WINNING the Elite League play-offs was the perfect way for Blaze duo Ryan O’Marra and Mike Egener to finish their careers insists Jereme Tendler.
Blaze completed a remarkable turnaround under coach Chuck Weber to secure their first piece of silverware since 2010 and deny the league champions a second successive play-off triumph.
Goals from Steven Goertzen, Tendler, Ross Venus and captain Ashley Tait helped Blaze to a 4-2 victory over Sheffield Steelers in the final at the National Ice Centre.
It was a fitting end for O’Marra, the team’s leading point-scorer this term, and Egener, who was beaten in the semi-final with Blaze two years ago.
Tendler said: “We have had a lot of leadership this year, a lot of older guys. Some of them were not coming back, they were retiring, and they are some heavy names. You looked to the left and you looked to the right and you had guys who had played in the NHL and 15 years pro and you just thought ‘I can’t let this guy down’ and everyone gave it all they had.
“The guys were really confident before the game. We had a battle all season just to win one game, we had a lot of one-goal games, shoot-outs so we were pretty comfortable playing in a tight position.
“We knew it was going to be a battle. We had to beat Nottingham first to get to the semi-final and we had another tough team in Belfast which went to a shoot-out and finally we played the first-placed team in Sheffield. It was not going to be easy but we stuck to our systems, we knew our structure and we did it.
“They got a couple of goals back but there is a lot of leadership and veterans on the team, Goertzen won the championship last year and him, O’Marra and Egener just said ‘we have a two-goal lead, there is nothing to worry about, just keep playing our systems’. It was a great help and reassuring.”
Blaze head coach said there was no better feeling than lifting the title with Blaze just a few months after taking charge mid-way through the season.
He added: “There is nothing better. The last game of the year there is usually only one team happy at the end of the play-offs and fortunately it is us. All the work the boys have put in I could not be happier for them.
“The boys have embraced the process. When I got here in the first 10 games we only played 10 or 11 guys what with all the injuries the team was going through. We did a lot of video, we did a lot of teaching on the ice, we broke things down into pieces and they embraced it.
“This is my fourth (play-off success), third as a head coach and they are all fantastic. That is why we do this, I am in this business to win, it is like a drug. I couldn’t have asked any more from these guys.”
Justin DaCosta and Brian Stewart
celebrate. (s) Photo by Scott Wiggins