Watch the 2005 playoff final on Sunday
Allow us to set the scene.
The Coventry Blaze were formed in 2000 and in their early years at the Skydome Arena picked up an unwanted tag of bridesmaids as they finished second in the British National League (BNL) and were losing finalists three times.
That was until 2003 when the Blaze finally found a way to be the bride, lifting the BNL title in Dundee. They followed up the success with a second trophy, defeating the Cardiff Devils in the playoff final.
Shortly after, Blaze announced their move up to a newly formed Elite Ice Hockey League and led by Paul Thompson, had a more than respectable first season in the top-flight of British ice hockey finishing third and qualifying for the post-season playoffs.
After the season, a major overhaul came with Thompson saying goodbye to several stalwarts including Steve Chartrand, Hilton Ruggles, Steve Carpenter, Shaun Johnson and Michael Tasker.
The players who had helped the club become winners in the BNL remained; Jody Lehman, Ashley Tait and Joel Poirier whilst Thompson kept faith with Brits Tommy Watkins, James Pease and Russell Cowley.
In response to his side being intimidated in their first Elite League season, in came respected tough-guy Andre Payette along with consistent ECHL point-producers Dan Carlson and Adam Calder.
The biggest signing of the summer was arguably defenceman Neal Martin, a player with significant Super league and DEL experience. It was a huge sign of intent from Thompson as the Blaze got set to upset the hierarchy of British Ice Hockey and overhaul well-established arena clubs; Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers and Belfast Giants.
The season didn’t get off to the best of starts for Coventry though – that was until the signing of Toronto Maple Leaf Wade Belak in early November due to the NHL lock-out.
From then on, the Blaze became almost unstoppable. The likes of Doug Schueller signed from Basingstoke Bison provided a solid base in front of big-game goalie Lehman whilst the forward lines all found chemistry with Calder and Carlson tearing up the league’s scoring charts.
An injury to popular Slovakian Pavol Mihalik did little to upset the team’s defensive cohesion as Jozef Lukac, a fellow Slovak who was remarkably released by bottom of the table Bison was snapped up and fitted right in.
A sensational victory over the Cardiff Devils in the Challenge Cup final in late February was followed by the lifting of the Elite League title just 11 days later.
The grand slam was in sight for Thompson’s men who first had to navigate a three-team group stage deciding who moved to the playoff finals weekend. Despite the Blaze being held to a 3-3 draw by Nottingham on home ice, their qualification was sealed with 4 wins out of 5 with Thompson saying:
“I’m proud of what we have achieved as a club. We’ve knocked off the big boys to do this and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. There has been something special around the place this season, that chemistry that wins you trophies. It doesn’t come around often and if you can mould the 18 different personalities that you get at the start of the season into the system, you get results.”
With Lehman stopping 41 shots and goals from Carlson, Watkins and Poirier, the Blaze brushed past the Sheffield Steelers in the playoff semi-final to set up a date with destiny.
Sunday 10th April 2005 - a playoff final against the Nottingham Panthers, and a historic Grand-Slam on the line.
The game has never been available to watch online in its entirety but this changes on Sunday (29th March 2020).
4pm face-off over on Blaze TV YouTube Channel.