Welcome everyone. First of all, I trust you all had a very merry Christmas and a great new year. Its a crazy time in the hockey world isn’t it? Games come thick and fast! Apologies for the delay in getting this next edition of “Q.T.” out to you. We should be reverting back to weekly from now. Enjoy reading, and don’t forget to send me your feedback. Rob.
It is the week Cardiff Devils lead the EIHL and add the very highly rates Ryan Russell to their ranks taking their import count to an incredible 17, Sheffield’s recent good run continues and see’s them move up to 2nd in the league, the Clan also have hit their stride and march into third place, Marc LeFebvre is given a 2 year contract extension, and the hunt for a new forward in Coventry continues ….
As a reminder here are you panelists…
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”
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.wordpress.com). A very well 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”
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”
Stuck In the Box: So, first of all, it’s been a hectic few weeks for everyone, none more than the people answering these questions. Did you all have a good Christmas and New Year?
Seth Bennett (SB) It was a working holiday season for me but still some to enjoy the celebrations with my family.
Craig Summerton (CS) 11 from 14 points for Blaze to end the year, including back-to-back victories over the Panthers. There’s no better way to celebrate the festive period than by beating that lot – twice!
Marc LeFebvre (ML) We had so many games over this period I didn’t really have anytime to enjoy it but the many bottles of wine and champagne I received as gifts made up for it.
David Simms (DS) Christmas day was a nervous one – waiting for Boxing Day – but that was a good day. Incredible crowd, the largest ever for an EIHL game, over 9,000 – huge 50-50 – and a win – so yes Christmas was good.
Neil Russell (NR) I was home in Belfast for a few days over Christmas and got to see family & friends which was great, but hockey is never far away, so most of the festive period was spent at games, on the phone, or on email! “No days off in hockey”- David Simms. (He is right!)
I am not going to lie, Neil mentioning he was in Belfast for Christmas just gives me the chance to use this fantastic photo to promote what is a a superb city!
Photo Credit: Forward Continuance
Stuck In the Box: It’s been a few weeks since the last Question Time, my apologies for that, but I think we all know the reasons why! Pick something out over the festive period, that was your highlight, something that gave you warm fuzzy feeling!
CS Jordan Pietrus’ scoring exploits in front of his visiting family. His Mum, Dad and wife so proud and seemingly enjoying their time in Coventry. He has the potential to be a future captain for the club. Sign him up!
Coventry Blaze forward Jordan Pietrus has been on fire in the last few weeks
“A potential future captain” Craig Summerton tells the panel.
Picture Credit: Scott Wiggins
DS I think our highlight was Boxing Day, 9000 in, huge 50-50, huge shirt off your back and a win – for a Steeler it doesn’t get better than that warm and fuzzy – well that might have been going into Manchester on New Years Day – seeing how well things were going there, big crowd, great atmosphere. Also the day after to see so many Storm fans so committed so early to their side and travelling in such numbers – there is only one team in Manchester, the Storm.
ML That the league is still wide open. All ten teams are still competitive and it’s good to see every team has a chance to win every night.
SB Manchester having a full building for the Sheffield game. I had been working and arrived midway through the second period, it was amazing walking up to the building, seeing the car park full, hearing the sound from outside the building and then walking through the doors and seeing that old rink rocking. It was a great moment in the short life of the franchise.
NR Seeing our rink in Altrincham packed out on New Year’s Day was special! Not a bad effort considering we’ve only been on the ice 4 months as a club again. And what a game it was too. Superb spectacle for everyone in attendance. Hopefully many more of those nights to come, as we continue to build our club brand across all of Manchester. Also, to see 200 Storm fans travelling to Sheffield the following day was awesome. Our fans sang the whole 60 minutes and were simply awesome.
Stuck In the Box: Congratulations to Marc, a 2 year contract extension – something unusual in the Elite League I guess for a coach a 2 year contract – what has been the key to Marc’s success in Dundee
SB Recruitment. Marc has done a great job of finding players who are hungry for success and who have delivered. I also think that he deserves a lot of credit for the way he is maturing as a coach. Like all coaches he learnt more in failure, hard lessons that stand you in good stead for the future.
NR Firstly, well deserved recognition for Marc. I’d say maturity is the key behind the success. Marc had a tough ride in Coventry last season, and like with most things in life, when you go through a tough time, you learn a lot about yourself as a person. Some will wilt and fade away, Marc pulled himself together, went to Hungary and coached there, learnt a lot, and has now integrated a lot of what he learnt in Europe into his coaching strategy/culture in Dundee. Fair play to him. Good things happen to good people, and Favor is exactly that, a good person.
