Ice Hockey: Blaisdell puts the bite into Panthers

Nottingham's Canadian coach has managed to put their city on the ice hockey map.

THE NUMBER of men from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, who have made a mark on Nottingham's cultural heritage over the years is hard to quantify precisely, but in Mike Blaisdell, the 38-year-old coach of the Nottingham Panthers, the city knows it has at least one who is determined to blaze a trail.

Blaisdell, a veteran of nine seasons in the National Hockey League with Detroit, Pittsburgh, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers, is acknowledged as one of the most astute and inspirational coaches operating in the British Super League and tomorrow night at the Sheffield Arena he will be attempting, against the odds, to lead the Panthers to their third Benson and Hedges Cup triumph in five seasons.

Blaisdell took over as player-coach at Nottingham in 1992, after winning the championship as a player with Durham. After so much success, especially in this competition, he might be forgiven for taking it lightly this time around, but at last week's pre-final dinner in London, Blaisdell was having none of that. "It's important for any sporting club to have real success," he said. "Last year was devastating for us because we finished fourth in the league and didn't win a trophy. I'm nervous thinking about the final already.

"Sheffield is only 45 minutes away so our fans will be coming in droves, the tickets just went and that's all people have been talking about. We've got two games in the Super League this weekend [they beat Newcastle and lost to Cardiff] but no one even mentions them. I don't even think most of our fans know where we're playing in the League - they're just thinking, "Ayr, the Cup, December 5th."

Blaisdell's own passion for ice hockey is as difficult to convey in printed words as the speed and excitement of the game itself. "There's so much to ice hockey," he said, "but you've got to go to a game to appreciate it. Get as close to the ice surface as possible and you'll get a new respect for it. You've got big, strong guys, turning on a dime, skating like figure- skaters and playing a very physical sport.

"There's skill involved, grace and there's vision - that's the thing. Everything happens so fast but it's that player who, out of the corner of his eye, spots a man open and puts it right on his stick. Then there are the big hits and the fights. The fights aren't bad for hockey because no one ever really gets hurt. If you're at a hockey game you can see why it gets to boiling point and they have to let off some steam - there's an intensity that's hard to duplicate."

Although the game in this country is still struggling to secure a place in the consciousness of the average sports fan, with the advent of the Super League, increased television coverage and sponsorship, Blaisdell believes it is on the right track. However, when it comes to the thorny issue of imported players ice hockey seems no clearer about its direction than football, rugby union or cricket. While Nottingham should, injury permitting, have one home-grown player in tomorrow's line-up in Simon Hunt, Ayr will have none.

"The sport has progressed since I've been here in that there's a higher level of talent on the ice," Blaisdell said, "but I feel it's hard for the British kids to get their foot in the door. There are some very good British players but I don't see too many up-and-comers getting the opportunity to show what they can do. There's a thought process that says these guys have to be exceptional to get a chance, whereas there are imports that I don't feel do a better job than the British kids."

The other side of the coin is that British players like Hunt and Jonathan Weaver who have been given a chance are playing to a better standard.

"It used to be that you'd get the puck and think 'OK, there's five British guys on the ice, I'm just going to score a goal'. That would never happen now. The Super League has isolated a select number of British players and they're forcing them to play at a higher level than they ever thought possible, which brings great benefits to our national team and it's really showing."

Blaisdell's own playing days are numbered now, despite returning to the ice to help with the injury crisis that Nottingham have endured since their epic semi-final victory over Manchester. With only 13 fit players out of 20, and having lost the away leg 3-2, they went a further goal behind during the first period before winning 3-1.

The task tomorrow is an even harder one. The Ayr Scottish Eagles, hoping to become the first side to retain the Benson and Hedges Cup, won all four domestic trophies last season and on Tuesday in Mann-heim came within a minute of becoming the first British side to qualify for the second round of the European Cup.

Blaisdell and his players, though, have their sights set: "They hand out these really stupid looking baseball caps to the winning team and I was talking to some of the guys and one of them said: 'I just want to wear that yellow, felt hat again. It's something that you'd never, ever wear again but you put it on, look stupid in front of 7,000 people, and it's great."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot