Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Sports Energy
When it comes to the Cornwall Royals, fans always bring up the glory days of winning back to back Memorial Cups in the early 80’s. While that was a significant event in the team’s history, Cornwall had always iced a strong team until the early 90’s when the team was sold and relocated to Newmarket, Ontario.
Jeff Reid was a part of Cornwall’s last 3 seasons. Hailing from far away Owen Sound, Ontario, Reid started his hockey career like every other young lad in the country, following in his father’s footsteps. His days with the Junior B squad of the Owen Sound Greys led him to be drafted by Gord Woods and the Cornwall Royals in the 11th round.
Jumping at the chance to start his minor hockey career, Reid made the seven hour trek to the Seaway City and was placed with a passionate billet family, the Alexanders. “I had the same billet family the whole time I was there,” Reid recalls. “Mrs. Alexander really welcomed me and my roommates and made the transition of being away from home very easy.”
His first two years with the squad saw him play under the likes of Marc Crawford and John Lovell. Crawford taught them what it took to play professional hockey. “He participated in lots of the drills and would actually compete with us.” Crawford, having just retired from professional hockey himself, was not afraid to compete with the team he was in charge of. “Many times he would finish his checks on us.” Reid remembers, “He actually bag-skated himself after a bad loss. He said he couldn’t play for us but he could skate for us. That was pretty powerful.” Lovell came in during the Royals last season in town. “Outstanding coach. I learned a great deal about hockey and how to be a good person from him.”
Reid remembers the incredible talent the team had. “Being able to watch and play with Owen Nolan was awesome. Score goals, hit and fight at the drop of the hat. He was an all-around hockey player.” Other names coming to mind were the great John Slaney, the late Guy Levesque, one of his roommate’s Ryan Vandenbussche and of course, his linemate Chris Clancy. “He was my big brother out there. He made me be able to play like I was 6’2”.”
The tandem of Reid and Clancy didn’t stop with the Royals. After his junior career, Reid turned professional and played with various minor pro teams across the United States. Teams such as the Las Vegas Thunder, Orlando Solar Bears and Raleigh IceCaps. Upon retiring from playing, an opportunity arose to headman the men’s hockey team at the University of Guelph. His assistants? Two aforementioned Royals alumni, Chris Clancy and John Lovell. “I was a young head coach and stayed with Guelph for nine years.” Reid says, “It took me a few years to figure out that hockey was a high priority, but the big picture was getting a degree and possibly having a pro opportunity after school. School was paramount.”
“Major junior isn’t for everyone and lots of players are late bloomers. The main difference between the OHL and collegiate is understanding what the players’ goals are.” Reid offers a bit of advice for future players. “I’m biased but Major Junior is the best of both worlds. Work to get your dream of playing professional hockey and if it doesn’t work out, school is there and paid for.”
As he reminisces about his time in Cornwall, Reid says the fans are the some of the memories that stick out the most. “The fans were very passionate about the Royals. The hockey was incredible.” In the same breath, he remembers the great Orval Tessier giving him his chance to excel. As Reid was a late draft pick, he got his chance after Winnipeg Jets prospect Jason Cirone was away at their camp and blew out his shoulder. “Orval signed me to a roster card. I was very grateful for the opportunity and went on to say I needed a new pair of skates.” Tessier didn’t say much and a couple of weeks later called Reid back into his office. “On his desk were a new pair of skates. He ordered them with two inch steel blades. He told me he was going to get me to 5”10 somehow.”
Reid has just finished up the hockey season as an assistant coach with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Here’s to seeing him behind the bench for a few more years to come.
Here in North America, everyone and their grandma seems to be starting up a hockey lifestyle apparel company. As the sport continues to grow worldwide, there is more need to not only develop awareness of the game we love but promote it as well. In the U.K, Cross Check Clothing does both of those things.
Started in 2012, Cross Check Clothing is the premier supplier of hockey lifestyle apparel for U.K. hockey fans. They venture out to the different arenas showcasing their brand and some of their models are even players themselves (Or yours truly who happens to be a proud brand ambassador). For the U.K. hockey scene, Cross Check Clothing is imperative to the growth of the sport.
I caught up with Pete to give not only myself but fans of the clothing line some insight into the brand.
March Hockey: First thing first, what made you decide to start up a clothing line? Why hockey?
