It has indeed been a wonderful summer. I hope you have enjoyed your off-season. I was fortunate enough to be in Boston to cover Stanley Cup Final games three and four back in June – not a bad way to kick off the sunny months!
Since then it has been a whirlwind for me. I have been to Newfoundland to see my family, and I have moved from London to Dublin, but now that the summer is drawing to a close, it’s time to concentrate on my favorite thing – HOCKEY!
I started to ease back into covering the fastest game on earth, with a few summer interviews with guys who will be very important to their respective clubs. I had the pleasure of chatting with new Cardiff Devils goalie Dan LaCosta back in July after his signing was announced. LaCosta is a fellow Newfoundlander, and a former NHL player, and I knew that chat would be a good one. He’s a real competitor, and true professional – they’ll love him at the ‘Big Blue Tent’.
In August, I spoke to one of the fiercest guys in the EIHL, and one of the finest leaders on any team – Adam Keefe. I have a lot of respect for the Belfast Giants Captain – he plays the game at a fast, hard-nosed pace – and is always there for his teammates. Pound for pound, probably the toughest guy around.
Now, as I look forward to the start of the 2013/14 UK Elite League season, I cannot contain my excitement! I will be calling Belfast Giants home games this year for Giants Live TV. I started last weekend (August 31-September 1) with two exhibition games against the Bolzano Foxes. Not many ‘experts’ or onlookers gave the Giants much of a hope against the Foxes who will play in the Austrian League this season, but co-commentator Simon Kitchen and I got to cover two wins for the men in teal (6-3 Saturday, 2-1 in OT Sunday).
The Bolzano coach is Tom Pokel – who is also the Italian National Team coach. I met Pokel in Budapest when I was calling the Team GB games over there at the World Championships for Premier Sports TV. Pokel’s Italian side won the Gold in Hungary, and he is a fantastic bench-boss – and a great measure of what new Belfast coach Paul Adey was up against in that exhibition series. I spoke with Adey after both wins, and he was thrilled at the effort of his club, and pleased with how his lines had looked throughout the weekend.
Well, exhibition game are just that – exhibitions! But things are always easier to gauge when you’re winning – and from my perspective in the commentary box, Giants fans should be happy as they start the journey this Saturday at home against Edinburgh.
Some things that really caught my eye – the Calvin Elfring pairing alongside Cody Brookwell. Elfring was an offensive force against Bolzano – dangerous on every shift. Brookwell was rock solid, and Elfring knew he was free to roam as his partner would be backing him up defensively.
Dustin Whitecotton on a line with Colin Shields and Jeffrey Szwez – this trio looked at times like they could take over the game! Whitecotton was the ‘Man-of-the-Match’ last Saturday after the Giants 6-3 victory. He’s so strong on the puck, makes intelligent passes, and never seems to be out of position. He could be a fan favorite at the Odyssey without a doubt. Szwez has that easy skating stride that looks as if he’s taking his time, but then all of a sudden he’s past a defender and it’s panic stations for the opposition. Long, smooth strides that kind of reminded me of a hockey god – Mario Lemieux! Colin Shields was also magnificent – and his power-play goal on Saturday in the second period can be described as an absolute rocket – the guy can shoot the puck. All in all, a fantastic trio that will have the rest of the EIHL worried.
Hockey can be like that – we see the goals – we see the big hits – we see the more noticeable attributes. But, something I was equally impressed with last weekend was the partnership between David Phillips and his brother Kevin. If Elfring and Brookwell are going to be able to play big minutes and frustrate teams, then Adey needs that brother pairing on the blue-line to be solid, and play important minutes too. He got exactly that against Bolzano. I would venture to say that the Phillips brothers were unsung heroes in the pair of wins. They made no mistakes, were always in position, and did the little things right all weekend. Davey was also very physical, and he had several big hits, and came to the aid of teammates on a few occasions.
I could go on and on, but the point is this – the Belfast Giants looked very good against a team that was supposed to be better than them. They looked like a team that has cohesion, and understanding of what their new coach expects from them – they look like a team that will contend and battle for trophies throughout the upcoming campaign.
And I am very grateful to be a part of that campaign! I’m really looking forward to calling regular season action at the Odyssey throughout the year, and am certainly in the mode after the two exhibition games. Tune into Giants Live TV – drop me a tweet with a question or comment and I’ll try and mention it on air! After all, hockey is supposed to be fun – the EIHL is accessible and interactive – and we get it all going this Saturday!
Enjoy all the action wherever you are, and whoever you’re cheering for. I look forward to hearing from you.
You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce