IT’S fair to say that it has been a summer of change for Coventry Blaze with only five players returning to the club from last year.
With no-less than 13 new faces taking to the ice this pre-season, many fans wondered how long it would take for the Blaze ‘class of 2018/19’ to gel.
With pre-season now completed, there is plenty of promising signs for Coventry with a roster full of hungry players, who want to bring success back to the SkyDome Arena. Both Miika Wiikman and Jordan Hedley have shown to be very reliable between the pipes.
However, Blaze still seem to have a tendency to lapse defensively, as it proved away to Cardiff – where they gave up four goals inside a period. And then, against the Lightning at home, they looked comfortable before conceding two goals in six minutes, which bought the game level.
In a change to last season, though, Blaze scored the game winner through a most unlikely source with defenceman Kevin Noble lighting the lamp.
Against Amiens, Blaze looked a threat from the first face-off with newly appointed captain Kevin Morris putting his side ahead, and then Shawn Pauly doubled the lead.
Whatever Coach Danny Stewart said to his team during the first intermission, it didn’t seem to make any difference. Once again, they conceded four goals inside a period for the second time in three games.
Coventry were sloppy when in possession of the puck, particularly in the neutral zone with only Wiikman saving them at times.
Offensively, though, they looked very good. They put the French side under severe pressure during a five-on-three powerplay in the third period. And just as that powerplay expired, the Blaze got their reward, as they came within a goal of the away side.
The second outing against Gothiques d’Amiens was a much feistier affair than game one. After a goal-less opening period, Blaze once again made silly mistakes in the second, conceding two goals in space of three minutes.
Stewart’s side seemed to be scared to shoot when on the powerplay, and it felt as if they were worried about giving Amiens any breakaway chances after making costly mistakes in the previous game.
And despite Brit Luke Ferrara scoring on the rebound in the third, it looked as if the visitors would head back across the channel with back-to-back victories.
However, this new Blaze team built by Stewart has a gritty, never say die attitude as they turned the game on its head in the final moments of the game.
Ben Lake levelled the score with just over a minute remaining, before Morris popped up with the game winning goal 11 seconds later. Defenceman Justin Hache, then scored an empty netter with the visitors chasing the game.
If anyone wondered whether a rivalry would develop between Coventry and Milton Keynes after spending a season in the same league, the answer would be yes judging by the final pre-season fixture at Planet Ice MK.
Much like the previous encounter at the SkyDome, this game was filled with penalties in what was a bad tempered affair.
With Blaze 4-0 down before the halfway mark, captain Morris tried to ignite his team into action by stepping up to scrap with Eric Neiley.
It seemed to do the trick as, Alex Nikiforuk and Jake Hansen both scored to make it 4-2 at the end of the second.
Sadly, the visitors continued to concede penalties which killed off any chances of getting back into the game.
Overall, the signs are good for the Coventry Blaze with a young and hungry side. Morris looks like a natural leader – who can score goals and has the ability to defend his teammates if and when needed.
It’s going to be a big second season in a Blaze jersey for Ferrara – who judging on his performances in pre-season; is looking to build on what he achieved last year.
One player to look out for this season is American forward Jake Hansen – he caused lots of problems for opponents in pre-season with his speed and good hands.
Will the ‘class of 2018/19’ be able to bring success back to Coventry like many have done over the years, well, only time will tell.