Pete: I have always been a keen entrepreneur so to speak. I started my first proper business when I was 20 and always got involved with various business projects here and there. I wanted to start a fresh with something brand new, that people could really get in to, and at the time UK hockey did not really have anything like this. So after a lot of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’, the brand was born. I’ve always admired brands which are born in a specific lifestyle, but also appear to mass market, say VANS with skating or Quiksilver with surfing. They can encourage people to the sport, and if Cross Check can inspire kids to put on some skates and play hockey then i think we are getting it right.
March Hockey: How did you come up with the name?
Pete: Once I decided that this was 100% what I wanted to do, it was just a case of brainstorming ideas. I spent days and days writing down as many variations of hockey related terms I could think of. One day Cross Check came out, and I instantly knew that was exactly what i’d been looking for. One of my favourite hockey players is Arron Asham and I loved the Pens v Flyers Stanley Cup Play Off series in 2012. Asham was a bit naughty in game 3 and that Cross Check probably inspired the name!
March Hockey:How and when did you get into hockey?
Pete: I went to see the Sheffield Steelers play first in 1992 but didn’t start attending UK hockey regularly until about 2009 when my buddy Josh was old enough to attend and he could actually understand what was going on.
March Hockey:Where do you see the brand in 5 years time?
Pete: As long as we are still trading and making fans and friends around the world, then that will be good enough for me. This isn’t a get rich business, or “world domination.” All profits go back in to the brand in order to develop the range and make better products.
March Hockey:Where do you come up with your ideas for designs? What do you pull for inspiration?
Pete: I guess sometimes you see clothing when out and about and think “that would be better if…” but mainly the clothing is based on, “what would i wear?” ideas. Sometimes I just get on the laptop and work on some ideas and it just flows out. Its like, I only wanted to check my email and I’m suddenly in the middle of a brand new hoodie design!
March Hockey:When did you start up the business? Give me a mini history on Crosscheck Clothing.
Pete:The idea was born summer 2012 and the basic logo / web site / social media was set up along with the early merchandise designs. However, I overran for the 2012-13 season and knew I really needed to launch for the start of a hockey year. So I painfully sat on it for nearly 12 months, before finally introducing to the world in September 2013. The store opened in November 2013 and our first month we had sales of £3 (Yes – 3 Pounds) – i thought to myself, “oh my god, what have I done!?!?” but fortunately things picked up and we’ve been blessed with the support we’ve received ever since.
March Hockey:What NHL star, or player in general would you love to see wearing the brand?
Pete: Arron Asham (for the name reference mentioned!) would be awesome, but my NHL team is the LA Kings so seeing Drew Doughty or Anze Kopitar in a Team Cross Check tee would be amazing. Maybe Darryl Sutter in a nice hoodie??
March Hockey: What can fans do to help spread the word?
Pete: Hopefully the brand speaks for itself, so wearing it out and about, at the rinks, with their hockey buds etc… As long as we keep getting in peoples faces, we’ll continue to grow I hope.I just want to thank everyone for their support. We’ve met some of the most amazing people through hockey and Cross Check and we appreciate every person who is a friend of this brand. We are so, so grateful for everyones love.
Kevin Saurette has a been a huge part of the Belfast Giants line up since joining the squad in the 2012-2013 season. The 34 year old from Winnipeg, Manitoba has experienced almost every kind of league there is in the hockey world. From lacing them up with the Regina Pats in the WHL, to grinding it out at the University of Manitoba, then making a name for himself in the AHL, ECHL before jumping across the pond. Before landing in Ireland, Saurette spent 5 years in Germany between three different teams. It was quite an honour and pleasure to ask some questions about his lengthy career. He gives a great explanation of the EIHL.
March Hockey: You’ve played in North America, Europe and now the past three seasons in the UK, what if any, is the biggest difference of the game between these three places?
Kevin Saurette:In North America the ice surface is smaller so the game is very quick and you have very little time to make decisions on the ice. It is also a younger league than overseas as most of the players are fresh out of junior or college and are trying to make the N.H.L
In Europe, the game is more about skating and creating plays with skilled passing and puck movement. With the bigger ice you have more time to get your head up and make a play. It is also less physical as you cannot afford to go for the big hit and risk taking yourself out of the play.
In the U.K., the style of game is a mixture between Europe and North America. Most of the arenas have olympic ice so there is room to make plays and skate but with many of the imports coming from North America, there is also a rugged and tough aspect to the game. In my opinion, the EIHL is an underrated league when compared to other European leagues but it does seem that the secret is out. More and more high quality players are signing here every season and hopefully this will continue.
MH: Spending five years in Germany, was the language barrier ever an issue on the ice? Or is the “language” of hockey fairly universal?
