Category Archives: EIHL

Paul Swindlehurst: A Brit in Chicago

A few weeks ago, the British hockey world was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of our own, Paul Swindlehurst of the Dundee Stars, had been invited to hit the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Image found on twitter - original photographer unknown

Image found on twitter – original photographer unknown

An Original Six team, the ‘Hawks lifted the Stanley Cup twice in recent years, in 2010 and 2013, and are undeniably one of the strongest teams in the league right now. So for a local lad to be invited to join them for their rookie tournament is a pretty big deal. Rookie tournaments are an annual thing, taking place every year before the NHL pre-season begins. Designed to give the NHL scouts a better look at some of the future players, the Blackhawks played in against rookies from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators in a round-robin series of games.  While the actual results are largely unimportant, the opportunity for these youngsters is enormous. Players from the AHL farm team and some of the newer youngsters already rostered to the NHL team are joined by a selection of undrafted players who are specifically invited by the team scouts.

One of those invitees this year was Paul Swindlehurst.

After spending some of his teenage years training in Canada, Paul returned to the UK for the 2011 season, joining Swindon Wildcats in the EPL, before making the move to Dundee.  A regular in the Under 18 and Under 20 National Teams, Paul also took his place on the Great Britain senior team for their World Championships this year.  It was presumably during this time that he was spotted by the Blackhawks’ scouts.

Defenseman roster for the Blackhawks Prospect Tournament 2014

Defensemen rostered for the Blackhawks Prospect Tournament 2014

While Paul didn’t make the roster for the first of the three tournament games, vs Toronto Maple Leafs, he was rostered for the other two, paired with Justin Holl for the game against Pittsbugh, and with Dillon Fournier against Ottawa.  In Pittsburgh, Paul even notched an assist!

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All three of them are now training with the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, Rockford Icehogs, in preparation for their pre-season, which starts on Thursday 2nd October. It’s looking like Paul will be wearing #32 for the Icehogs.

We’ll be following him with Rockford over the next couple of weeks, but no matter what happens, it’s clear that Paul is making way for other Brits to play professional ice hockey in North America.  Even if he gets “relegated” down to the ECHL, it’s still something to be proud of and proves that Britain can produce players that can compete with the best in the world.  With Paul bringing Britain to the attention of professional North American scouts, it’s only a matter of time before the next players follow in his footsteps.

From the Icehogs Flickr Account

From the Icehogs Flickr Account

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.

Problems at Hull Arena?

For the last 20 years, arguably the biggest event in the EIHA Juniors hockey calendar has been played out of Hull Arena.  In May 2015, when the EIHA Conference Tournament officially turns 21, it will be moving to IceSheffield for the first time.

There’s a lot happening a Hull Arena recently, with various long-standing groups either losing their timeslots, or suddenly having their fees dramatically increased.  Due to “changes in EU regulations” causing some major works to be carried out, the arena has closed its doors for around 6 weeks, making a number of ice hockey teams essentially homeless for the period.  It’s not been the best time for the arena, and now on top of that, they’re going to be losing one of the biggest events of the ice hockey year.

A quote from Tournament Director, Geoff Hemmerman, on the EIHA website:

“Some will ask why are we moving from Hull, when it is the traditional home of the tournament. We lost the use of some of the facilities that had previously been available to us.  We need to ensure the players and parents have a great experience at the event. Unfortunately, we could no longer guarantee this at Hull.

It’s a pity that it’s come to this, and it seems that some organisations – like the EIHA – are now starting to look elsewhere for ice time.   Other than the professional teams playing out of Hull, it’s unlikely that any of them can afford an increase in ice fees – with no other rinks close by there are a  lot of teams who could end up dissolving.

As someone whose closest rink (at the moment) is Sheffield, I’m personally pleased about the relocation of the EIHA Conference Tournament moving there.  I love IceSheffield, and from a personal point of view, far prefer it to Hull Arena.  We have a strong hockey following in Sheffield, many of whom I hope will take the time to watch the Tournament, when they may not have done with it being in Hull.

However, as a hockey fan who is painfully aware of the lack of ice rinks in this country, it saddens me that the arena is gaining such a negative reputation and is losing something as big as the Tournament.  And as someone with a vested interest in one of the teams currently playing out of the arena (Kingston Kestrels Sledge Hockey Team), it bothers me that we may not have a home there for the long term.

As always, these are simply opinions.  I’m not privy to any insider knowledge, and have no personal connections to either IceSheffield or Hull Arena.  If you’d like to discuss this further, feel free to comment here or come and chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac.

EIHL Fixture List Calendars

Being the spreadsheet geek that I am, as soon as I saw the fixture list for the 2014-15 EIHL season, I decided to import it directly into my Google calendar.

And since I was doing that anyway, I figured I should share them for everyone to use. I’m no technical expert, but you should be able to just click on the link and have it import to your calendar directly. If you’re using an Android device or Google, use the top set of links. If you’re using an iPhone or Apple device, use the iCal links. I hope.

