some have thought. Sure, defenders of the South will doubtless point to Coventry missing players through injury, early-season bonding, or any other argument they can find to say that this was just a blip.

But on Sunday night the Fife team I saw was one that was light-years better than last season’s, much more organised, much more hard working and, but for a sloppy first ten minutes of play, could have been walking out of the Skydome with at least a point. Don’t forget that three of the five Gardiner Conf teams, too, still have imports to come in-if they can do this while short of some of their top players, then there’s no reason to suggest they can’t do the same when all the teams are at full-strength too.

Maybe this weekend has made a few EIHL spectators take the supposed “mickey mouse conference” a bit more seriously. Because based on the evidence of the scores and my first look at Fife (supposedly one of the followers in the Gardiner) they really should.

2. Shea Guthrie being given the C in Coventry has made him better, not worse.

After a relatively quiet pre-season, a few Blaze fans were already starting to wonder if Shea Guthrie’s game would be affected by his being given the “C” this season.

Sunday night was a clear indication that, far from being a problem, Guthrie’s new letter is an inspired decision.

Last season, the Carleton Place, ON native carried the Blaze on his back for long periods offensively-a state of affairs which no doubt led in no small part to his being rewarded this offseason. After a quiet few games, Blaze fans on forums were still unsure whether it would have a positive or negative effect on his play.

On Sunday, their questions were answered. Guthrie was a force of nature. In the first ten minutes, he scored the opening goal, landed several big hits and forechecked like a demon, causing the Flyers to cough up the puck more than once. This was a player who had clearly decided that the letter on his chest placed a responsibility on him to lead by example, and he looked like a player reveling in his new role all night long.

I was amazed this morning to see Blaze fans criticising this new Guthrie, arguing that his place was “scoring goals” and that he was “trying too hard”.

Sorry, people…but think about this for a second.

If you can come up with ANY logical reason why a player expanding his game to encompass all aspects of it, leading by example and showing just how hard he’s prepared to work is “trying too hard” then I’d love to hear it.

If not, just enjoy the new, even-further-improved Guthrie. Because he will be a bigger player than ever for the Blaze this season.
3. It’s always John DeCaro’s fault.

At least if you’re a Sheffield fan. The Steelers goalie came under some stick after Saturday’s loss to Cardiff for inconsistent play in the net-stick which hasn’t fully gone away despite Sheffield rebounding to beat the Devils on penalty shots on Sunday night.

DeCaro’s never been a goalie that’s looked fully convincing at the Skydome-he appears to be one that benefits from a solid defence in front of him more than being a genuine matchwinner. But there are five players in front of him who have an equal influence on the game-if they’re letting shots through, then DeCaro will likely let a couple of bad ones through due to law of averages. If he starts doing it once or twice a game, Sheffield, then you can criticise. Until then, remember he was part of a team that took you to third in the league last season, so he can’t be that bad, all things considered.

4. Mac Faulkner, not Devin Didiomete, is Cardiff’s new star.

All the offseason focus in South Wales has been on Devin Didiomete and his Twitter antics, but now the season is off and running it’s centre Mac Faulkner who’s very quickly come to the fore. The native of King City, Ontario has none of the off-ice glitz, glamour and sheer mouth of his team-mate, but he’s going to be far more dangerous to opposition goalies this season along with his partner-in-crime Chris Blight. A hat-trick against Sheffield on Sunday followed two assists on Saturday as the big centre gave Sheffield’s defence a torrid time. Didiomete, meanwhile, came up with one assist but a whole lot of mouth as his ongoing Twitter war with Dave Simms continues-a war which frankly makes both of them look a little silly.

5. The hockey starts here:

Sure, pre-season games are fun to be at purely because it gives both fans and players a chance to get back in the routine, get a first look at both their new team-mates and new opposition, and it signifies that the long, tortuous summer days with too much sunshine and not enough ice (except in drinks) are gone again…

But there’s something about the first home game where points are actually on the line. There’s a buzz around the rink that doesn’t hang around even for pre-season games-the warm-up seems a little more focused, the rink lights seem a little brighter and even the sound of the skates seems to be a little louder, never mind the crowd. The hockey season has finally truly begun again.

From here to April, every game will mean something, whether it be Cup battles, league points or playoff victory. Judging from the looks of the first weekend, there’ll be more surprises, controversy and discussion than you can shake an Easton S19 at.

Which is great for us commentator/bloggers, of course.
There’s your five lessons from this weekend. While you’re around, why not have a look at murphonice.com and skybluehockey.com-blogs by my Blaze TV partners Aaron Murphy and Stuart Coles. Both of them are well worth a regular read…

Chasing Dragons will be back tomorrow considering the Blaze’s reaction to yet another injury over the weekend…