Archive: March 10 – Greg Chambers

Another archive post originally published in Ignite Magazine.

Greg Chambers is currently the third highest points scorer in the Elite League. His role on Coventry Blaze’s ‘Basingstoke line’ is irreplaceable and his passing has been compared to NHL quality by coach Paul Thompson.

Unfortunately, in February we Blaze fans have missed out. Chubbs was out of action for four games due to an ankle sprain. I spoke to Chambers after his first game back, an important 6-4 win over Belfast.

“I skated in warm up and it felt pretty good” he explained. “Then it started getting sore as the game went on. I’ll just keep going through the pain barrier. In this sport there’s going to be injuries, little knocks, stuff that takes a while to heal. Every team goes through it, when one of the guys goes down on our team, it’s followed someone else pretty soon.”

As we speak Chubbs’ ankle is wrapped in ice, but it doesn’t seem to bother him as he talks about his eagerness to get back into the swing of things. “It was just something Thommo’s been talking to me about. He wanted to know even if I could just come back and play a little bit. Play powerplay, and if I could help out the team in any way.”

“It’s very frustrating, you see it a lot different from being up in the stands. You see all the little things you can do and the little things that go wrong but at the end of it you just want to be healthy and get back and help out the team.”

With one goal and one assist, Chambers certainly helped us out with Belfast, despite not being fully fit.

“Belfast being one of the top teams in the league, they were gonna bring it at us and I think everyone responded really well tonight” he said. “Every player contributed. A few more wins and hopefully we’ll win the trophy soon.”

It’s fair to say February was a rocky month for Blaze. The night before our crucial win over Belfast we lost to bottom placed Hull Stingrays. Throughout the year it’s been proven any team really can beat any team but Chubbs didn’t seem too worried.

“There’s been a few games where we’ve played lower teams in the league and the results haven’t gone our way. At the end of the day, you come into the rink on a match day, you come to play hockey so you’ve just got to put that behind you and hopefully get the form back together.”

“You know all year long there’s going to be a little mistake here and there, but you’ve just got to bounce back.”

With a locker room full of guys aiming for the top Greg was confident Blaze’s form will return. But I wanted to know why his line with Owen and Cruikshank, works so well.

“It’s just chemistry from three and a half years together. We’re lucky when Calder went down Brad Cruikshank was available to step in for us right away. It was a move that was great for the team. You know all the little things, you know if someone has the puck, you know where the other guys go to get open. If he’s open we’re just gonna give each other the puck and hopefully it’ll work out for us.”

Since joining the Blaze, Greg has seen his hard work pay off with some great results whereas at Basingstoke it was hard to reap the rewards.

“Being top of the league, I haven’t been there for a long time. It’s definitely a step up. It was a long two years, those last few at Basingstoke. It’s just one of those things where if you settle somewhere for a while you just take the bumps with the bruises.”

Although Thommo narrowly missed bringing Chambers here last season, he didn’t make the same mistake again.

“The deal was done last Christmas time and I just tried to keep it quiet until the end of the year. With all the problems we had with a few of the owners there they pretty much told us it was going to be the last year in the Elite League. Everyone knew there were going to be job opportunities somewhere else for some guys, fortunately I was one of them to come here.”

For Chambers the differences between the two clubs are clear, both on and off the ice.

“The main thing is the organisation. It’s the best organisation in the country to play for. You talk about British ice hockey, one of the team names that comes up is the Coventry Blaze.” He went on to explain what attracted him to the side.

“Over the last ten years they’ve won the most trophies. Everything about them from the guys in the room, to the coaches, the trainers, the management, the owners, everything is just first class here.”

“It’s definitely the place to play in the country and so as long as I’m in the country I’ll try and be with the Coventry Blaze.”

Playing for Blaze this year has allowed Greg to concentrate on what’s happening on the ice rather than worrying what’s happening behind the scenes.

