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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Season Preview: – Coventry Blaze

Perennial title contenders, Paul Thompson’s team look as strong as ever, so there is no reason to think this season should be any different.  A strong core of returning players with some useful additions mean the Blaze aren’t going to be giving up their Elite League title without a fight.

First there was Lehman, then Koenig, and while the Blaze have had some decent goalies since then, non have been able to live up to the standard set by those two. This Season Brett Jaeger will be the number one between the pipes. Jaeger has spent his career in the ECHL and more recently the CHL where he back stopped his team to a the title in 2008/9. Whether he can emulate the feats of Lehman or Koenig remains to be seen, but he should give the Blaze a solid foundation at the back. Jaeger will be backed up by Tom Murdy, who like most backups in the EIHL is unlikely to see much ice time other than the odd period if a game is as good as over.

Blaze have three returnees on the blue line; Standout Brit Jonathan Weaver will give the Blaze offence from the back and at the point on the powerplay and is likely to end up one of the leagues leading scorers as a defenseman. While not flashy Mattias Soderstom will give the Blaze one of the best 5th defensemen in the league while one of the leagues best newcomers last year, Brian Lee, will provide a strong all-round presence.  Newcomers Brad Zanon and Jeff Smith should provide stability and toughness, both having played at AHL level.

As with the defence, the forwards are built around a strong core of returning players. Luke Fulgham was viewed as the third player on a line with Tony Hand and David-Alexandre Beauregard in Manchester, however last season he was top scorer for the Blaze and led the league in goals averaging close to a goal a game. He is joined by the extremely talented Greg Chambers and Dan Carlson, all three of which would be standout players on any team in this league.  Also return are Greg Owen and Brad Cruikshank, both capable of contributing on the score sheet, who combined with Chambers are likely to form one of the best second lines in the league.  Another top Brit, Russ Cowley also returns giving the Blaze quality in depth. Despite already being loaded with top end talent, Thompson has added even more quality with the acquisitions of Owen Fussey from Edinburgh and Sean Selmser from Austria.  Selmser briefly played for the ill-fated Ayr Scottish Eagles in the ISL, but has since spent his career in Austria. Prior to that he played mainly in the AHL with one NHL game for Columbus. Despite being 35 years old, with that sort of pedigree Selmser should still be a top player in the EIHL.  Fussey was one of the top scorers in last seasons Elite League added to an already formidable line-up. Completing the line-up is Aaron Nell who played a handful of games for the Blaze while on a two-way contract. The Blaze will also be able to call on the likes of Jack Watkins and Joe Henry who are on two-way contracts with the Telford Tigers.

Blaze have one of the most potent offensive line-ups in the league, and will be able to roll three lines all capable of doing damage on the scoreboard. At the back they have five solid defensemen including probably the leagues best in Jonathan Weaver. While injuries would hurt the Blaze as with any other team, Coventry will be able to call on the services of players on two-way contracts and their ENL if necessary to limit the burden on their stars. The two areas of potential weakness are goaltending, which is something of an unknown and toughness. Where some teams have stocked up on real heavyweights, Blaze will have to rely on the likes of Cruickshank and Lee to do that job for them. No doubt Blaze will miss them being off the ice more than their opponents will miss their enforcers. Even taking this in to account, Blaze are definite contender for the league title.

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