KS:I think the language of hockey is universal but you do definitely run into some language barriers your first few years in Europe. My first year in Germany the coach never spoke one word of English so that was something to get used to. I was also captain for a few years in Germany when my German speaking was not that great. There was many times where the ref was explaining a penalty or play and I had no idea what he was telling me. I then had to go back to the bench and basically lie to the coach about what the ref had told me. It was pretty ridiculous at times ha.
MH: Belfast has kept pretty much the same squad as last year. With a couple games already been played, is the same togetherness that captured the league still there?
KS:For sure, we have a great group in Belfast. We all get a long and have a lot of laughs together. We also all want to win and there is no selfishness on the team. That was one of the biggest reasons why we were so successful last season. We all wanted to win for each other. The new guys we have signed have fit in well and look great on the ice so hopefully we can duplicate the same success we had last year.
MH: You’re a veteran and a natural leader with the Giants. What do you use as a motivation factor to get not only yourself but some of the other lads going, especially ones that are new to the team AND country?
KS:On this team, there is not much need to try and motivate others. We have a very experienced group that all know how to play the game and how to get themselves ready for games. For myself, I just try to work hard every shift and try to have fun while doing it. We are lucky to be able to play hockey as a profession and I think sometimes we as players forget that.
MH: What’s your pre-game routine look like?
KS: My pre-game routine is pretty simple:
Spaghetti for lunch, grab a nap, Get to the rink 2 1/2 hours before the game, have a coffee, tape my sticks, play two touch, bike and stretch and then go out for warm up. It has changed through the years but now it is more about staying loose and having some fun.
MH: If you could watch any two teams, from anywhere and any era, who would it be and why?
KS:It would be great to see the 1987 Team Canada team who beat the soviets in the Canada Cup finals play the 2014 Team Canada, who just won Olympic Gold in Sochi. It would be very interesting to see how much the game has changed in twenty years. The players today are machines and that Sochi team, in my opinion, is the best team the hockey world has ever seen. However, in 1987, the two best players in the history of the game,Gretzky and Lemieux, were in their primes and played on a line together. They couldn’t be stopped then but I wonder how they would do against today’s best defenceman.
Fresh off his commitment announcement to Colgate University, Adam Dauda took the time to speak to me about his hockey prowess. Born in Slovakia, the aptly nicknamed “Slovakian Stallion” has been recently acquired by the Pembroke Lumber Kings this season after a couple of years suiting up for the Cambridge Winterhawks of the GOJHL. The 19 year old powerhouse is expected to light up the lamp for the Lumber Kings in a promising way this season.
March Hockey: You were a huge force with Cambridge last year. What do you think you can bring to the Pembroke Lumber Kings this season
Adam Dauda: I think by playing in big key moments last year; whether it was to shut down an opponents top line or try to get the game tying or winning goal has helped me a tremendous amount to stay calm but at the same time be excited for big moments like that, Hopefully my experience with it there will come in handy.
MH: You’ve played a season of junior in Slovakia. Is there any differences to the junior scene over there as compared to here? Do you have a favourite moment that stands out from playing overseas?
AD: There are some very big differences between the junior hockey here and in Slovakia. All the games over there are played on Olympic sized rinks which means a lot more skating. For me, that usually isn’t the greatest but it gives everyone a little bit more time with the puck to make smarter decisions. The players over there are a lot more skilled and a lot softer. There wasn’t too much hitting in the games also due to the big ice and the players didn’t seem nearly as strong as the ones here. However, the guys over there definitely taught me how to be a more skilled player.
MH: How would you describe your style of play? Is there any player you look up too?
AD:I really look up to Marian Hossa and his style of play. Even though he’s a winger and I’m center I try to play like him; strong on the puck, skilled, good vision, and still back checks like no other. Also, the fact that he’s Slovak too makes me a bit bias.
MH: What’s your game time routine like?
AD: My game time routine has changed a lot over the years but for the past two seasons it’s stayed pretty much the same. I have to listen to The Language by Drake and then a few other songs before every game. They don’t necessarily fire me up it’s a ritual now that I have to do. My warm up clothes have consisted of my jock and flip flops and some pre game sewer ball victories have to be mixed in there too.
MH: Where would like your hockey career to take you?
AD:I would love to go to a good Division 1 school in the states and then hopefully play in the NHL one day. Playing pro over in Europe would be a bit of a dream come true as well.
MH: If you could play against any player, who would it be and why?
AD:If I could play against anyone I would probably pick Alex Ovechkin just because he is one of the best to ever play hockey.
Matt Cruickshank may be only 19 years old but he’s certainly making a name for himself on and off the ice. The Owen Sound, Ontario native was acquired by Ottawa from the Cornwall Colts and as a veteran in the CCHL, he is excited to become a leader with a new group of young players. At 6’0″, the towering defenseman holds the blue line like there’s no tomorrow but with his skill is able to join the rush. No doubt eyes will be watching his play this year. I had a little chat with Cruickshank and it’s amazing to see a player of his age so humble and have a good head on his shoulders.
March Hockey: What do you think you’ll be able to bring to the Jr. Senators this CCHL season? How do you think the Ottawa Jr. Senators will do?
Matt Cruickshank: This year I am a veteran in the league with some high level experience in the game. With half my team being rookies I hope to bring leadership and confidence to the locker room. It’s my job to let all players know that I got their back if ever needed on or off the ice. Also my defensive role will be a factor to our already well rounded defense core.
So far with a record of 0-2-3 we are being doubted from other teams and people around the league. As a leader of the team and knowing the amazing players and coaching staff we have, our record now does not fear me at all. With half of our team being hard working speedy rookies and the other half being committed mentoring veterans, I truly believe we can be a top 5 finishing team in the league. Just need to stay positive and stick to what we are doing. The wins will come.
MH: How would you describe your style of play? What players do you look up to, if any?
MC:I consider myself as a stay at home defenseman. The kind of guy to get lots of penalty killing time to block shots, keep the puck out of my net, and play against top lines. Just because I lack skill, doesn’t mean I don’t have a role. I would compare my game to someone like Adam Foote or Scott Stevens.
MH: How was the experience of representing Team Canada East last year? What did you learn?
MC:My experience at Canada East will last a lifetime. From one week not even knowing what Canada East was to being able to put on the red and white was just a dream come true. The feeling you get stepping on that ice with over a thousand screaming fans in read and white still gives me shivers today. Besides the hockey aspect, I had a great time touring Nova Scotia with the guys and seeing a part of our beautiful country that I’ve never seen before. Also can’t forget I had my first lobster!
MH: Off of the ice, you are dedicated with volunteering. Obviously that’s a great characteristic to have. Why do you think it’s important to give back?
MC: Growing up as a young kid I lived for the game of hockey. I would always watch NHL on team and go to local Jr. B and OHL games in my hometown of Owen Sound to cheer the players and guys that I looked up to. If I saw them slam their stick then I would too; if I saw them with a certain haircut I’d get the same. So saying that I find it very important to be a role model off the ice for young athletes to follow because if they see you being respectful, caring, and a nice person off the ice, those characteristics will be noticed and rub off on them. To completely answer your question, it’s important to give back because without the community, or family and the people around us, we would not be where we are today. Just because I am busy with junior hockey, doesn’t mean I can’t give back to help others succeed and make their life easier, the same way others did for me when I needed it. A smile goes a long way!
MH: Where do you see your hockey career taking you?
MC:Well being 19 I need to be realistic with my hockey career. I love the game and will do anything I can to be the best I can be. But saying that, my dream is to finish off my junior career on a high note and attend university at the highest level possible playing hockey and getting my degree.
MH: If you could watch one game between any two teams of your choice, who would you choose and why?
MC: I’d have to say Slap Shots Charlstown Chiefs and the Cornwall River Kings. Most likely my favorite movie ever and the most exciting and entertaining team to watch last year. Who wouldn’t wanna grab a bag of popcorn and watch that game.
Scott Robson is one of the young British lads who are making their names known on the British hockey scene. First suiting up back in 2007 with the Junior B squad of the Manchester Phoenix, the then 12 year old was making an impact from the very first time he stepped onto the ice. At 18 years of age, he suited up and made his debut for 37 games with the Elite leagues Hull Stingrays proving he could ice with the best of the Brits that were out there. This season he is on a two-way contract, spending his time between both the EIHL’s Stingrays and the EPL’s Peterborough Phantoms. Here’s a bit of a look into the mind of young Scott Robson.
March Hockey: What made you get into hockey and why?
Scott Robson:Both of my parents and family played a big role in getting me started into ice hockey and I couldn’t thank them enough for it. I grew up watching the games as far back as I can remember; whether it be Humberside Seahawks or the Manchester Storm. I can even remember watching my current coach in Peterborough (Slava Koulikov) play in Hull when I was little!. I’ve been fortunate over the years to travel to all sorts of countries like Canada, America, Sweden and the majority of Europe to watch hockey which made me become addicted to it before I even hit the age of 10.
MH: How do you describe your style of play? Who do you look up to as a player, if anybody?
