Danny Stewart’s Coventry Blaze will face the Nottingham Panthers in the semi-finals of the 2021 Elite Series, it was confirmed on Sunday [25 April] evening.
The Blaze will face Tim Wallace’s side on back-to-back nights, with the first leg scheduled for 17:00 on Tuesday 27 April. The second leg will follow a day later, with play scheduled to begin at 19:30 on Wednesday 28 April.
On Monday morning, Coventry’s head coach Stewart took questions from the Elite League media pool, this is what Stewart had to say.
The Boar: David Clements and Jordan Hedley were among the Blaze players called-up to the national team last week, how important has the Elite Series been in ensuring those players were in contention for a trip to Latvia?
Danny Stewart: I think really important. Those two were given the opportunity to play some additional minutes in this event and credit to them for taking advantage of that. Every year you give guys opportunities, some take it and some don’t but they’ve taken in their stride and made the most of it.
David [Clements] has played some fantastic hockey for us… and in all situations: five on five, powerplay and on the PK as well.
Jordan [Hedley], when he’s come in, has been great for us. My intention was to play him on Sunday [versus the Panthers] … but when we needed that point, I made the last-minute decision to go with [Shane] Owen. But, you know, that wasn’t anything against Headley, Owen’s a top calibre goalie at this level and we wanted to make sure that we got into that second versus third game.
For those two to make [Team] GB? It’s well earned.
David, over the pandemic, has had the right habits, the right mentality. Instead of getting down and feeling sorry for himself that we weren’t playing, he continued to work continued to stay in shape and, and push for next season, and Hadley’s the same.
The Boar: Were you surprised by David Clements coast-to-coast goal? Is that something you thought he could do at this kind of level?
Danny Stewart: I’m gonna be an honest hockey guy here. [laughs]
And it was a very nice goal… but I think I don’t think Finner [Ryan Finnerty] would have been very happy after the game over the defending on that goal either.
So, I think it was a bit of both. I don’t want to take anything away from David: it was it was a great goal. But, like I said, I think Finner would argue that his defending wasn’t great on that play.
The Boar: Over the last couple of games, Ross Venus has been featuring alongside Luke Ferrara and Janne Laakkonen. What made you decide to switch Venus and Simen Andre Edvardsen in the line-up, and how do you feel both players have responded to their new roles in the team?
Danny Stewart: The idea behind that was to get a little bit more speed in the middle between Janne and Feds.
You know, obviously, they had fantastic seasons for us last season, and they had Andrew Johnson in between them who was an elite skater who was able to push defenders back and create space for those guys. And I think they they flourished from that.
Eddie [Edvardsen] is starting to come on a lot. I think he’s shown his quality shown his individual skill. I think it took him a little bit of time to adjust to the style of game here but he’s [improving]. I’m excited to see what he can do in playoffs.
We’ve swapped those guys back and forth a couple times now. So, you know, depending on the feel of the game on tomorrow, you might see them back and forth again.
The Boar: Where do you see Alex Forbes’ future, is he an out-and-out defenceman these days?
Danny Stewart: No, no, I like the fact this event has given us another [opportunity] to see him back there and I think it adds value when you’ve got a versatile swing guy like that.
But our intention is to use him up front next season, he factors in on our penalty kill up front and provides us with depth as well, but it’s great to have them there [in defence]. It’s great to have the ability to pull him back [to the blueline] if we run into injury problems like we have in this event.
The Boar: Shane Owen leads the Series for save percentage despite facing a significantly higher number of shots than his peers. Last week you spoke about how you had concerns about puck management, do you feel the team has made progress in tightening up since then?
Danny Stewart: Yes, but probably not as much as I would like.
Take the last six periods for example, or even the last nine periods. Three bad second periods in the last three games, for whatever reason, and that seems to be our downfall right now.
I think we have relatively good starts where we come out and play well… we just tend to get away from our game at times.
We absorb a lot of pressure, absorb a lot of shots, and I think we are defending well, but we’re defending too much. When that happens, you get tired and then holes start to open up and your teams can burn in.
Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to maintain it with Manchester and Nottingham but not so much with Sheffield… so, our focus the last week or so is just trying to get as close to 60 minutes as we can.
The Boar: Coventry has excelled on the powerplay throughout the tournament, your conversion rate sits at 36.17% at the moment, what is behind the team’s success on the man advantage?
Danny Stewart: I mean, good personnel!
I think any coach can sit here and say ‘Oh, we got great structure we got great setup and great ideas’ but at the end of the day, it’s your personnel.
We try to be direct and, maybe more than other teams, we look for better plays rather than just throwing pucks on net and getting bodies to the net.
I think we’ve got a few different options: Keck, having the Series he’s having… Ferrara [after] leading the league in goals last year and then you’ve got two elite passers like Hammond and Laakonen on that unit.
I mean, like I said, personnel was probably the biggest thing but our second unit’s done a great job as well with Clements, Edvardsen, [Nick] Jermaine, Venus, and [Sam] Duggan as well. Duggie’s [Duggan] got two or three tip goals there on the powerplay and good net presence.
It’s been a combined effort. But like I said, we’ve had success early on. And sometimes, sometimes that’s what sees you through I think, if you have that early success, you get confidence from it. We’ve just got to transfer that onto five-on-five a little more consistently.
The Boar: Your side beat Nottingham on three of four occasions during the regular season. Looking ahead to the semi-final against the Panthers, do you take confidence from the fact that you hold a winning record against tomorrow’s opponents?
Danny Stewart: Process-wise? Absolutely, after playing a team four times, we learned a lot and we obviously had the exhibition game against them as well. We’re quite familiar with how they play and I’m sure they are as well.
In terms of the results of the event [so far], I don’t think that’s going to factor in much to this playoff. I think everyone’s gonna kind of put their heels down and get ready to go. Then you’ll see the pace elevated, the physicality elevated and I think it’ll be a matter of who plays the cleanest hockey and who can who can execute what they want to do and capitalise on their chances.
The Boar: In Austin Cangelosi the Panthers have a player who is dominant in the faceoff circle – he’s won 129 draws and lost 76. Are faceoffs an area of concern for you heading into the semis?
Danny Stewart: We’ve talked about it a lot. He’s very good in that circle and our faceoffs haven’t been a strong point for us.
There have been a couple of games against Sheffield and Nottingham where we have been at 30% [at winning draws]. I think anytime you’re losing that many faceoffs, you’re spending a lot of time chasing and trying to win the puck back rather than playing with the puck and I think that that is that has been a big contributor to our shot totals against.
The Boar: Are we likely to see Paul Swindlehurst competing in a Blaze jersey this week?
Danny Stewart: It’s highly likely that he will dress Tuesday. We’re still monitoring to see how he feels and responds to his last couple of treatments. But there’s a good [chance] that we will see him in some fashion in this event.