Monthly Archives: June 2014

UK Forums All-Stars Weekend

2014posterHere’s another event to file under “how did Kim not know this existed?”.

If you’re like me and have been living under a puck-shaped rock for the last 5 years, the UK Forums All-Stars are a group of recreational hockey players who get together every year for a charity match to raise money for charity.

(Edited: I’ve just been informed that it’s not just rec players involved – there are some complete hockey novices giving it a go as well!)

To be fair, when you say it like that, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But when you realise the full extent of these events, it’s all very very different.

Over the past years, the group has raised over £80,000 for charity. As of the time of writing, this year’s event has already raised over £17,000 and that’s not even including ticket sales at the weekend. This is not a bake sale type of charity event we’re talking about!

The charities this year are – as always – extremely worthwhile causes: Breast Cancer Care, Dreams Come True, Help For Heroes, Prostate Cancer UK, British Heart Foundation, Autism Plus, Blue Cross Animal Welfare and the Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

The players are all split into teams, each one representing one of the charities. Some of the players are offering extra “incentives” on top of their hockey skills when it comes to raising money, including offers to shave beards into horrendous moustaches, and a back waxing!

The main event itself happens on the weekend of 26th/27th July at Ice Sheffield, but the whole shebang actually starts tomorrow evening with an Evening With Dave Simms.  You can see the full schedule on their website, but from what I can tell, it’s going to be a pretty awesome couple of days. In addition to the hockey (roughly 14 hours of it over the two days!), there is also going to be a raffle – again with all monies going to the charities – with some fantastic prizes that very generous sponsors have donated.

If you want to find out more, go visit their website or follow them on Twitter.  And I’ll hopefully see a lot of you there, cheering the teams on!

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Carolina Hurricanes: New Season, New Look?

http%3A%2F%2F25.media.tumblr.com%2Fad2ba87752d7d1ae69c98feebe94280f%2Ftumblr_mpl8efMf9M1qzew87o1_r1_500I don’t often talk much about NHL on here, simply because there are other people who I believe do a much better job than I can.  But yesterday gave Hurricanes fans a pretty nice treat, with three re-signings that I doubt anyone will be disappointed in.  So I wanted to talk a little about what I’m hoping for in the new season.

Standard disclaimer applies: I’m not an expert in this field, but I know what my heart wants from  the team.

Talking to a fellow ‘Canes fan before the signings were announced, I mentioned specifically that I wanted to make sure that Chris Terry and Zach Boychuk got a proper chance in the big show this season.  In my eyes, they both more than proved themselves, both in the Hurricanes AHL Affiliate, Charlotte Checkers, and on the occasions when they came up to cover injuries.  With Terry’s new one-year, two-way contract, I believe that this is the start of a mostly NHL-filled season for him.  Boychuk is still RFA, but I’m keeping everything crossed that this changes in the next few days.

The second and third re-signings yesterday made me equally happy.  Ron Hainsey and Nathan Gerbe both came in last season on one year contracts, and both slotted into the team fantastically.  Hainsey provides a steady, dependable force on the blue line, and Gerbe is an underestimated forward who brought us moments like this:

We still have a lot of UFA and RFA players on the roster, both in Charlotte and Raleigh, and I’m not naive enough to believe that they’ll all get signed.  Sadly, I don’t think that Joni Pitkanen will be coming back, but the rest of them, I don’t know about yet. I’d like to see Manny Malhotra re-signed.  He’s a solid forward who works well with some of the younger players, and he’s the kind of person who seems to make everyone around him want to work harder.  I’m also hoping that Andrei Loktionov is re-signed.  We didn’t get to see a huge amount from him, but what we did see, I liked.

Down in Charlotte, the ones I’m most hoping are re-signed (other than Boychuk, of course) are Michal Jordan (who proved his worth in the World Championships when he played for Czech), Nic Blanchard and Brett Sutter.  I would have added Mike Murphy to that list, but he’s already signed in Austria for the new season.

Which brings us onto the major issue that’s been plaguing the Hurricanes for months – Netminders.

Charlotte have John Muse under contract (he’s not contracted to the Hurricanes), and Raleigh now has four netminders; rookie Daniel Altshuller, Justin Peters, Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward.  I strongly suspect that at least one of them won’t be with us in October.  I don’t know a lot about Altshuller, but I can’t imagine him heading straight into the NHL, even as a backup.  It’s more likely that he’ll be the backup for whoever starts in Charlotte.  Which leaves us exactly where we have been since all three of our NHL level goalies became healthy.  One of them will have to go.

Peters is UFA this season.  Khudobin only just signed for 2 years.  And Ward has two more years left on his contract.  While my heart hates me for saying this, I believe that Ward is the one we need to lose.  Khudobin has proven himself as a starter, and I can’t see the point in paying two goalies as much money as we would be if the starting position was shared between him and Ward.  Peters has come up through the Hurricanes system, and to lose him now would almost be a waste of the development that has been put into getting him where he is.  He’s not ready to be a starter in the NHL yet, but I’d be more than happy with him as the backup for Khudobin.  I think the two of them work very well together and would make a good netminding team.

Cam Ward’s contract is a painfully high one.  I can’t see any other team taking him on at that amount.  The options to me seem to be that we retain a portion of his salary, or we buyout him out.  While I love Cam as a person, and I realise how important he is to the heart of the team, I also know that as a netminder, he’s not as good as he used to be, and not as good anymore as we need him to be.  He’s been injured too many times, and each time it seems to take him longer to get back.

The biggest change this season, though, will be behind the bench.  Our new head coach, Bill Peters, has already impressed quite a few fans and I believe that he can push the guys on the ice in a way that they need.  We have a good position in the draft (as everyone points out, the last time we had a #7 pick, we did pretty well!), with a lot of prospects out there who would fit in well.  We have some amazingly talented younger guys on the team – Ryan Murphy, Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner – and a good core, centered around the Staal brothers.

I know people say this every year about their teams, but I believe this year is going to be a good one for us.  Last year, when things were going well, they were going very well.  But when they weren’t, it was heartbreaking.  Hopefully, with the new coaching team, and a new general manager, those issues we faced will be resolved, and we’ll have a lot more of the good times than the bad.

Why I’ve Been So Quiet…

Admittedly, the off season for hockey does make it harder to find things to blog about (unless we want to discuss the ridiculous trade the Philadelphia Flyers just made with the Columbus Blue Jackets!), but there is still hockey happening (the New Zealand season has recently started up – I really need to watch some of those games).

However, in the last few weeks, my life has become a little more hectic.  As well as real life crap, which I’m totally trying to ignore, I’ve become a lot more involved in the British Sledge Hockey League (BSHA), in particular, helping to get the newest team in the league going, the Sheffield Steelkings.  It’s been a chaotic couple of weeks, finding myself learning more about the behind-the-scenes aspect of hockey than I ever previously considered.  And what I’m doing is still barely scratching the surface.

What I have discovered though is how many amazing sledge players we have in this country, and how much determination they all have.  All eyes in the sledge hockey world are looking towards the World Championships, and – eventually – towards the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, and the players on our teams here are no exception.  I’m lucky enough to have met quite a few of the players now, and I truly believe they can make it to the Paralympics in four years time.  And I intend to be there with them, cheering them on.

But the best thing about all of this is how it’s changing me.  If you know me in real life, you’ll know that I don’t do human interaction very well.  I struggle to make small talk, and I can barely hold a conversation (unless it’s about hockey, then I can talk for hours!).  But now I’m having to talk to complete strangers, introduce myself to them without any preparation.  I’m talking to more people online on a daily basis now than I have done in years.

I am still very much struggling though, and if I’m talking to you online and suddenly disappear, or make an excuse why I have to leave, please don’t take it personally.  I’m trying my best to improve at this, and I’ll continue trying for as long as I can be a help to the BSHA.

Just one more think to be thankful to my #HockeyFamily for.