SR: I’d describe myself as a very offensive D-man who loves to join the rush but capable of looking after the defensive zone first. Over my years with Hull I’ve been able to learn so much from each defenseman on whether they’ll be a offensive or defensive style of player which hopefully solidifies my game. I love watching Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators with the way he jumps into the rush and makes a big play.
MH: What are some of the advantages of playing for both an EPL team and an EIHL team? Are there any disadvantages?
SR: The main advantage is that I have two teams and two sets of different players in which I can learn from and develop further. Also having two different styles of coaches that are looking out for me and my best interests. They are giving me an opportunity every night to play consistently and making me reach my full potential. There isn’t a disadvantage to me being on a two way. I think its great for me and both Peterborough and Hull.
MH: What do you feel you can add to this year’s Hull Stingrays lineup?
SR:I feel I can add a bit of an offensive jump from the defensive zone and give a more attacking style of play. I’d like to give off a capable attitude of playing in the EIHL. It’s all still a learning curve for me and I’m just grateful for the opportunity. After the first weekend playing in both games for Hull, I already feel I’ve been taught valuable lessons so to speak.
MH: This will be your first time in the EPL as a member of the Peterborough Phantoms, what do you see for them in terms of how the season will play out?
SR:I’m excited of course. I’ve been really impressed with Peterborough and how well run and co-ordinated everything is here. We’ve been together for three weeks now where other teams are just getting to know their teammates. I think that will make a big difference to the way we start early in the season. I think we have a strong team; from our goalie, to our defence and forwards. I think we are a hardworking team and going to push teams to the full 60 minutes each night on a constant basis. We are going to shock teams no doubt. I’m really excited and ready for the opening weekend. I’m sure the boys are too.
MH: Where would you like your career to take you?
SR:I’ve never really thought about it too much as in “what’s my top goal in hockey”. Just play it year by year, improve as much as I can every year and enjoy it. The realistic goal of winning a championship with both Hull and Peterborough this year I think is possible with what looks to be both strong teams. I’ve always liked the idea of playing in Australia for a summer just to experience something that would be a unforgettable. I’ve talked to a few guys who have played over there and they’ve all said how great, wonderful and passionate the fans are!
MH: If you could watch any game with any two teams, who would they be and why?
SR: That’s a tough one. I’d think I’d have to go with the 1997-1998 Vancouver Canucks team with the likes of Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny, Mark Messier, Markus Naslund, Trevor Linden, Jyrki Lumme, and Gino Odjick. Purely because it was a team full of spark and speed. (Noteably I was only 2/3 years old!). They’d be up against the more modern 2005/06 Vancouver Canucks team with Naslund, the Sedin twins, Morrison, Bertuzzi, Jovanoski, Kesler. It’s probably the team I liked the most just because of the style of play. Obviously I’m a big Canucks fan!
Special thanks to Scott for taking the time to do this one-on-one! All the best for the upcoming season! I’ll be keeping an eye on you buddy! 😉
In a short 20 minute documentary, Chris Burns goes to detail into his 12 year battle with depression. A former goaltender for the University of Denver and former draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, Burns tells his story of how his hockey career was taken away in one minute, his time as a professional wrestler and then his struggle with prescription medication.
In a day where depression is becoming more and more prevalent and the need for getting rid of the stigma around it is at an all time high, Burns’ story hit really hard for me. As someone who suffers from depression and has had her own lengthy battle with surgeries, Burns’ should be commended for his way of bringing this out in the public eye.
On the hockey side of things, the need for more research on how the combination of contact sports and depression need to be really looked at. I think there’s a lot more information to prepare players to deal with being a professional hockey player but there’s not a whole lot on what happens after the game is gone. For some, it’s all they’ve ever known. We need to push more resources in the sporting world for depression.
For anyone who is depressed remember, you are not alone. You can get through this. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; you’re not a burden to anyone.
Please watch this video and pass it around to everyone you can; it’s a great view.
I caught up with Coventry Blaze defenceman Mark Smith ahead of the 2014/15 campaign. No stranger to the Elite League, Mark, a native of Edmonton, Alberta will be entering his 6th season on UK ice. So far Mark has logged 241 regular season games and 14 playoff appearances with Edinburgh and Blaze rivals, the Cardiff Devils.
Ed Kimberley – Mark thank you for taking some time out of your day to catch up with us, this will be your 6th season in the EIHL, how will you be spending your offseason and how much are you looking forward to pulling on a blaze jersey for the first time?
