The Russ Cowley Question

May 21, 2010

Cowley’s a forward, right? Well, up until the end of the season he was and then he appeared on defence for GB in the IHWC. We always knew he had defensive qualities and is a safe pair of hands at both ends, but playing defence full time wasn’t really an option. It is now, that’s for sure, and provides an interesting question as to how the Blaze will be set up for the following season…

1. Cowley plays as a forward

The first option is the obvious one, he comes back and plays in the position listed on the roster, forward. He would likely end up playing most of the time on the 3rd line, probably as a centre as he has done for the past couple of seasons. Obviously he could play up on the top two lines, depending on injuries, penalties etc., but the 3rd line is the most likely destination…

Fulghum – (centre, Carlson?) – Fussey; (winger, Cruikshank?) – Owen – Chambers; Nell – Cowley – (import forward)

Weaver – Lee – Zanon – (import D, Robinson?) – (other D)

If that 3rd line import happens to be a centre, then he could feasibly move back to the wing. The other D could be a Brit or an import, depending on if the Blaze go with 10 or 11 imports. For these examples, we are assuming the Blaze sign an import NM.

2. Cowley plays as a defenceman

This is where it gets interesting. If Cowley assumes that ‘other d’ slot instead, it would make the defence look like:

Weaver – Lee – Zanon – (import D, Robinson?) – Cowley

That therefore allows an extra import for the forward lines instead, which is useful since the number of Brits available is already tight!

Fulghum – (centre, Carlson?) – Fussey; (winger – Cruikshank) – Owen – Chambers; Nell – (import centre) – (import forward)

There is then the flexibility to run with a bigger, more enforcer-esque 3rd line player, because Cowley can step across and play a couple of forward shifts should he be in the box. The scoring options could also be split up across the 3 lines as well; moving Cruikshank on Nell’s line and putting Fussey with Owen & Chambers.

The loss of Tom Watkins to Telford has a huge one, since he could play this switching role. Having the flexibility in the team to cope with “disasters” has always shown to be one of the Blaze’s key points, and Cowley looks to be the way to continue it.


Blaze get more Fussey

May 20, 2010

A couple of days later than originally anticipated, but Owen Fussey has signed for the Blaze. This move was rumoured since before the end of the season and is definitely a big signing for the Blaze. Fussey scored 35 goals in 46 games on a mediocre Edinburgh Capitals side (granted it was their best ever finish, but 6th out of 8 is still not good) and should hopefully go some of the way to replace the goals that Adam Calder scored last season.

However, Fussey will probably occupy a 1st line role alongside Luke Fulghum and Dan Carlson; something that Calder did not have for the majority of last season. Calder scored 33 in 45 game, but that includes 6 in his last 2 games. Fussey will need to at least match that total again next season if he is to be considered a success. Obviously Fulghum will take a lot of the scoring responsibilities as well.

There is nothing to say that the Blaze won’t go down the route of having three balanced lines rather than the eggs in one basket approach either. Quite often, the interesting thing about the off-season is not who is going to play for the Blaze, but where they’re going to line up.


And as if by magic…

May 18, 2010

A positive move for all concerned; from a Blaze point of view – this must surely be the signal of the promising Aaron Nell signing full  time with the team?

It’s almost prophetic really. Perhaps ignored in an earlier entry but it was certainly on the cards and had been heavily rumoured in the Skydome, but Aaron Nell has signed on a full contract for the Blaze. Nell impressed in his few games for Coventry last season and certainly (in the eyes of the fans) warranted a contract. Clearly Thommo agrees. Nell also impressed for a Swindon side that scraped into the EPL playoffs in 8th place, but then knocked out the league champions Milton Keynes in the quarter-finals. He was the second-highest British goal scorer in the EPL last season, so the potential is there. At 6’3”, he’s also a big lad which will help with the more physical style. A regular spot on the third line is likely for Nell and possibly more depending on how the season progresses. A solid signing nonetheless, and ones that are required for a successful team.


Telford Blaze EPL

May 18, 2010

Ok, so that title is a little mean, but it’s effectively what they are becoming. They have the Watkins brothers, and now Joe Henry has moved up the road as well. A good move for Joe, he needs the ice time to develop and a friendly, low-expectation atmosphere such  as the re-emerging Telford side will probably help with keeping the pressure off. He has the potential to be a very good player, it’s just his (lack of) size that may hold him back. A positive move for all concerned; from a Blaze point of view – this must surely be the signal of the promising Aaron Nell signing full  time with the team?


Transfer Tuesday

May 17, 2010

Looks as if there’s going to be another signing announcement tomorrow. The Blaze do have a habit of putting the info out on Tuesdays (barring Greg Owen’s return last week) and it’s likely that tomorrow will be no exception. Who will it be? The first thing to do is look at the confirmed roster so far:

  • Netminders – no one
  • Defence – Brad Zanon, Brian Lee, Jonathan Weaver
  • Forwards – Greg Owen, Jack Watkins (2-way), Russ Cowley, Greg Chambers, Luke Fulghum

Straight off the bat – conspiracy theorists will tell you that Zanon doesn’t have a number on the website, but he usually wears #6 so that must mean Neal Martin is coming back to play for Coventry. That is somewhat tenuous but nonetheless a possibility, although it has already been stated that I don’t think that will happen. Another defenceman is a possibility, both Jason Robinson and Matty Soderstrom have been rumoured to be retiring but there is nothing confirmed; it is likely that at least one of them will return.

Maybe Peter Hirsch has now made a decision? Would fit in nicely with the timing, he’s not playing at the IHWC. Would be surprised as well if anyone other than Tom Murdy is the backup next season, since that would deviate strongly from Thommo’s previous plans on developing netminders. So either of those two is a possibility as well; a betting man would favour both of those being re-signed for 2010/11.

Dan Carlson is strongly rumoured to be returning; he simply is too good to let go! If it’s two import D and 1 import NM to sign, that leaves 6 import forwards to sign. Carlson, Chmabers and Fulghum would account for three of those. Brad Cruikshank is also rumoured to be staying, leaving two slots.  Derek Campbell, Danny Stewart and Adam Calder (in theory) are no longer at the team, so new players must be brought in. Owen Fussey has been strongly linked this off-season  and is a likely candidate (although I would prefer Simon Lambert of the two!). There have been many other stories but Fussey is the one that crops up time and again.

Could really be any of those, but if I’m pushed, I’m going with Fussey or Hirsch. If Neal Martin is returning, I think that’ll be right at the end of the off-season…

Do you remember?

May 15, 2010

It’s usually around this time of year that fans start reminiscing about their favourite players, or creating rumours up about them. “Wouldn’t it be great if X was back…” or “Who are your top 5 all time Blaze players?”. Well TDD has come up with something a little different… Thommo has been very reticent in the past to sack players, despite some awful performances. So here is the “Top 5 players that were sacked in the morning” list…

5. Michal Vrabel (2004/05)

It might be a little harsh to include the Slovakian on this list. Signed as a big stay-at-home defenceman, Vrabel was certainly big at around 6’2” but he was probably about 10 stone wet through. He certainly wasn’t that bad a player, unlike some on this list, but he wasn’t the big guy that Thommo so desperately desired. When the opportunity came to make the switch, Thommo dived right in. His replacement, a Mr. W. Belak.

4. Michael Wales (2006/07)

Emerging British forward Wales signed for Coventry for the 2006/07 season. His promising play for Milton Keynes had caused Paul Thompson to give him a shot in the EIHL. The realisation came that his game just wasn’t quite up to EIHL standard, ice time dwindled and with just one assist in 21 games, Wales was released back to the EPL. He did score against Dan Carlson’s Munich team though and played enough games to get a medal from the end of the season, so he’s probably not too upset.

3. Corey LeClair (2008/09)

A previous coach described LeClair’s skating ability as in of the top 5% of players in the world playing hockey’. That’s great, but you wouldn’t sign Torvill and Dean to play on the ice for their skating ability, you need to be able to play. LeClair had the first touch of a mugger and often lost control of the puck when trying to break forward. LeClair was dispatched mid-season and ended up in Basingstoke, where for some reason he was a local hero. Different expectations, I guess…

2. Scott Kelman (2008/09)

A close call this, but Kelman comes in at #2  on this chart. When a player is ranked on as the worst #15 pick in history, things don’t start too well. Kelman had a blistering pre-season for the Blaze and then vanished along with any effort. Fans were calling for his release far earlier than it actually happened. It’s probably the fact that he could have been so good, but the effort just wasn’t there is probably the biggest annoyance to Blaze fans. Kelman retired from hockey as a result of his release, having gone from top prospect to backwater failure in only a few years.

1. David Kaczowka (2005/06)

In my eyes, easily the worst import ever to play for the Blaze. On his signing, Paul Thompson said, “David is a big tough winger and I think everyone knows what his role will be. He is built like a tank and hits like a tank with his fists and shoulders. What appealed to me was that he wanted to add another dimension to his game. He got a regular shift at his previous club but didn’t get much scoring responsibility. I want him thinking how he can help us win games.” Unfortunately for Coventry, there was a reason why he didn’t get that responsibility, he couldn’t pass or shoot and could barely skate, meaning he could never catch up with the guy he should’ve been fighting. He disappeared shortly after the Continental Cup exit in 2005.


