GOALTENDER Brian Stewart has admitted he’s chuffed to be back in Coventry for his third successive season with the Blaze, and added he’s on the hunt for further silverware.
Regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the league, Stewart’s arrival in Coventry comes on the back of some of the most stunning saves the EIHL has ever seen – and the Canadian native is hoping this year will be no different.
Stewart will once again be joined by fellow goaltender Renny Marr, who has already iced minutes for the Blaze this season – including the club’s sensational 6-5 win over Nottingham last week.
The former Landshut star spoke exclusively to The Observer ahead of the new competitive season which starts this Sunday (September 4) as the Blaze face Nottingham in their opening Challenge Cup contest.
The 31-year-old said he’s been impressed with the signings coach Danny Stewart has made throughout the summer and added that he’s already clicked with the new imports, a couple of whom he’s skated with before.
He added: “I got back in Coventry a couple of weeks ago and had a few skates just for fun and then some practice sessions too so things have gone well.
“The fans are superb, this is my third season with the Blaze and they’ve been nothing but superb.
“They’re very loyal fans and I’m happy to be back, the group of guys we have are superb and I like a lot of the signings this year.
“I’ve played with Darcy (Zajac) before and I’ve played against a couple of the defencemen including Boutin and Bombis.
“I don’t know Robin (Bergman) too much but they all seem like a great bunch of guys and I’m hopeful for a good season.”
Stewart will be boosted this year following the decision taken by the Blaze management to move visiting supporters from block eight – a viewing position directly behind Stewart’s goal – to block seven.
The move means Stewart will have blue behind him all season, unlike the past two seasons where he’s had to cope with direct noise from opposition fans.
“Having the home fans behind me will make a huge difference even if it means the away fans have only moved across one block, it’s still good to have blue behind me,” he said.
“It doesn’t bother me too much having the visiting fans behind me but I think it’ll make a difference to the atmosphere in the crowd.
“I don’t mind the pressure, I played with so many great goalies last year.
“Chris Holt last year at Braehead is one that springs to mind – he’s played at better places than I’ve ever played and he is a superb goalie.
“I try to battle my hardest every night and I respect the fact people bring me under that banner, I just have to keep working hard for the right results.”
With this year’s Elite League widely talked about as one of the best ever, Stewart is keeping his cards close to his chest in terms of who he thinks might challenge for the title – though admits he’d be surprised if Sheffield aren’t in the running.
He said: “I’ve always hated playing against Cardiff though I have a lot of respect for Sheffield, they’re a great team but we beat them six times in a row last year and they went on to win the league.
“We finished fifth in our division so Sheffield pretty much cleaned up against the rest of the league last season.
“It seems like we always play Cardiff so much even though we don’t – they’re rink was really hard to play last year but now with the new rink hopefully we can put things right.
“There’s no better weekend than playoff finals weekend and I’m lucky enough to have been part of two of them since joining the club.”
Opposition players can’t afford to bank on the popular goalie to switch off this year either as Stewart briefly talked about his stretching and mindset when on the ice.
He said: “Stretching is something I’ve always done – it keeps me focused and keeps my mind in the game.
“I want to be ready for any situation and don’t want to be in the position where I stiffen up and can’t perform to the best of my ability.”
Pics Credit: Scott Wiggins, http://www.scottwiggins.co.uk/