Monthly Archives: August 2014

In Review: 2014 Sledge Hockey Season

One of the photos I took at my first sledge hockey game!

One of the photos I took at my first sledge hockey game!

With the final league game of the 2014 Sledge Hockey season now over, and only the playoffs to go, I’ll soon be writing a review of this season’s UK sledge hockey for the league’s official website, but I also wanted to write something less formal and more fan-based for myself.

So, in the interests of clarity, I’m writing this as CarolinaKaniac (sledge hockey fan) and not as Kim (BSHA social media coordinator)!

This season was my introduction to sledge. Like other people, I’d seen it on TV when watching the Paralympic games in Sochi, but hadn’t really even considered that it existed here in the UK.  After a search online, I discovered that there seemed to be a few teams, but I couldn’t find much information.

I got in touch with the British Sledge Hockey Association through their website to ask for more information and someone I could talk to so I could maybe write a blog post. I got a reply from a guy called Karl Nicholson. A Google search told me he played for Manchester Phoenix as well as the GB team.  He told me about a game that was coming up – the first game of the new season between my closest team, the Kingston Kestrels and his Phoenix team. I couldn’t resist going, and even managed to convince a couple of Sheffield Steelers fans I know to go along too.

You might remember my blog post after that game, where I truly fell in love with the sport.  Nothing has changed, except that I’m lucky enough now to call Karl and a lot of these players my friends. I work with them, and I’m involved with the running of the newest team in the country. A lot can change in a few months.

This season was the first, I believe, to be played in this format. Previous years, the teams trained for most of the year by themselves with a few friendly games, then went head-to-head in one big playoff weekend. This season, each team played three home and three away games, allowing a proper fanbase to start building up, and giving more opportunity for people to discover sledge hockey.

Of the 12 games this season, I’ve only been to half of them (trust me, that will change next season!) but I’ve seen each of the teams play a couple of times at least.

Cardiff Devils are the most interesting team from my point of view. Although they’ve been around for a long time (previously as the Cardiff Huskies), they’re the newest team in the league. Most of their team have only been playing for a couple of years and while they have two Paralympians, they both compete in Summer sports too, so aren’t always available for games. When you look at the scores for the Cardiff games, they tend to look very one-sided, but watching them on the ice tells a different story. They’re becoming a much stronger team, with some players literally improving during the course of the game. Their netminder, Han O’Connor came over from the Cardiff Comets to help the team practice and has just spent her first season in a sledge. With a solid defense in front of her, she’s going to become awesome.

The thing I love most about Cardiff is their eternal optimism. When a team loses 14-0, more than once,  you could excuse them for feeling like there’s no point. But I’ve never ever seen or felt that coming from any of the team. They keep pushing themselves and they’re determined to keep improving. And they will.  I really look forward to seeing how much more they improve during the off-season.

Peterborough Phantoms have had an amazing year. They’ve become such a strong team, with a group of guys who are really finding their form. It’s shown in their results this season – they’ve just come out on top as  League Champions, with only one loss (and that loss was largely down to them having to play with borrowed players and a short bench).  They have some fantastic players on their team, especially Gary Farmer and Matt Coleman who are amongst the highest goal scorers in the league.  Their netminder, Rob Gaze, is also a member of the GB team, and has played 5 out of 6 games and only conceded 7 goals.  Between that combination, and an extremely dedicated team, they are just continuing to get better.  It’s going to take a lot for anyone else to get past them next season.

Manchester Phoenix are one of the two teams I know best.  I’ve been to all of their home games this season and got to know a lot of the players.  They’re a relatively new team, having only been part of the league for two seasons, and it’s fantastic to see how far they’ve come.  I hate to stroke his ego any more than I have to, but watching Karl Nicholson on the ice is one of my favourite things about sledge – he’s fast and extremely talented.  The team also has probably the strongest fanbase right now, thanks to their links with the Manchester Phoenix EPL team, and home games for them are starting to feel like “proper hockey”.  I know that sounds like I’m being critical of the other games in the league, but largely sledge games are treated like rec games.  Manchester are the first, in my opinion, to push the more professional image of the sport.  Quickly putting on my BSHA hat, I’m hoping to be able to make this the norm next season, across all of the teams – it’s something that the sport desperately needs.

