A view from the commentary box (01/09/16)
At the time of writing, Blaze have played four of six pre-season games with a record of 3-1-0. They have achieved wins against Nottingham Panthers, Tilburg Trappers and Manchester Storm, the sole loss coming against the Cardiff Devils with just 11 seconds remaining in the game. With 242 minutes and 31 seconds of hockey played, now seems like a good time to start talking about first impressions.
The stand-out factor for me so far is that this team does not like to lose and refuse to go down easily. In every game so far, they have at some point been behind. Tilburg had a 2-1 lead, Nottingham 4-1, Cardiff 2-1 and Manchester 6-4 (with a minute and a half remaining). The wins will be much lauded and if you weren't impressed by the comeback against the Storm then you truly are hard to please, but I would argue the loss against Cardiff taught this team the most.
They worked hard that game, with several key pieces out of the line-up and fatigued from the night before. They ploughed on regardless, chipping away at the Devils before Darcy Zajac found space in front to tie it up. To have that taken away 11 seconds before the end will have left a bitter taste, and one they clearly don’t want to experience again as demonstrated two nights later in Altrincham.
Goals have been hard to come by in previous campaigns. This season, I just don’t see it. Marquardt, Bombis, Bergman and Robinson in pre-season have all had multi-goal games, whilst rounding out the top six, Pietrus and Zajac have also been on target. This is important. The first one is always the hardest, especially for the new guys, once you have the ball rolling it’s easier to maintain its momentum than to get it started. Goals are also coming from all situations, the best teams are those that can score from all over the place and the Blaze right now are doing a tremendous job of keeping defences guessing.
Danny Stewart’s team though are however still very much a work in progress. The Head Coach will be looking to tighten up the defensive side having given up 16 goals in four games. On the bright side, this is what pre-season is for. Danny wants the black and white to be adhered to, but will allow his team to figure out the grey. Whilst they’re figuring out the latter, they will make the odd error. It's about finding out what they can and cannot get away with.
Some of the goals have also come against youngster Renny Marr, which actually is a good thing. Like the defence, you can only learn the craft 'hands on', and from every red light that goes on, a lesson is learnt. He was steely after a rocky start against Nottingham and held his nerve superbly in overtime vs. the Storm. Winning the Scottish National League is one thing, but now he has to learn to win at the EIHL level.
Puck possession players are key to any team. Systems are built around guys who can skate with and hold a puck. Blaze have these in abundance. Bombis, Liam Stewart and Bergman are blisteringly quick in possession. Boutin provides a similar service from the back with the assistance of Jorgensen and a rejuvenated Josh Godfrey. Then there’s Matt Marquardt, when he goes full speed there isn’t a player in the league who can slow him down. He is a bull, and so good at lugging the puck into the zone along the wall, shielding it away from prying defencemen and creating space to make plays.
Finally, I’d like to mention how physical this team are. Highlight reel hits have already come from Cantin, Boutin, Klotz and Marquardt, moreover, there isn’t a player in the line-up that won’t finish their bumps.
The 2016/17 Blaze will be blue-collared, but won’t lack goals. I think the Skydome faithful could very well fall in love with this group, especially if they can stay consistent.
Ed Kimberley @EdKimberley (Blaze TV)