“It is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning”
Winston Churchill, to the House Of Commons after British victory at El Alamein, 10th November 1942.
A fulcrum is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “a point about which a lever or thing turns” . Every hockey game has one – that pivotal moment which decides the outcome of the game. They’re even measured, statistically…why do you think hockey counts “game tying” and “game winning” goals as a key statistic?
Seasons, however, are a little more difficult to quantify. It’s a lot harder to look back on a 54-game EIHL season and point to a game, a decision or a moment upon which you can hang the statement “that decided what our season was going to be”.
But the turning points are there, always.
We may have seen such a turning point in Coventry on Sunday night, as the Coventry Blaze – a team which have left their fanbase well-acquainted with the emotions of disappointment and anger over the past few seasons as well as brief moments of joy – produced what was by far their best performance of the season to demolish a lacklustre Cardiff Devils side 4-1.
Taken purely as one game, it is easy to claim this game was an isolated outlier for a team that have only won 5 EIHL games so far this season – the exception rather than the rule. It is also easy to look at the league table – one that still shows the Blaze bottom of the EIHL by three points (although with a large number of games in hand on the Manchester Storm above them) and wonder about just how important one flash of excellence among a whole pile of mediocrity will be-whether or not this game had all the unexpectedness of one stray diamond falling from a muck spreader.
But if you were inside the Skydome on Sunday night, you’d have noticed that there was something a little different in the air. The chill late-November wind blowing through the rink seemed to stir more than just stray hot-dog wrappers and discarded 50-50 tickets.
If you listened REALLY carefully during the Blaze game, you might have heard the dragon that lives in the Skydome turn over in its season-long slumber and stir a little.
The atmosphere seemed to anticipate this, for a start. There was an air of expectation around the Skydome even before the opening faceoff-but unlike previous occasions it was clearly visible in the players on the ice, too. As the players settled in for the opening faceoff, you could see it in the slow lean forward and intense stare of Boris Valabik, the nervous, twitching fingers of Carl Lauzon on his stick shaft, and the way Brian Stewart settled into his crouch.
Then the puck did drop, and the Coventry Blaze team that the Skydome crowd had been promised all year seemed to finally make its long-awaited arrival.
From the first minute, something was different. This Blaze team were the same players we saw outclassed by the Manchester Storm last weekend, but they also were not. They seemed faster, more agile. Harder-working. More like one organism than the disparate group of individuals that had tried to find a connection in rinks all over the country and indeed Europe up to this point and failed.
You could see it in Lauzon’s passing – always excellent, but on this night almost supernaturally good. You could see it in the Blaze defence, led by Jim Jorgensen, functioning in the way Chuck Weber had always intended, harrying the skilful Devils forwards and never giving them an inch of space. In the way Boris Valabik looked calm and assured both on the puck and in the way the Devils never seemed quite able to meet his eye in the general area of the Blaze net. Or the way that Brian Stewart almost contemptuously repelled any Devils effort, kicking out perfectly-directed rebounds with authority and rarely giving the Devils a second chance-including a fine save on a Chris Culligan penalty-shot.
But most of all you could see it in the way the Blaze flowed back and forth up the ice as a five man unit rather than individuals. The way that they appeared to work as a hive-mind to deny the dangerous Devils any truly threatening scoring chances.
This was a team that was performing in a way to give even its most vicious critics this season pause for thought. Including yours truly.
Then, eventually, this work and endeavour was justly rewarded by a Neil Trimm finish of supreme arrogance on a two-on-one – a finish that showed all the confidence he and other Blaze forwards have been accused of lacking so far this season – one that put the Blaze into the lead going into the final twenty minutes.
Remember we talked about fulcrums earlier? This game had now found its own. Previously, with a team like Cardiff, the Blaze would have somehow let the concentration slip and given the opposition a way back into the game. Had they done so here, this would be a very different article indeed.
But instead, a long hard clearance from Lauzon ricocheted off the boards, and was rifled into the net by Drew Fisher. The howl of joy from the Coventry public was a deafening banshee wail of euphoria rising to the heavens. And the lever began to turn.
Moments later, Lauzon found the net himself with a sweet shot, the roar of joy was louder still, and suddenly, the Blaze were 3-0 up – a lead that Cardiff never came close to challenging in the following 15 minutes or so.
Afterwards, the smiles round the rink told their own story. Wherever the Coventry team the Blaze management had been promising their public since the start of the season had been hidden, they had arrived.
Now, the Blaze have finally, unequivocally shown their public, and indeed the rest of the league, what they are capable of when awoken-and done so in fine style.
A third of the way through the EIHL regular season, as the calendars flip to December, this may have been the game that flips the Blaze season around. The fulcrum around which fortunes in Coventry can turn for the better.
Not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.
The hockey gods clearly have a sense of humour, as the next chance Coventry will get to show that things are finally changing for the better comes with the added opportunity to pile more pressure still on a former Skydome hero. Sheffield visit the Skydome this Saturday as a team that has failed to hit the heights promised by management so far this season-promise that saw them confident enough to sack a league and playoff winning coach.
Now, Sheffield return to Coventry for the first time in league action facing a team that will be expected to show that last Sunday wasn’t the exception, but the start of a new rule in the West Midlands.
There have been several occasions already this season (four, in fact) when Blaze have had this opportunity-and invariably they have taken the first step and then simply failed to build upon it-the latest being the 6-3 win against Braehead which was followed by that abject performance against Manchester.
Against a Sheffield side struggling a little for consistency themselves, the Blaze have the perfect opportunity to show that this time the change is for real…to force the lever of their season around another notch and start the long climb back from the basement, while at the same time throwing a spanner into the cogs of Sheffield’s.
Opportunity, despite being turned away several times, is once again knocking loudly at the Skydome door.
Coventry need to answer it just like they did against Cardiff-for now, they’ve shown the ability that’s lurking, and the dragon has shown signs of waking. Do so, and their season will likely start to turn around faster still. Fail, and all the good work done on Sunday may well be lost.
It’s all about finding something and using it as the pivot to turn everything else around.
That’s what fulcrums are for. The question is – have Blaze finally found theirs?
And more importantly – will they use it?