Category Archives: Team GB

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!

image

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

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!

 

It’s a Man’s World (Except When It Isn’t)

Photo Credit: Paul Saxby, SERCO Media Services

Photo Credit: Paul Saxby

There’s been a lot of talk recently, especially in North America, about whether female ice hockey players can compete at the same level as their male counterparts.  A lot of the discussion revolves around whether they can handle the hard hits that they would receive in a full-contact game, and whether they are tough enough to stand toe-to-toe with male skaters.

One woman who knows what it’s like to play a full-contact game as the only female on the team is Cpl Teresa Lewis of the Royal Air Force.

Growing up, she was a fan of the Durham Wasps, watching them every weekend with her older brother.  Having fallen in love with the game, she was invited to play for the Durham Dynamites junior team when she was 7 years old, but found that her size and age meant that she didn’t get as much ice time as she’d like.  Undeterred, she followed her brother and joined the Under-10s boys team.  By the time she was 14, Teresa was playing on both the women’s and men’s teams, having to move further afield when the Durham Ice Rink was closed down.

Photo Credit:  SAC Gina Edgcumbe

Photo Credit: SAC Gina Edgcumbe

Clearly, splitting her time between the two teams didn’t hinder her any, as she joined Team GB and went to eight World Championships between the ages of 14 and 25.

Over the years, Teresa played for several different teams in the UK, including Sunderland and Basingstoke, but now she plays with the RAF Lossiemouth Jets team.

The Jets are one of five regional teams that make up the Air Force Ice Hockey Association, and at the moment, Teresa is the only registered female player on any of them.

Unlike a lot of mixed gender teams, the RAF teams play some of their games as full-contact, allowing body checking that wouldn’t be allowed in a woman’s team under IIHF rules, especially those they play against the Royal Navy teams.

I don’t think it would be any different if I wasn’t on the ice, as I have played lads ice hockey for many years; the lads know what I’m capable of and if the coach thought I couldn’t take a hit or hit back then I wouldn’t get picked to play.

She added that she thinks she’s probably more physical on the ice than most of her teammates, and takes great pleasure in proving anyone wrong who thinks that girls aren’t as good as boys when it comes to ice hockey.

Photo Credit: Paul Saxby

Photo Credit: Paul Saxby

If you’re interested in seeing Cpl Lewis on the ice, along with dozens of other members of the Armed Forces, the best place to head to is Ice Sheffield for the 2014 Tri-Service Tournament from 2nd-6th June.  Round Robin games between teams from different branches are held during the day, with the main games in the evenings at 7pm:

  • Tuesday 3rd June: Royal Navy vs Royal Air Force
  • Wednesday 4th June: British Army vs Royal Navy
  • Thursday 5th June: British Army vs Royal Air Force10333301_10152102825807894_2754142620130390837_o

Women’s World Championships 2015

I know that it’s not been long since we watched Team GB Women collect their silver medals in Italy, but today brought some great news for next year’s tournament.

The 2015 Women’s World Championships (Division 2A) are going to be held in Dumfries, Scotland, with Great Britain as the host nation.  Running from Monday 30th March to Sunday 5th April, this will be the fourth IIHF tournament held at Dumfries Ice Bowl.  Coming to join Team GB will be Kazakhstan (recently relegated from Division 1B), Korea, Poland, New Zealand and Croatia (promoted from Division 2B).

Aside from the obvious home-ice advantages this offers – primarily the increased number of GB supporters who will be able to attend – there is at least one other major bonus that I can see.

Holding an international tournament like this will, hopefully, bring the watchful eyes of the mainstream media to Dumfries.  We’ll be able to show people that there is more to ice hockey than just fights and goons; that it is a sport to be taken as seriously as any other in this country (and maybe more seriously than others!).

And when our women lift their gold medals – which I have no doubt they’ll do – and get promoted up a division, we’ll all be able to watch the ceremony on TV and see the photos in our newspapers, instead of being limited to Twitter updates and second-hand reports.

We have 10 months until it starts, so while we let the players work on the winning aspect, the rest of us can work on getting the attention of the media to this fantastic opportunity!


 

As an addendum, the 3 of the other 4 venues that affect Team GB have also been confirmed:

  • GB Men’s Senior team will head to Eindhoven for the Division 1B tournament
  • GB Men’s Under-20s are going to Tallinnfor their Division 2A tournament
  • GB Men’s Under-18s are also off to Tallinn for their Division 2A tournament
  • The venue for GB Women’s Under-18s Division 1 Qualification hasn’t yet been confirmed

Manchester Phoenix vs Kingston Kestrels [10.05.2014]

Dear Diary,

Today I went to my first sledge hockey game and it was awesome…

20140510_133544(Please excuse the crappy photo, I only had my phone and was taking photos through the glass)

Seriously though, I enjoyed myself far more than I thought I would.  The teams were fantastic, with lots of goals (okay, so maybe they were a little one sided, with the Kestrels winning 7-1, but still fun), and a lot of speed, skill and determination.  Despite being in a sledge, the hits seem just as hard as regular hockey, with more than one of them leaving me wincing in sympathy.

