The Milton Keynes Lightning are a bright team in the English Premier League. One of their passionate fans, Mike Walls, took the time to answer some questions about the team and league for me! Their season gets underway this week.
March Hockey: Where are you located and how did you get into hockey?
Mike Walls: I am located in the new town of Milton Keynes, which is pretty much right in the middle between Birmingham and London. I got into hockey supporting the MK Kings and then the MK Lightning, after the Kings relocated to Solihull. A friend at school played junior hockey in MK, and his dad was involved with the team, and they took me to my first game, MK Kings v Telford. I don’t remember much about the game, except the Kings won. I went to a game a few years later (Kings v Basingstoke) with my dad, then the rink shut. Two years later it reopened and I spent most Saturday nights of my teenage life watching hockey.
MH: What makes you a passionate fan of the MK Lightning?
MW: Without wanting to sound too cheesy, being a MK Lightning fan is like being in a family. The players are great with the fans and always chat to supporters, they are also really appreciative of the support, the fans are close and home or away always get behind the team. The management are open and honest, and we have a fantastic supporters club that raises a massive amount of money for the team every season. The MK Barmy Army are known throughout UK hockey as a loud bunch, which suits me fine, as I normally found chanting and banging the drum. Also, as a MK born and bred lad, I can relate to this team made up of local players who love the town and team that started in Milton Keynes, rather than the MK Dons football team which moved to MK from Wimbledon.
MH: Who’s one player to look out for on the team and why?
MW: The Lightning are a team that keep the core of the squad the same; this does mean that we have players that others in the league are used to. We have an exciting Slovakian forward joining us, Stanislav Lascek, who is a former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick and he is expected to lead the scoring line along with Tom Carlon who we signed from our local rivals, the Peterborough Phantoms.
The player who I think you need to keep a look out for is our netminder, Jordan Hedley. He is only 17, but has been a fantastic youth player for the MK Storm, having played in age groups far older than his age, he has been a regular attendee in North American goalie camps and was called up for the GB U20s squad this year to take part in the Alexei Cherapanov memorial tournament. Jordan made his debut for MK Lightning at the age of 16 and recorded a shut-out in a 3-0 win over Telford. He is down as the back-up to Stephen Wall but he has a bright future, so be sure to keep an eye on him as he will get game time after taking the number 1 sport in the MK Thunder NIHL south division one side last season.
MH: How do you think the Lightning will fair out this season?
MW: This season for Lightning will be a challenging one, mainly due to the fact that we will be playing our home games 50 miles away in Coventry. We are having to play our home games in the Coventry Blaze’s home, as our rink in Milton Keynes is undergoing a much needed £6 million refurbishment. This will prove very challenging for the players having to travel for home and away games as well as mid-week training it will also be tough on the fans, and the management have braced themselves for the fact that attendances are likely to drop this season. In one statement it was revealed that if it wasn’t for the supporters club’s efforts, the team would have likely mothballed for a season until the refurbishment was finished. Looking at the squad, we still have a very talented bunch of players and coach, Nick Poole, always has the team playing as a unit and every player looks out for his team mate. We will be tough to beat, and while not finishing as high as in previous seasons, we will give every team a run for their money and will be in the mix come play-off time.
MH: Is there enough fan support for the team?
MW: Whilst the support is good, and we have one of the larger fanbases of the EPL, we could do with more fans regularly coming through the doors. Even if we get an extra 200 people a week, we should then be able to get in that extra bit of quality that will see us at the top of the table with the likes of Guildford and Manchester. When the Thunderdome is near capacity and is rocking, it is a tough rink to come to and get a result.
MH: If there was one thing you could change about the league, what would it be and why?
MW: If there was thing I would change, it would be more TV and media coverage. It is a great sport, but politics and previous failed attempts at televising ice hockey in Britain, means that the sport and the teams don’t get the exposure that it deserves. If we had that little bit extra TV coverage, it would mean a chance for more sponsorship, and this money could hopefully be used to invest in the future and help hockey grow in the UK.
If you’re a passionate hockey fan and want to feature your team or league, I want to hear from YOU! Get at me on twitter @MarchHockey or send me a message on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/marchhockey