Last, and by no means least, the Kingston Kestrels.  My local team (at least until next season when the Sheffield Steelkings join the league!), and the other team I know especially well.  They’re struggling for team members, which can sometimes cause issues, such as a couple of weeks ago when they had to forfeit a game as they couldn’t ice a full team.  But the players that they have are extremely good.  They have one of the highest percentage of GB players and years of experience between them, which shows when they are on the ice together.  Matt Clarkson and Matt Woollias are at the top of the points table, and  their netminder, Bryan Hackworth, is another GB player with only 3 goals against him this season. The team’s other issue this season has been their home rink – Hull Ice Arena.  Needing some essential maintenance, the team has lost their training sessions, and have had to move their last two home games to IceSheffield as a temporary measure.  The lack of training has hurt them badly, and no matter how good your individual players are, when they don’t get the chance to train together, it causes problems.

Next weekend is the playoffs, with all four teams playing – Manchester vs Cardiff for the 3rd/4th place game, and Kingston vs Peterborough for the championship trophy.  I won’t be there as I’m away for the weekend with friends, but if you have the chance to get to Coventry, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It’s going to be an amazing game with all four teams giving it their all.

Overall, this has been a fantastic season.  I’ve watched some amazingly talented players on the ice, and I’ve managed to introduce a few new fans to the sport.  I’ve made some wonderful new friends, and I’ve had the chance to do things that I never thought I would.

And while it’s the end of the season, it doesn’t mean that sledge hockey stops.  The guys will still be training, and we’re hoping to have some friendly games and mini-tournaments during the off-season.  I’ll still be following things, and tweeting/blogging about it.   But I really can’t wait for next season to start!

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Ice Bucket Challenge

If you’ve not heard of the ALS Awareness Ice Bucket Challenge, where have you been?

In brief, it’s a way of bringing attention to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and as Motor Neurone Disease here in the UK.  It’s a horrid disease which is currently both fatal and incurable, and over the last few weeks, social media has been rife with people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads in a bid to make more people aware of the disease, and to raise money for research into a cure.

Celebrities around the world have been taking part, including a huge amount of NHL and NFL players, and several of the Elite League players here in the UK (although in the UK, the same challenge is also being used for another very worthy cause – Macmillan Cancer Support).  Word has been spreading like wildfire (or wildfreeze, I suppose would be more apt), and the most important thing (other than watching shirtless hockey players dump freezing water over themselves) is that it’s working.  In less than a month, the ALS Association in the US has received over $15million in donations, compared to $1.8million in the same period last year.

To donate in the UK through the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA), you just need to text ICED55 followed by an amount (such as £10) to 70070.

Like this.

 

So, after a challenge to all Pens fans from Mario Lemieux, my best friend in the world, Rosie (@71_pens_87), decided to do it.  And when I successfully screwed up the recording of her video, causing her to have to do it twice, I knew it was my turn next.  And if you know me, you know that getting me to stand up in front of a video camera and speak was one hell of a personal challenge for me.

In return, I’m challenging Sammo with the Women’s England Squad in Finland, Karl Nicholson, captain of the Manchester Phoenix Sledge Hockey Team, and Matt Clarkson, captain of the Kingston Kestrels Sledge Hockey Team.

 

It’s the final countdown

We’ve had our flight times confirmed and the inevitable early start on Sunday is looming.

The larger hockey bag has been dragged out of the shed and extra tape of all sorts and sizes has been ordered.

The schedule for the week has been released to us and it’s a doozy. I thought last year was busy, but this year is chocka.

I sometimes get comments at work that I’m going on a holiday out to Finland. Trust me when I say that I’m not.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re just going out to play hockey. Sure, we’re training once a day and playing 4 games. On top of that we’ve got off ice testing, Strength & Conditioning (so I’ve been told) sessions, and other off ice activities!

We’ll be up at 8am most days and curfew is at 11pm (thereabouts) but I’ve no doubt we’ll all be knackered at the end of each day. Luckily we’ve got 4 meals a day!

Here’s a look at our schedule 🙂england 2014 finland schedule

Trials and Tribulations

Where does it all start? How do you even begin to think about trying out for the Women’s England squad?

