Shadows On The Wall: How Chuck Weber And Coventry Are Running Out Of Excuses, And Hoping No-One Notices

And now the clocks are running, but no-one knows where the time goes.
And though the spotlight’s stunning, it’s only shadows that it shows!”

Amos Lee: “Lies Of A Lonely Friend”

Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity”

Will Smith

It was all supposed to be different for Coventry this season. After the struggles under Marc Lefebvre last year, Chuck Weber managing to motivate his team to win four games in the lottery that is the EIHL playoffs (including a final against a Sheffield team that didn’t so much soil the bed as have an explosive attack of diarrhoea all over it) suddenly had him crowned a coaching genius. Over the off season there was all manner of talk of “a new approach” and “a process”. There was talk of “scoring depth” and “balance” and “accountability” that practically had the Blaze fans eating out of Chuck Weber’s hand.

Anybody who pointed out flaws in the squad was hushed. “IN CHUCK WE TRUST” became the kind of mantra usually only chanted in cult meeting rooms. The extent of brainwashing and sheer certainty that THIS TEAM WON’T FAIL got to the point where the Skydome might as well have had a massive picture of Chuck Weber’s face hanging over centre ice and the Two Minutes Hate became a required part of each pregame warmup, there was so much of a personality cult being built*.

*I exaggerate, of course. But not massively. If you don’t get the reference, google George Orwell sometime.

However, the reality has exposed the flaws in Coventry for all to see so far this season. A team that can’t score (9 goals all year, the same as Sheffield’s Tyler Mosienko has by himself.), can’t run special teams (Coventry have the 9th best PP and 8th best PK in the EIHL-a culture that sees open players alone in the slot look to pass rather than shoot because nobody wants responsibility and repeatedly leave opposition forwards in the kind of position that seems so good you’d yell “IT’S A TRAP” at it in a movie, & look like a team that has no strategy ideas beyond “hope Brian Stewart plays out of his mind”.

In short, they’re like last year under Marc Lefebvre…except a whole level of magnitude worse.

Another team that have started far below expectations are Braehead. The Clan are another team whose high-powered offence is failing to score (they are, in fact, the second-lowest scoring team in the league.) The reaction in Braehead has been pretty strong, with Ryan Finnerty admitting that the whole organisation needs to get better, himself included, and that the current state of affairs is simply “not acceptable”.

Bear in mind that Braehead have scored DOUBLE the amount of goals Coventry have this season…and this is a cause for the coach (who, let’s not forget, some in the EIHL have held up as a poster boy of someone who’ll blame his players) to come out and say “we need to get better. Much better

We also have examples like this coming from the Clan camp – of players already publicly taking responsibility for the poor start. This is Chris Holt after Clan’s loss to Edinburgh last Saturday night:

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Meanwhile, in Coventry we have talk of “the process” and “some guys not pulling their weight” week after week. We also have members of the organisation making pleas for “patience” and promising “things will come good”…

Incidentally – Holt’s first game after that tweet was a 49-shot shutout. In Coventry. The same Coventry that had promised that they’d “find a way”

Someone once said about promises “collect promises in one hand, pick up bullsh*t with the other and see what gets full first”

That’s not a lesson learned in Coventry, though…even today we have sponsors writing “opinion pieces” like this that are, essentially, one long yell of WHAT YOU ARE SEEING IS NOT REALITY sprinkled with a few drunken anonymous “player quotes about how everything was crap until Weber came and then ALL THE PROBLEMS WE HAD WERE FIXED last year in an attempt to paper over the cracks.

The thing is, the Blaze crowd have seen this stuff before, repeatedly. They’ve heard the same rhetoric before – and many are refusing to listen already, with players and the team effort getting savaged most weeks on Twitter while a tone-deaf organisation continues to respond to 4-0 hammerings at home with “enjoy the game, Blaze fans? BUY TICKETS FOR NEXT WEEK!”

This week we saw the next stage in the Teams With Stuff To Fix playbook…the Scapegoat. Last year it was Rory Rawlyk, this year Chris Lawrence is the sacrificial lamb leaving the Blaze with insiders hinting that there were “issues” between him and the coach, or that the other players on the team didn’t like him, or that he “didn’t buy into the system”. In fact, “buying into the system” has become some sort of rallying cry among the Blaze fandom, who are convinced that all it needs is a set of players used to playing offensively but not to being go-to goalscorers will suddenly become magically adept at tight, defensive hockey. There’s still a refusal to question the recruiting of a team that basically flies in the face of everything that Chuck Weber was “supposed” to be about, nor the fact that such a “star motivator” seemingly can’t get a team he recruited (or at least was recruited on his instructions – either way, someone in the Blaze organisation isn’t doing their job properly) to buy into a system-something the Blaze have all but admitted in saying some players “can’t execute the system”

At the moment, the Blaze organisation’s refusal to accept the truth of what’s going on in front of them and continued insistence on “process”, “time” and tight-lipped adherence to the message even as fans are seeing it for what it is (PR posturing) smacks strongly of the Cardiff Devils in 2013/14. The ghost of Paul Ragan and Brent Pope is seemingly alive and well in Coventry at the moment.

It is, of course, ridiculous to say that a season can be defined in October. However, the tone can certainly be set, and right now the tone Chuck Weber an Coventry are setting (ironically for a team who spent all of last year talking about “changing the tone” is…well, bloody awful, & not just rewarding mediocrity but defending NOT reaching it. The mantra last year was supposed to be “OK is not good enough”. This year it’s “OK is what we decide it is, and it’s FINE”.

The next few weeks are massive for the Coventry Blaze. It’s only October and already they’ve used all the weapons they have – the carrot “it’ll get better, promise” and the stick (cutting players to try and set an example).

It may only be October, but the options are already limited for Chuck Weber and Coventry…improve by December, or keep trying to pretend everything is OK and there’s no fire even as the house is burning down around them, like the dog in the famous “THIS IS FINE” cartoon beloved of the Internet in such situations.

After all – even the most devoted fantasist (and there are certainly a few of those in Blazeland) can only fool themselves for so long.

The shadows on the Skydome wall are growing, and there’s only so much the Blaze Ministry of Truth can do before they become too big to ignore.

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