By James Morgan (@JamesMorgan05 )
THE SEASON THAT WAS
A 12-2 aggregate drubbing by the Belfast Giants brought the curtain down on a disappointing Elite League campaign for the Coventry Blaze.
Despite some stand out performances throughout the season, it was one which won’t live too long in the memory of the Blaze faithful.
Ben Lake and Tim Crowder both found themselves in the top ten scoring leaders, but both have moved on as Danny Stewart looks to craft a side capable of avoiding a Playoff dog fight come the end of the 19/20 season.
However, unlike in the past, putting the puck in the net wasn’t the main issue for the Blaze, it was goaltending that proved to be the constant stumbling block.
The Midlanders have a strong history when it comes to recruiting the man in between the pipes, but with no settled netminder, Stewart’s side struggled to find momentum.
After the blow of losing Kevin Nastiuk before the season commenced, the Blaze drafted in former Nottingham and MK Lightning man Mika Wiikman. The Finn failed to have the desired impact at the Skydome and was replaced by Miroslav Kopriva in December.
Kopriva’s time in the Elite League proved to be short lived as he was swapped with Matt Hackett come the turn of the year, but the former NHLer struggled to find the form that saw him play thirteen games in ‘the show’.
The new campaign approaches with Jamie Phillips as Coventry’s starting net minder. The 26-year-old seventh round draft pick joins the club after splitting his time between the Florida Everblades and the Reading Royals last year.
The Blaze’s leaky defence is also something that has been addressed by Danny Stewart over the summer, with Justin Hache the only returning import on the blue line.
Playoff champion Drew Schiestel has been recruited from Cardiff and is likely to feature on the Blaze’s top defensive pairing while Justin Hamonic also looks to be a quality addition, signing from Angers in France.
Chris Pohlkamp and Dillon Eichstadt have both been signed straight out of the NCAA and provide a youthful exuberance on the back end alongside returning, and ever improving, Brit David Clements.
The loss of Ben Lake to the Belfast Giants was a bitter pill for the Blaze faithful to swallow following an outstanding second season at the Skydome.
In fact, the only returning import forward for the Blaze is Dillon Lawrence while Ross Venus will begin his tenth season in Blaze colours, with Luke Ferrara and Alex Forbes completing the British forward trio.
Evan Bloodoff and Charles Corcoran both had productive seasons in Scotland last season and have made the journey south for the upcoming campaign.
David Broll is sure to be a fan favourite at the Skydome and his resume suggests that the Canadian is much more than just a typical old fashioned ‘enforcer’ and will be expected to add points as well as a physical edge.
After scrapping for playoff places for the last few seasons, I think Blaze fans have reason to feel optimistic heading into the new season.
There is a nice blend of experience and youth in the side and it looks like one of the youngest squads put together at the Skydome in some time, however the signing of veteran Janne Laakkonen boosted the average age up just a tad.
A Challenge Cup run would be nice also. It’s a tournament that the Blaze always seem to struggle in – the 2014/15 season was the last time they advanced past the group stages.
But nobody is expecting any silverware to grace the trophy cabinet at the Skydome this season, so a comfortable finish inside the playoff places and advancing to the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup would show a stark improvement to that of last year.
MY FIRST LINE
I expect Evan Bloodoff and Andrew Johnston to take their places on the Blaze’s top line for the upcoming season, with Janne Laakkonen taking the other spot.
Bloodoff and Johnston will be expected to provide goals by Danny Stewart and Laakkonen could prove to be the perfect playmaker for the two after registering 92 assists in his last three seasons across Europe