#OnFire – Ashley Tait Play off special

Ashley Tait, Blaze Captain and long time player, has lifted the play off trophy with the team no less than three times. The first was in 2002/3 in the BNL against Cardiff Devils, the second time in 2004/5 as part of the Grand Slam season, where Blaze beat Nottingham Panthers in an agonizingly tight game which went into sudden death overtime tied at 1-1. With just over three minutes into extra time, Tait raced in on goal and scored the game winner. Most recently was last season where Blaze beat Sheffield Steelers, the then reigning play off Champions.

Having won the play trophy three times with the Blaze, I asked how it felt to win each time. Tait said, “It’s weird, the first one is  obviously special, and the next one with Coventry, our first in the Elite League era,  was to make it the grand slam, so that was very special.  Last year was pretty unexpected to be fair, we beat the first, fourth and fifth seeds along the way, so it was special but for very different reasons.”

With so many games to play each year, I wondered how well Tait remembered the games leading to the play off title. He said, “Last year I remember well – the Nottingham series in particular. We played really well in the first game there and came back tied at 3-3. I was lucky enough to get a goal in the return game. I remember it was an absolute defensive onslaught, we couldn’t get out of their end but everybody held firm and we came good. I think that win went a long way towards getting us the steel we needed to get through the semis with Belfast which went to penalty shots and the final.”

When it comes to preparation, the play off games have a very different feel to regular league games. It really is a case of winner takes all, with only four games between you and the trophy. Tait explained, “As an individual you have to put it all on the line and leave nothing in the dressing room. It’s all about the bigger picture which is winning. It’s all about your team mates, being willing to go through that wall and pay the price.”

While individual players have their own ways of preparing for the games, the most important thing is that the team is ready for the challenge. First they focus on the two leg quarter final, which is an alien concept to some of the import players.  Tait continued, “As a team the preparation this week will be solely based on a two game series. It’s always a little bit difficult, having the mindset to play two games, because it’s an aggregate score over the two legs.  That’s a foreign concept to a lot of the guys when it’s their first time playing over here. I’ve been involved in two legs where you hold a decent lead going in, and it’s very difficult mentally to go in with a two or three goal lead. It’s just human nature that you know you are in the lead, that you are winning, and it doesn’t help. You’ve got to have the mindset it’s a fresh start and it’s 0-0, regardless of what the actual score the night before was.”

With it being confirmed that we face Sheffield in the quarter finals, how confident are the team that they can lift the play off trophy again? “We always said we didn’t have the start to the year we wanted and it was apparent we weren’t going to challenge for the league title, so plan B was to make sure we get to the play offs,” explained Tait. “Anything can happen from there as we learnt last year! Last year is a great lesson for the guys that we’ve currently got.”

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#OnFire – James Isaacs

James Isaacs arrived from Canada partway through December, initially on a two game trial as injury cover, that was extended for a further two weeks and then, at the start of January was confirmed as staying on for the rest of the season.

The 6’1 d man has dual nationality – his father was born in Epsom, Surrey, before emigrating to Canada as a teenager – and he had prior experience of the Elite League before joining the Blaze, having played a season and a half for the Dundee Stars. During that time, he scored three goals and a further 11 assists, as well as helping them to win the Gardiner Conference title in his first season.

Before joining Stars, Isaacs won a championship at junior level in the British Columbia Intercollegiate League in 2010/11. He turned pro with the Mississippi Surge of the Southern Professional Hockey League and a season and a half later he signed in the ECHL with Idaho Steelheads. He played over 50 games for them before moving on to Greenville Road Warriors for a further twelve games.

As a dual national, it is a little easier for Isaacs to play over here, as he doesn’t require a visa. He explained, ‘I applied for my British passport a few years ago and got that, which made it easier for me to come over here. I’d never lived in Britain before I came to play for Dundee. I came over in grade 7 for a four week school exchange, I’ve backpacked across Europe a couple of times, stopping off in the UK, but I hadn’t stayed here for an extended period of time.’

The decision to join Dundee was a mutual one. ‘I wasn’t having fun with my team in North America, and the timing worked out with Dundee. They had been after me in the summer, but I wasn’t available then. I came over in the January and loved my time in the UK. I came back to Dundee last year and was going to go for a third year there, but the coach, Jeff Hutchins, got fired and things sadly changed, so my contract wasn’t renewed.’

As it seems to go in the small world which is Elite League hockey, it was the relationship with his former coach which helped him secure the initial trial with the Blaze. Isaacs said, ‘Jeff Hutchins helped out a bit. I was stuck for a team for the season, and came over to the UK on a whim. I found a cheap flight to the UK and I was going to go and stay with my girlfriend up in Scotland. I was on the train to Edinburgh when I got a call from the Blaze saying that they wanted me for a couple of games, and it went from there.’

