If you followed me on twitter during Team GB’s tournament in Lithuania, you may have watched me slowly become enamoured with a certain goaltender. Ben Bowns was supposed to have been the backup for Belfast’s Stephen Murphy, but instead ended up starting all but one of the games. Some of the saves he made were highlight-reel worthy and I decided then and there that I needed to learn more about him.
My first search found the Ben Bowns International Goaltending Clinic, which got me intrigued as it wasn’t the type of thing I knew even happened in the UK. I contacted Ben and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, about the clinic, Team GB and his career in general.
Me: So, to start with, your Goaltending clinic. From a personal point of view, I love what you’re doing and I truly believe it can only help improve the skill levels in the EIHL. However, I also know that there’s a lot of talk within the UK ice hockey world about whether import goalies are the only way to go, and I noticed there’s a quote on your site about GB goaltenders being told to just “stand in the net and take shots”.
So I have to ask the question: is it really that bad over here? Do you see the situation changing now that hockey is becoming a little more popular?
Ben: I think it all depends what club the goalie is at, who is the coach and what that coaches view is on goaltending. I was lucky at Sheffield as we had dedicated goalie coaches around at the time such as Matt Darlow and Andy Ellis and then an older age group goalie like Alex Mettam would also help out if he was needed or run the goalie session at Sheffield. This then moves on to what a lot of junior clubs don’t have…a specific goalie training session. Clubs don’t understand that goalies don’t need the full ice pad, it can be merged with a players training, but then that falls down to the players ‘not being able to shoot’. Those clubs/coaches that say this (and I’ve heard coaches say this in the past) don’t realise that the majority of players in Britain that actually succeed in the sport are actually extremely good skaters, I also can’t recall one player in the NHL who’s a bad skater. So would it hurt a team of players to skate for one session a month? No, not at all.
But anyway, back on track, like I said at the start, it all depends on the club and their coaches’ views towards goaltending. I think it can be easily improved, but it has to start from the top, with the EIHA having a goaltending specific part of their coaching levels (which I have offered to set up for them and run during their courses). So we’ll see if we can get that off the ground. A lot of people and coaches within the EIHA do want to change this and they realise how important it is. I just wanted to make it clear that it wasn’t a case of no one cares about goalies and their development. It’s the getting it started and off the ground that’s the most difficult part – after its up and running I believe we’ll see a big change
in coaches and club attitudes towards goaltending and see goaltenders across the UK improving.
Me: You came up through the Sheffield junior system and have given interviews in the past about how good it was for you. What experiences did you take away from that system that you’re integrating into your clinics?
Ben: We had some great coaches over the years growing up at Sheffield. They taught discipline, teamwork, basic skills, advanced skills but most of all they made it fun and they also made their players into winners. Jon Rowbotham who also coached me in my first year in the EPL was one of, if not the best coach I’ve ever had. He made us strive to improve our game every time we were on the ice, he pushed you but wasn’t hard on you and didn’t over do his coaching. So if he ever got angry or was hard on you, you knew it was for a reason and you definitely deserved it.
The main thing for me that I want to integrate is the fun factor while pushing people past and out of their comfort zone. You never improve if you just sit in your comfort zone at training and games. We’ll also try and breed a winning mentality in our goalies by integrating little fun games. At the end of the day you play to win not just to take part in sport, BUT, losing is ok at the development stage as long as you’ve given everything you can. We’ll also try and get goalies into the habit of pushing themselves to the limit, to never give up on a puck and compete at 100% all the time. I don’t believe in goalies repeating a drill 10-20 times in a row because after the 5th or 6th repetition the goalie will begin to get tired and start using bad habits, therefore, we’ll limit a goalie to 5 repetitions of a drill at once but make sure they go full tilt or perfecting their technique down to almost perfection.
Me: And then, the reason I started my blog in the first place: Team GB. Although you’d played both Under 18s and Under 20 for Team GB previously, you had your Men’s team GB debut in Latvia during the Olympic qualifier. While it wasn’t a great result, how was the whole experience for you?
Ben: We may have lost 6-0 and obviously you don’t want to ever lose like that, but for me it was probably the best thing to happen for me. It was a huge wake up call for me and I saw how I had to really raise my performance level and increase my compete level just to make a save. We were playing against a team that had 95% of its players playing in the KHL at the end of the day. Some of the saves I made, even I was slightly surprised at and it made me realise that I could play a lot better than I had been at Hull previously even though it was my first year in the EIHL. Before I went to Latvia I believe my save% was around 89.4%. In the last 15 or so games that I played once I’d returned from Latvia I posted a 93% save average, which increased my overall save average to 90.5% to finish the season. It showed how much better I was than I actually believed I was. If it wasn’t for that game then I highly doubt I would’ve had a season like I had in Hull this year.
Me: Obviously the result in the World Championship in Lithuania wasn’t quite what we all hoped for either, but how did it differ from the games in Latvia, especially in terms of you getting the starting role?
