A Fan’s Perspective: Ben Thompson and British hockey

Along with getting a player’s perspective on the game, it’s usually more interesting to get a fans point of view. The fan is the most integral part of hockey. It keeps the business of hockey thriving. Without the fans, you have no team or league. And without the league well, there’s no game.

This is the first of what I hope to be many features on fans of the game throughout the world. It intrigues me to know how they got hooked onto the game and if you haven’t figured out by now, how the game thrives in their area of the world.

My first installment is with Ben Thompson of England. Follow him on twitter, @BenThompson84

Ben Thompson. Twitter: @BenThompson84
Ben Thompson. Twitter: @BenThompson84

March Hockey: Where are you located and how did you get interested in hockey?

Ben Thompson: I live in Doncaster, England, around 20 miles from Sheffield. My interest in hockey started in 1996 when we were taken to see the Sheffield Steelers on a school trip; totally hooked from there. (March’s note: Pretty kickass school. Never did that here in Canada!)

 

MH: What makes you a passionate fan of the EPIHL compared to the EIHL?

Jeff Legue. Sheffield Steelers.
Jeff Legue. Sheffield Steelers.

BT: Well, as I said, my first team were the Steelers, possibly one of the top two biggest clubs in the UK. I saw them win titles & beat a team 18-1. In 2010 I saw them beat Cardiff 4-2 in a game where NOTHING happened in the 3rd. I needed a change. I went to see the Steeldogs in the division below; a hard working team packed with local players, only 3 imports…fights, high scores; cheaper tickets, cheaper beer, more passion, a family club…I was home. Although there are a few teams with big money in the EPIHL, it doesn’t effect the result of the league half as much as the EIHL, which makes the top division predictably boring.

MH: Who is your favourite EPIHL team and player? Why?

Greg Wood. Sheffield Steeldogs.
Greg Wood. Sheffield Steeldogs.

BT: Sheffield Steeldogs. Local team, home grown players, hard working ‘blue collar’ mentality. We’re hated for our physical tactics, which I love. Player wise, Greg Wood. Leader, Sheffield lad, skillful & brave. Reflects the club.
(Quick mention for Andy Hirst; from my hometown, ever improving, without a doubt a future ‘A’ & ‘C’)

MH: Does the EPIHL or the teams of the league in general do enough to incorporate fan interaction or to keep fans interested?

BT: I feel like an integral part of my club; the owner knows me on first name terms. The club look after their fans & work hard to engage people in the brand, but have a tough job with the Steelers been 500 metres away. Other EPIHL have good websites & Twitter but the EPIHL must work harder to push the league by incorporating a relevant EPIHL website & push media through YouTube or maybe even TV.

MH: If you were to change one thing about the league, what would it be and why?

BT: Usher the Guildford Flames into the EIHL. Financially they make the league a bit disjointed.

MH: Let’s talk NHL. Who’s your favourite team and player and why?

 

Jarome Iginla. (Photo credit: Hockey Broad. flickr.)
Jarome Iginla. (Photo credit: Hockey Broad. flickr.)

BT: I have a soft spot for the Calgary Flames (Not covered in glory last season). It all goes back to NHL 94 on the Sega. I also have Canadian relatives in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,  so it has to be a Canadian team. Favourite player – Iginla (See career..Haha)

MH: How do you think the NHL could market itself better for fans over in Europe?

BT: More TV coverage – maybe Sky or BT Sport. Adopt an NFL style UK game, maybe at the MEN arena in front of 18,000.

Thanks so much Ben for giving your perspective on the game in England. If you are a passionate hockey fan, I want to hear from you! Send me a tweet on twitter @MarchHockey or a message on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/MarchHockey!

Q & A With Cardiff Bay Lightning Goaltender Matt Richards

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Matt Richards is a six year veteran with the Cardiff Bay Lightning of the British Hockey Conference; a six team league in the United Kingdom. I was eager for him to give me his take on the state of hockey on his side of the pond.

March Hockey:  How would you consider the style of play different in the UK or Europe in general compared to that of North America?

Matt Richards: “The style of play in the UK is fairly unique in Europe, being similar to that of North America, in terms of physicality and build up play. The other European leagues play a more patient, less physical passing game. I would place the EIHL (Elite Ice Hockey League) average skill level around ECHL standard, perhaps AHL/ECHL in the top teams.”

MH:  As a goaltender, who was your inspiration growing up?? Favourite current goalie??

935478_10151390149850764_2116814298_nMR: Growing up, I loved watching Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, Marty Brodeur and Marty Turco. I play a fairly different style to all of them but some of their save choices have leaked into my game. For example, i will freeze the puck with my blocker hand if its that side (Hasek), I’ll stack my pads more than a “normal” goalie would (Hasek, Brodeur) and I love playing the puck (Brodeur, Turco – I use the ‘Turco grip”). My current favourite goalies would be Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Quick and Tuukka Rask. They’re all quite technical in their approach to the game but can pull off the sprawling saves when needed.”

MH: Is there a lot of support for UK hockey? A lot of support for Cardiff?

MR: “Support for UK hockey is growing all the time, however I believe it needs better management from the top in order to be more successful. The governing bodies need to be totally independent from the EIHL teams and do more to promote the sport within the UK. It has the potential to be huge, it’s the perfect sport for the UK considering our changeable weather! Cardiff has always enjoyed a very strong fan base and there are actually so many teams below the top league playing out of our temporary rink right now that ice time is very limited!”

MH: Who’s shot would you be most afraid of saving?

940995_10151374256540764_345260863_nMR: “I really enjoy stopping the hard shots, especially with my glove, but I’d have to say Zdeno Chara. I always get out as far as possible when I see a player winding up for a shot but i’m not sure I’d come out as far for his!!”

MH: And finally, if you could play with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why??

MR: “Well honestly, I’d love to have the chance to play with any of the NHLers; I’ve practiced with the pro guys over here a few times and that’s been great. But if I had to pick, I’d say for a goalie it has to be Brodeur. He’s a legend; his numbers say it all and to still be playing at the level he is today is phenomenal. Non-goalie wise, I’d love to play with Datsyuk.  In my opinion the greatest hands the NHL has ever seen. Penalty shot practice would be interesting!”

Cardiff Bay’s next game is July 13th against the Sheffield Squeelers, who sit above the Lightning in first place. Puck drop is 8:30 pm, UK time!