BLAIR Stayzer was an NHL draft entry at 19 and played in the AHL at 21. It is not exactly the Stanley Cup, but to a new, young Newcastle Vipers, the Canadian brings top-level experience.
He also modestly admits he will “check his pride at the door”. Soon to turn 30 and with 11 professional seasons behind him, Stayzer had been contemplating retirement.
He had turned down enticing offers to move to the Elite League in the past, when circumstances were not conducive. Now they are, and the Vipers’ ambitious new coach Danny Stewart – who led Coventry Blaze to last year’s title – persuaded the versatile left-hander to forego the ‘pipe and slippers’ and make the “massive move” to become his first close-season signing.
At 6ft 3in and with a reputation for being able to look after himself and his team-mates, his is also a statement signing. But there will be no ego from Stayzer. As “huge” as hockey is back home and wheresoever the level of interest lies here, he knows well the contrast, and means to act accordingly.
Hence the humble talk. Yet the man from Niagara Falls also understands he is here for a reason, here to set an example, and to help lead what he already knows to be a “highly skilled” side.
“We’re a very young team but it’s going to be a lot different from training and exhibition games when Saturday rolls around and everyone’s got their full line-ups,” said Stayzer, who has joined from Fort Wayne Comets.
“It’ll be a learning process, we’ve got a lot of young guys so I think it’ll be eye-opening for a few players. The owners are great guys, they’re very passionate about hockey and they’ve done a good job with recruitment. I think it’s too early to tell what this team is capable of but we’re a very young team, but a highly skilled one, which is really good to see.”
Here for the first time and over for a week now, Stayzer has also seen already the stark contrast between his hometown of Dunnville, in Ontario, and North Shields, where he currently shares a flat until his girlfriend Natalia arrives, and the pair move into a house in Whitley Bay. “It’s all so crammed together here, but it’s nice,” said Stayzer, who plans to spend his spare time travelling with Natalia, a qualified physiotherapist. “It was a massive decision and a massive move for me. To be honest, I was considering not playing – last year was going to be my last year in North America, because this will be my 11th year professionally.
“I’ve always wanted to come but I’ve never had the right opportunity. I’ve had offers before, in the last three or four years, but I had a girlfriend at the time who couldn’t come with me and I didn’t really want to leave.
“But now things have changed and Danny contacted me. I played with a lot of guys who played with Danny, so it was kind of word of mouth, and here I am.
“When you play in North America, hockey’s No 1, if not No 2 behind American Football. It’s huge. Here, you check your pride at the door.”
And having done so, Stayzer is looking forward to the Vipers’ Elite League opening double-header at Sheffield Steelers tomorrow, then the return at Whitley Bay Ice Rink on Sunday (face off 5.30pm).
“Supposedly, Sheffield are going to be a very good team and probably the one to beat,” he said. “I guess we’ll see what we’re made of right away, they’re very highly skilled.
“It’s going to be a lot more wide open game, probably less hitting and more offensive , skilled game as compared with here, where there’ll be a lot of crashing and banging.”
Speaking of which... “No, no, I play a physical game but there are a lot of guys on this team that do that as well.”