This Ain’t A League, It’s An Arms Race (And Other Things We Learned This Week)

It’s Monday afternoon, so it must be time for a look at what we learned this week in the EIHL, Chasing Dragons style…including Mac Faulkner, why the Blaze are like riding a giraffe down a waterslide and the beginning of NHL Top Trumps:

Sometimes It’s Not The Result-It’s How You Get There.

On the face of it, a one point weekend is a disaster for a hockey team.

But somehow, when that team’s this season’s Coventry Blaze, it doesn’t seem so.

After the short-benched hockey they’ve been playing recently looked to catch up with them on Friday against Nottingham, the Blaze came back on Sunday and delivered a performance that showed just why they’re far more popular in Coventry at the moment than the last two or three teams could hope to be.

They care.

Pulling back from 3-1 to 3-3 with a goal in the last minute brought back the kind of roar that hadn’t been heard in the Skydome for a good few years, possibly even when the last time Blaze won something. That title winning team was all very well but it didn’t have the instant likeability of this one-the fun factor of watching them, short-benched or not, is almost off the charts.

Many people are running around talking about team-spirit, pride and all the usual things-I even wrote a whole post on the same thing a week or two ago. But since then I’ve come to a new conclusion as to why people all over the league like this Blaze team so much.

There are a lot of people who talk about skill being a big thing at games-but to me the likes of Nottingham and Sheffield are hockey’s equivalent of beige. Nice and all, but a bit…well, unmemorable. They just complete a set of tasks each week with no emotion whatsoever. So do Nottingham. It’s got no emotion…no “sound and fury” about it. Watching them play is like being at an accountants’ Christmas party-all the expensive pieces are there to have fun but somehow they just…don’t.

Watching Coventry this season, meanwhile, is like riding down a massive SUPER HAPPY FUN waterslide. While naked. On a giraffe. Sometimes you’re not quite sure why things are happening or what’ll happen next, but all you know is that it’s TREMENDOUS fun. And likely to involve craziness.

If you asked Sheffield or Nottingham to remove a tooth the same way they play hockey, they’d take you to a state-of-the-art surgery, they’d pull out a hi-tech dentists drill, and quickly and efficiently do the job. And it’d all be a bit sterile and boring.

On the other hand, you get the sense this Coventry team would go “sod all that health-and-safety bollocks, this’ll do the job”,  pick up a bloody big hammer and smack you in the face with it, before giving you a plaster, emitting a satisfied sigh and going “job done!”

They don’t have any pretensions to “pretty” play-this Blaze team just want to get the job done any way they can. Preferably simply, and with the maximum amount of sound and fury while doing it.

And that’s an attitude that’s going to bring fans in win or lose.

This Ain’t A League, It’s An Arms Race

Get your NHL Top Trumps out, everyone. After Nottingham ran around getting all excited over the signing of Carolina’s Anthony Stewart last week (a player who, true to Nottingham form, has been described by NHL writers as “having all the tools to be a star but none of the work ethic” thus making him a perfect fit for any Corey Neilson team), they’ve been blown out of the water by…um…Braehead.

Today the Clan have announced the signing of Detroit Red Wing Drew Miller, brother of the best goalie in the USA Ryan Miller and holder of not one but two Stanley Cup rings at the age of 28. Miller is an NHLer coming into his prime, not one just past it or a fourth-line grinder with possible work ethic issues. This is a third-line player who the Red Wings are looking to give an increased role in the future and step up to fill the gaps left by their aging core in a year or two.

In short, this guy is REALLY bloody good.

Now there are rumours of three more NHLers coming along in the next week-you can bet Sheffield will be after one as (possibly) will Belfast, Coventry need players too but don’t necessarily have the budget, although former Steeler target and AHLer Adam Henrich seemed to be a popular name on fans’ lips at the rink this past week.

I get the feeling that with the first month or two of the NHL season already cancelled, Miller is not the last NHLer to arrive-expect a couple more in the next week or two.

Goalies Optional Part I

Story of the weekend? Definitely Edinburgh’s goalie woes. With starter Tomas Hiadlovsky still banned for a kicking incident against Hull a few weeks ago, and Craig Holland injuring himself, Edinburgh used Billingham Stars’ James Flavell on Saturday. Flavell did pretty well against Braehead in his first Elite League start…I’ve seen him play many times in the NIHL/ENL for Whitley and Billingham as part of my role commentating on the NIHL Blaze, and my partner Chris and I have said he should move on to better things. It’ll be interesting to see if Flavell takes the step up now…work and study commitments have apparently been the only things stopping him doing so up until now.

However, as Flavell was needed by Billingham on Sunday the Caps travelled up to Dundee without an actual goalie.

Realising that this was something of a issue and might impact on their chances of winning the game, they called in SNL goalie Kevin Forshall at short notice, and he led the Caps to a penalty-shot defeat against Dundee.

Frankly, the fact the Caps got a point out of this game proves that it doesn’t matter who’s in net and where they’ve played before, as long as the puck hits them more than the back of the net. Good on ya, Mr Forshall.

Goalies Optional Part II

On Sunday night the Blaze were 3-2 down against Cardiff at the Skydome with a minute to play and a faceoff in the Cardiff zone. They pulled Peter Hirsch, and everyone in the Skydome thought they knew where this was going.

There was the expected goal, but it was at the wrong end…a fizzer of a slapshot from Mike Bayrack to take the game into OT.

Just proof that sometimes, pulling the goalie does work. Even if the Blaze lost in overtime, they’re a point better off.

Dude, You’re Faulking Awesome.

I’ve mentioned the play of Mac Faulkner before on Chasing Dragons. The Cardiff forward has come in and torn up the league at a torrid pace, scoring nearly two points a game (and just over a goal a game). The game winner against Sheffield on Saturday and the third goal against Coventry on Sunday took him to 13 goals in 11 games-five ahead of his nearest rival.

He’s not the flashiest of players, Faulkner. He just does the basics incredibly well, over and over again. Shielding the puck, finding space and being in the right place at the right time to put the puck home, just like he was at the back-post to jab home a rebound on Sunday. Sure, this type of game may not have the flash and bang of some others in the league, and two-way centres aren’t the players who’ll be up on billboards all over the league even if they are scoring leaders, but next time the Devils come to your rink, watch the big number 11 from King City, Ontario. He’s almost flawless-and there are several much more heralded players in the league who could learn a lot more from him.

He really is making watching Cardiff fun right now.

Big Spending Doesn’t Equal Big Returns.

…at least not in the EIHL this season. For proof of that you only need to look at the current top-scorers table, which probably doesn’t make for hugely enjoyable reading if you’re a Nottingham or Sheffield fan. The top three current points scorers in the league run Mac Faulkner (Cardiff) followed by Sami Ryhanen and Mike Wirll (both Dundee). The much-vaunted (well, in the expert opinion of Dave Simms, anyway) Cory Pecker isn’t in the league any more, and the only players from the supposed “big three” in the top ten are Ashley Tait (Sheffield) at 6th and Daymen Rycroft (Belfast) at 10th.

There are a Cardiff Devil, two Dundee Stars, two Coventry Blaze, a Hull Stingray and a Fife Flyer in the top ten as well as a Braehead Clan member.

And, perhaps funniest of all considering the hype thrown around their attack, no Nottingham Panthers. The first one of those is “best player in the league (unless you’re Dave Simms)” David Ling at the dizzy heights of…um…16th.

Here is a video representation of what this trend, along with Sheffield’s cutting of Cory Pecker, has done to the predictions of…well, pretty much every Sky pundit in the EIHL:

The most surprising name in that top ten is perhaps Janis Ozolins of the Stingrays, a player who was probably instantly dismissed by many as a cheap makeweight signing. The little Latvian scored for fun in the EPL last season and is fast turning out to be one of the signings of the summer, with wonderful hands, speed and the kind of swagger that’ll see him pull off special penalty shots (search for highlights of his penalty shot vs the Blaze a few weeks ago if you don’t believe me). And it’s not often you say that about a Hull Stingray, is it?

The Drew Miller signing has inspired another post on the great work done by Kirsty Longmuir and the Braehead Clan, but that’ll appear tomorrow. For now, that’s your lot.

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