Question Time’s own Marc LeFebvre has recently been rewarded with a 2 years contract extension. Well deserved agree the panel.
DS The quality of he predecessors. No seriously, Marc has done a terrific job. Dundee rolled the dice with Marc. Tarnished from the links in Sheffield with Christensen, things not working out to well in Coventry many wouldn’t have taken the risk. Dundee did and were rewarded with a motivated coach knowing he had to make a success of this chance.
Marc has worked hard, took his job seriously and now has been rewarded with this extension. I think the two were well matched as well. Dundee needed someone who would work 24/7 and he needed a club he could develop. – perfect match. Happy for him.
ML First of all, thank you. Greatly appreciated. The thing for me is maturity. The experience of last season and going to Hungary gave me a chance to grow as a person and coach. I learned a lot in how they do things in mainland Europe and a pool “A” nation and have implemented them here in Dundee. It also gave me time to reflect on things from my time in Coventry and what I needed to do to become a better coach. I still have a long way to go but the key for me is to learn something new everyday and bring it to the rink. On the other side of it, the Wards saw and believed in my vision and allowed me to bring in the players that I believed could help us be successful. My main point for recruiting this team, and always will be, was that they had to be a good person first and foremost. In the past, I would take a chance on a guy who had character issues but was extremely skilled but now I’d rather take a guy who may be less skilled but is a great teammate and is willing to go to battle for his teammates every night. I believe we’ve gotten that right here this season and the results have shown on the ice.
CS Good recruitment first and foremost, lessons learnt and a coaching maturity which has developed in a short amount of time. Also, a strong commitment to making Dundee the best they can be on the ice. Well done Marc, well deserved.
Stuck in the Box: We have spoken before about Devin Didiomete, and there were some eyebrows raised when Neil and Pacha bought him back – trying to jump in the other penalty box, seems a bit crazy – that was over the top at best wasn’t it?
DS It was crazy, it was daft, I guess it was Deeds all over. Great photo’s of Deeds trying to climb into the Fife Box mind you – Manchester should have got that photo everywhere to publicise them. I would have.
ML I’m sure the Twitter world had a good time with it. I don’t know all the facts but as a pro you have to have controlled emotions. DOPS has dealt with it for the league and I’m sure Neil and Pach dealt with it in house.
Devin Didiomete made the news over Christmas, Seth Bennett says it “Wasn’t a smart move”
David Simms however would have “Got the photo everywhere”
Pic credit: N.Y.D.T.
SB It was not a smart move from Devin, but he is the kind of character who sometimes oversteps the mark and this is one of those occasions. He has been punished and he knows what he did was wrong.
NR Bar this incident, Devin has pretty much been the model professional since his arrival. He brings a hard work ethic to practice every day, and the same to games. He’s excellent with the fans, and good in the community. That being said, YES, I would prefer everything to happen ON the ice, not off it!
CS I said previously in Question Time when he signed, “Drama just seems to follow this guy around” Nothings changed. Everywhere he goes an incident occurs”
Stuck in the Box: Sheffield, Nottingham and Braehead have all recruited net minders for various reasons, Cardiff and Belfast sit top of the league with two very good guys in their net who have thankfully escaped injury – how much has a hindrance to the aforementioned three clubs have the injuries been to Plante, Wiikman and Holt – is this the reason the Sheffield, Nottingham and Braehead are not higher up the league?
DS Goaltending is a Question Time all on its own. Firstly to answer your question – YES – those three teams haven’t had consistent goaltending all year either from their starters or replacements.
The rules on Work Permits though effected goaltending more than anything else this summer. We thought that the standard of goaltending would improve this year especially with some big resumes coming in. Reality is that the standard across the board has fallen and the quality of goalies has diminished. That is down to the rules for obtaining WP (Work Permit)
ML I don’t believe that is the reason. It certainly hasn’t helped things especially trying to find a replacement/cover at that position during the season but the guys they have brought in look more than capable of helping them win. I believe it’s more to do with the fact that there is parity across the league that has them where they are in the standings.
Tyler Plante has moved to German outfit Lowen Frankfurt, after failing to be given assurances of keeping the regular number 1 spot.
Pic credit: BBC Radio Sheffield
NR Good question Rob, but I don’t believe it’s the reason. This league is easily the tightest from 1-10 that I’ve ever seen. So many quality players, and the old cliché of “anyone can beat anyone on any given night” is 100% right.
CS If Sheffield had any sort of consistent goaltending I believe they would be leading the pack right now. That’s irrelevant to injury though, Plante wasn’t good enough and nor is Pinc. For Clan and Panthers their main issue hasn’t been in net, injuries or otherwise it’s been the consistency of those in front.
SB In short no. Cardiff are top of the league because they have played more games than anyone else and they have a good team. Sheffield, Nottingham and Braehead have all lost games they should have won and dropped points at times they shouldn’t have. BUT that said if Sheffield, Nottingham and Braehead would be very close to Cardiff if they win their games in hand.
Stuck in the Box: The Blaze have recovered a little since we all last spoke, despite losing twice to Belfast at the weekend, the team sit in a playoff spot – but still no forward to replace Lukacevic – has this been a surprise that Blaze have waited and waited so long for the right man?
DS Yes as there are players available however they have played well recently, maybe they are happy with their lot and are just saving the cash for when the right guy appears.
ML I’m sure it hasn’t been from a lack of trying. Chuck and Peasey are looking for a specific type of player and they seem to be being extremely patient to make sure they get the right fit. All ten clubs are always looking to improve their teams but are not going to make a move for the sake of making one. It’s not like North America where you can bring a guy in whenever you want with limited costs. There’s many variables that come into play when trying to bring a player into our league.
NR Like all clubs, you have got to do your due diligence on players. I have no doubt Chuck & Peasy could snap a player up right now, but is he the right man? Evidently not. I’ve no idea what budget Coventry have got for their new guy, but I know there’s not a lot out there in terms of real quality. They’re biding their time for the right guy, and rightly so.
Coventry Blaze Director of Hockey James Pease still searching for a forward to replace the departed Ned Lukacevic
Picture credit Scott Wiggins / Coventry Blaze
CS I applaud the club for not panicking despite missing out on numerous high end targets. It’s frustrating for both fans and the club but a real difference maker is required and there’s no point settling for anything less. The playoffs is Blaze’s sole goal and it’s essential the best possible guy is found to give them a chance at that trophy again. Perhaps they could push harder but when for example the rich Champions of Denmark three years running are in competition it’s tough for a club like Blaze to compete.
SB Yes. The question of Coventry and recruitment is one that has been raised several times. Blaze are starting to put some results together and it is important they continue to do that. I am somewhat mystified as to why it has taken so long to bring a replacement. I get that they have been waiting for the right player, but I think if you cut a player midseason when you are in trouble, you have to always have a hit list ready to go. That said Coventry are scoring goals and are playing the kind of hockey that will wreck somebodies dreams of winning the League title.
Stuck in the Box: Ben O Connors recent penalty shot selection against the Caps raised a few eyebrows – would Thommo have been a little miffed when he saw him try and pull that move again, or is it artistic license at that stage?
CS Without asking him it’s impossible to know if he was absolutely furious or sent Ben out for the sole reason of pulling that shot. We lauded him for nailing it on a critical shot for GB so I guess it’s unfair to bash him for trying it again in that situation unsuccessfully.
ML I haven’t even see it so I can’t comment on the move. When you pick your shooters, you go with the guys you feel are best in that situation to help you win the game.
NR I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen it either, so like Marc, I can’t comment! I do recall Ben’s penalty shot last year for GB, and that was audacious!
SB He can’t be miffed, that is Ben’s move, it is as natural to him as a fake shot, deeke to the backhand side and then sliding it through the goalies legs. Ben had Chubak beaten with the top of the net to go at and he went too high. I am not sure who’s eyebrows it raised, the surprise would have been if he would have done something else.
Ben O Connor tried his famous penalty shot again, this time in Edinburgh, but this time his effort was thwarted
Picture credit: The Sheffield Star
DS I think he was happy enough – he was more miffed that his forwards had missed 1026 chances in the game and couldn’t score on any of their penalty shots. Don’t blame Benny.
Stuck in the Box: As we are half way through the season, I am going to ask you again, the question I asked when we first started Question Time – who wins the Elite League this year?
DS I never bet against my own club so Sheffield. To win though they will have to finnish 1 point ahead of the Braehead Clan.
CS I said Sheffield from day one and I stand by that. Tony Smith will support Thompson in any changes he feels he has to make to get the job done and I believe they will with a coach who knows how to get over the line.
ML From 0-60, Sheffield are the best team we’ve played this year. So, if it’s not us here in Dundee then I still think Sheffield.
SB Braehead have the best run in and if they win their games in hand the table will start to tell the story more accurately. Cardiff, Nottingham, Belfast, Coventry and Sheffield are going to beat the living daylights our of one another in this final 3 months of the season. Braehead play the majority of their games in conference and their travel schedule gives them a real chance to win their first title. If there is a team I would want to finish above, it would be the Clan.
Seth Bennett is tipping Ryan Finnerty’s Braehead Clan to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.
Picture credit: Braehead Clan Ice Hockey Club
NR Heart says Belfast, head says Sheffield.
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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!