It’s a Wednesday night at the Coventry Blaze Skydome. We’re settling down in Crosby’s bar for a meet and greet with our new coach. The bar is fairly full and everyone seems eager to hear what Danny Stewart has to say on his future with the Blaze. The pints are flowing and everyone seems in good spirits as I settle on the floor at the front to listen and capture the words of wisdom and encouragement that he is, without doubt going to heap on us in droves.
Within minutes, everyone is completely enraptured. The quiet and whispered conversations that had been going on have died off and all eyes and ears are on Danny, hanging on his every word.
This isn’t the first time that Stewart has been with the Blaze, it’s been six years since he’s been here under a Coventry contract but just listening to him talk about not only his four years with the Blaze but also his years since his departure, it is clear to see for all of us, that he is happy to be back and eager to get started.
Back in 2010, Stewart left the Blaze for the now defunct Newcastle Vipers. It was a struggling organisation at the time of his arrival and within a year it folded. He had nothing but good things to say about his time there, highly praising the players for their effort and determination to try and go out on a high note. In particular he mentions that he had taken on a coaching role and while the franchise was struggling he learned a lot about all aspects of what it meant to be a head coach, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
He recounts a particular evening when the Vipers took a terrible 15-0 loss against the Nottingham Panthers. As Stewart climbs on the team bus, he is met with a wall of silent apprehensive players who are clearly expecting to be yelled at. Instead, having asked if he could take a couple hundred from the raffle money from earlier in the night he takes the guys to Hooters. His somewhat unconventional tactic for helping the guys over the loss appeared to have worked as they came back to win their following game. When asked by interviewer Stuart Coles if he’d be up for implementing that kind of team bonding exercise with the current Blaze roster he replies “Depends on the situation I guess… If it calls for it.” Long story short they came back to beat the Panthers the next time 6-5.
He stayed with Newcastle for a year before moving to Fife. He says that those two years, with Newcastle and his first with Fife, were some of the hardest he’s been through but two years in which he learned so much but it was a particularly steep learning curve.
Stewart claims it was the potential of Fife that kept him there for so long. He could see how it could be and that only made him more enthusiastic to stay with the organisation and see them grow. He discusses the resurgence of ice hockey in Scotland and how with Fife’s huge (at the time) fan base other teams were able to get together the money from home games playing Fife to bring in better players. With the whole conference going from strength to strength and the rivalry between the Braehead Clan and Fife becoming a big puller for fans. The team only went from strength to strength while he was there, getting into the playoffs in four out of the five years.
This past year, has seen the birth of his first child in October leading him to consider retirement in place of a more permanent role on the bench. He had had many offers from a few different places, including a job in Dundee and also being Paul Thompson‘s assistant coach at Sheffield. He got a call from the Blaze and after making it very clear that no, he didn’t want to be playing anymore discussions began and Stewart couldn’t be more excited with this new chapter in his life.
Stuart Coles can’t help but chuck a hypothetical question at him. “It’s December, we have two guys injured and another suspended, are you going to put the skates on? Or are you going to ask Jim Peasey [James Pease, the Blaze’s Director of Community Hockey] to put the skates on?” It makes the whole room laugh and Danny quips that he’s been asked this a few times and that no, he’d rather dress the Blaze’s mascot Scorch before asking Peasey! On a more serious note he adds that in that situation it’s even more important to have a man on the bench to manage guys minutes.
We are excited to see what happens in the next season and with only a few days now before the first game; one thing is clear.
HOCKEY SEASON IS ALMOST HERE!
Keep a look out for Part Two, coming soon!
Author Twitter: @freiheit_1989