Mark Smith –The off-season for me has been rather quiet. Just been staying busy with going to the gym and developing an eBay habit. Got a few weddings to attend here in the UK coming up as well, so they should be fun. My wife and I will be heading back to Canada for July also, so I’m looking forward to catching up with all my family and friends. We have a few road trips planned in Canada as well, which will be a good time. I will also look to get on the ice back in Canada as much as I can. Aside from that, I am really looking forward to getting the season started with the Blaze. Obviously big rivals with Cardiff, so it may be a little strange at first, but nonetheless I am really excited for the season, and seeing some of the signing Marc has made it looks like we will have a really competitive team this season.
EK – Coach Lefebvre has described your play as “very good defensively” and you’ve been described by Neil Francis as “consistently great on the ice.” How would you describe your game?
>MS – I would describe my game much like Marc has. I try to be as sound defensively as I can and really pride myself on being solid in my own zone. With that in mind also I feel I to have the capabilities of chipping in offensively whenever I can. Basically I am going to do whatever I can to help the team win. If that means blocking shots or taking a hit to make a play, I’m going to do whatever has to be done to help the team be successful. I just try to prepare myself as best as I can before hand and work as hard as possible on the ice, and that is what I try to give every game.
EK – A bit of a lighter question for you, coach Lefebvre said he “didn’t expect a whole lot of offense” from you, now as team mates (albeit in more games) you outscored Marc in Edinburgh, do you hope to surprise both your new boss and the fans with offensive contributions?
MS – I am well aware of the expectations Marc has of me, and I am a defensive minded D-man, but with that in mind, as I alluded to in the previous question I do feel I have the capabilities to chip in with decent numbers given the opportunity. As for outscoring Marc up in Edinburgh, I was quite shocked at that with him being the offensive dynamo he his. Jokes aside though, I will bring a solid defensive game, but I feel that I will pleasantly surprise people with my offensive contribution.
EK – Marc made an immediate impact behind the bench, carving some key victories to help the Blaze reach the post-season. How important was his return to the helm important for you in signing in Coventry? How did the deal come about?
MS – Knowing Marc and playing with him previously was a huge reason for choosing to play for the Blaze. I know the kind of person he is and what he brings to the rink every day and I am excited to be apart of that. I approached Marc if he was interested in having me in Coventry and I got an almost immediate response from him that he wanted me there. The professionalism from him and everybody within the organization has been fantastic, and I know I will enjoy my time playing for the Blaze.
EK – Although there is a long way to go in the offseason, the team look to have a strong leadership core with Egener, Goertzen, Tait and Cowley, just how important is it to have guys like these on the roster?
MS – It is massive to have a veteran presence like we have on the team. It is those kind on guys that will do all the little things that need to be done to win games. That kind of approach to the game is contagious and will rub off on the younger and less experienced guys on the team. Having those kind of players also makes everyone around them raise their level of play.
EK – Having played numerous games in the Skydome over the past 5 years, how does it feel as an opposing player when the fans turn it into a fortress? And, be honest, did you ever hear the chirping from the block behind the away teams bench?
MS – The fans in Coventry do bring a great deal of passion and create a great atmosphere. And I absolutely heard the chirping that goes on from behind the bench. I don’t think I personally ever acknowledged whoever is doing it, but I think they gave up heckling me after a couple years cause I ignored them. But it is pretty funny at times as there have been some pretty good exchanges between them and some of my teammates.
EK – Again Mark, thank you for answering a few questions and we look forward to seeing you come August/September time. However I do have one final question for you….. Rangers or Kings?
MS – No problem, Anytime. I cannot wait to get started in Coventry and in answer to your question. Not sure if this counts now with the Kings being up 3-1, but I am going to say Rangers.
The 2012-13 NZIHL season was a big one for the Dunedin Thunder. The team has yet to win a Birgel Cup and last year’s heartbreaking loss to the Canterbury Red Devils was their first NZIHL Final appearance since the team’s inception in 2008. Aside from the obvious, the reason why this loss was so gutting was because their regular season went so well. Their 8-4 regulation record was tied for best in the NZIHL, and when it came to OT wins, they actually had the tiebreaker over Canterbury, as the Thunder didn’t lose a single overtime game in ‘13.
Fortunately for the Thunder, a new year brings with it new opportunity. The majority of the team’s roster is set to return this season, which is promising given their on-ice chemistry last year. New additions from Canada and Finland will augment the team’s roster on the front and back end. The team has lost talented young goaltender Aston Brookes as he returns home to Queenstown’s Southern Stampede, but other than that their core talent was retained. Thunder fans have a lot to look forward to.
