This week on Question Time we welcome Braehead Clan head coach Ryan Finnerty to the Panel.
It is the week the Elite League relaunch its website, Tyler Plante suffers injury and is replaced by 36-year-old Marek Pinc, Coventry’s poor start continues crashing out of the Challenge Cup at the expense of Manchester, Kevin Noble gets a 5 game ban for clipping whilst Joey Martin gets a 1 game ban for throwing a water bottle in the same incident, and Storm netminder Zane Kalemba wins EIHL Player of the week….
The panel answering the questions this week, consists of…
Finnerty first burst onto the EIHL scene in 2007, joining Sheffield mid-season after a brief spell in Italy and prior to that over 250 games in the East Coast.
The popular Canadian completed two further succesful seasons winning the League title and two play off championships before leaving in 2009 for Bloomington in the IHL.
The sabbatical from the Elite League only lasted 15 games however and soon enough Ryan found himself back in the UK, this time around with Cardiff. Again he was a big success, averaging a point a game. In his second and concluding season with the Devils, he captained the Welsh side clocking up a notable 228 PIMS, a career high and 4th in the EIHL that year, behind messrs Penner, Campbell and Lepine. Finnerty significantly the only one of those mentioned to bag more than 50 points that season (65).
What turned out to be Ryan’s final playing season (2011-12) saw him back with “the family” of the Steelers where he accepted the role of player coach. A nagging back injury saw Ryan only play the one season in this second spell with Sheffield, and he retired to become their full-time coach. However both campaigns went without silverware, and his contract was not renewed by the Yorkshire club. However he wasn’t out of work for long, accepting the head coaches job, and being an integral part in the rise in fortunes of Glasgow based club, the Braehead Clan over the last three seasons. 2014/15 saw Braehead win their conference (Gardiner) but finish runners-up to Sheffield in a closely run contest, something Finnerty, is sure to want to put right.
As usual I asked our regulars to give me one word for “Finner” this is what they gave me.
David Simms “Beauty”
Craig Summerton “Fiery”
Marc Lefebvre “Humorous”
Seth Bennett “Relentless”
Neil Russell “Rink – Rat”
Seth Bennett, is an award-winning freelance journalist and broadcaster. After working for Radio Sheffield for 12 years, Seth turned ‘freelance’ in 2011. Seth has commentated on a rich, variety of sports, and also worked at the London Olympic games for the BBC, and has appeared regularly on BBC 5 Live and the World Service. Seth is an avid sports fan, and as well
as hockey, regularly enjoys, Football, Cricket and Rugby”
Marc LeFebvre is the head coach of the Dundee Stars.
As a player LeFebvre, played in North American, UK (Sheffield, Coventry and Edinburgh), France and Holland, playing well in excess of 500 professional games.In 2011 Marc took his first GM/Head Coaches position with the 1000 Island Privateers before moving on to the Dayton Demons where he won the League Coach of the Year award. In 2013 LeFebvre moved back to the UK, accepting an assistant coach’s job with the Sheffield Steelers this soon led to him accepting the Head Coach position in Coventry in 2014, which didn’t work out as well as he hoped. Marc accepted a short-term assistant coaching position in Eastern Europe (MOL Liga) before heading back to the Elite League and the Dundee Stars”
David Simms will not need an introduction to many of you. From Team Manager of the Solihull Barons, in the late 80s and very early 90s, David accepted the challenge to help set up the Sheffield Steelers in 1991, and has rarely looked back. Often a controversial figure, David is a speak it as you find it kind of guy, but whose knowledge of British Ice Hockey is second to none. As well as being the long time front man for Sky Sports Ice Hockey coverage, Dave also appeared in the BBC documentary “The Estate Agent” which captured him in his day-to-day professional life”
Neil Russell is the General Manager of the newly reformed Manchester Storm. Before landing the job with ‘The Storm’ Neil was the voice of the Belfast Giants for three seasons, commentating on the excellent “Giants Live TV” as well as also hosting and co-presenting Premier Sports excellent Hockey coverage for 3 years. Neil is a keen, and very gifted cricketer, and led the Northern Irish side Instonians to the league title last season”
Craig Summerton may be better known to some of you by his Twitter handle @block15blaze. Craig is the author of the very popular blog nothingbutgoodthings (nothingbutgoodthings.wordpress.com). A very respected authority and voice on British Ice Hockey, Craig is an avid Coventry Blaze fan since the clubs inception in 2000, and now travels regularly from London to watch the Blaze”
Stuck In the Box: 11 games since last Wednesday in the Elite League. What has been your stand out team performance since then? Is there a result where you have thought “Wow”?
Ryan Finnerty (RF) I think everyone is looking at Edinburgh and constantly surprised with how well they’re doing. The result in Sheffield was a surprise only because they were so short benched but they have a dynamic team that can create scoring chances out of nothing. Chubak gives them the stability we are all looking for in net, he wins them games, he has been incredible every time we have played them.
Seth Bennett (SB) It has to be Dundee 6-all with Belfast, coming back in the final minute having conceded was amazing and showed great character. I can’t imagine the amount of video Favor is consuming after this weekend though.
Craig Summerton (CS) Sorry Seth, but its got to be Manchester going into the Sky Dome, equally depleted as their opponents, full of sickness and coming out convincing winners to complete a 4 point weekend. Their first away win of the season in their most important. It wasn’t a 3-1 game, it was a 5 or 6-1 game. Blaze stunk the place out, that was my “Wow” moment. I was stunned how poor the effort and performance was from a team who were seemingly going in the right direction, regardless of how many games in how many days it was very disappointing.
Marc LeFebvre (ML) Yep, Manchester’s win over Coventry Sunday. Must win game for both teams to advance to the next round of the cup and Omar and the Storm stepped up to the plate and got the job done. Have you come down from cloud 9 yet Neil?
Neil Russell (NR) Just about Marc, just about. Yes Rob, it has to be my Manchester Storm’s performance vs Coventry last Sunday to clinch a berth in the ¼ finals of the CC. A sickness bug spread across the team prior to the weekend, so a few of the guys that played on Sunday, should have been tucked up in their beds in all honesty. Very proud of the teams efforts.
David Simms (DS) I can’t disagree with the last few comments, I think the Manchester win in Coventry. It was the first real “Must Win” game of the season for any team. That game made Manchester £20,000 and lost Coventry a lot more, both financially and surely in confidence. Coventry not making the quarter finals is simply not acceptable to the owners of that club, or shouldn’t be.
Stuck In the Box: Steelers netminder Tyler Plante has unfortunately been hit by injury and Paul Thompson has had to bring in 36-year-old Marek Pinc to cover, how will the effect them?
CS It’s very difficult to find a grade A guy at this time of year. Despite a good start Plante has struggled to live up to expectations and in recent weeks has been Sheffield’s weak link. Steelers give up less shots than anyone in the league. So far, on average Plante has faced just 25 a game. Thompson wasn’t looking to replace a world beater, he just needed someone who could make the stops a goalie in this league should. Pinc has a CV which suggests he should be able to do that.
DS We will see, we only announced it at 6am today. But I can tell you Paul worked throughout the day and night for two days. Lets hope its worth it.
The Sheffield ownership and management have had a net minding crisis to deal with this week
RF I am sure the new guy will be fine.
ML At this time of the year its hard to find the quality you want at such short notice. In saying that, his CV suggests that he can be a good injury cover, and I am sure Simmsey will have him integrated into their “family values” in no time.
SB Who knows Rob? He is a quick fix for a big problem – he has a good resume and there is no doubt he has shown previously he can play at this level and above. He doesn’t have time to play himself in though, and he needs to be sharp and quick.
NR I don’t know a lot about the guy, but what I have heard over the last 24 hours has been positive. Knowing Thommo the way we all do, he may well have found another stud with Marek.
Stuck In the Box: In the summer it was suggested that net minding standards had increased across the league. What are your feelings on this now?
SB We seem to have seen some high scoring games, I am not sure if that is down to deeper squads or worse goaltending. I think there have been some amazing saves and every netminder has shown they are beatable so far.
NR Good question, reading a lot of social media, it’s fair to say Holt in Braehead hasn’t had the start everyone was expecting off him, given his superb resume. One thing I will say though, remember Frank Doyle? He had a slow start to his first season here, and ended up back stopping Sheffield to a championship. He was easily their MVP during the “business end” of the season.
ML I think it’s been up and down across the board but I think that’s due more to the fact of the quality offensive players that have been brought in throughout the league. There’s more creativity thus leading to better scoring chances.
DS Goaltending has always been a strength in this league I have felt. In the summer I thought the standard had risen but I’m not so sure. It’s very good but is it really better? The chap in Nottingham looks the most consistent right now. We have seen others have great times and then not so great times. It’s good but it isn’t great – is it Ryan?
CS How many goalies are looking at their numbers and feeling happy right now? Simmsey, is right regarding Wiikman, he certainly will be happy with how he has started the season. But I feel there are a number of guys who will be feeling they need to be better. Two or three others might be content but overall I’d say the netminding standards have been below average thus far.
RF I believe the reason for the parity in the league this year is down to one, the increased level of imports and two, the quality of goaltending. Goalies can win you games and we are seeing that week in and out now, teams are getting heavily out shot but still winning games.
Stuck in the Box: Braehead and Coventry aren’t where they want or expected to be in the table. Coventry playoff winners but bottom of the league albeit with games in hand, and the Clan 8th after narrowly missing out on the title last season, again though with a game or two in hand. What can both teams do to change their fortunes?
DS Nothing wrong with Braehead is there Rob? Look at the table, no really look at it. Their win record out of conference is already better than last year, they have played most of their games on the road and out of conference. In another 15 games time when everyone is roughly on the same page then you will see Braehead in the top 2/3 for sure. Coventry is a different story. There is obviously something wrong there, a little like Chelsea. Everyone has their opinions but they are all slightly different. I think the Blaze would like to have their summer back. Some lazy recruitment.
ML Both of their coaches would be better to ask for specifics but I think all 10 coaches are looking to change their fortunes in some way. Unless you’re winning night in and night out and sitting in first place, coaches will always be looking to improve their teams in different areas to become better and get results.
SB Braehead need to play a few games at home that will really help them. The Clan don’t scream that they are a Ryan Finnerty team. They have been at times a bit perimeter and they are not as in your face as I anticipated. That said, they will still be up there come March. Coventry appear to have bigger problems. Scoring remains an issue and Chuck Weber needs to find a way for the team to be more creative, whilst improving it’s defensive play.
RF I can only speak for Braehead here and while we aren’t where we want to be, there is no panic in our camp. This league has been home team dominated so far (43-14) We have only played 3 home “League” games. Compare that with Nottingham playing 9 to date and the picture becomes a bit more clear. Its far too early to over analyze at this point, the key is to stay focused, not to ride the roller coaster that a long season will throw at you. We understand the expectations in Braehead are high at the moment and we need to channel that pressure in the right direction.
NR I think the Clan will climb up the ranks soon enough, they’ve had a tough schedule so far this season, spending a lot of time on the road. Finner doesn’t settle for mediocrity, so he’ll have them flying soon enough. Regarding Coventry, I can only speak for what I saw last Sunday, and for me, there wasn’t a lot of emotion. Blaze had played 6 games in 10 nights I believe, not easy on any team, but in an important game like Sunday they needed a spark. A big hit. A fight. A big energy shift, to excite the bench and the crowd. It didn’t come. (And I’m glad it didn’t!!)
CS I think both need to make personnel changes before it’s too late. Fingers are always pointed at the coaches in these situations but for me both teams have an abundance of players paid to produce who quite simply aren’t doing it.
