Top 10 Blaze-Panthers rivalry moments
The Genting Casino Coventry Blaze and the Nottingham Panthers don’t like each other very much.
From the day that the two came together in the newly formed Elite League in 2003/04, despite players and coaches coming and going, the two organisations have continued to clash time and time again.
Ahead of the next meeting at the Skydome Arena in Coventry on Sunday (5.15pm), we take a look at the top ten rivalry moments.
It began that first season as the unmistakeable John Craighead banged home a puck past Coventry goalie Jody Lehman, celebrating with arms aloft screaming into his face from the edge of the crease. The intimidation continued throughout the campaign as a somewhat naïve Blaze side, built up of British National League stalwarts, struggled to offer any significant push-back.
2. 'That' hip-check
The following season (2004/05), a year wiser, Blaze coach of the time, Paul Thompson beefed up his side with near 200 game AHL tough-guy Andre Payette, and later 6’5” bona-fide NHL heavyweight Wade Belak. Thompson’s men were no longer to be bullied by the Panthers, or anyone for that matter. The tone however wasn’t set from the start by the heavyweights, but more so 5’10” Slovakian defenceman Pavol Mihalik who in one of his earlier games at the Skydome, sent the 6’0” Craighead up in the air and crashing to the ice with a hip-check for the ages. With his helmet skirting across the Skydome ice and his big bush of hair sprawling free, Craighead went after Mihalik. A penalty came and with Blaze scoring on the resulting powerplay to win the game, the Canadian quickly realised this wasn’t a Blaze team to be messed with anymore.
3. Tait's famous goal
The same Blaze team went on to win a prestigious Grandslam that season, defeating Nottingham in the Challenge Cup semi-final, and again in the Playoff final with the overtime winner, sensationally coming from a British legend that Nottingham had let leave, Ashley Tait.
4. Team Hollywood
It was in 2008/09 when the rivalry really intensified with the Panthers’ hiring of a ‘brash’ Canadian player-coach Corey Neilson. Quoted in November 2008 as saying “Coventry are not the team they used to be, and the mystique is over,” a riled Thompson hit-back stating, “the comments by an apprentice show that Nottingham are still Team Hollywood – all talk and no show.” It was an accusation not helped by Panthers’ Swedish forward Johan Molin performing in his famous white skates and despite their healthy budget, a last league title not coming since 1956. The “Team Hollywood” tag quickly stuck, and took what was already a frosty relationship between the two clubs to another level.
5. Neilson vs. K.C.
Before taking on coaching duties, Neilson had spent two years as Associate Captain of the Panthers. His distaste for the Blaze might have come early on from being involved in a fight of the year with Coventry’s K.C. Timmons. The battle, not so much voted fight of the year for its quality, more the fact that it was Neilson involved, of whom the Coventry fans had quickly painted the pantomime villain.
6. Jody's payback
7. The bench clearance
After assembling a fourth Championship winning roster to prove Neilson’s words of "the mystique being over," for Thomspon and Coventry wrong, (2009/10), it all came to a head for that generation of Blaze and the Panthers in December of the following campaign, when during a game at the Skydome Arena, Coventry forward Brad Cruickshank was ejected from the ice, and instead of making his way to the locker room, instead chose to skate towards Nottingham netminder Craig Kowalski, toppling over the American as all hell began to break lose. The incident, 8 years old to the day this past Wednesday, has been watched hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube by people all around the globe. For many it was a night that they will never forget.
8. Ginand's spin-o-rama
9. Goalie love
Speaking of goalies, over recent years a battle has ensued between those of Coventry and the Nottingham crowd, not least with former Danish International, Peter Hirsh and Playoff Champion with the Blaze, Brian Stewart. “It’s all your fault” and “Briiiiiiian” will forever ring loud with the 6’5” Canadian who beat out Panthers in the playoff quarter-final in 2015, on way to winning it, before losing the following year in the final to Neilson’s side. Hirsch meanwhile, an Elite League Champion often had a tough time of it at the Nottingham home arena, and in one of Coventry’s struggling season’s, in front of the vocal travelling support at the Skydome, completely lost his rag with Brit Marc Levers.