Blaze fans forum overview

On Thursday evening, the Genting Casino Coventry Blaze held a fans forum at Crosby’s, Skydome Arena. Media Manager Rob Plaister led the event, with a panel consisting of Director of Hockey Operations James Pease, Head Coach Danny Stewart, Captain Jordan Pietrus and Assistant Captain Ashley Tait.

The main questions and responses from the fans forum were as follows:

Q1: We’ve had numerous coaches over the past few seasons, without much league success, I don’t believe all of those people are bad coaches, so what has got to change at this club for us to move forward as I believe over the past five years we’ve gone backwards?

Danny: “Maybe that is the reason that we change, change, change. That’s easy for me to say and I’m not trying to justify my position, but when you come in as a new coach, you try to build an identity and put your principles in place and you try to build a team around your beliefs, and sometimes that takes time.”

Q2: Danny, you played with as much passion, desire, physicality as anyone who has ever played for Coventry. I couldn’t have been happier when you were appointed as I thought finally we’ll be going back to the identity of the club that we should have. But, we are not playing in your identity are we?

Danny: “Sometimes, like I said it takes time. There is a big element of luck that goes into recruitment in this league. We are recruiting very heavily on word of mouth so the roster we believe we put together in the summer and what shows up in August, a lot of times, no matter what club, it’s not always what you thought. Some guys are different in a good way, and some guys are different, not always in a bad way but they are different from what you expected. Some guys have played a different way at a higher level, and they now see the Elite League as a drop and change the way that they play, for example, is Brian McGrattan or Patrick Bordeleau playing the same brand of hockey that they played in the NHL? Absolutely not. It’s tough sometimes and did we get everything right? No, and that’s why we’ve had to go and make changes, and now as we’ve made those changes, I truly believe that not just short-term, but in the long-term those were the right decisions that we made. Now, when you make all of those changes it can take time for everything to click, and again there is a lot of luck when it comes to chemistry as well.”

Q3: Is the team gritty and accountable enough?

Danny: “Not consistently enough no. Some guys have shown flashes of it so I know it’s there and I know they can do it. Whether it’s a mental thing, I tend to sway that way, maybe thinking the game too much instead of just playing. We preach it constantly. Be physical on the forecheck, be physical in our D-zone, be physical in all three zones but it’s easier said than done. If it was that easy all teams would do it well and all teams would be winning hockey games.

Q4: Do the players have enough fire in their bellies?

Danny: “I think when you’re low on confidence, even when you try to have that fire in your belly sometimes it just doesn’t come out as it would. Everything in life is a lot easier when you are having success. You can show up to the rink and concentrate and think I’m going to finish every check, I’m going to do this, I’m going to play well, rather than when you lose 3 or 4 in a row and you start self-doubting and over-thinking the game, thinking negative thoughts like, ‘we really need a win tonight’ rather than just focussing on what you do best, instead you start worrying about the result. Against Cardiff we conceded an unfortunate goal for 3-2 and when the teams playing confident you probably shrug it off and keep going but I think that goal got us thinking, and no guy would ever say this, but the way it looked, it was like ‘oh, oh, are they going to come back now?’ and you start thinking negative thoughts, and that’s what confidence is and it’s a tricky thing to try and turn and change.”

Q5: Have you considered bringing in a sports psychologist?

James: “We have talked about it but again it comes down to budget. We recognised that Brian (Stewart) needed a little bit of help this week and we bought in a goalie coach to come and work with him yesterday. A big part of that was sitting him down and talking to him goalie to goalie about how he feels when he’s on the ice, how he feels when a goal goes in, how he reacts and trying to work with him to get his frame of mind right, settle him down a little bit, get him back to basics a little bit. So absolutely, we try to look at that side and support the guys as much as we can. To have someone full-time though would be expensive and already we keep chasing and spending to our maximum so it’s very difficult.”

Q6: Do you feel the players maintain a fitness level required?

Danny: “Yes absolutely. We brought in a Strength and Conditioning coach this season, and the players wear belts during work-outs and practice which track heart-rate so we can see how hard they work, so in a physical sense I do believe that our guys are prepping themselves to be ready for the games.”

Q7: Jordan, you’re the Captain, you are a gritty an accountable guy there is no question about that, is there a frustration on your part that as a team we’ve not seen enough of that consistently?

Jordan: “I’m not frustrated with my teammates. Am I frustrated with results? Of course, but we are all human beings and I don’t think it’s fair to compare myself to other guys. Do we need to be grittier? Absolutely. Do we need to hold each other accountable? Absolutely. It’s something we are working on and we need to be better, no question.”

Q8: Do the team protect each other enough? In particular Brian Stewart?

Danny: “To a certain extent I accept the point, but let’s take the Fitzgerald incident for example and the criticism that guys didn’t do anything on the play. Sometimes plays happen bang-bang, and guys see a different view. Back-checking, the guys probably thought that our defenceman pushed Fitzy into him, I don’t know, I’m just speculating, but the second they realised it, which was after the game, the next time we played them, Klotz dealt with it and so that shows that guys are sticking up for each other. We’re already the most penalised team in the league, so right now, every time someone nudges into Stewie, do I want a guy taking another penalty? No, because we’re already under-fire enough on our penalty-kill. Now, if there’s intentional contact then absolutely, so it’s very easy to say we don’t protect each other but there is a time and a place for everything.”

Q9 to James Pease: In a recent interview it was said that you and the owners back Danny 100%. Why are you so confident in the guy sat next to you?

James: “Everybody gets to see the team and Danny for three hours a week, but we get to work with him all week. Chuck (Weber) showed us what we want from our next coach, his work-rate was non-stop, his preparation, attention to detail and we wanted all of those things in our next coach, and somebody who could be here for a number of years and actually build something at this club. We wanted an individual that has passion, who is a leader and knows what it means to be part of the Coventry Blaze and had won Championships here before. Danny brought all of the things we wanted, and that still stands. There’s nobody questioning Danny from our side of things at all. We are 100% behind him, from the Directors, staff and players and we want to give him time to settle in and put down his beliefs and get back to that ‘Blaze hockey’.

Q10: Should the fans have 100% faith in the decisions of the ownership with regards the team?

James: “Absolutely you should. It’s not easy bringing in the right coach for your team. We had Paul Thompson here for such a long period and we were so successful, to even begin to think that he wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t have even dreamt of that and maybe it has taken a few individuals to get that right. In hindsight maybe some of those decisions didn’t work out right, but that’s the nature of sport. How many managers have Manchester United changed and replaced? At the end of the day we now feel we have the right person, and I hope everyone in this room shares that belief.”

Q11: Danny, on the bench you have Peasey stood with you. How did that start and how do you feel essentially having your boss standing next to you?

Danny: “It was my decision 100%. As a club we obviously have to budget for certain things and we looked at the possibility of having an assistant coach, because coaching on your own at the pro-level is very, very tough, but we didn’t feel it was within our budget so we looked at how we can fill that void internally. Pease is a guy I’ve known for over a decade now, he’s a guy I trust and the fact that he’s my boss had no bearing on the decision. I’m confident enough in my own methods and ability as a coach, to not keep him away from benefitting this club because I’m insecure in having my boss hanging over my shoulder. We felt as a club, this was the best way to have someone in place without having to dip into the budget.”

Q12: Peasey, how do you feel being on the bench, is it something you enjoy doing?

James: “We don’t have the money of Sheffield, Nottingham or Cardiff or whoever. It’s all hands on deck, so I’ll take any opportunity that I can to support Danny. We’re here to work Monday to Friday full-time, then a home game on Sunday, so currently I’m giving up my one day off to spend with my family, but that’s what you do when you are trying to support somebody else and the club to be successful and you have a whatever it takes attitude. It allows Danny to focus on running the lines, and the special teams and seeing what the opposition are doing and make adjustments, and it gives him someone to bounce ideas off and talk to because otherwise it can be a pretty lonely position to be in otherwise.”

Q13: Do we have defensive problems?

Danny: “Has our defence been fantastic? No. Over the past couple of weeks we have struggled defensively but if you look before the Sheffield weekend, we were mid-pack for goals against and in the top 5 for shots against. We had an awful weekend up in Scotland and yes we gave up six against Cardiff but before that the numbers suggested that we weren’t defending that badly. When we made alterations we were struggling to score goals, we were in a lot of hockey games and we just could not score goals. When you’re chasing games, you play different hockey. When you’re down 1 or 2 nothing and you’re getting chance after chance and you can’t score then you tend to start pushing as a team to try to create goals and that sometimes means giving up chances that you wouldn’t usually give up.”

Q14: Are we too small defensively?

Danny: “Godfrey is 6’2”, Clements 6’1”, Cants 6’1”, Noble 6’1”…. So you can nit-pick and say we miss a bit of this, or that, but then if we sat here with four guys 6’4” back there, you’d probably be asking do we lack some mobility, so sometimes it’s tough to get the balance right. I do think we have defenceman who play physical, it all depends on the personnel. It’s easy to get a guy 6’4” back there but as you guys have seen that doesn’t always translate to be an effective player.”

Q15: Danny, as you’ve alluded to, we’ve had goal-scoring problems, what can we do to improve that?

Danny: “Generally, I don’t think it’s down to a lack of chances. You can blame some of it on the mental side but equally guys have got to bear down and be a little hungrier in those areas and find ways. Piety has scored 5 goals in November, the majority have come from in and around the front of the net because he’s been in there creating havoc around the goalies, and if we see more of that I think guys will start to score more goals.”