Despite the Blaze management announcing that they are hunting for a forward, they have signed Isaacs as a d man until the end of the season. Isaacs is quick to praise his team mates, but can see that he fits a specific role as well. ‘I think I maybe fit a role that they were looking for that they didn’t quite have on defense,’ he explained. ‘We have a great d core, there are a lot of guys that do different things, and I just came in and tried to be that calming defensive defense man. It just worked out that I came in and we won some games in a row, I’m sure that helped as well. If we’d have lost those games I might not be here. Sometimes it’s all about timing and right now I couldn’t be happier. I like it here in Coventry, the organisation is top notch and I can’t complain at all. I’m looking forward to seeing out the season here.’

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Source: Traps

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#OnFire – Pietrus

Jordan Pietrus joined the Blaze later in the season than most of the players, initially coming in as injury cover, but he played well enough to earn himself a permanent spot on the roster.The 30-year-old from Vermilion, Alberta, spent last season in Poland for KH Sanok, posting 70 points (28 goals and 42 assists) in 56 regular-season and play-off games, making himthe leading point-scorer and joint-highest goal scorerin the league. He also scored four goals and one assist in six Continental Cup appearances. While he was at University he spent several seasons as either Captain or Alternate, and it’s easy to see why when you talk to him about the team and how he has settled in.

“I think I’ve settled in pretty well,” he said.“The organisation has been pretty professional in helping me and my wife settle in and I’ve been enjoying Coventry so far. We’ve been made to feel comfortable. The fans have been unbelievable and everything has gone pretty well.”

Making the move from one country to another is never easy and having played in Poland last season but not been picked up at the start of this must have been quite challenging. Arriving late to a team that has already formed does not come without its challenges. “Fitting in with the guys wasn’t too hard to be honest. They are a great group of guys and they welcomed me. On the ice it took me a while to feel like I was settled as the rest of the guys had eight weeks of training together beforehand, so that was a little bit difficult for me initially. I feel that over the past few weeks I’ve started to get more confidence and bring my game up to another level, one that I am happy with.  It’s been a slow process for me, but I think it’s coming,” he explained.

Having come for a short term role, Jordan quickly impressed both fans and coach, and as a result was offered a contract for the rest of the season. “I came here with the intention of winning a job, he smiled.“I was fortunate enough that I was able to do that and I’m glad to have that opportunity.”

During his time with us, Pietrus has shown that he plays very well when on a line with Lauzon and Lukacevic, but that he is equally comfortable playing on any line combination that Coach Weber puts him on. He explained, “The line combinations have been changing quite a bit, I feel like each game we’re starting to improve. There are some guys you naturally have chemistry with, and I’ve played with a lot of the guys. There are still some people on the team I’ve not played on a line with yet though! Our team is trying to find the formula for success, it’s a process. The line with Lauzon and Lukacevic worked well for a while and then we had to change it up again. The last few games have been a bit different, but playing with those guys has been great. We have a line up full of great players and it’s a pleasure to play with everyone.”

Not long after he arrived, Blaze fans voted Jordan as their ‘Player of the Month’ for October. He seemed pretty stunned as he talked about that accolade. “It’s an honour to have been recognised as player of the month. It’s humbling and exciting as it means I’m doing the right things. It’s a product of the environment, playing hockey with good players. I’m fortunate that my line mates are able to help me out, and we had some success. It’s great that the fans recognised it too.”

Looking forward to the rest of the season, Pietrus has the same desire as any hockey player – to win a trophy or two. “We’ve had a rough stretch, but for the rest of the season I want to win some silverware and win a championship. We have to take it one game at a time, one day at a time. We need to continually get better and hopefully we’ll reach the point in our last game of winning a trophy!”

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Mixing materials

Oh, we had fun with this!

First, we explored flour, salt and cornflour, using describing words and saying what we thought each smelt, looked and tasted like. Students were encouraged to use the word ‘dry’.
We then added water, as much or as little as the students wanted, and used the word ‘wet’, mixing as we went. This really met the sensory needs of a lot of the students, and was so enjoyable we did it again.
Extension work included adding oil instead of water, and also making salt dough to explore. Salt dough with added oil had an interesting, addictive consistency

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Floating and sinking

This half term we were looking at materials, and started with floating and sinking. This doesn’t really feature highly in the p levels, and isn’t mentioned at all in the ks1 or 2 science curriculum, but it’s always a good excuse for some water play.

It was interesting that some students couldn’t get enough of the water, while others had to have a lot of encouragement to get involved. Most of my group head the motor skills to fill and pour from the containers.