The rules are almost identical to IIHF hockey rules, with a few exceptions, so it’s easy to follow, but the style of play is rather different.  Board battles are still the same, but there is a lot more passing and bouncing the puck off the boards than I expected.  Because it’s hard to build up speed in a sledge while controlling the puck (the sticks are also the means of propelling themselves on the ice), there are less breakaways, and more long passes.

There were two big things that I noticed about the game though.

The first was the clear difference in skill levels between the Team GB players and the others.  Not that the non-international players were bad, at all (hell, the fact that they’re on the team means they’re pretty damn good), but the GB players were a step above the rest.  The goals in the game were scored by Matt Clarkson (Kestrels, 3 goals), Ian Warner (Kestrels, 3 goals), Matt Woollias (Kestrels, 1 goal) and Karl Nicholson (Phoenix, 1 goal).  All four of them are Team GB players.  Everyone was great to watch, but those guys really stood out for me.

The second thing I noticed made me sad.  There were only a tiny amount of supporters there, and I strongly suspect that most of them were family and friends of the players.  In fact, when I mentioned to someone that I was there and didn’t already know one of the players, they seemed almost shocked.  So, fair warning.  I’m going to continue to promote sledge hockey on my blog and my twitter.  I’ll keep promoting it until it’s no longer needed (so probably for a fair while yet).  It’s a fantastic sport, and close enough to regular hockey that if you’re a hockey fan, you’ll enjoy this too.

For me, personally, one of the other endearing fact about the sport is that the players and teams are so happy to interact on social media.  Having players favourite my tweets, or retweet me makes me happy.  It makes me more likely to keep tweeting and talking about them, and it makes me feel like they actually want me there at the games.  I’m a big believer in the power of social media in any case, but this is proving my point again.  Both the Kestrels and the Phoenix have been so friendly towards me on twitter, it just makes me want to support them more.

Oh, and while I wasn’t sure which team to support at the start, I think it’s going to be Kingston.  Two hat tricks in my first game pretty much seals the deal – unless  Manchester can pull out something spectacular for their next game against Peterborough on June 14th.  For those who want to watch Kingston play, their next game is May 24th against Cardiff.

So, in conclusion, sledge hockey is awesome, and you should all go watch a game or three.

Sledge Hockey in the UK 101

What is Sledge Hockey?GB Sledge Hockey Pic1

Taken from the British Sledge Hockey Association (B.S.H.A.) website:

Sledge Hockey is a variant of ice hockey and can be played on and off ice, using sledges to allow participants to move about the rink at high speeds hitting a puck travelling at speeds of up to 100kph. Players sit in adapted sledges, propelling themselves with sticks adapted to allow propulsion in a manner similar to skiing. As players are strapped to a sledge everybody has the same restrictions, regardless of whether or not the player has a disability.

In basic terms, it’s almost identical to the hockey you know and love, but with players sitting down instead of standing up.  The majority of IIHF rules still apply, with only a few differences; the main addition being a penalty of Teeing, which is charging another player with the front of your sledge.

It’s a Paralympic sport and teams can be made up of both males and females, although at the moment, most international level teams are primarily male.   But unlike a lot of sports, sledge hockey can be played equally by people who are able-bodied or disabled.

Who Can I Support?

There are currently 4 sledge hockey teams within the 2014 Planet Ice Sledge Hockey league; Peterborough Phantoms, Kingston Kestrels, Manchester Phoenix and the newly added Cardiff Devils.   The format of the league has each team play 3 home games and 3 away games during the season.

Last year’s league champions were Peterborough, but this year it could be any of the teams taking home the trophy.

In addition, there are a lot of recreational teams around the country, including several brand new ones that are in the process of being set up.

What about the International Team?

Team GB is made up of players from each of the UK teams.  While they sadly didn’t make qualify for the 2014 Paralympics, it hasn’t slowed them down in any way and they’re still intending to make the 2018 games.  The growth of sledge hockey in the UK can only help them.

This is a video about the team’s push to make the 2014 Paralympics.

Where and When Can I Watch?

The best part about sledge hockey is that all of the games are free to watch.  Yep, absolutely free.

The 2014 season is due to start this weekend (Saturday 10th May 2014) with the Kingston Kestrels playing the Manchester Phoenix.

  • 10-May:  Kingston Kestrels Manchester Phoenix
  • 17-May: Peterborough Phantoms Cardiff Devils
  • 24-May: Cardiff Devils Kingston Kestrels
  • 07-Jun: Peterborough Phantoms Kingston Kestrels
  • 14-Jun: Manchester Phoenix Peterborough Phantoms
  • 05-Jul: Cardiff Devils Manchester Phoenix
  • 12-Jul: Manchester Phoenix Cardiff Devils
  • 19-Jul: Kingston Kestrels Peterborough Phantoms
  • 02-Aug: Cardiff Devils Peterborough Phantoms
  • 09-Aug: Manchester Phoenix Kingston Kestrels
  • 16-Aug: Kingston Kestrels Cardiff Devils
  • 23-Aug: Peterborough Phantoms Manchester Phoenix

How Can I Find Out More?

I’m going to be following the sledge hockey season here and on my Twitter account, but you should also follow @SledgeHockey and keep an eye on the B.S.H.A. website for more information.

Thanks to Karl Nicholson of Manchester Phoenix/Team GB for his help.

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