Q16: Danny, the ownership have backed you making changes, is there more that they could do?

Danny: “Since I’ve been here, if there’s a way that they can help me out or make this team better on the ice they’ve done it.”

Q17: Jordan, you’ve played for a number of organisations over your career, how does the ownership group and the way players are treated in Coventry compare to those of your past?

Jordan: “Without a doubt this is the best ownership group that I have had a chance to play for. Time and time again that they are willing to learn and that they are willing to change and grow. Obviously, no one here is excited about where we sit but I don’t think that we can say that they haven’t been trying to learn, grow and improve. I think that you should all be confident, or at least know that they are working to improve and change things and that they are not satisfied.”

Q18: Do players like playing for the Blaze and living in Coventry?

Jordan: “I can only speak for myself but I have really enjoyed my time here. I’ve had some good experiences in my pro-career and some not so good experiences. I was in Poland before I came in and it was a great life experience but there were some things that weren’t professional and I think here in Coventry it’s been nothing but professional. The life away from the rink has been great, I love the city of Coventry, you guys have been very supportive of us, my wife enjoys it here and I’ve heard a lot of the same from our other imports.”

Ash: “This is my 9th year here and ask my parents, if I don’t want to do something, I won’t do it so, when I left Sheffield there was a couple of options, but there was never any question which one I was going to take, and for me that says it all.”

Q19: We bought back a number of players who finished 8th last year, was that a mistake?

Danny: “I think at the time it was the right decision. If you’re re-tooling every year it’s very difficult to find success. Although you finished in 8th place, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have good hockey players on your team. The guys that we bought back, we felt could help take us forward. If you take Cardiff as an example who are top of the league, they are in a positon now through essentially three years of hard work and three years of bringing in guys, adding elements and getting rid of elements that didn’t work out and look where they are now. We spoke about time to implement what you want and that’s a good example there.”

Q20: Do we need a more experienced back-up to take pressure off Brian Stewart?

Pease: “It goes back to the point that the pie is only so big and it’s how you cut it up and what you prioritise. Is a second goalie a priority? Maybe it is, it’s something we’ve got to look at but we can’t just keep bolting things on and bolting things on, there’s just no way that can happen because it wouldn’t be sustainable. This year we’re carrying two more players and spending more than any other year and it only goes so far.”

Q21: How does playing in the Erhardt conference affect us as a club?

James: “It’s a tough place to be. Within our squad we want toughness, we want depth etc. but we aren’t spending what other teams in our conference are spending. We’re about 40% less. We can’t just go out and get whatever player we want. There’s probably 5 guys on the Cardiff defence that are earning more than any of our defenceman. They have an American league centre on their fourth line and a guy who used play in the NHL. They fourth line probably costs more than our first line.”

Q22: But we aren’t getting results in the cross-conference games?

Danny: “I don’t think in one interview this year I’ve talked about budgets in our conference because I think it sends a wrong message to our players, but yes, it’s a tough place to be, we play regularly in our conference and get used to playing those guys, and maybe confidence is a bit low, it’s tough to go up to Scotland and switch. Don’t anyone think I’m justifying our performances up there, I’m not. The triple-header was unacceptable. Should we be winning more games? Yes absolutely we should. Am I happy? No I’m not. Are the players happy? No they’re not. No one is satisfied here, we need to better as a group and that’s why we’re here.

Q23: So what are you going to do?

Danny: “We’ve got to put our heads down and work. People might think that’s an easy answer, but it’s not, especially when confidence is low. There’s no easy solution. I can’t pull Stewie in and say here’s a magic formula to stop more pucks, forwards here’s a magic solution to score more goals, we work on our structure daily, we work on our principles daily, and we try everything. I think back to when I was with Fife a few seasons ago to show how these things can go. We were bordering around 8th/9th place and we could not score goals. After a 4-1 loss in Hull, we came in the next day and changed all of the lines and powerplay units. We went into Edinburgh, out-shot them something like 20-7 in the first period and we were 1-0 down. I then put three guys together, Ned Lukacevic, Matt Reber and Jordan Fulton. They went into the second period and I think scored four goals as a line. We won 5 or 6-1 and from that point on we went on a 17-3 on the stretch, scoring goals for fun, and it happened just like that! That one period just gave guys some kind of belief and I think we’re lacking that a little bit right now. That one breakout game that gives guys a bit of belief because we do have a good hockey club and we should be better than where we are.”

Q24: Is there anything else that we can do as fans to help the club?

Danny: “Our fans have been great this year. This is something that we need to fix internally. Starting with myself and the guys in the dressing room, we’ve just got to be better on a more consistent basis.”

We would like to thank everybody who came along to the fans forum, and to those who asked questions either at the event or prior via e-mail.