Disclaimer: I’ve never done this before, so if there are any problems, just holler and I’ll try to fix them!  All information is from the original fixture list that was posted HERE.  If you spot a mistake, please check the original list first!

Google Calendar Links
Belfast Giants
Braehead Clan
Cardiff Devils
Coventry Blaze
Dundee Stars
Edinburgh Capitals
Fife Flyers
Hull Stingrays
Nottingham Panthers
Sheffield Steelers

iCal Links
Belfast Giants
Braehead Clan
Cardiff Devils
Coventry Blaze
Dundee Stars
Edinburgh Capitals
Fife Flyers
Hull Stingrays
Nottingham Panthers
Sheffield Steelers

UK Hockey Family Coming Together

Amy1

Amy and Beth Usher with some of the Sheffield Steelers.

I’m pretty sure that most Sheffield Steelers fans have heard Amy Usher’s name mentioned before. Some might know her personally, or have read her story online.  You might have seen photos of her with the Steelers players, beautiful and always-smiling.

But there’s probably a lot of people who don’t realise how amazing and strong she is, and they might not know is how much of an impact she’s had on the hockey community.

21-year-old Amy was diagnosed last year with a rare, incurable form of cancer, Liposarcoma.   Instead of bemoaning her lot in life, like some people would do, she has decided to live every one of her days to the fullest.  Which isn’t easy when you’re often stuck in a hospital receiving radiotherapy treatment.  Since watching the Steelers play for the first time, she has become a huge fan of the team, and is considered a part of the organisation.

When her older sister, Beth, chose to run a 10k race to raise money for Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity – the hospital that are treating Amy – word soon began to spread through the UK hockey community.  Donations have been flying in over the last few weeks, from players, sponsors and fans alike.  Steelers sponsors, Purpose Media, have even offered to donate extra money for every goal that the Steelers score in the 2014 season.

It’s overwhelming how much support me and Beth have got from the whole hockey community, it seems crazy that a few months ago we were just fans watching games, as I was receiving chemotherapy at the beginning of the year and going to games was something positive and fun for me and my sister to do, and focus on. We never expected that they would become friends to us, and such important people in our lives. What’s amazing is that I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the Steelers, and that would’ve been more than enough, but they’ve all just carried on being supportive and unbelievably kind to us and are really helping us through what could be a completely negative time!

But it’s not just the money – although obviously the £3,500 and counting that has already been raised is pretty impressive – it’s also about a common cause that is bringing together fans from teams across the country.  A quick look at the donation list on Beth’s JustGiving page shows comments from Panthers, Stingrays and Clan fans, amongst others.  Even if it’s just for a short period, the UK ice hockey family is banding together.

Despite all the attention – they’ve been written about in several local newspapers, and barely a day goes by without seeing Amy’s name on my Twitter feed (which makes me smile every single time) – Amy is still just a young girl trying to have fun.

Its strange really because now when people ask what I would like to do, it’s actually pretty normal stuff, like I love the theatre, so I want to see as many shows in London as I can! I’d love to go in a hot air balloon too! Nothing too adventurous as all I really want to do is spend time with my family and friends (and of course can’t wait for hockey season!)

Beth’s run is on Sunday 13th July, but it’s not too late to donate.  Her JustGiving page is simple to use, but even if you can’t donate, please help by spreading the word.  Weston Park needs a huge amount of money to keep going and the donations can help Amy and her sister have some extra time together that they deserve.

Beth and Amy Usher

Beth and Amy Usher

Thank you to Amy for the photos and quotes on this article.  And thank you to both Amy and Beth for being an inspiration ♥

You can follow Amy (@amylouiseusher) and Beth (@bethush03) on Twitter, and please, please donate if you can.

Goodbye, Steven Goertzen

This is my second goodbye post in the last few weeks, and I’m already fed up with them.  Please, Steelers, don’t let any more of our boys go.  I can’t handle it.

But anyway, this isn’t going to be a detailed, in depth blog post.  It’s just a little goodbye from me to my favourite EIHL player.

download.phpThe first thing I did when I decided to support the Steelers was to go through the roster and learn what I could about who the players were and where they came from.  All of the guys had pretty good stats, but the Captain, Steven Goertzen, stood out.  And when I discovered he’d played for my beloved Carolina Hurricanes (and their AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats), the deal was sealed.

I found myself watching for him on the ice whenever we went, following the #18 intently.  He is a pleasure to watch play, and I truly believe he was instrumental in helping the Steelers lift the playoff cup this season.

I want to say something deep and meaningful about him leaving the Steelers and heading to Coventry, but I can’t.  I know he’s made the move that is best for him and his family, but Sheffield won’t be the same without him. Coventry are getting one hell of a player.

So, Steven, on the off-chance you’re reading this, Thank You.  I wish you and your family all the best, and hope that you get everything you deserve.

Interview with Ben Bowns

10157269_550141408433920_5282327507158531416_nIf 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!

If you’d like to know more about the Ben Bowns International Goaltending Clinic, you can visit the website or the Facebook page.  Ben can be found on Twitter @bownsy21.

 

As always, feel free to leave a comment here, or come chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac