Preview: Blaze vs. Giants (11/09/16)
Genting Casino Coventry Blaze Head Coach Danny Stewart says his side are “excited and ready to go” ahead of the club’s opening Elite League fixture of the 2016/17 season.
Following a successful pre-season campaign and a 3-1 victory over the Nottingham Panthers to start the Challenge Cup campaign, confidence is high in the Blaze camp.
German forward Bjorn Bombis has started his Coventry career in fine goal scoring form, hitting the target in each of the last four games, whilst Canadian Matt Marquardt has quickly drawn the adulation from Blaze fans who have appropriately replaced Will Grigg’s name with their new heroes in the famous on fire song.
Blaze’s other new recruits such as Robin Bergman and Shawn Boutin have impressed early as well, with the likes of Liam Stewart and Matt Selby bringing a new level of energy to the squad.
Around the new players, Captain Jordan Pietrus, last season’s top points and goal scorer Brett Robinson, star defenceman Jim Jorgensen and Brian Stewart in net, amongst others bring a well-known significant quality.
The proof as they say though will be in the pudding, starting with the Belfast Giants at the Skydome Arena on Sunday (5.15pm face-off).
Blaze fans will welcome back defenceman Mike Quesnele who helped the club reach the Elite League Playoff final to end last season. The Canadian defenceman will join player/coach Derrick Walser on the Belfast blue-line, which also includes the unmissable Matt Nickerson, former NHLer Jim Vandermeer and a new face, 6’5” Ryan Martinelli who has posted respectable numbers in Italy, Norway and the German DEL2. Mark Garside looks set to remain on defence after his switch from forward last season, whilst Jeff Mason who has already played over 300 games for the Giants adds additional cover, taking on off-ice responsibilities with the club too.
Between the pipes is where things get really interesting for the Northern Irish side, bringing with them a British goalie tandem of 34-year-old double Elite League Champion, Stephen Murphy and new recruit, 13 years the junior at 21, Jackson Whistle. Playing his major junior career in the Western Hockey League with Kelowna Rockets, the relatively large netminder at 6’1” has posted some impressive early numbers in his career. As will likely be the case all season, time will tell which of the two gets the start on Sunday.
With over 300 games in the AHL and more recent experience in the German DEL and Austrian EBEL, Alex Foster is a forward worth keeping an eye out for in the Giants line-up. Steve Saviano too will add a strong scoring punch having achieved more than respectable numbers in the Swedish SHL, Allsvenskan and Finish Liiga.
The two will be joined by another new face in teal, 300+ AHL man Blair Riley, who is set to bring the grit and a further level of toughness on top of Captain Adam Keefe and the aforementioned Matt Nickerson.
Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, despite threats of “clearing the house”, Derrick Walser and Head of Hockey Operations Steve Thornton brought back a relatively large core of last season’s forward group. This includes; David Rutherford who joined late season from the Edinburgh Capitals, James Desmarais, Mike Forney, Chris Higgins and British duo Colin Shields and Jonathan Boxill. Brandon Benedict stays in Northern Ireland, like Mason, taking upon off-ice responsibilities too, whilst British player Matt Towe has signed a short-term contract to cover September.
The Giants have so far played two competitive games, both in the Challenge Cup against the Fife Flyers. They lost the opening game, on the road and missing a number of players by a score of 5-2 but managed a 4-2 victory in their home opener last night.
Blaze Head Coach Danny Stewart commented, “I think Belfast have a little bit more speed up front, a little more higher end skill, but they have a decent balance of physicality and toughness too. They are going to be a hard working team but we are ready. I think it will be an exciting game by two fast-paced teams.”
Tickets are still available for the game but we are expecting a large crowd so please do book as early as possible and arrive in good time for the game (doors open 4.30pm).
Get your tickets by calling 02476 630693 or using the e-ticket system ONLINE.
There are also a few tickets left in the VIP Crowngate SkyLounge, priced at just £30 per-person and these can be bought online too.