Sledge Hockey Review: Manchester Phoenix vs Peterborough Phantoms [14.06.2014]

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Manchester Phoenix netminder, Steven Midghall

This was only the second sledge hockey game I’d seen live, and the first time I’d been to Silverblades in Altrincham.  This was the fifth game of the 2014 Planet Ice Sledge Hockey League season, and based on historical encounters between the two teams, Peterborough were the favourite to win.

However, some pretty serious scheduling issues meant that the Phantoms travelled up from Peterborough with only 5 players.  Considering that there should be 6 of them on the ice at any one time, it was a little concerning.  Two last-minute stand-ins, in the form of retired-player Matt Lloyd and Barry Sprakes (who had never played sledge hockey before) from the Widnes Wild, meant that the game could go ahead.

When Peterborough received their first (and only) penalty of the game less than a minute into the game, it gave Manchester a power play opportunity that team captain Karl Nicholson put to good use.  That wasn’t the last goal he would score in this game.  Not by a long-shot (please excuse the pun).  With Lloyd in goal, the usual netminder for Peterborough, Rob Gaze, was playing outfield for the first period.  But both of them could only watch as two more goals went in for Manchester; another for Nicholson, and one for Anthony Booth (which, of course, Nicholson assisted on).  But Peterborough weren’t going down without a fight and just after Manchester’s third goal, Peterborough’s Matt Coleman pulled one back for the team, much to the delight of the travelling Peterborough supporters.  The end of the first period ended 3-1 Manchester.

The length of his retirement was starting to show, as Lloyd came off at the end of the first having some pain in his shoulder.  Gaze picked up his usual kit and headed back into goal for the second period.  By now, with only 6 players remaining dressed for the team, it meant that there were no more substitutions for the Phantoms.  Every player would be on the ice for every minute of the game.

They still fought back though, causing Gaze to have to make some pretty impressive saves, piling on the pressure, ignoring the obvious exhaustion they must have been feeling.  Despite their efforts though, Nicholson managed to get the puck into the back of the net twice in the second period, taking the score to 5-1.

The third period was much the same, with Manchester not giving an inch, and Peterborough fighting to try and keep some control.  But even despite his brief stint in the penalty box, nothing was slowing Manchester’s captain down.  Another two  goals for Nicholson, taking his tally to 6, and it seemed like that would be it.  However, through the fatigue, relative newcomer to the Phantoms, Jon Le Galloudec, managed to get the puck past Manchester’s netminder, Steven Midghall, with around three minutes left on the clock.  It was his first ever League goal and gave Peterborough a final burst of energy to see them through to the end.

The final score was 7-2, with the Planet Ice MVP beanie going to Nicholson for his double hat trick, although I’m pretty sure that the Most Valuable Players were Matt Lloyd and Barry Sprakes for jumping in at the last minute to allow the game to go ahead!

On a personal note, it was the first time I’d seen Peterborough play, and I knew going into it that they were short of a few of their top players, but they played really well.  For those guys to play two full periods with only a brief intermission in between was one of the more impressive things I’ve ever seen in this sport.  True meaning of teamwork and dedication right there on the ice.  Also, I’m pretty sure that if Manchester wanted to, they could field just Nicholson and they’d still manage a win.  Shout outs to Rob Allen and Graham Wilson for Manchester, for each getting 3 assists in the game.  And special thanks to Graham for advice that helped me actually get to the game on time – stupid public transport in Manchester!

The next two games are head-to-heads between Cardiff and Manchester.  The first leg is in Cardiff on 5th July, with the return game in Manchester on 12th July.

BWIH Friendship Tournament

In my recent discovery of women’s hockey in the UK, I was told about an event that happens every year in Swindon, called the Friendship Tournament.

Never one to let something that intriguing slide, I decided to find out more.

The first thing that I found was that this tournament is now in its 18th year.  That’s a hell of a long time in hockey terms, and only goes to prove that women’s ice hockey is a lot more rooted in the UK than most people think.  There are 18 teams participating this year, with two Under 12s teams made up of a mix of players from around the country, and a similar Under 16s team, as well as 3 other Under 16 teams and 12 senior teams.

