Luke Ferrara and Janne Laakonen became the latest Elite League players to secure a roster spot in Europe, with the Coventry Blaze duo confirming their moves on Monday evening. Both players had agreed to return to the Skydome Arena for the 2020/21 season, but will instead head to the continent in search of ice time during the EIHL’s Covid-19 suspension.
Ferrara, 27, has signed a short-term contract with French side Boxers de Bordeaux, joining former Blaze teammate Andrew Johnston in Ligue Magnus. Veteran Finnish forward, Laakonen will ply his trade in the second division of Austria and Slovenia, joining EHC Lustenau for the duration of the upcoming campaign.
Ferrara led the EIHL in scoring last term, registering 33 goals for the Blaze on route to a third-placed finish in the league. The Team GB international was voted into the Elite League’s First All-Star Team, and later went onto sign a two-year contract extension with the Blaze.
It was also confirmed that David Broll had joined the ECHL’s Indy Fuel
Laakonen enjoyed a similarly impressive 2019/20 campaign at the Skydome Arena, leading the Elite League with 40 assists, whilst securing a spot on the league’s Second All-Star Team.
Earlier this month, it was confirmed that David Broll had joined the ECHL’s Indy Fuel – returning to the United States after a positive debut season with the Blaze.
The Elite League is currently suspended due to the financial impact of social distancing regulations, with the majority of clubs hoping that it will be possible for British ice hockey to return in 2021.
It has been a privilege to report on the Coventry Blaze since arriving at Warwick two years ago.
My association with the club began as a fling but quickly turned into a full-blown love affair. Though I can’t claim to have been in the trenches with you for the long haul, I consider the Blaze to be my team.
On that note, I wanted to take a moment to think about what happened on Sunday, 8 March. With the score tied at 2-2, Drew Schiestel intercepted a loose play from the Dundee Stars on the cusp of our defensive zone.
The puck fell to Andrew Johnston, allowing him to break through centre ice alongside Luke Ferrara. With six seconds remaining, the Brit struck gold. Ferrara’s strike sent the Skydome into raptures and lifted the Blaze into third in the standings. It was a moment of genuine euphoria.
The suspension of the 2020/21 season is a bitter blow to British ice hockey.
The third-largest winter sport in the UK, hockey had been experiencing a period of growth before lockdown. Attendances in the Elite League were up, the Devils had performed commendably in Europe and Team GB were looking forward to a second year among the sport’s elite at the World Championships.
As Danny Stewart admitted in his interview with Ed Kimberly, that momentum has since dissipated.
The likelihood of the EIHL returning in February feels slim. League bosses haven’t ruled it out, but with the coronavirus surging across much of the UK, it seems unlikely that the 2020/21 season will get off the ground.
It’s brilliant news that Luke Ferrara has a roster spot in France for the next month
If we accept that reality (which I have, begrudgingly), our attention must shift to supporting the players that made last season so special.
It’s brilliant news that Luke Ferrara has a roster spot in France for the next month. If any of the 19/20 Blaze group deserved a Covid-19 reprieve, it was Ferrara. It’s easy to forget that he became the first British player to lead the Elite League in goals.
Put it this way, Ferrara wouldn’t look out of place on any of the rosters that his former Blaze teammates have moved to this summer. Let’s hope his stay in Bordeaux is long and successful.
Stewart’s remarks this morning have poured cold water on the notion that the league’s return is imminent. In comments previously disclosed to The Boar Sport, a club spokesperson said the Blaze would be willing to compete in a post-Christmas tournament if the conditions were right. Stewart’s comments indicate that the club hasn’t given up on playing in early 2021, but his focus seems to have shifted towards the next campaign.
I’m simply gutted for everyone in the UK ice hockey community
When I think about hockey, I’m hit by a wave of emotions.
I’m really sad that the season hasn’t started. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve said: “I can’t wait for hockey to come back”.
I’m angry that the sport has been ignored by the government. I just feel like something could have been done.
I’m delighted that Ferrara, Laakonen, and Broll have landed on their feet. I hope they hit the ground running for their new clubs.
I’m simply gutted for everyone in the UK ice hockey community – players, coaches, and fans.
That said, we mustn’t lose hope. I do not doubt that the sport will return to British shores because ice hockey is in safe hands.
Until next, come on you Blaze.