It wouldn’t be the Blaze without an Owen

May 14, 2010

The signing announcement this morning was Greg Owen returning to the Blaze on a two-year contract. Excellent news! Owen is one of a rare breed, a British forward who can genuinely play on the top two lines, week in, week out. There’s not that many of them to be honest. Colin Shields and David Clarke are probably the most prominent with Phil Hill and Craig Peacock emerging recently. There hasn’t been a championship winning team in the EIHL that has played only two lines, having that depth to roll three lines is absolutely essential. You have to have at least one, and more likely two top-drawer British players.

With this signing, Blaze have secured their second top Brit. With 11 imports this season, that gives Blaze a lot of flexibility with the remainder of the roster. An import netminder and 10 skaters; if you split the 10 skaters into 4 defencemen and 6 forwards, it allows you to have an import forward on the 3rd line. 3rd line imports are relatively cheap, and in particular North Americans are more happy at being ‘role players’ than the Brits. Graham Schlender was a prime example – not the most skilled of guys but would run through a brick wall for the club. If you can get a cheap import, that frees up some cash for the skill players like Luke Fulghum. And that assumes that we have 4 import defencemen plus Jonathan Weaver, which hasn’t always been the case either! So whilst not the flashiest of signings, Greg Owen is absolutely core to the development of the Blaze.

What about Russ Cowley? He’s been ignored in this post. Well actually, he hasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very useful player that absolutely essential for successful teams. Great on the PK, lots of speed, always tries hard. He is however, a solid 3rd line player who can play the odd shift on the top two lines, he’s not a ‘top Brit’. If he could only shoot, he would be a very good player! TDD suspects Cowley is being shifted into the Tom Watkins role for next season – a forward who can play defence; he certainly didn’t disgrace himself in the recent World Championships, which he played defence.


Signing announcement tomorrow

May 13, 2010

Well, Thommo has said there’s going to be a signing announcement tomorrow. Quite exciting really. Apparently he’s a ‘good guy… I want him to be around the club for many years to come’. That sounds ominous. Could make my bold prediction earlier today look somewhat stupid! The impression was that it was someone new to the team. Certainly going to be an interesting morning anyway.


There’s only one Neal Martin

May 13, 2010

But he won’t be playing for Coventry next season. The now-annual rumour that the best #6 to play for the Blaze will be returning to the Skydome has been doing the rounds since before the end of the season. Various forums have been reporting the same rumour. TDD can not so exclusively reveal that this isn’t going to be the case. Martin has decided to go elsewhere for the upcoming season and Blaze fans will have another year of remembering exactly how good he was. Still, there’s always the following season!


Peter Hirsch – Will he stay or will he go?

May 12, 2010

In one of the new Radio Blaze clips, Coventry coach Paul Thompson stated that netminder Peter Hirsch had been offered a new contract at the club, but there was a deadline for him to make his decision. Hirsch is currently part of Team Denmark at the Ice Hockey World Championships and has been told to make his mind up shortly after the tournament is finished. TDD believes that Hirsch is waiting to see if he gets a chance to show himself at the IHWC and potentially get a more lucrative deal.

The chance of this is unlikely. Hirsch is Denmark’s #3 netminder, he’s not played in a game yet and is unlikely to do so barring injury. The Danes have been playing exceptionally well, beating Finland 4-1 and USA 2-1 in overtime. Without seeing him tested in a game situation, no scout at the IHWC is going to recommend him to a team. His play for the Blaze during the regular season was very good but so exceptional that he stood out way above the league’s other netminders. TDD doubts that there were teams barging down his door at the end of the season and as a result, he will likely return to the Blaze next season.

That is of course, all groundless speculation. Hirsch, a fan favourite at the Skydome, would be a very welcome re-signing for the club that would make many fans happy (and that includes TDD). However, if he does decide to leave, there are plenty of other netminders in the game that would do a perfectly good job. In fact, Coventry have a good history of recruiting in that position – Jody Lehman and Trevor Koenig spring to mind as two obvious examples. Although for every Koenig, there’s also a JF Perras. Would his departure be a devastating blow though for the Blaze? No. It would be a loss, for sure, but the Blaze will move on, much like they have done before. Who would have thought there was life after TK?


As a footnote, the Hull Stingrays netminder, Martins Raitums is also playing in the IHWC for Latvia. Not wishing to cause too much offense, but they will surely be relegated from the top group if he plays any significant amount of time!