“You come in, you’ve just got to play your game. A few of the other clubs you’ve got to worry about everything, from little things beyond the rink and all that. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

So close to the end of the season, Greg and the rest of the team only have one thing to worry about now – to make sure it will be Blaze lifting the trophy.

Archive: Feb 10 – Dan Carlson

As featured in Ignite Magazine.

Dan Carlson is the type of player any coach would dream of signing. Hard working, dependable and consistently a great all round player, he’s one of the key guys you need when putting together a team aiming for the top. As fans, we expect a lot and Carlson is someone who delivers. Week in and week out we watch him on the penalty kill, winning face offs and racking up the points.

In his five seasons with Blaze, he’s been there to lift the league trophy three times but success hasn’t gone to his head. Speaking after Blaze’s 6-1 win over Hull Stingrays at the end of January, he seemed quietly confident about the rest of the season.

“At the end of the day, it was a pretty straightforward result. We played a solid game, didn’t give them any opportunities and took advantage of the ones we got” he said. “We’ve been a bit up and down so it’s nice to win. This weekend we’ve put in two solid performances so hopefully we can carry that over to next weekend.”

After a few patchy results in January, a couple of decent wins saw Blaze return to the top of the table. Carlson explained what Thommo has been grilling the team on to ensure they stay there. “One of the things we need to focus on is playing a full 60 minutes. Other games, we’ve played well for a period or two periods, then sort of let it slide a little bit.”

Nonetheless Dan has still had some great form the past few months. The fans have shown their appreciation in the form of December’s player of the month award. And since then he’s still been chipping in with the goals and assists. Full of praise for his teammates, Dan was pleased with just how many players are contributing to the score sheet. He knows it’s hard to take advantage of chances against us, especially with Peter Hirsh in goal.

February is an important month for Blaze. Unfortunately having been hit with the injury of Adam Calder, Carlson explained the impact of losing your captain at such a crucial time in the season. “Obviously, it’s tough, you can’t really replace a guy like Calder. Consistently scoring goals for us and he’s good on the powerplay. But we’ll certainly try and make do.”

With Brad Cruikshank as a replacement, it certainly seems better than just making do and Dan seemed happy with the new guy’s first weekend in blue.“It’s always a little bit different to come to a new club but I suppose you adjust pretty quickly. You don’t really have a choice.

“From the look of it Cruikshank’s going to contribute to the team. He’s a good player and he played well for us this weekend. He’s played with a few other guys before so that always helps, sort of eases him into it.”

Carlson doesn’t give too much away during the interview but his ambitions couldn’t be clearer. “I’d like to say I see us at the top at the end of the year, obviously that’s our goal so hopefully it’ll happen. I think if we keep playing well then we’ll be there. It’s tight right now. It’ll come down to us, Nottingham and Belfast and hopefully it’s us that’s making the push to the end of the year. Right now, both of them are chasing us and I’d like to stay in that position, definitely.”

I get the impression he doesn’t spend too much time analysing his game, preferring to just get out there and do what he has to do to win.

With the club celebrating ten years in the city, he did, however share some proud memories from his time here.“You see the level of professionalism has increased over the years as we’ve grown as an organisation. We’ve got great fan support, I can never complain about that. The grand slam would be hard to top, my first year here. And then back to back league titles is pretty impressive as well.

“It’s hard to defend, look at Sheffield, they managed to make a push last year and win it. This year they’re struggling at the bottom of the table. It’s hard to maintain that high level for two years in a row.”

Coventry are a club determined to succeed and even a second place finish last season was a defeat for Carlson. “We weren’t at the level we expected and I guess that was a little bit of a letdown” he said.

Hoping to make up for it this season, however, he has silverware firmly in his sights. “Again, the goal is just to keep winning trophies. To stay in the position to at least give us a chance to win. Obviously it’s hard to do, it’s getting more and more competitive every year.”

I ask him how long he expects to stay here for. “I don’t know, good question. I’m sure Thommo would ask the same thing!” he laughed. With that I left him to catch up with some of the old faces from the Blaze who were hanging around the locker room. He assured me it wouldn’t be a big night out, but I’m not so certain, not with Tasker hanging around.

