Category Archives: #LightningStrike Magazine

Meet The Opposition | Guildford Flames Liam Stewart

Coming into the Elite League in the summer of 2016, Liam Stewart made an instant impression on the fans of the Coventry Blaze, both on and off the ice. As the son of Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter, he’d been in one spotlight or another for a lot of his life. He was born in London, but because of one thing or other ended up living in Los Angeles with his mother.

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Finding ice hockey at a young age, he found himself training and learning with the Los Angeles Junior Kings, a team he still supports to this day and I asked him about how he felt it set him up for his career thus far. “The LA Junior Kings system was obviously great. The coaches I had growing up taught me a lot and I’m obviously very grateful for that! You see the players coming out of California now and especially the Jr Kings program, so that says a lot about the organization!”

From the Junior system in LA, Stewart went to the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. As a fresh faced youngster, the LAJK system had begun to shape him as a player, but with youth on his side he was still very much willing to learn, adapt and grow as a player. Here, he spent five years and as you can often see from twitter, he gained a very loyal bank of followers who still check in on his games and support him. I asked him about how he felt that it shaped him as a player to be in one team for such a long time. “Yeah, I spent 5 years in Spokane so a lot of the credit goes to my coach Don Nauchbaur. Then to everyone else at the Chiefs organization for helping me grow as a person first off, and then a player.”

With his move firstly to the Coventry Blaze in 2016 and subsequently to the Guildford Flames in the summer of 2017, I was interested to know how he found the hockey in the UK, compared to the WHL in America. “As for comparison it’s hard to say because the ages are only from 16-20 year olds and in the EIHL you have 17-35 year olds.” Understandable that it might be difficult to compare the two. “But the skill level in the WHL is very high and a lot of kids get drafted to the NHL out of the WHL.” He also had a little bit of possible advice for the Sheffield Steelers Liam Kirk. “I personally think a guy like Liam Kirk should give it a shot over there so he can be compared to playing against the best kids his age. Think it would be really good for him.” He offers. Sound advice and maybe worth a thought?

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Liam has made quite the impact with fans, both young and old and not only of his own team either. Does he think he’ll stay here for the foreseeable, or consider playing somewhere else? Stewart laughs, perhaps he’s been asked this question before? “The fan base around the UK is probably the best I’ve ever seen… a lot of respect to the fans out there and thank you for all you guys do! As for staying in the league obviously I would love to but I also want to try and explore other leagues/places! It’s really whatever feels right is where I’ll end up!

With this being the first Elite League season for both Guildford and Milton Keynes, I asked whether he felt that Guildford had something to prove in their first season in the top league. With Guildford very much in the picture for a playoff spot, I asked whether he was feeling any kind of pressure to prove themselves. “Yeah for sure! I think both sides have proved that they will stay at the Elite League level for years to come! Guildford is exceeding expectations I think and hopefully we make a push for/in the playoffs!”

Back in December, I traveled down the M1 (and slowly around the M25..) with other Lightning fans to see the two clash at the Spectrum. Stewart made quite the impression on both home and away fans. It was a pretty harsh defeat for the MK Lightning after an extremely late start to the game, with Jordan Headley stepping into the crease in the third period. That night Stewart scored a hat-trick, including a penalty shot. I asked him about it and whether he planned on doing it to us a second time. He laughed. “I doubt it, I only get a hat-trick every three years or so!”

Keep an eye out for Stewart on the ice, at the moment he’s back in the United States recuperating from a concussion sustained earlier in the season. We look forward to seeing what the future has in store for him and with any luck, we will be seeing him return to the EIHL in the Autumn.

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From the Pen of an Unbiased Fan

November 5th, Skydome Arena and I’m back in block 7. It’s my old stomping ground here, where I started out, cheering for the Steelers in 2015. Only this time I’m cheering on one of my favourites, Miika Wiikman and the rest of the MK Lightning.

Now, let me tell you. In the three seasons that I have been an EIHL fan I have cheered for most of the teams. I love the Elite League, there are no underdogs here. Any team can win on any given night

From the first game I was drawn to the netminders. Firstly, it was Tyler Plante of the Sheffield Steelers and then Brian Stewart, formerly of the Coventry Blaze and now playing for the Guildford Flames.

Last season, while playing for the Nottingham Panthers I found myself drawn to our starting goalie Miika. It was only after watching a good few games and with the rise of my own blog Chasing The Puck, I decided I wanted to interview as many of the Elite League goalies as I could. I wanted to try and break down some of the long held beliefs about them. Namely, that goalies are a bit weird and get to know the men behind the metal cages. Those guys who defend our pipes.

I find watching a goalies play fascinating. They have a way about them that no other outfield player has. Be it the pre-game preparation of Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby or the steely concentration caught on camera by the most talented of the league photographers or the slide – side to side across the goal line – to gauge the distance and the range of movement they’ll need or even the tap of the stick off each post before play begins. There is something I find truly mesmerising.

From Coventry to Cardiff, Belfast to Braehead I have yet to find a goalie who wasn’t open and honest about the pressures they feel when on or off the ice. Whether that be Wiikman discussing the importance of good coaching in his youth or Brython Preece discussing the scary move away from home aged 15 to go and join the Ontario Hockey Academy.
I have interviewed players of all nationalities and each have their own unique style of play that I believe it differs depending on the place they got their training.

I have spoken to eight different goalies in the EIHL, although Mike Clemente, Stewart and Wiikman all come to mind, especially when ‘knocking off the nets’ comes up on a fan forum on the web.
I asked Miika about it after a particularly heated debate on facebook. He sends me a laughing emoji and tells me that only twice in his career has he knocked the net off on purpose. Later the same evening, after the game he played (in which the net came off it’s moorings a couple of times) he tells me I must have jinxed it!

My own personal feeling is this; I believe it depends on the style of play. If a goalie has trained in North America and Canada, their style of play is such that they can lean more on the posts as they are deeper into the ice there than they are in our own league. It’s the nature of the way they are brought up and this possibly could explain why the American Clemente and Canadian Stewart, are considered to be the worst offenders. Though a recent incident with Clemente and a dive at his own goal could definitely be considered deliberate!

Away from the ice, these guys are family orientated. Clemente for example comes from a large family of six boys so he says family time is so precious. He’s also the goalie that spends much of his travelling time napping, reading or eating. Learning to sleep in noisy places is a valuable skill, probably learned while trying to sleep back home in a busy house.

Cardiff goalie Ben Bowns talks about his dog Stitch, who comes to the arena and is fussed by staff and players alike. Stitch loves nothing more than his time in the dressing room. He’ll even get grumpy if Ben walks the long way around so as to avoid the dressing room!

Gary Russell, told me how as a youngster he had a serious Irn Bru problem and likes his tea, Yorkshire style, with milk and two sugars. His celeb man crush is David Beckham and the first thing he picks up after an away game? A piece of pizza! If you meet Moose in a bar, don’t buy him a beer. He doesn’t like how it tastes. Instead buy him an apple juice and ask about his cats.

You learn really interesting things about each player if you ask the right questions. Nothing is too silly or too obvious. I have laughed and joked with a fair few of them. To say that interviewing them has brought me confidence as a journalist would be an understatement. Goalies are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and it’s why they will always be my absolute favourite.

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This article was originally published in the December issue of MK Lightning’s matchnight program and has been republished here, with permission, now the magazine is no longer in print. All images are my own other than the photo of Ben Bowns, which belongs to its rightful owner and has not been used here for profit in any way.