When C.J. Motte arrived in the Elite League, he made quite the stir. The American netminder played a starring role on his home debut for the Coventry Blaze, leading his new side to an 8-3 win over the Guildford Flames on 22 December 2019.
A fairy-tale run in the crease would follow for the Minnesota native. Not only did Motte finish the campaign with a league-leading .927 save percentage (SV%); he also oversaw 15 wins in 24 games and was voted into the EIHL’s First All-Star Team.
Formerly of HC Innsbruck, Motte was an instrumental figure in Coventry’s 17-game unbeaten streak and secured three shutouts before the 2019/20 season was cut short by Covid-19.
Now 29-years-old, the left-catch goalie has found a home in the West Midlands after becoming an instant fan-favourite at the Skydome Arena. He is also popular amongst the club’s staff, with head coach Danny Stewart hailing the American’s return at his pre-season press conference.
He was pretty high up on our priority list
– Danny Stewart
“It wasn’t a certainty [that Motte would return for 2020/21] but he was pretty high up on [our] priority list,” Stewart told reporters on Wednesday. “We had him signed for what would have been the 2020/21 season and, when that got shut down, he was fortunate enough to get some playing time and spent some considerable time in the American [Hockey] League.”
Unlike many of his Blaze teammates, who were forced to sit out last season due to the pandemic, Motte found work in North America, making a total of 15 appearances. The 6’0” goalie initially signed with the ECHL’s Allen Americans, registering a 6-1-0 record and upholding a .923 SV%. A loan spell with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers followed, with the Ferris State graduate making three appearances in the second tier before returning to Allen for the ECHL playoffs.
When asked about the importance of securing Motte’s return, Stewart added: “We pushed for that one [re-signing Motte] and made it a top priority to get him back.”
We’ve got a goalie in C.J. that plays the puck very, very well
– Danny Stewart
However, changes are afoot in the Elite League. For the first time in the history of British ice hockey, the trapezoid zone will be implemented. The change, which limits where goaltenders can play the puck, is not something that Coventry’s head coach is worried about, though.
“We’ve got a goalie in C.J. that plays the puck very, very well… if anything [the trapezoid zone] limits him a little bit in one of his strengths. He is very active coming out and playing the puck and but, other than that, I don’t I don’t see [the rule change] making too much of a difference,” Stewart concluded.
All in all, the new campaign offers Motte another opportunity to stake his claim as the Elite League’s best netminder. He arrived on British shores to minimal fanfare in 2019 – but a lot has changed since then.
If the Blaze are to continue their upward trajectory under the stewardship of Stewart, their American goalie will have an instrumental role to play.
On Sunday, competitive ice hockey returns to Coventry. C.J. Motte will be there, too.