Ben: The first big difference is the quality of opposition we were facing…Latvia, France and Kazakhstan were all in the top division of the world championships compared to Division 1B like in Lithuania. Obviously starting in those games was a lot better than being on the bench and it was just nice to finally get a chance to contribute to the team and prove that I can play at that level for GB. Hopefully I proved that if Murff [Stephen Murphy] isn’t feeling 100% in future or needs a rest then I can come into the team to relieve him if needed and do a job. Playing 5 games in 7 days is extremely tiring on the body so it might help if the goalies are able to share the duties and relieve the pressure off of one another.
Me: Where do you think GB went wrong this year? Is it something you feel can be fixed for next year?
Ben: If I’m being totally honest, I actually don’t think GB went wrong this year. Everyone just sees that we didn’t get gold and therefore it’s a massive failure, the players aren’t good enough, etc. What they don’t see is that GB as a team (I’m pretty sure the guys will agree with me here) got stuck in a bit of a rut over the past two years, especially after Japan. The team lost a lot of confidence and we’d lost 8 games in a row going into these World Championships. We had to learn to win, we had to get our confidence back and more importantly we had to get back to playing how Brits play…gritty, hard working, physical hockey, never giving up on any play and never losing any battle. We lost our first game, won our second but didn’t play our best. But for me the turning point was actually the game we lost against Lithuania. We out worked, out battled, out played them and didn’t give up until the final buzzer. The guys gave everything they had in that game. Unfortunately they had an NHL veteran on their team who controlled areas of the game when he was on the ice and contributed to both goals by creating the first and scoring the second. After that we battled hard against the Netherlands I thought that we pretty much dominated Poland and showed what we are capable of, they were the gold medalists and we out played, out shot and out scored them. So next year, if we can carry this on and continue to play like we did in the last three games then I see absolutely no reason why we can’t get promotion to Div.1A.
Me: The other big news for yourself, of course, is the new contract with Cardiff for the 2014-15 season. You’ve played in Yorkshire for your entire professional career. How strange will it be for you to make the move to a completely different area? What are you looking forward to most about the move?
Ben: I’m hoping not too strange! I’m extremely excited to get the chance to play at Cardiff, it’s got the reputation of being the best city to live in, in the EIHL and it’s a chance to play in the Erdhart conference. Obviously it’s going to a massive challenge but it’s an opportunity to prove that I can play in that conference week in week out and give my team a chance to win every night. There’s always a lot of doubters, but there’s nothing better than proving those people wrong! I always look to sign at teams that I can see myself at for more than just one year and Cardiff is no different, just like Hull were when I signed there. The Devils are in a rebuilding phase and the opportunity to be a part of that as well as the prospect of moving into the new arena the year after if I do well is very exciting. I talked to Dave Whistle a lot before I signed and his plans and aims for the season were very appealing to me and if I play like I know I can then I believe the Devils could be in for a great season!
So finally, to finish, I threw in a few quick-fire questions:
From a goaltending point of view, who do you admire most and why?
I always had Patrick Roy as my goaltending hero, he practically invented the butterfly style of goaltending and changed the face of goaltending forever. The technique has developed since then but its still amazing to think he broke the mould, made his method work and then all other goalies followed suite. Right now though, I have to say I really admire Henrik Lundqvist at the New York Rangers. He is the only goalie I’ve ever seen that can play the way he does and make it work! I love watching him play.
Do you follow the NHL? If so, which team(s) do you support?
When Roy played I was a big Avs fan but after he retired I don’t tend to follow one particular team. Now he’s back at the Avs I want them to win but I also follow the Rangers and then the Flyers because I love how the Flyers play, I find it very entertaining.
If you weren’t playing hockey, what do you think you’d be doing?
I have no idea! I’d like to think I’d be involved in some form of sport but don’t what sport it’d be.
What other sports do you play/watch?
I enjoy playing football and every summer I play 5-a-side with the guys from the Steeldogs. Golf, Tennis, Cycling, anything that I can do to get me out of the house really.
What is your game day routine like? Do you have any superstitions?
I try not to have any superstitions because if you forget to do something or something changes then it could really throw you off mentally. I do have routines, although they may change from time to time. The only routine that stays the same is what I do from getting to the rink on a game day to finishing the game. I do everything pretty much the same in each warm up, the build up to a game and at the beginning of each period.
What made you decide to play in goal, rather than a different position?
Again I don’t really know, I just always wanted to be a goalie from day one. My parents bought me a players kit but I ended up spending more time in the net than the goalies did. So a few month down the line they gave in and bought me my first full goalie kit…thank god they did!!
I think we’re all grateful for Ben’s parents for that decision! I honestly can’t thank Ben enough for taking the time to answer these questions for me. Even as a Steelers fan, I think I’ll be keeping a firm eye on Ben while he’s in Cardiff!
As always, feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac