Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who are the Bloomington Blaze and should we be concerned?

Expansion club is on their first road trip

If anyone should understand a slow start this season, it's the Texas Brahmas and their fans. With a full off-season of recruiting and a strong training camp, the Brahmas showed a tremendous amount of promise in their two pre-season contests against the Allen Americans.

Then came an unexpected start to the regular season - a 1-4-0 record, including two shut outs through the first five games. Certainly not what anyone expected. But the Brahmas followed up a 4-3 win at Laredo with a 5-3 win over the visiting Missouri Mavericks and are poised to break out of the sub-.500 club and show some consistency as we move towards the always difficult December-January stretch.

Now comes the Bloomington Blaze, a team that got a late start and had a mound of internal issues (understatement) to resolve before they even began building their inaugural roster.

Paul Gardner (who replaced Kevin Kaminski in Mississippi last season) was hired as Bloomington's head coach shortly after Jason Christie was hired away to coach the ECHL's Ontario Reign. Gardner had a little over three weeks to put a team together before training camp began. With that in mind, he did a pretty good job.

The question now is, after going 1-3-1 (worst in the league) at home to start the 2011-12 campaign, will the Blaze show improvement during their five-game road trip which begins with a two-game series against the Brahmas on Friday and Saturday nights?

“You hate to use an excuse, but there were so many distractions wondering if there was going to be a team or not,” Gardner told the Bloomington Pantagraph's Mike Egenes. “Things have settled down now, and I think a road trip will help us.”

Defenseman Aaron Dawson, who played his rookie year with the now defunct Bloomington PrairieThunder concurs.

“Being on the road is a good chance to grow together as a team,” Dawson said. “It’s good to get away from any distractions there may be off the ice.”

For Dawson and his fellow blue liners, improvement is imperative if they want to remain with the club. The Blaze are allowing a horrendous 4.8 goals per game - worst in the Central hockey League. Goalies Marco Emond (0-2-0, 3.99 GAA, .865 SV%) and Zane Kalemba (0-1-1, 5.85 GAA, .879 SV%) are among the bottom six of all CHL net minders.

If there's a bright spot for the Blaze, it's on the power play - they are currently ranked sixth in the league at 21.74%. Even so, the Brahmas' penalty killers are ranked third in the league at 84.62% so the advantage may not help them this weekend.

Players to watch include #16 Brodie Sheahan (3 G, 3 A, -5), who also played his rookie season with the PrairieThunder. All three of Sheahan’s goals have come on the power play. #17 Jason Dale led the PrairieThunder with 52 points last season (17 G, 35 A, 0) and has six points this season (1 G, 5 A, -4), including two power play assists and one game-winner. Defenseman Doug Krantz (#44) had two assists in 11 games with the Brahmas during the 2008 playoffs following his graduation from Cornell University. Krantz also has six points (1 G, 5 A, -3) this season, including four power play assists.

Conventional wisdom would say that the Brahmas have the next two games in the bag. But as we all know, conventional wisdom and ice hockey, let alone any sport doesn't always jive. So, will the Blaze get it together and pull out a win (or two) while in Texas? Can the Brahmas keep their win streak alive? To find out for yourself, don your purple and black and come out to the NYTEX Sports Centre this weekend. If you missed Tuesday night's game, you're probably kicking yourself - don't make the same mistake twice.

Remember also that Friday is $1 Hot Dog Night and Saturday is Rally Towel Night at the NYTEX Sports Centre!

Image Credit: Bloomington Blaze Hockey Club

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