Archive: Nov 09 – Weaver

Another article for Ignite magazine.

Since signing from Newcastle Vipers in 2007, Jonathan Weaver has experienced real highs and lows with Coventry, from league success to play off failure, Weaver has been in the thick of it.

The 32 year old defenseman might not be Blaze’s longest serving player but there’s no doubt of his commitment to the club. Coach Paul Thompson is full of praise, describing Weaver as the best player in the league right now and lucky for us, he’ll be sticking around until 2012.

Right now, however, Jonathan is concentrating on the season ahead, and he’s optimistic about our chances. Speaking after October’s 5-2 win over Sheffield he explained the importance of the game.

“It’s a huge win for us. They’re a team who are going to be there at the end of the season so to get the wins against them early is key. They lost a lot of good guys from last year and that’s going to upset the balance of the team but we know come the end of the season they’re going to be strong.”

So far Blaze have achieved three wins from three league games against Sheffield but Jonathan knows the road to league success is long and difficult.

“If we play like that every game then there’s no reason why any team in the league should come near us. But we’ve got to bring that kind of edge in, that kind of focus every game, which sometimes we don’t.”

Blaze have already felt defeat at the hands of Sheffield this year, after losing 3-2 in last month’s 20/20 HockeyFest. Although it wasn’t an ideal result, the tournament was followed by some big wins over Sheffield and Nottingham, and a more consistent form throughout October.

With the new format and slightly different rules of HockeyFest, the team didn’t know what to expect beforehand.

“It was kind of a shot in the dark before we went,” Weaves said. “We just went up there with the right attitude, worked hard and played solid. It took us right to the final and obviously when you get that far you want to win but we played well.”

Jonathan explained why a consistent performance is vital for Blaze’s chances and why every point counts: “The last three or four years there have been two or three outstanding teams. This year, it seems like any team can beat any team so all that’s going to do is compound the league, bring everyone closer together and it’s going to be a lot tighter come the end of the season.”

With the squad gelling together and playing as a team, Weaver is confident Blaze have what it takes to consistently win and grind out the points needed to finish top in March.

“We’ve got a great set of guys who all get on in the rink and away from it. That’s key to a successful squad” Jonathan said. “The new guys have come in and slotted in really well. It’s a happy place to be.”

And how is he finding his partnership with Jason Robinson?

“I played with Robbo in Newcastle for a while, we complement each other. He’s a big tough stay at home defenseman, I like to get to the puck and move it up. So we play off each other and it seems to be working alright.”

According to the stats, more than alright, actually. With 14 assists Jonathan Weaver is ranked fourth in points for Blaze. Some good form he credited to a summer spent in extra training.

“I’m getting a little bit older so I’ve started looking after my body a bit better, I was running quite a bit to keep myself in shape, looking after what I ate, and it’s paid off. I feel a lot sharper on the ice.”

He might be getting that little bit older, but Jonathan is keen to continue playing, and Coventry are happy to have him, recently extending his contract by two years.

“If I look after myself the next few years, stay injury free, there’s no reason why I can’t keep playing. I still enjoy it so I’ll be playing for as long as I can. You can never read too far into the future but I’d like to finish my career here.”

Playing with, rather than against Coventry is preferable for Weaver who recounts his joining the club two years ago.

“It was a club I’d always admired from afar but it wasn’t a nice place to come and play. It’s a tough building to come to, the crowd are intimidating and Thommo’s had a good team here but I knew working with him in the GB team what he was all about. I knew the organisation was stable and a good place to be so I was excited to come.”

With the Elite League dropping import numbers from 11 to 10 this season, keeping Brits in the squad is a real asset and Jonathan was full of praise for our British lads.

“If you’ve got a strong Brit core then you’re one step ahead of the rest. We’ve got a good set of Brit’s here, young Joe [Henry] has stepped up and he’s done a great job for us so far.”

Since earning regular ice time this year, Henry has done nothing but impress.

“He’s been playing fantastic, he’s smart on the puck, he’s patient, he makes the right plays and he works hard” praised Jonathan. “Obviously he’s going to have the odd mistake here and there but we all do, that’ll come with age and experience.”

The future looks promising for Henry who, according to Weaver, should be aiming for a spot in the Great Britain squad.

“If he keeps playing the way he is, he’s in the best place to be with the national coach. Thommo sees him every day and if he keeps his head down, works hard, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be there.”

So the key to the future success of Coventry Blaze? Continuing our good form. And with Weaver looking to see out his career with us, the future looks bright.

Archive: Sept 09 – Scorch

The following is an article I wrote for Coventry Blaze’s club magazine, Ignite. The idea mainly sprung from my own curiosity in wanting to find out who had managed to land the job of mascot.

The article in it’s published format can be found here.

It’s almost 6pm on a Sunday evening in the Skydome. Awaiting the game ahead, the crowd are cheering and clapping along to the music. Children, and a couple of adults too, are calling out for their favourite Blaze representative.

No, it isn’t Calder, Carlson or Weaver. It’s a big green monster.

“Scorch!” a young boy shouts, waving at the Coventry Blaze mascot as he skates onto the ice. Throwing tennis balls into the crowd, the spotlight is firmly on Scorch who as I later found out, revels in the attention.

“I love it!” he said. “It’s great fun. It’s good to see the smiles on the kid’s faces. Some kids come up and it’s the highlight of their week high fiving Scorch. You get a few that run and hide behind their parents but they’re the ones I pick on the most.”

This isn’t a mean streak, but part of what Scorch describes as his cheeky character. “I can get away with a lot being in the costume, stealing people’s hats and scarves, messing around with the opposition fans,” he laughed.

I ask if there are certain people he picks on every week.  Scorch can’t help a cheeky grin, “Definitely” he said.

Although it tends to be those who know his secret identity who are the victim of such abuse. “People get to know who I am after a while but initially I just pick on randoms.”

Wearing a green fur suit and acting as a target for fans to throw pucks at you in the period break is a strange job, one which Scorch almost accidentally fell into.

“When Coventry first got the mascot, I sort of flippantly said, ‘I’d like to have a go at that’. The match night co-ordinator then had a chat with the guy that was doing it originally and that was that” said Scorch.

He was then whisked away from his previous role selling 50/50 tickets and promoted to part time mascot, initially sharing the role of Scorch with another. After a brief time away from the dragon costume to recover from a broken ankle he then took over the job completely.

Much like a pro hockey player, Scorch sticks to the same routine every week. “I get to the rink about four, get in costume about quarter to five, then mess around in the queue until doors open.”

“The players turn up on a match night with their game faces on and I don’t get involved with that. I just turn up and do my thing and leave them to do theirs.”

After the next task of throwing tennis balls into the crowd, there’s just time for a few high fives and perhaps a photograph or two, before Scorch gets changed and enjoys some hockey with the rest of us.

However, five minutes before the end of each period, the green suit is thrown back on. “Since I’ve been the mascot I’ve missed probably 90% of goals at the Skydome!” A bit of a drawback, but he went on to explain that the job does bring great rewards.

“Probably one of the best parts of doing it is winding up the away fans. They all love to give me a bit of a barracking. It’s part of the game.” In a typical break, Scorch can usually be found standing at the bottom of Block 8, being jeered by, or perhaps having his tail pulled by some overexcited away fans.

The perks just keep coming, especially at the Play Offs – the biggest opportunity of the year for mayhem. “The league pays us for the Play Off Finals. We get looked after really well, they feed us and keep us well watered.”

To Scorch though, the chance to reignite old rivalries with the other mascots is more important than the cash.

“We all get a bit cheeky and play around more. Generally we all gang up on Gordie[the gorilla] from Belfast. He tends to give it a bit more, when he’s got his inflatable banana and starts hitting people over the head.”

