Nepotism, Penny Pinching and EIHL Coaches

With the former champions currently 8th in the EIHL, Coventry Blaze dismissed Matt Soderstrom from his position as Head Coach last night.

The Swede spent ten seasons with the Blaze organisation, dating back to their days in Solihull, before ‘graduating’ from the role of Assistant Coach to become head honcho this year – following long time incumbent Paul Thompson’s departure.

Before taking the job, Soderstrom’s prior coaching experience was two years as Blaze Assistant Coach under Thompson. He inherited a team largely assembled by Thompson before he left for pastures new in Sweden, and he was given 6 months in the job.

Soderstrom, as great of a guy as he is regarded to be, is the latest example of nepotism, narrow mindedness and penny pinching within British hockey when it comes to coaching at the top level.

What’s worse is that his replacement is essentially more of the same.

Former Coventry, Edinburgh and Sheffield forward Marc Lefebvre will now take charge of the Midlands club, with club Chairman Andy Buxton extolling the new Coaches virtues in the official press release:

“We wanted someone who knows the Elite League, knows the way the club works, knows the opposition teams and knows our players – someone who can hit the ground running.”

Surely all qualities Soderstrom possessed then? Yet he was only given 6 months at the helm. Even in the bizarre world of British ice hockey, where short term thinking is often the order of the day, that seems harsh. Especially for a club which is, in reality, a mid table club now.

If you’re going to give a rookie Head Coach a shot, at least give him time to find his feet and put his own stamp on things…

Lefebvre’s coaching résumé is marginally more impressive perhaps, with stints in charge of the Federal Hockey League’s 1000 Island Privateers and Dayton Demonz before returning to the UK to become Doug Christiansen’s number 2 in Sheffield.

But reality is, despite FHL success with Dayton, Lefebvre is really just another former player hired to one of the British games most senior club posts.

Coventry may not be the force they were a few seasons ago, but they are still an Elite League club – the ‘cream’ of the British game. Sadly their decision to hire not one, but two inexperienced hands to guide the ship is all too typical of attitudes to the position of Head Coach here.

Finances play a considerable role in many clubs choice of Coach – for better or worse. I am a strong believer some clubs only hire certain players to be Coach because they want them as a player; the additional job title is just a sweetener to get them on the roster.

Whilst the odd player/coach does work out (albeit after actually getting some time in the job – hello Mr Neilson!), ultimately most, perhaps all, fail to get the best from their roster – which simply seeks to short change the club, the players and the fans.

What’s worse is that very few ever get the chance to learn on the job either – finding themselves out the door as Soderstrom has. If you’re going to gamble on a rookie, at least give them a chance to learn from their mistakes.

It feels like an entirely backwards way of thinking.

Trying to save money by throwing guys in at ‘the deep end’ because they’ve played here for a while and, apparently, ‘know’ the Brit game is simply a form of nepotism in my eyes. But then not wanting to give them any sort of development period in the job is down right dumb.

The entire situation gives you little confidence that the governing bodies, or the clubs, have any kind of development plan for coaches in the UK.

The Super League is oft criticised for over reaching and contributing to the mess British hockey is in now; but one thing it did get right was understanding the value of good quality coaches.

Perhaps when we start to value the job good coaches do, and set up a development system to bring through good domestic coaches to the top level, we’ll see some progress.

Until then, the Brit game will continue to wallow in the hockey backwaters.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on February 11, 2014, in British Hockey, Hockey and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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