Hockey fans in the UK have been treated to some memorable players over the years. This season, folks in Coventry, and league-wide have had the pleasure of watching a new blue-liner who has been as good as they come. A player who was Phoenix Coyotes property for two years, played in seven NHL exhibition games, and even shared the ice with the ‘Great One’, Wayne Gretzky, at a Coyotes training camp.
Murph On Ice was lucky enough to catch up with Mike Schutte recently, to chat about the Elite League, NHL players coming to the UK, and of course his time thus far in Coventry. Check out their 1-on-1 conversation here:
Murph On Ice – First off, thanks for taking some time to join me on the website Mike.
Mike Schutte – No problem Murph, I am happy to do it!
Murph – The fans in Coventry are a very passionate and knowledgeable group! How are you enjoying your experience in Coventry off the ice and in the community?
Schutte – You’re right Murph, the fans in Coventry are very passionate and knowledgeable, as well as extremely supportive. I think the fans in Coventry are hard working people themselves, and they appreciate the type of fight and character and ‘never say die’ attitude that our team has shown so far this season. My time in Coventry so far has been awesome. It’s been a big change for me and my family coming from living in the mountains of Italy last season, so it’s been nice to use the amenities in the city that weren’t as easily available to us last year. The biggest reason for our happiness so far though has been the many friendships formed already with my teammates and their families, the kids at my daughters school, our supporters and our coaching staff who truly know how to handle and treat professional hockey players.
Murph – The UK Elite League may seem like a far away hockey destination for North Americans – but for those involved in the game here, we know the hockey is good. Tell us about the level of play in the league thus far and have you been surprised?
Schutte – There are many talented players, and I have had my eye on the Elite League for a couple years now, and just by looking at the rosters year in and year out I can see how it’s getting better and better. I could be wrong because it’s my first season here, but I’m guessing this year is as strong as any for talent and competitiveness. There is a lot of parity in the league, so any team can win on any given night, and every game is a battle. For me, the high level of play is not surprising because I was aware of the type of quality player personnel each team was bringing in, and of course the possibility of NHL players coming to join us during the lockout.
Murph – Speaking of the NHL lockout, we’ve obviously been hearing a lot of rumours about guys coming this way to play. And now, we have seen Anthony Stewart, Drew Miller, Tom Sestito and of course Matt Beleskey sign to play in the UK. Are you looking forward to playing against and with these guys – do you think it’s good for the EIHL as more will certainly come?
Schutte – I have two takes on this. I think it’s great for the league, and the UK to help generate more interest in the sport, and as a player I want to play with and against the best players possible, so I am happy to have these players here for those reasons. Another side of me feels bad for the players sitting at home with families to support but can’t find jobs. I’m obviously conflicted how to best answer this. I have mixed emotions. I love the fact that we are playing with and against NHL players, but I have a soft spot for those struggling to find work.
Murph – We all are familiar with the short bench the Blaze have faced through injury, and of course Mike Danton’s Visa experience. But, do you think that this has oddly benefited the club in a ‘us against the world’ way – as guys have had to bond on and off the ice quickly, and battle for each other night-in and night-out?
Schutte – Thommo has recruited a great group of guys here and deserves a lot of credit. When you genuinely care about the guy next to you it makes you want to do that much more for him. We have been forced to battle through some early adversity, but guys have stepped in and accepted their roles. The young guys have come to play each night, and been relishing in the opportunity to go out and get lots of ice time against other teams top lines, and they are gaining great experience from that. We’ve all had to turn our games up a notch to pick up for missed bodies, and when we become healthy we are only going to be that much better and that much deeper. Our injured guys are hungry and chomping at the bit to get back on the ice as well so when they come back our team morale is going to get even higher than it is right now. I also want to quickly say that in my view and the view of many, the UKBA made the wrong decision not letting Mike Danton in the country to work. He would have been a tireless worker in the community, and a positive influence and role model for the team, and many people in and around Coventry and the UK.
Murph – You’ve been playing a lot of minutes in all situations so far – and you certainly have the coaching staffs’ confidence. Tell us a bit about playing for Paul Thompson, what he expects of you, and what kind of coach he is?
Schutte – Thommo and Matty have been very refreshing for me. They have taken the reins off me, and allowed me to do my thing offensively. They have everyone not only buying into their role on the team, but enjoying their role as well. I feel like a kid again going to the rink each day. It’s a fun atmosphere to be around but in a serious manner. I think he expects what the city deserves, and that’s a team with passion, grit, toughness, talent, a desire to win, and guys that will go through walls for each other. I think we have given them that so far, and it seems they have a lot to be happy about. I have been coached by many great coaches in Junior, NCAA, AHL and NHL, and Thommo ranks up there with the best of them.
Murph – It’s early in your first Elite League season – but what has been your favourite place to play on the road thus far – and aside from the Blaze fans, what opposition supporters have stood out for you as far as their passion goes?
Schutte – I haven’t been to all arenas yet, but my favourite so far has been Nottingham. As far as supporters go, I really like the support of the Cardiff fans. I personally have even received messages from Cardiff fans congratulating me on a good game, so I enjoy the respect amongst enemies attitude.
Murph – And finally Mike, the Blaze have certainly been getting points, and finding ways to win despite being short staffed, and now that Mike Bayrack and Beleskey will be playing, and some injuries are clearing up, what can the Elite League expect from your team the rest of the way here this season?
Schutte – Well I hope they can expect a lot more of the same, but I believe we will be that much stronger with a deeper line-up capacity. You can expect a team that will do anything for each other to get the win, and display a never give up attitude. As guys come back, everyone will be getting a little less ice time, so that means we can give that much more effort when we are on the ice because we will be more fresh. We are excited to have both Bayrack and Beleskey on board, and we are looking forward to having Domish, Cameron, and Cowley back. You add those 5 to any roster and your team improves significantly. I think the Elite league can expect a hard working team that attacks in waves and defends with vigor – one that we hope will be very intimidating and difficult to play against.
Murph – Thanks again Shooter, I’ll see you at the Skydome soon enough.
Schutte – No problem Murph, thank you for having me on.
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