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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.