The Coventry Blaze ‘Meet The Players’ night on Thursday 23rd gave a fascinating insight into the team for the upcoming season.
It has been a year and one day since the last team took up their sharpies and spent the evening crammed into Crosbys bar at the Skydome. Whilst in many respects, the evening was the same, but there was something different this year.
To give some context to this, I should give you my impression of the evening last year. As tradition dictates, the dragon inflatable was dusted off and inflated, Ed Kimberley sliding around on the ice (masterfully), the players come out with a wave when their name was called, and then the 100+ people cram into the bar for a chance to speak to the team and get their jerseys signed. However, there was an air of nervousness last year, players fresh on UK soil the day before seemed quiet and in a sense nervous. Though who wouldn’t be with hoards of fans desperate to say hello! Speaking to players last year gave the overall impression that there was an excitement for the season and that they were looking forward to been on the ice. Players standing with each other, backs against the walls and chairs.
However – this year seemed different. It was busier, for a start. The players though, seemed energized, or ignited (pardon the pun). Even from the point they were introduced onto the ice, there could be seen laughter and joking going on off ice before they come on. Players doing the Dele Alli hand trick as they are come onto the ice. There was even a huge round of applause for Head Coach Danny Stewart, seeming that some fans had put the “Danny Out” saga from mid last season behind them. Speaking to Ed on the ice about how the new team are doing, Danny said “Early signs are positive, we have got a little younger and a little bigger, so far so good and its still early days , but I like what I see. The guys are picking things up quick, and seeing a lot of positive signs” and on the energy coming from the dressing room; “of course, there are a lot of new faces, guys new in the country, coming in with an open mind, excited to take in the culture along with the unknowns of the league.”
The feeling in the air in Crosbys was so different from last year. There was laughter. Players were confidently approaching fans away from each other having conversations rather than just general “Hi how you doing”. It seemed relaxed. It seemed excited.
The players I had the opportunity to speak to gave a great insight into their approach to the new season.
Speaking to forward Ben Lake, a fan favourite after his performance last season seemed like a new person, full of confidence and raw determination. He seemed to be very well rested after the summer break and very keen to get back to work. After asking if we would be seeing him with an A or even a C on his chest this season, a chink in his professionalism shown and with a bashful look on his face, confirmed it was definitely something he aspired to.
Catching Alex Nikiforuk, and asking how he felt to be back on the ice and in Coventry, a smile spread across his face, and confirmed he was excited to be back, though he (hopefully!) jokingly said he is hoping he has stuff left in the tank! When questioned what benefits he felt bringing his excellent to the proud of career credentials to the team would bring, whilst he looked proud he avoided the question to say he was really pleased with the energy in the team, and thinks its going to really surprise some of the bigger teams who see us as underdogs.
Following my interview with Ross Venus at the start of the summer when he was just getting his teeth into the New Zealand Ice Hockey League, it was good to catch up with him. He is certainly glad to be back and felt that he had been able to keep in shape whilst playing for fun, something that he had really enjoyed.
Last minute signing Miika Wiikman, taking the space between the pipes from Nastiuk, was happy with the vibe in locker room, there was some really good laughs and seemed like the team was really bonding quick. He was glad to be on the Blaze side of the ice this season, but was cautious about how strong Belfast and Cardiff this year.
Last but not least, I briefly spoke to Trey Lewis, the new Defenseman. A cheeky smile from beneath his flat cap gave me the impression we would be seeing him making mischief on the ice. Asking how what he was looking forward to, laughing, he explained, that he is excited to be playing fortnight with his Playstation owning housemates Venus and Ferrara! I think we will be seeing a lot of Trey Lewis this season!
As well as the traditional evening, there was the announcement that firm opposition fan favourite, Kevin Noble had been named as Player/Assistant coach.
There has also been much discussion on who the fans think will be wearing the C this season, with some thinking Lake, Ferrara or Venus, and some thinking the experienced Nikiforuk could bring his knowledge of the game to come in as an wise Captain. I would be interested in your opinions in the comments below!
I left the evening truly relieved to have not experienced the same Meet the Players evening as I had the year before. This year, the players are exited, eager and hungry for the season.
The full roster for the 2018/19 Blaze;
20 – Miika WIIKMAN – Goaltender
1 – Jordan HEDLEY – Goaltender
7 – Trey LEWIS – Defenceman
51 – Chris JOYAUX – Defenceman
56 – Kevin NOBLE – Defenceman
58 – David CLEMENTS – Defenceman
28 – Justin HACHÉ – Defenceman
33 – Nicolai BRYHNISVEEN – Defenceman
59 – Ross VENUS – Forward
91 – Kelin AINSWORTH – Forward
92 – Shawn PAULY – Centre
9 – Ben LAKE – Forward
14 – Alex FORBES – Forward
18 – Dillon LAWRENCE – Forward
19 – Luke FERRARA – Forward
21 – Jake HANSEN – Forward
22 – Alex NIKIFORUK – Forward
27 – Kevin MORRIS – Forward
And you can watch the whole presentation here;
Feature Picture: Scott Wiggins http://www.scottwiggins.co.uk @srwiggins
N.B Paquette removed from the list following his departure after the Meet the Players night.