I caught up with Thunder’s Captain Andre Robichaud to discuss the past, the future, the roster, and more. And while he was hesitant to make any Claude Giroux-style prognostications about the season, he is optimistic about his club.
He told me via email that expectations are high but the team are under no illusions that winning is a given. He’s instructing his young team to take games one at a time, one weekend at a time, and his personal strategy is to “control what you can control with preparation and commitment and put yourself in a good position come the tail end of the season.”
A physical forward who doesn’t shy away from battles along the boards, Robichaud has played for the Thunder since moving to Dunedin three years ago. Though he was born and raised in British Columbia, Robichaud is Kiwi-Canadian by descent and as such doesn’t count as an import for the New Zealand league. This makes him a special bonus by NZIHL standards, as the limit of four import players per team means that teams must choose carefully when dressing international players.
As far as his hockey pedigree goes, Robichaud’s resume definitely reads more Canadian than New Zealander: he played in BC with the Tri Port Minor Hockey Association, growing up in the North Island Eagles peewee, bantam, and midget hockey programs. He also has BCHL experience under his belt as a member of the Merritt Centennials and the Victoria Salsa.
When I asked about his NHL preferences, Robichaud admits he’s a Vancouver Canucks fan, although “that has been tested over the last few years.” His age shows a bit when he talks about the players he admired growing up, but in the best way: “I’ve always liked the complete players, guys who can play in any situation. Steve Yzerman, Rod Brind’Amour, Mike Peca. I guess these days its your Toews, Bergeron type players.”
After his final year as a player with Victoria, Robichaud tried his hand at assistant coaching for a season. Then life and a relocation to New Zealand got in the way of hockey for a while, but the 39-year-old says that after he moved to Dunedin, he “walked into the rink, got straight onto Craigslist to get some gear and started playing again.”
His twelve-year hockey absence must not have had too damaging an effect, as he was named NZIHL’s Rookie of the Year for 2011-12.
I asked him what he brings to the team aside from just his physical game, which is something Thunder manager Drew McMillan praised in our correspondence. “As I’m turning forty this year,” Robichaud writes, “I bring the average age up from seventeen years to twenty-six.” Obviously a joke. “No, seriously, I do bring it up.” Well that counts for something!
But in all seriousness: “I guess [I bring] some life experience to our dressing room, a bit of experience around the game and systems to complement coach’s systems, and a good honest effort each game.”
When asked about the biggest leadership challenges he’s faced so far as Captain, he had this to say: “The NZIHL is an amateur league with thoughts and dreams of becoming a professional league. So trying to balance work, family, and sometimes five nights a week at the rink can be quite challenging for all players. You always want 100% commitment from yourself and other team members but the realities of life come into play and expectations/goal posts need to sometimes be moved.”
Further along this line, we discussed the unique challenges of playing in New Zealand, especially as someone who has experience with the Canadian system: “My own views are that the greatest challenges will be with participation numbers and affordability. In Canada the smallest town will have an ice rink so you don’t have to live in the city i.e. Aucks [Auckland], CHCH [Christchurch], Dunnas [Dunedin] or Qtown [Queenstown] to be able to play. Hearing that Hamilton (New team name the Hamiltoes!) is getting a rink is a good thing, but the game will always be a minor sport for funding and participation until this changes.”
Of course, it isn’t all bad. New Zealand’s unique location and league make-up gives players a chance to play hockey during a time of year when most import players would otherwise be simply training or making plans for next North American season. Robichaud says one of his favourite parts of playing away games in Auckland is taking import players to see palm trees, singlets, and jandals in the winter. What’s a jandal, Canadian readers might ask? That’s the New Zealand term for flip-flops. Don’t ask.
Robichaud is grounded when he describes what fans can expect to see from the Thunder in 2014: “The 2014 Dunedin Thunder are definitely a deeper team than last season. I hate to make guarantees as such because you have zero control on other teams additions, subtractions, etc. We are well coached, have great goaltending, we’ve got a couple game breakers on D and up front.”
One of those game breakers is teammate Paris Heyd. “Gino [Paris] in my opinion is the most complete player in the league, import or Kiwi, and at times can take a team on his back,” Robichaud writes. The stats back him up: last season Heyd tallied 8G and 20A for a total of 28 points in only 16 games. He and Robichaud both scored goals in the Thunder’s NZIHL Final loss to the Red Devils last year.
The Captain is also impressed with the progression of Thunder’s younger players: “… the development of some of the young fellas, Jacob Hurring, Joe Orr, Tristan Darling in particular. Watching the local talent maturing is great for Dunedin and NZ hockey.”