Stuck in the Box: How much of Braehead’s slow start is a direct result of the likes of Dundee and Edinburgh upping their game
DS None what so ever. Braehead are better than them both and will show that over the season. Credit the other clubs for sure but Braehead are the best team in Scotland and the only Scottish team with a chance of silver this year. Their schedule has been the worst, the table can lie in November, it won’t in March. Any Braehead fan even slightly concerned right now is crackers.
ML There’s a few factors that are probably coming into play. This league is a marathon and not a sprint and knowing Ryan, I’m sure he’s not hitting the panic button yet. They have a veteran group there and I’m sure they’ll rev it up sooner than later.
RF Come on, I already answered this one Rob!
NR No doubt that Dundee have improved massively from last season. They’re the one team that have blown us away both times we’ve played them. Favor is doing a great job there & I’m delighted to see it after he had a difficult time last season. Re Edinburgh, I’ve already mentioned a few times how impressed I’ve been with them, they have a great product there this season, with some size, toughness and Ryan Hayes!
“Maybe, but Braehead will still be the top Scotland team” David Simms tell us
CS A big factor. Clan can no longer expect to win any game in their conference. Marc and Riley have recruited very well, both have goalies who can steal them games and a handful of offensive guys who can do serious damage on their night. Fife too are starting to put some form together. It’s that old cliché again but there are no easy nights in the EIHL anymore.
SB I think Braehead competing in the CHL, the lack of home ice have been two of the biggest issues for Ryan. However the Gardiner is better this year, which helps everyone BUT Braehead.
Stuck in the Box: How much will missing out on qualification to the quarter finals hurt Coventry and Edinburgh?
RF I will leave this one for the other guys to answer. It’s not one I really want to comment on.
DS Won’t hurt Edinburgh at all. They won’t have budgeted for it. It would have been a confidence boost if they had made it but their league form recently will be a great replacement. Everyone happy to see the Cap’s doing well. Coventry very different. This summer on the back of the play off success they built to win. Big coach, bigger budget and bigger expectation. They, I think assumed that the good times were back. Then in two weekends they find themselves out of Europe in what was a winnable group and then out of the Cup against a side put together in 6 weeks. It’s more the way they went out as well, at home, in a big game. The Blaze are a big time club, or were they?
ML From a business side of things, it definitely hurts the club in regards to the lost revenue from having the extra home game. On the hockey side, it’s a major trophy we play for and not qualifying for the quarter finals is failure in my eyes. If it’s not seen as that then why even enter the competition.
NR Financially, it will hurt. The guaranteed extra home game helps the qualifying clubs a lot, hence why we placed importance on getting to the next stage! Though if we end up drawing Belfast in the ¼’s, that’s always an expensive trip for a travelling team to add into the mix.
CS Edinburgh expect and plan for it. For Coventry it’s a massive hit in the pocket having to try to sell tickets for a dead rubber and losing the quarter-final gate and perhaps beyond. It also felt a turning point for fans, the pressure is now fully on the organisation, management and players to act and find a way to climb the table because right now the Blaze faithful are well and truly fed up.
No more challenge cup games at Coventry’s Sky Dome Arena this season after an early exit. “That will hurt them and it highlights how hard the Midlands team are finding things this term” according to Seth Bennett
SB I am not sure it hurts either of the long-term, but it does highlight how hard Coventry have found it this term.
Stuck in the Box: Sheffield have been caught up in another drama this week, this time showing a goal that was waved off (incorrectly) by the official on the big screen, were they right or wrong to do that?
CS If the league can’t figure out a way to offer the officials the benefit of video replay then it shouldn’t be played back on the big screen for all to see. It didn’t change anything, just served to undermine and alienate a young referee who probably already feels like the league is doing very little to help and support him and his colleagues.
NR I knew this one would come up! Simmsey, stop creating drama!! I can see both sides of the argument on this one. I’m all for creating theatre in the arena, BUT, I can also see how it undermines the referee at the same time, and can create a hostile environment for them on the back of showing the replay. On this occasion, I would have aired on the side of caution & not played it. The game is there to create the theatre for the fans, not the video replays.
