So, here we are once more at the start of another ice hockey season. I never quite know whether to feel glad or sad at this time of the year. Glad because the hockey is back, or sad because it means that the Summer is over and the dark cold nights will soon be with us.
There have been plenty of changes for the Coventry Blaze over the Summer - some welcomed with open arms, and some less so. Firstly, let's have a look at who has gone from the team:-
J F Perras - Poor JF, he really didn't have a great season - not only did it seem as though he was made of rubber (so many pucks bounced off him straight to a forward to tap in), he didn't appear to be able to catch a cold for most of the season, he was obviously low in confidence, and his defenders had little confidence in him. When you look at our final league position in comparison to our performances, it is a bit of a miracle that we finished 2nd. Fourth would have been a far fairer assesment in my opinion. He was always going to find it hard to be as good as Koenig, and in the end, TKs skates proved to be just that bit too big to fill.
Ben O'Connor - I look forward to Edinburgh coming to play at the Skydome this year, to see how the crowd reacts to young Ben. He was a VERY popular player last season, and was arguably our most consistent defender. However, he blew his reputation in Coventry when he walked away from the 2nd year of his contract because the 25% pay rise he had agreed at the start of his contract was not big enough for him. I cannot imagine that the Capitals have been able to pay him what he wanted from the Blaze, so cannot see his logic in the move back North of the Border. It seems from Thommo's comments in the press that he was none too impressed with what happened and the timing of it. Rule number one - never hold a gun to Thommo's head - it will always backfire on you.
Leigh Jamieson - i quite liked him you know, and felt that he was very under-rated for most of the season. Yes, he looked more confident when played as a forward rather than as the defender he spent most of the season as, but i thought he could hold his head high overall.
Blake Forsyth - you have to feel sorry for those who had to fill the role that Blake ended the season filling - our "number 1 import D man". Overall, he filled this role as well as, or indeed better than those who preceeded him during the season:- Cory LeClair for instance. Man could he skate. If the league was decided on the best skater, we would have won by a country mile - Cory would get the full compliment of "6s" from the judges - it was as though he was floating over the ice like an angel. Unfortunately, he couldn't play hockey for toffee, which was a bit of a disadvantage! Like JF, these guys had to replace the irreplaceable - in their case Neal Martin. They were always going to be compared with Neal, and if we are honest, short of a player with loads of NHL experience, that's never going to happen. Blake did a good solid job though, and i wouldn't have been too upset to have seen him back.
Greg Wood - If ever a player was underused by the team it was Woody. On the odd time he got onto the ice he was like an unleashed terrier. Thommo even admitted that he should have used him more than he did - of all the players who left at the end of last season, he is the one i would most like to see come back. I believe he has gone to Manchester this season, and i wish him well there - let's hope we do see him back in a Blaze shirt at some point.
Barrie Moore - Well, Barrie is a slightly different case, as he retired rather than simply left at the end of the season. I can remember his first game for the team - he was jetlagged, scored two goals and skated everyone else off the ice. He then seemed to blow a bit hot and cold for the next few years. Part of the problem is that we, as fans, simply didn't quite understand his role within the team, and see what he brought to the ice. Thank goodness in his last season he did get most people to open their eyes and understand him and his game. Offensively, he often seemed lacking for a forward - apart from that fantastic wrist shot, what did he bring to the team? The answer was his superb defensive skills and his ability to change play from one end to the other with a single pass. He will be missed.
Sylvain Deschatelets - Now, there was a man who had been hit with the ugly stick!! ;-) A much maligned player while he was with Cardiff, and again blew hot and cold for us. On his night he could be breathtaking, and on another night have you pulling your hair out in frustration. Just what did make the guy tick? We never got to find out, and it is questionable as to whether Thommo did either. In fairness, he was the last minute replacement for Cloutier when he got his coaching job back home, and he was never in the same mold as Clouts either in skill or leadership.
Carlyle Lewis - Hmm, our "tough guy" - a man who either could or couldn't be bothered as the mood took him. A man fully capable of getting himself thrown out of a game for no valid reason. Another frustrating player who really didn't bring as much to the team as he could have. The only player that he really seemed to have an understanding with was Danny Stewart, and ultimately, Carlyle didn't really seem to fulfill any of the roles he should have. Despite his undoubted toughness, he didn't seem to instill any fear into the oposition, and the whole team seemed to have a distinct lack of steel about it.
Steve Fone - our back up net minder for the last few seasons - a player that we never got to see enough of, but who never let us down when he was called upon. Good luck to him in his new role as starting netminder for Manchester - he deserves the chance to really prove himself.
Erik Hjalmarsson - Eric the Viking, the man brought in to replace Scott Kelman. (more on him in a minute). Eric came into the squad having had a lot of injury problems, and was clearly not 100% fit. However, he gave his all, and really showed up a lot of the other players with his skill, touch and vision. I would have loved to have seen him stay for longer, and witness a fully fit version of him play.
Scott Kelman - Now, here is a player that could of, and should have, set the league on fire. In his first few games he showed that he had more talent, more skill, more vision than anyone else in the country. So, why oh why couldn't he be bothered to show it every night? He would be invisible for most of a game, and then pop up with a sublime pass before vanishing again for weeks on end. His history shows that he has a problem - first round NHL draft pick, but never stayed anywhere for long - he must have been a coach's nightmare, you know that he can do it, but it all depended on if he could be bothered or not. The player that has most impressed me in his first few games for us. What a shame he didn't keep it up. Aaaarrgghhh!!!
Next time, my impressions on the new players.....