That is important as the NZIHL has existed for ten years now. Many of the League’s longest-serving veterans are into their thirties, and Queenstown’s Southern Stampede recently lost their veteran Captain Simon Glass to retirement. The U18 and U20 development programs in New Zealand are an important source of new players for the NZIHL just as the NZIHL itself is an important place for development and training for the country’s national team, the Ice Blacks.
In addition to the homegrown young players from New Zealand, Robichaud had great things to say about Dunedin’s newest imports, Kolten Fyfe and Jesse Kantanen.
He describes Fyfe, a forward who hails from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan as a quality fella with great hands, good at finding open ice to fire off shots. Fyfe is a product of the Prairie Junior Hockey League and spent three years with the Saskatoon Westleys. He also spent some time in the FCHL with the Dalmeny Fury and was a greater than point-per-game player in every single one of his PJHL and FCHL regular seasons. This year marks his first in the NZIHL, and the Thunder are thrilled to have him.
Jesse Kantanen is a Finnish defenseman and Robichaud is impressed with his professional mentality and approach. And also his “great wheels.” Kantanen will be a great addition to the already-rocksteady Thunder blueline, which was key to the team’s success last season. Though Kantanen was born in 1989, he’s got nine years of experience in Finnish leagues and tournaments, including a 2011-12 Suomi-sarja Championship. The Suomi-sarja is Finland’s third-highest level of hockey, and a player with that level of competition can bring a lot to the Thunder locker room.
Overall, the impression I got from my correspondence with Andre Robichaud is that the team are optimistic, but it is a cautious optimism that is well-grounded in an understanding of how predictable the NZIHL can be. While the NZIHL Final has been extended to a best-of-three series this year, the regular season remains only sixteen games long. That means the Thunder–and their Captain–must ensure every game counts.
My thanks to Andre Robichaud for his time, as well as to Dunedin Thunder manager Drew McMillan for making this interview possible. The NZIHL season kicks off this weekend, but the Thunder have a bye. Their first games are on the 14th and 15th of June against Auckland’s Botany Swarm.
In just over a week’s time, the New Zealand Ice Hockey League will be celebrating and kicking off it’s 10th season. As always, March Hockey will have complete coverage of this monumental occasion as best as I possibly can from here in Eastern Canada.
The defending champs, the Canterbury Red Devils have a bold new look with new jerseys to fend off the competition. (You’ll have to tune into the game to catch them. They’re gorgeous.) I caught up with friend of the blog, goaltender Justin Findlay on what lays ahead for the boys in red.
March Hockey: It’s early but what do you think the Red Devils will have to do to repeat as champions yet again? How are the imports looked at to help the team?
Justin Findlay: As a team we will have to come together both defensively and offensively for the entire 60 minutes. We are known for being able to score in bunches, but we also need to have a strong focus on defensive play. Our imports are looked to as leaders on and off the ice and we take a lot from having them here for the short season. Imports have always been an important feature of the NZIHL; helping local players develop, as well as being able to have the opportunity to play and practice alongside professional players. Some of the imports we have had/have in the NZIHL have been drafted into leagues as high as the NHL and have played with/against players we idolize.
MH: What kind of system does your new coach have in place? Is it difficult to transition from different coaches year after year?
JF: Coach Rout has been around NZ ice-hockey playing and coaching for almost 20 years; he has been a valuable piece of the Red Devils team since 2012 and his transition to head coach has gone as smooth as anyone could imagine. We all respect him through his time as player and coach and we all believe that he is the right man for the job.
MH: For yourself, how do you see your play for the upcoming season?
JF: All I want is an opportunity to help the boys win some games this season. Last season was not the greatest personally, but I am still proud to be a part of the defending NZIHL champs.
MH: How have you prepared through the off-season?
JF: The NZIHL season ended last August and I started training in September doing 2 months of cardio based training with another Red Devils member Josh Greenwood. I then transitioned to doing weights and strength work and have been in the gym 6 times a week since Christmas as well as training on the ice 2 times per week. With the lack of actual ice time, we try to do workouts that simulate trainings/games and that will benefit us the most when we actually get on the ice.
MH: Should the rest of the league be ready to take on the new and improved Red Devils?
JF: I believe we have the most talent in the league at any position. We have a group of core guys that have been with the team for 6-8 years now and with the added imports we will always be a threat to any team. With that being said, I look forward to a competitive season this year!
The Canterbury Red Devils are in action with the first game of the NZIHL season, June 7th when the Southern Stampede invade the Alpine Ice arena in Christchurch.