SB I don’t think the crowd should ever be given a replay a ref can’t use on a controversial incident while or just after the decision is being made. The bigger issue it highlights, is the need for video reviews and how we do that going forward. It is not about goal line technology, it is about having a video referee which adds more cost than just the technology.
RF They have the technology to do this, I wish we had the same in Braehead. These replays are shown at the NHL level, whether it was a missed call or disallowed goal. I don’t think Sheffield did anything wrong but I noticed they didn’t show the offside that led to their game tying goal against us a few weeks ago. But in all honestly, I think its great for the fans to be able to watch the replays live as it adds more excitement to the game.
ML Put it simply, they were wrong. Unless the official has access to it during the game to get the call right then it shouldn’t be shown. It’s basically undermining the officials. Have you been fined yet David?
DS No Marc, and I don’t expect us to be. 100% yes we were right. Just because we have worked hard to raise the funds to build our own screen and have the facility to do that, because every other club would have done the same and they would have been right to do so. The high and mighty in Wales (Not Todd Kelman by the way, who agreed we should do it) have had a moan but that’s what they do best, moan. If it was a bad injury then out of respect sure, don’t show it, but this was part of the theatre of the night. A massive turning point, a huge incident. 4,500 had paid good money and they deserved to see what had happened.
All those after the event showing holier than vow morals make me laugh. If its good enough for the NHL its good enough for me.
Stuck in the Box: Finally, stick your neck out time. Derrick Walser spoke in the week about the fact that he is still learning how to combine being a player with coaching. However, Belfast and of course Cardiff are flying high in the league with player coaches. Are criticisms about club’s not employing full-time coaches unfounded?
RF You know what? I don’t think you can make an assumption like that after 10-13 games into a season. I personally think for this League to grow and get more respect from the Hockey world, we need to dissolve the player coach mentality and only employ bench coaches. I have done the PC role and have the up most respect for the guys still doing but I truly believe the game deserves full-time coaches at this level.
CS Player/coaches have won here before and they will win again. It is though something which harms the reputation of our league in Europe and beyond, right or wrongly. There are many variables but at the end of the day I expect Paul Thompson to get the better of both Lord and Walser. Could it be different if either stepped off the ice? Perhaps but equally they are both vital pieces to their team.
ML I’m not a fan of having player/coaches but both Cardiff and Belfast have given Andrew and Derek a good support network around them to have success. I think that is the key if a club is going to go that route. It also helps that Derek and Andrew are quality players and people. Derek hands down is the best defenceman in our league right now and I tried to sign Andrew (Lord) in Coventry before Todd and his crew took over Cardiff. Thanks Killer
DS Player coaches are here for one reason only, financial. Ryan has done both ask him. My view is that clubs should have head coaches not player coaches but I accept at the lower end (Edinburgh) they need money on the ice so can see why they do what they do. Both coaches at Cardiff and Belfast are doing good jobs but clubs their size should have head coaches (bench)
NR Personal opinion, I would always, budget permitting, have a full-time bench coach. Player/Coach is often said as being the hardest role in hockey, and it probably is. BUT, Cardiff & Belfast have a superb back room staff to assist their player coach. Neil Francis in Cardiff is an ex pro, and Devils through and through. In Belfast, Coach Walser has the experienced Rob Stewart behind the bench, Adam Keefe, Shane Johnson, Brandon Benedict and of course Steve Thornton to call on for help & support! That’s a LOT of help compared to most. And don’t forget, Walser is arguably one of the best offensive D men to ever ply their trade over here. He was looking that next step, and Belfast has the back room support to aid that often difficult transition.
SB Both Walser and Lord have strong backroom teams, which means they can focus on what goes on, on the ice. If you have all of that, you are picking the play/coach because you believe he is the best man for the job. The difference between that and employing a player/coach just to save money or to save a wage is huge.
So, that bring us to the end of this weeks Question Time, thanks to the boys for their time again this week and big thanks again to Ryan Finnerty for being the special guest on QT!
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As usual, hope you enjoyed this edition of QT, and good luck to your teams, whoever you’re playing this weekend.
Goodbye for now
Rob, and the boys!