On the 27th of June, 2014, it was announced that a ‘monster of a man’ was joining the Elite League.
Standing at 6 foot 5 inches tall, bringing with him a GAA of 2.73 from Germany; they weren’t wrong.
In his first season in the Elite League, Canadian Brian Stewart proved to be the catalyst in a Coventry Blaze team that became play-off champions for the first time in 10 years. His match winning performances earned him the title of EIHL net-minder of the year and subsequently a place in the all star first team.
That year, Stewart finished the season boasting an average of only 2.68 goals per game against him with a 92.2% save percentage. Only two net-minders achieved higher, Craig Kowalski and Josh Unice, whose total games combined were 14 less than Stewart who participated in all 52 league games.
After becoming a play-off champion with Coventry in 2015, Stewart signed a two year contract with the club. At this point he had established himself in the league as a versatile giant who’s movement around the crease was second to none. His competitive nature was proving to reflect positively on his team, however it’s a trait that fans were beginning to use against him.
The leagues new ‘wall’ had revealed a crack that crowds would go on to chisel relentlessly at.
Three years on and it’s a similar story for arguably the leagues most notorious net-minder. No longer is scoring against him the only priority for the opposition, but also attacking his game mentality; chants including ‘Its all your fault’ and ‘Steeeewaaaart’ have become a tradition.
While the effects of the chants on his performances is questionable, this didn’t prevent teams from encouraging them. For example the Sheffield Steelers placed sheets of paper with the words ‘Brian’ onto the seats behind the net-minders goal so fans could get involved. His reaction has become something the league now craves; teams and fans alike.
To find out more about the impact of crowd chants, I spoke to Neil Hennessy, a lecturer in coaching, pedagogy and philosophy of sport at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
“If a player is weak-minded, then such chants could negatively impact their performance.”
Is it possible that crowd chants can affect a player’s psychology, if so, how?
Yes, it is possible. Constant taunting can lead to a player believing that which is chanted. As crowd banter can lift a player, it seems logical that crowd chants (taken as negative utterances) can drag a player down.
Can chants (including those above) jeopardise a player’s performance?
If a player is weak-minded, then such chants could negatively impact their performance. He might ‘bite’ or become over-aroused which will have the desired effect that the crowd sought.
If the effect of chants can be negative on a player, should they be discouraged?
Like sledging and generic ‘banter’, chanting is part of the ‘ludic chaos’ evident in many sports. As with all matters of taste and sporting etiquette, there is a line that one should avoid crossing. Since the crowd pays to interact with its sporting heroes (and villains), players have to prepare accordingly and account for such inevitabilities.
What should the player in mind be doing to help himself in the situation?
Smile and carry on. Prepare (imagery) for such inevitabilities. If the crowd gets to you, then it will be relentless. If it sees that it is having little or no effect, then it will soon lose interest. Self-talk re “I’ll show them” or some action/skill that wins them over would not do any harm either.
Despite all the taunting coming his way, Stewart retained his spot in the all star team, albeit the second one, in the 2015/16 season and was also nominated for net-minder of the year. His stats however (below) slumped in correlation with his team; who conceded 32 more goals than the previous season and ended up finishing 8th in the league. This only worsened in what would prove to be Stewart’s last season with Coventry; his GAA had risen to 3.51 and his side missed out on a play-off spot finishing 9th.
Currently injured, Stewart’s place in the Guildford team could be in jeopardy with Carrozzi, a former NHL draft pick, performing exceedingly well in his place. Whether he gets his place back is uncertain; what is certain is the chants waiting for him when he does.
Below you can find a compilation of tweets about Stewart since his time in the league: