Tag Archives: Cardiff Devils

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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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

Sledge Hockey Review: Manchester Phoenix vs Cardiff Devils [12.07.2014]

Cardiff Devils (photo not actually from this game!)

Cardiff Devils (photo not actually from this game – credit to Gemma Beer!)

I was really looking forward to this game.  It was the first time I’d had a chance to see Cardiff play (theirs are the only home games that are too far for me to travel to) and after the last time these two teams got together (only last weekend), it was promising to be a good game.

A little background: Cardiff Devils have been around for years – as the Cardiff Huskies they are, I believe, the most long-established sledge hockey team in the UK.

However, they only recently joined the BSHA Planet Ice League, and last year were in division two.  Coming into the top division this year, they were probably considered the underdogs and their first two games of the season saw them losing 8-0 and then 14-0.  However, with the kind of true grit and determination that is only found in hockey, they refused to give up.

Last weekend saw them at home against Manchester Phoenix.  In a result that I’m not sure anyone expected (including the Cardiff players themselves), they came away with a resounding win of 5-2!  If that doesn’t show what good training and dedication can do for a team in just a few months, I don’t know what does.

So yesterday’s game was the return leg of this head-to-head, this time with Manchester having the home advantage.  Having spoken to some of the Manchester players beforehand, I knew they weren’t willing to give this one up easily, but on the other hand, Cardiff were still flying high from their fantastic game the week before.  Neither team was going to go down without a fight, and that was evident from the very beginning.

Both teams played especially hard in the first period, with both netminders – Han O’Connor for Cardiff and Steve Midghall for Manchester – being put to work early and often.  Manchester’s Anthony Booth had some extremely good chances during the period, but O’Connor refused to let him through, and by the end of the first, the score was 0-0.

Into the second, and no sooner had I tweeted “Who’s going to be the first to score?” than Booth finally found a way past O’Connor and got Manchester on the scoreboard.  The second period was largely dominated by big hits, and a couple of patented Karl Nicholson breakaways, although neither of them made it into the back of the net.  Although at one point, Cardiff’s Tim James made it into the net.  Not the puck.  Just him.  Oops.

And then, with just one single second remaining on the clock, Cardiff’s captain, Russell Willey managed to sneak the puck past Midghall where it just barely crossed the line.  Cardiff were ecstatic, Manchester not so much.

But that didn’t matter, because it took just 10 more seconds (and an intermission break!) for Nicholson to give Manchester the lead again.  Which they held onto for about 5 minutes, until Cardiff’s Paul Furber swept the puck neatly into the top corner of Manchester’s net, and we were back at a tie on 2-2.

I was honestly starting to think we might get our first tie game of the season, as both teams were so evenly matched on the ice.  But when Cardiff received two penalties in quick succession, they allowed Manchester more than a minute of 5-on-3 power play time.  Their PK team worked hard, with O’Connor holding them at bay for as long as she could, and they killed off the first penalty.  But a beautiful shot from Manchester’s Rob Allen found the back of the net, giving him his first goal of the season, and giving Manchester the lead with less than 6 minutes remaining on the clock.

As hard as they tried – and they really tried hard – Cardiff couldn’t pull it back and the final score was 3-2 to Manchester (of course, if you aggregate the scores from the two games, Cardiff won 7-5!).

MVP of the game was Anthony Booth who totally deserved it for his goal, although the other standout player in my opinion was Steve Thomas from Cardiff.  Brilliant in the defensive zone overall, he has fantastic puck handling skills as well.  Also, I had a complaint from a photographer friend that Nicholson was too fast on the ice and we needed to slow him down!

Next Saturday’s game is Kingston Kestrels vs Peterborough Phantoms.  Due to Hull Arena closing for a couple of weeks, the game has been relocated to Ice Sheffield, albeit at the much later time of 21:30.  I’m pleased as it’s easier for me to get to than Hull, but I know it’s going to be tough for Kingston, as they officially have the home advantage, but they won’t have their usual supporters around them.  If you’re free on Saturday evening, please come along to the game.

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