Revenge usually takes the form of a group mascot fight, with plenty of encouragement from the crowd, of course. Scorch loves the attention, but there have been times when he has publicly embarrassed himself.

“The first time I dressed up as Scorch, in a game against Newcastle, I stepped on the ice – straight on my bum! My first time in costume and I had to get helped back to my feet. It wasn’t ideal.”

In fact, Scorch told me that most of his embarrassing moments have involved him falling onto the ice. “I’ve also been body checked by a linesman and put on my butt while I was skating around. That was my own fault though, because I’d tried to hit him,” he said. Scorch explained that since then he has learnt the valuable lesson not to pick on those who are stronger and better at skating than him.

The responsibilities of a Blaze mascot are a welcome change from Scorch’s day job as a senior customer account manager. After all providing financial advice for a high street bank rarely involves taking part in a donkey derby.

“The Leofric Lions organise it at the memorial park and I was part of the donkey race,” he said. “All the mascots are there, Sky Blue Sam, the Coventry Rugby Club mascot and a teddy bear. All of us were on the back of chariots racing donkeys around the memorial park. That was good fun. ”  

Unfortunately, due to problems with a ‘dodgy donkey’ Scorch didn’t bring home the winning trophy that day. With a late sprint to the line, however, he did finish a respectable second. Better luck next time for Scorch who assures me he’ll be around for a while yet.

“There’s another mascot in his forties so I could aspire to that, but as long as they’ll have me!”

Panthers close gap on Blaze

Coventry 0-4 Nottingham (21.12.08)

Coventry Blaze felt defeat on Sunday after a beating from the Nottingham Panthers in what was the most hyped game of the season so far.

Expectations were high for both players and fans alike, but Blaze were stumped by some excellent goal tending from Panther’s netminder, Michel Robinson.

An aggressive start saw two fights in just over a minute and a half.

Carlyle Lewis got the better of Panther, Jeff Bergin and fans were treated once again when Danny Stewart exchanged blows with Bruce Richardson just six seconds later.

It wasn’t long before there were more additions to the already crowded penalty box – Deschateles for Blaze, Tessier and Ndur for Panthers.

Weaver and Calder both came close, but failed to convert chances in the first of many fruitless powerplays for the Blaze.

A wristshot from Russ Cowley later ringed off the post marking Coventry’s best chance so far.

Tempers flared once more, with Sylvain Deschateles and Dan Tessier ending up in the sin bin after a scuffle.

Blaze continued to dominate, with two further powerplay opportunities but the first period ended goalless for both teams.

A calmer start to the second, but Blaze continued to pile on the pressure. Robinson kept the game level, pulling off a sharp glove save from a Barrie Moore shot. Adam Calder almost made it through, only for the puck to creep over the top of the net.

David Clarke responded to the pressure, getting the first goal of the match for the Panthers. He slammed the puck into the top of the net after a mistake from Corey LeClair cost Blaze possession.

Coventry kept the pace up, but with more chances untaken the passion began to fade.

Nottingham played an organised game, doubling their lead before the break. The large crowd of away fans celebrated as Dan Tessier found Johan Molin who slid the puck under JF Perras’s pads.

Blaze were still on the attack in the final period, but their efforts went unrewarded as Robinson blocked all attempts including a slapshot from new recruit Jon Coleman.

Defence suffered and as the only player in the zone, Brendan Cook did not hesitate to add another to the Panther’s lead.

With Blaze unable to recover, frustrations surfaced once more. Galbraith found himself roughing it up with Dan Carlson who took offence to his hit on Corey LeClair.

Clarke got his second of the night, taking the opportunity to stick another in the net less than 30 seconds before the buzzer. A painful end for Blaze fans as many suspected it was offside.

Steelers v Panthers Report

 
This is a match report I wrote near the start of the hockey season. It’s old, but it’s interesting to see how the season progressed.
 
Sheffield Steelers 6-3 Nottingham PanthersSunday October 12th 2008
Sheffield Steelers enjoyed a 6-3 victory over arch rivals Nottingham Panthers on Sunday, with a hat trick from 20 year old Brit Robert Dowd helping Steelers pull from 3-1 behind for the winner.
Steelers fans were in good spirits throughout the highly anticipated derby game, played to a large crowd at Hallam Arena
 
 
It was a nervous start for Sheffield with Ashley Tait in the penalty box for high sticks after only three minutes. However, Panthers struggled to set up a play and narrowly escaped falling behind after a breakaway wristshot from Joe Talbot whizzed over the goal.

Sheffield also failed to capitalize on the powerplay, with some poor passing meaning they could only scramble the puck into the offensive zone.

Steelers fans had something to cheer about ten minutes in, when Ryan Finnerty got the better of Bruce Richardson when blows were exchanged after a disagreement between the pair.

The penalties were one sided with Finnerty receiving five minutes in the box for fighting, but Richardson was handed two minutes for boarding, and two plus ten for instigating on top of his fighting penalty.

Frustrations ran high in the Steelers camp, with Talbot, Sheppard and Munn all producing good shots which couldn’t find their way past netminder Davis Parley.

Nottingham faced even more time on the penalty kill with defenceman Danny Meyers receiving a hooking penalty just after the ten minute mark.

Despite a five on three advantage Sheffield still failed to produce the goods and even allowed Panther Kevin Bergin a shot on goal which was only ruined by a snapped stick.

Nottingham soon snapped up the chance to dominate after the Steelers found themselves with two men in the box.

Wasting no time on the powerplay, they quickly set up camp in the Steelers zone.

The first goal of the match came at 15:15 when Corey Neilson passed behind the goal to find Johan Molin who flicked the puck into the net.

 

The second period was awash with goals, the first of which brought the score to an even one all.

Solid teamwork improved the Steelers powerplay and Captain Jonathan Phillips easily found the net, despite Rumun Ndur’s best efforts to defend.

Steelers fans once again reveled in Ndur’s misery, when he repeatedly fluffed shots on the backhand before being pushed off the puck.

Soon it was Nottingham’s turn to celebrate, scoring two powerplay goals in just under a minute and a half. Bergin scored the first, a wristshot from the blue line which keeper Jody Lehman had no answer for.

A frustrated Lehman then found himself with a two minute slashing penalty, which Corey Neilson took advantage of, hitting Lehman’s water bottle for the Panthers third goal.

The away team quickly lost their discipline and a penalty on Dan Tessier for holding the stick marked the end of Nottingham’s chances.

Steelers took just 19 seconds to convert the penalty into a goal. Robert Dowd put the puck in the net with his first of the night, assisted by Dagenais and Finnerty.

Sheffield were on form now, working hard for their equalizing goal which came at 35:22. The first even handed of the night, scored by Joe Talbot after a scrum around the net.

Just 2 minutes later defenseman Steve Munn easily skated around the defence to set up Dowd for his second. This put Steelers ahead for the first time.

Nottingham’s bad defending continued and were lucky not to be more behind as the period ended 4-3.

 

The goals had rolled in during the second, but the third period was goalless until the last three minutes of play when Sheffield nabbed two.

Nottingham had lost momentum in the break and could only scrape together a few chances to score. Frustrations were felt by Ndur who talked himself into a ten minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after disagreeing with a hooking call.

Man of the match Dowd extended Steelers lead three minutes from the end, with fans celebrating his hat trick by throwing caps onto the ice.

Although the game was sewn up at this point, the rivalry between the teams continued with Tait and Richardson getting two minutes each for holding and roughing respectively.

Steelers rubbed salt in the wounds one more time when a minute after Dowd’s hat trick, Talbot scored his second of the night, wrapping up the game 6-3.

This was an important win for mid-table Sheffield, who have a lot of work to do if they want to win silverware this season.