While looking at what floated and what sank, students were encouraged to collect a range of things from around the classroom. We tried each in turn, and were able to sort them into the two categories ‘on top’ and ‘under’ water. We used the terms floating and sinking and encouraged the verbal students to do the same.

Extension work this term will be done while we are in the swimming pool, encouraging students to notice the things around them, and begin to make links to their science learning in everyday life.

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#OnFire – Blaze Medical Team

It takes more than you might think to put the team on the ice. Take a careful look at the bench on any match night and there you will spot two people just sitting on the back of the boards, chatting and watching the game. The only time you’ll really notice Nicola Sherlock, the team physio, or Matt Robbins, team doctor, is when they have to come onto the ice and help an injured player. Their role though, extends far beyond the sixty minutes of game time. In fact, it can start up to three hours before face off, as Nicky explains, “ I arrive at the rink at about 3 hours before the game, this gives me time to get everything ready before the boys arrival and have a cup of tea before the madness starts. I can see anything between three to ten players prior to a game, dependant on how physical the game was the night before and if we’re carrying any injuries. Treatments can be anything from massage and stretching to help warm up their muscles, taping of wrists, fingers to help and prevent injuries. When the players are in their pre-game meeting, I will normally make up the electrolyte drinks (which they take during the game to help with hydration and prevent salt lose) and make ice bags up for the game. We will then check we have everything we need to take over to the bench in our medical bag (this includes tape, painkillers, glucose tablets, gauze and steri strips).”
Matt has a slightly more relaxed start to the game. “I aim to get to the rink in time for warmup, unless there are any outstanding issues I need to sort out…say hello to the guys and staff, sign the gamesheet so the referee knows there is a doctor at the rink, grab a coffee and get round to the bench!”
It’s not as easy as it looks during a game either. “Contrary to popular opinion, we’re not just sat at the back of the bench chatting…we tend to be watching what’s going on behind the play, making sure guys have got up after hits, watching them as they come of the ice, looking for any issues, or any signs of concussion…I also keep an eye on the away bench for problems…so we rarely see the goals scored!” said Matt. “During the breaks we catch up on any issues from the period, and Nicky does running repairs on the guys. Obviously I sort out any problems during the game – maybe a temporary fix to get through to the end of a period – first priority is to look after the guys, but there is a drive to keep guys available to play!” Nicky added “It’s difficult to watch the flow of the game as we are watching hits, watching players as they come back to the bench and mostly trying to not get hit by flying pucks, sticks.”

After a game, treatment starts in earnest for any injured players. Nicky explained, “Ice bags are given out, some guys will have an Ice bath. We will treat any injuries that may have occurred during the game and set up a treatment plan. Players will also get massages after the game to help reduce muscle soreness the next day.” Matt has a similar schedule. “I catch up on any issues from the game, plan any follow-up for the start of the week, make sure the guys have any medications they need and know what they should be doing with their injuries, catch up with Chuck and update him on the state of the squad, who’s fit for training and who needs a modified programme to allow them to recover.”

Blaze play two games a weekend, and need medical support for both of them. For Nicky this means travelling the length of the country with the team, while Matt gets it slightly easier. She said, “I will normally get to the rink an hour before we are due to leave. I have a medical bag which I will pack all the essentials in which I may need for the game, as well as electrolyte drinks and protein for after the game. The routine when we get there is the same as any home game.” Due to an agreement across the league, Matt does not need to travel. “I save myself for special occasions like the Continental Cup or playoff weekend as the home team provides a doctor for game day, and we look after the away players in the same way we hope that the other teams look after our guys on the road!”

As well as game days, there are training sessions to attend during the week. Matt said, “I drop in to training at least once a week for coffee and a catch up with Nicky and Chuck – we discuss any ongoing issues, any further tests that need doing – also gives the guys a chance to discuss any health issues that may be bothering them. It’s much easier to look after them on match days if you know them a bit off-ice – makes it easier to spot when they’re ‘just not right’”. Nicky has a greater commitment. “I attend two training sessions a week, my colleague Monika does the other two. If any player is injured and not practicing, this is the time they will get treatment and run through any rehab programs. If there’s no one injury (a rare thing) I use this time to write medical notes up and order any medical supplies.”

And of course, there’s life outside hockey. Matt works at UHCW and said, “My colleagues are very good at accommodating my shift requests to fit around hockey, and are quite used to Canadians in Blaze jackets wandering into the department to see me in the week! I have an excellent back-up in Kim Gregory who picks up most of the home games I can’t get to.” Nicky is self-employed. “I’m fortunate that I have my own business, Elite therapy a physio clinic I set up with former Blaze player Joel Poirier eight years ago, so I can be flexible on hours and day. I normally will go straight from practice to work at the clinic. It makes my day very varied!”

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