Obviously, make sure you play ice hockey & hold a British passport! It also helps to be a lass and be registered with a club. It doesn’t matter if you play for a div 2, div 1 or premier club. What matters is your attitude and effort level.

It’s an oft repeated motto in hockey & exercise circles but it is perfectly true, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

The current set up for the selection of the squad is as follows.

  • Attend North or South trials (dependent on your location)
  • Be invited to attend Combined North & South trials
  • Be invited to attend team training
  • Be selected for the England squad

I make it sound so easy, right?

Here’s what I have personally experienced and how I first got involved.  (I am of course, only speaking for what happens in the South. I understand the North team trial out of Sheffield, but I’m not 100%.)

One of my teammates wanted to try out for the South squad and didn’t want to go by herself. She talked me into going along with her and I’m really glad she did.

Off we trekked to the Lee Valley ice rink in London late on a Saturday night when training started at 10:45pm until 12:15am. Yup. You’re not reading that wrong. We’re then rushing to shower, pack up and get out of the rink and head back home.

I’m glad it’s at the weekend (so that I’ve got time to recover before the working week starts again), I view it as it extra ice and it’s only £10 for an hour & a half of hockey on a decent sized rink.

Previously, the South & North teams would be selected and then there would be 2 games of North vs South. It has only been from this year that there has been combined training with the 2 squads, which is probably more beneficial from the coaches point of view. However, I know many players, including myself, feel as though they perform better in a game scenario. Of course, games aren’t conducive to viewing a players skill sets by a coach in a controlled situation.

Once selected for Combined training, the trials are held up in Sheffield. Still for an hour and a half of ice and still for just £10. Depending on the available times, it is often another late start and a finish of midnight. Cue more rapid showering and getting out of the rink as quickly as possible. After that, the long drive home. 4am finishes have become all too routine for me sadly!

You might think I’m painting a bleak picture but this is what it takes to represent your country. To pull on a shirt for Team England & play hockey requires commitment and dedication.

Waiting for emails to find out if you’ve made the cut can be a bit nervy!

It’s worth it though. You get an incredible opportunity to represent your country, to play hockey in a place you may never have played before, against teams you would never normally get the chance to play against and have experiences that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

New Steeler: Michael Forney

Photo by Paul Kelly [Shutter Speed Designs] via perththunder.com.au

Photo by Paul Kelly [Shutter Speed Designs] via perththunder.com.au

The announcement of Michael Forney to the Sheffield Steelers was one that didn’t get a huge amount of interest.  Later announcements seemed to grip the fans’ attention a lot more.  But the more I read up on Forney, the more excited I’m becoming about being able to watch him on the ice.

Brief bio:  He’s 26 years old, plays left wing, and was drafted in 2006 to the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers.  While he never played an NHL game, and hasn’t played lot of AHL games, he has more than proven himself in the ECHL with an impressive 222 points (87 Goals 135 Assists) in 253 games.  During the 2012-13 season, he was playing in Australia for Perth Thunder of the AIHL and was pretty well received over there, recording 47 points (11 Goals, 36 Assists) in only 16 games.  Last season he split his time between three different leagues, playing for Villacher SV in Austria, Sparta Sarpsborg in Norway and Arizona Sundogs of the CHL, helping take the latter two teams to their respective playoffs.

Those are certainly not figures to be ignored.

I’ve seen nothing but good reports about him, both as a player on the ice, and as a person off it.  He seems to be an outgoing, friendly guy, who is happy to talk to the media – something I’m hoping continues as I’d like to see more of our players being interviewed during the season.

This video from the Colorado Eagles is a little best-of montage that shows some of the sweet-looking goals that Forney has scored.  If we can get a few of those from him, I’ll be pretty happy.

I will, however, admit to being a little amused by the two nicknames that Forney has acquired: Magic Mike, or The Fornicator.  Although my absolute favourite fact that I have discovered about Forney though is that he and his team apparently appeared in D3: The Mighty Ducks!

In conclusion, I think he’ll be a great addition to the team (I’ve already sponsored his gloves for the upcoming season – here’s hoping he won’t be dropping them too much!), and I’ll leave you all with this.