The tournament consists of 84 round robin games, each of which is 13 minutes long, but they are played without stoppages.  The finals, which all take place on Sunday, are slightly longer, but will no doubt be the highlight of the weekend, and result in two trophies being taken home – one in the U16 category and one in the seniors category.

Team participating this year are: Basingstoke Bison, Blackburn Thunder,  Bracknell Ice Bees (U16), BWIHFT Team (U16), Coventry Phoenix, Guildford Lightning, Manchester Phoenix, Milton Keynes Falcons, Oxford Midnight Stars, Sheffield Shadows (U16), Solihull Vixens, Streatham Strorm, Swindon Topcats (A & B teams), Swindon Topcats (Under 16s) and Wrekin Raiders.

If you’re interested in going along to watch (and after watching the playoff weekend, I highly recommend that you do!), tickets for the event are only £3 per day, or £5 for the whole weekend, which includes a programme.  For more information, check out the Facebook group!

And if you do go, keep me updated please!

Happy Birthday, Sheffield Spartans

10405395_679006002146955_1647051849765093642_nOne of several teams to play out of IceSheffield, the NIHL team Sheffield Spartans are coming up on their 10th Anniversary, so I thought it might be a good time to learn a little more about the team.

Formed for the 2005/06 season, as a replacement for the Scimitars, the Spartans pride themselves on their strong ties to local ice hockey.  Their core squad has always been made up of players who have worked their way up through the Sheffield junior system, including those rostered for this anniversary season.  Since they formed, a number of their players have gone onto play professionally, including Ben Bowns and Robert Farmer of Team GB.

One of the Spartans’ talented young defensemen, Jonathan Kirk, was named Best Young Player in the league for 2013/14.  The award is voted for by coaches and players from within the league, and is well deserved for the 19 year old who finished the season with personal best of 25 points (11G, 14A).

The 2014/15 season is shaping up to be one of the Spartans’ best yet.  With the first signing of the season bringing local boy Shaun Wild back into the fold, the team are anticipating big things.  A playoff berth is their initial goal, but hopefully their anniversary year will be memorable for even more reasons!

If you want to head along to IceSheffield and watch the Spartans when the season starts, details of their upcoming fixtures will be posted on their website (www.sheffieldspartans.co.uk).  You can also follow the team on Twitter (@SheffSpartans) or on Facebook (/SheffieldSpartans).

Interview with Team GB’s Olivia Mason

As a member of Solihull Vixens, Olivia Mason played 13 games this season and came away with as many points, while as a member of Team GB, she helped her team bring home the silver medal in the Women’s World Championship (Division 2A).

She very kindly agreed to answer some questions for me regarding her UK and International careers, as well as women’s hockey as a whole.

Me: So let’s start at the beginning: What got you into ice hockey?

Olivia: I went ice skating for my little brother’s 7th birthday and we both became addicted.  From there we were fixated with the Coventry Blaze and my brother then joined the junior development system with the Blaze. I was jealous of all the attention he received so I decided to give it a go and have never looked back! Neither of us have.

Me: I’ve been doing some reading up, and learnt that you went over to Canada to study and play hockey at the prestigious Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.  There are some huge names in the NHL who played for their team.  How did that amazing opportunity come about?

Olivia: I was looking into schools abroad just randomly and came across Notre Dame, and it turned out that my brother-in-law who was playing for the Blaze at the time (Danny Stewart who is now coaching Fife Flyers) actually went to school there for four years and played junior hockey there. I took it upon myself to find sponsors to help fly me over to look around and after being there for a week and skating with a few of the girls, I fell in love with the place, received a scholarship and left for the year a few months later. I was only 16, so it was a huge adjustment, but I loved every single minute of my time there and it will always be a huge part of my life. I strongly encourage anyone to do it.

Me: You’ve been playing on an international stage for Team GB since you were a teenager, as part of both the Under-16 and Under-18 teams.  How does that differ from playing for the Women’s Senior team?

Olivia: I played for England U16s for a few years before heading to Canada, and was part of the U18 GB squad while I was away but I didn’t experience world championships until this year. Playing for the GB senior team is obviously massively different from playing England U16s – not only was that seven years ago, but the talent and the standard of women’s hockey here has improved drastically so it’s pretty incomparable. Saying that, a lot of the girls who I played with in the U16s were part of the GB team this year so it was nice to see so many girls still involved. GB Senior Women is the highest level of women’s hockey in this country, so coming from any league or team is a big jump. I found it challenging at first to adapt from Women’s Premier League to World Championships, as I’m sure a lot of the girls not only on GB but other teams at worlds did too, because the hockey was obviously a lot faster and physical compared to what I’ve ever played. So it was a great experience and gave me chance to see where I’m at individually as well as the team on a whole.

Me: Speaking of which, obviously losing the gold-medal game at the Worlds this year must have been a disappointment – even though everyone is so proud of the silver medal you brought home – but overall, how was the experience?

Olivia: It was definitely disappointing. I mean, losing any game in a competitive sport is hard, but being one goal away from winning gold was most definitely heart breaking.  As a squad we began training early in the season and in the first camp we were told by the coaching staff that our ‘motto’ if you like, was “Gold Medal Thinking”. Gradually throughout the season, as camps became harder and the team selection got closer, we became more and more determined and fixated on winning gold. We wanted to prove a point, which was that we are a very talented and hard-working team, who quite simply deserved gold. Although we didn’t achieve what we set out to do, I know we worked our absolute hardest from start to finish of every single game and we most definitely proved a point – as well as making us even hungrier for next year! Nothing beats the feeling of standing on your blue line after a win, screaming your national anthem with 21 of your best friends.

The entire experience is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life. We had an absolutely incredible group of girls who all became best friends pretty much – you’d think after spending 26 hours on a bus and 12 days continuously with the same people would become boring and irritating, but I can honestly say it was absolutely the opposite. On and off the ice we made amazing memories – it’s actually difficult to put it into words how great it was. The hockey was obviously fantastic and I know the other teams there were worried about playing Team GB, which is always nice!!

Me: And the reason the two of us started talking originally: Women’s hockey in the UK.  I know you agree that the sport needs a lot more promotion and support in order to get it the attention it deserves.  How do you see that happening?  What can be done to spread the word?

Olivia: I think the main issue with Women’s hockey in the UK right now is funding. A lot can change with funding – maybe more games in the league? I for one don’t feel like 14 games in a season is enough. More money allows teams such as Whitley Bay Squaws from the Division 1 league to come up to the Premier league, as they dominate their division, but can’t afford to travel down to places like Streatham, Bracknell, Slough, Guildford and Milton Keynes. More competition means the hockey has chance to improve.

In terms of promotion, I feel like the GB team especially had a decent amount of promotion before we left for Italy, but as for the women’s leagues we get next to none. I think the problem is that women’s hockey is stereotyped in terms of standards – not only in the UK but all over the world. People would rather travel to watch the men, because the hockey is faster and more physical. I’m not quite sure what the solution is for that, other than maybe getting women’s teams out on the ice between periods of men’s games to show everyone what we’re capable of?

As I said before, support especially is slow progressing, especially for the GB women’s team. I’m really hoping that if we win the bid to host World’s in Scotland next year, [Note from Kim: we did win the bid!] we will see a lot of fans there to support us. I’m also hoping that by medalling and receiving a lot of support on Twitter especially over the week of World’s, people will be more encouraged to come out and watch a bit more women’s hockey.

Last note on support and promotion: I think the guys playing in the EIHL and EPL especially, have a lot of ‘power’ over the fans in UK hockey and it would be nice to see them encouraging their fans to support the girls.

Me: Canada is getting closer to a women’s professional league with the CWHL, but even they’re still quite a way off.  Do you see anything similar ever happening in this country?

Olivia: Unfortunately I can’t say I do – not any time soon anyway. If Canada are only JUST putting a professional women’s league together after years and years of success with women’s hockey not only in the midget and college level, but international level too; I think the UK might have a ways to go. It’s where funding comes into play again – in order to have a professional women’s league there needs to be money to accommodate to players, ice time, travel etc… I’m hopeful that maybe one day there will be a possibility.

Me: Potentially a controversial questions, but there’s been a lot of talk recently, thanks to women such as Shannon Szabados and Noora Raty, about the possibilities of women playing in men’s leagues, including the NHL.  Do you feel that this is the right aim, or should we be looking for women’s leagues to simply gain equal footing with men’s?

Olivia: I mean if they’re skilled, strong and capable hockey players I don’t see why women can’t play with the men. I’m on the fence about it, because I know leagues such as the NHL host the best players in the world. Not only that, it’s an extremely physical league and I can’t say I can see a girl being able to comfortably play. Lower leagues I think there’s absolutely a possibility – but whether it happens or not? I don’t know. I think the aim right now is to gain equal footing with the men. It’s probably the more realistic approach to improving women’s hockey.

Me: What are your long-term hockey goals?  Do you want to stay with the WPL, or would you look at moving abroad for more opportunities?

Olivia: Long-term I want to play for as long as I can and at the highest standard as possible. I have one year left of my degree and I’ll then consider looking at teams abroad – more for the experience of travelling and experiencing leagues outside of the UK and Canada.

Me: Other than your own, of course, which hockey teams (UK or abroad) do you support?

Olivia: I’ve grown up in the Coventry Blaze system, so that’s a given. I’m also a fan of the Fife Flyers due to my brother-in-law coaching up there. However, I’m neutral when they play against one another!   I’ll always support the Notre Dame Hounds, as they are my Alma mater.  And I support both St Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs – having friends from Notre Dame on both teams.

Me: Who is your hockey role model?

Olivia: I would say my little brother – David. He’s a great player and an incredible leader and he’s always there giving me advice whenever I need it. He’s part of the GB 20s and has gone through the England and GB system since he was 11 years old. He came to Notre Dame and made his way from the bottom boys team in his first year, to the top AAA team in his last year – as well as winning Athlete of the Year in his senior year at Notre Dame (which is pretty impressive). He’s now playing junior hockey in Utah and is doing extremely well – for a 19 year old boy he’s achieved so much already and he’s such a great role model for young British hockey players. He’s definitely my best friend and we’ve always been competitive, so I hope one day I’ll at least beat him on the ice somehow!!

Me: You wore #10 for GB and wear #19 for Solihull.  Why those numbers?

Olivia: I remember my brother wore 10 when he first started hockey, so I chose the same number and it stuck with me. Funnily enough, we didn’t choose numbers for GB this year and it just so happened I was given that number! There isn’t any exciting story behind number 19, unfortunately as a rookie on the team I got last pick of numbers!

Me: Do you have any pre-game superstitions or rituals?

Olivia: Not really, I always put my equipment on the same way – left skate before right every time, left leg tape before right etc. I’ve also always taped my stick black, because the first time I ever used white I scored an own goal and thought it was because I switched to white! I was only U12s but I’ve never gone back!

Me: What’s your favourite hockey-related memory?

Olivia: I have far too many to list them all; Notre Dame is classed as a hockey-related memory and it was the best thing I ever did. I really wish I’d gone earlier than I did!  Obviously playing for GB Women will always be one of the best memories!  Meeting Hound Alumn Vincent Lecavlier was pretty cool too!  Being the first girl to ever play in a Varsity game for Coventry University this year, as well as scoring their first goal was something I won’t forget either.

Me: What would you say to any young girl who is considering ice hockey as a sport?

Olivia: What are they waiting for!? I’ve met people ALL over the world through hockey- male and female, some of which I will be friends with for life. I think I know at least one person in every country from playing hockey in different places (or near enough anyways!). It’s an extremely exciting sport – the adrenaline rush you experience when you play in front of a big crowd or for your country is indescribable. It provides you with so many opportunities to travel and see new places and experience new things. I strongly encourage it. It really is the best sport in the world.

Thank you again to Olivia for taking the time to talk to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing her on the ice next season – and in 2015 at World’s, of course!