Monthly Archives: Oct 2017

#OnFire – Vallerand

Marc-Oliver ‘Marco’ Vallerand is a 28 year old Canadian who joined the Blaze this season from HC Bolzano, Italy. He’s played in a lot of countries during his 13 year professional career, and has a tale to tell of hard work and persistence, and a love of scoring goals. Along the way he’s iced in the AHL and so far, looks to be a solid addition to the Blaze squad.

 

As ever, what attracts a Canadian with European playing experience to the UK. Vallerand explained, ‘I spoke to my agent about finding somewhere to play where I would be able to have fun playing, and be able to be a goal scorer. He suggested Coventry, so I spoke to Danny and Robbo about coming here. In fact, Robbo was instrumental in me making that decision, as I have previously played with him, with Greenville Road Warriors. I’ve also known Paquette since I was 15years old and we played together all those years ago! My first question I asked about coming here was where do you see me playing because I’m a goal scorer first of all, that’s where I play the best. When I’m in a position to score then I can help the team. If he’d said he wanted me to play third or fourth line I probably would have said no, but he made me feel like he wanted me, so that was a great choice for me.’

 

You played for three different AHL teams over two seasons, how did that come about? ‘I was in Greenville for a while, but I got a little bit buried there, I thought I had good stats, and you see guys going up with stats as good more than I did. I had a great chance for Rockford one year, but apart from that it’s been up and downs, different call ups here and there. It was a cool experience to try to reach that standard and be a full-time player in that league, but it’s tough, there are a lot of players and it’s just a question of timing basically.’

 

Did you enjoy playing in Europe? ‘My first year in Italy was my favourite. we had a great group of guys, the local guys were amazing that year that was just an unbelievable year. After the ups and downs of playing the East Coast Hockey League I didn’t know where I was heading with hockey. I was starting to look for an off-ice career, but that year I had a lot of fun so I tried to stay there. The next year I stayed home for a while and then I went to Switzerland which was a great year and I’d have loved to stay a bit longer, but things are what they are and after that I went back to Italy. I was playing in the top league, which is a better league than the Serie A was. it was a tough year for me.  I had a different role and I got less ice time. I wasn’t really the go to guy, and we had a lot of great players on that team. My role was other than goal scoring, and that’s important to me. It’s what I enjoy doing during a game and I feel that my stats over my career speak for themselves!’

 

How easy has it been to adjust to playing over here? ‘It’s quite a North American style of play, and I

can do that well. I think that the team is looking good, we can battle every night and surprise all the teams in the league.’

 

Is there anyone that you think you have clicked with in terms of line mates? ‘Me and Dingle have been playing together since we were here, even in practices before preseason. We’ve got good chemistry I think, it takes a while for two players that don’t know each other to build it. I thought yesterday that we are starting to read off each other, and not have to think about what we are going to do as individual players, but whether I know what he’s going to do right away as soon as he gets the puck. There’s Paquette as well, because I played with him when I was so young. I just know his style so I know what he’s doing and where he’s going, so I think we’d have that as well.’

 

Having had such a long career, what have been the highlights? ‘At 15 years old I got cut from the Midget Triple A. you have to play in that league to go to the Junior Major, and I got cut from that team. A totally random team picked me up, and I managed to play that year and had a decent year – it was tough the first part of the year, but the second part was good. Out of nowhere I didn’t get drafted in Junior Midget. I was invited to Quebec City, which is probably the best junior team in all of Canada. I was invited there after they won the Memorial Cup, so they had a decent team, and I managed to create myself a spot there. I was scratched the first game that year and then I never got scratched again. I played four years there with Quebec Ramparts and ended up Captain of the team.’ In four years, he played just over 300 games, racking up nearly 240 points. ‘After that the same thing happened, I wasn’t drafted pro. I got an invite from the New York Rangers East Coast team, the Greenville Road Warriors, and I did pretty well there once I took my spot.’ In fact, he managed nearly a point per game over 272 games. ‘In Europe I played in Denmark for Odense Bulldogs, then went back to Greenville, and the following season I had a good year in Italy. Most of my career has been based on knocking at the door, not waiting for someone to open it and just beating it down. I’ve had to keep working at it, to get where I am.  In the summer, I was working as an assistant coach with a pee wee team and my friend is the head coach. He takes me as an example. I’m helping his team, they aren’t a high calibre team, but it’s the level that I played at when I was their age. I’m hope for them, to look at and say I’m not in double A or triple A, but I can still make it. I’m a good example for those kind of kids, as players develop at different rates, and although they are not playing at top levels yet they can still do it!’

 

How do you spend your time off ice?  ‘In the summer, I was working a lot, so I didn’t have a lot of time for myself. To relax I enjoy sitting in front of the tv, or playing some Xbox, to get my mind away from work. If my wife Is here I like to go out sightseeing, to do something in the afternoons to enjoy being in another country and to see things that most people would like to see. I try to enjoy it as much as I can. I love listening to music as well.’

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#LightningStrike – King

As published in the Lightning Strike magazine, Sept 2017

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Kevin King has joined Lightning from Gap, who were the French champions last season. The Canadian right winger has worn a letter of responsibility several times over his career and is looking to bring a level of leadership to his role on the new team.   On signing the forward, Pete Russell said, “I’m really pleased to have signed Kevin King; I went after Kevin in March – he was one of my top targets. Kevin is a powerful player and plays hard every night. He is comfortable in the middle or on the wing and has put good numbers up on every team he has played on. The strength of our locker room will be key to us having a successful season and …the signing of King, forms a fantastic foundation for our future.”

 

Having played his first ten professional seasons in Canada, with a couple of games on loan to Texas Stars in the AHL, I was curious as to why King decided to come and play hockey first in France and then in the UK? “I just felt that the opportunities in Canada were running out for me,” he explained. “I didn’t necessarily like the business aspect of the hockey, I think people forget about that. I heard a lot of great things about Europe, I think that it’s a great opportunity to grow as person and as a player and have many new experiences. I decided to go to France last year and had one of my most enjoyable years of hockey ever. Winning the league helped for sure! Then I had contact with Pete Russell and had the opportunity to come and visit Milton Keynes at the end of last season, so I got to see the facilities and meet the coach. I went with my gut and felt like this was another great opportunity and that this was the start of something special. We’ve put together a strong group of guys, based around how they are as people before how they are as players.”

 

As well as King, Lightning have signed two of his team mates from Gap last season – Kyle Essery and Christian Isackson who both also play as forwards. I wondered how much of a benefit it was going to be this season, icing alongside familiar players. “Obviously, we’ve played together for a full season so we have chemistry and we know what to expect from each other, whether we’re playing on a line together or not,” King said. “Off the ice, we know what we expect too. There are some good leadership qualities in both of those guys, and they know what it takes to win. I’ve had the privilege of winning a championship before the one in France, the WHL Championship with Kootenay Ice in 2010, but I think last year was the first time for both of them. Just having that experience of winning, it’s hard to explain but it’s different to the years that you don’t. Sometimes it’s unexplainable, other times you can put your finger on it. Having those guys come too it’s a comfortable thing as well, so it helps with the initial start-up of living – at the rink and the gym, that comfort helps a lot.”

 

Living and playing in a new country, in a team new to the league, what are you looking forward to this season? “Today (meet the players) has solidified it, but there is so much excitement about the move to the Elite League, the fans seem super excited, the players are excited, the coach and the staff too. Riding that excitement out will be a great reminder that this is fun, obviously there’s going to be hard work, there’s going to be ups and downs but the excitement within us and surrounding us is going to remind us that hockey is fun, not just for us players but for everybody!”

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#LightningStrike – Griffin

As published in the Lightning Strike magazine, Sept 2017

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Brit defenseman James Griffin returns for his third season in Lightning colours, having originally signed on a two-way contract with Coventry Blaze. Previously he had played five seasons with the Blaze in the Elite League, joining the team at the tender age of 17. I caught up with Griff to see how he felt about the challenge of being back in the Elite league, and how he feels he has developed as a player during his time in the EPL.

 

Why did you decide to stay with Lightning this season? Was it an easy decision to make?

“To me it was a no brainer,” Griffin said. “I was asked to come back and play in the Elite league, and it was just perfect for me. I didn’t even look anywhere else, I just signed!”

 

He says that he is looking forward to playing in the Elite league for a second time, and explained how the time spent playing in the English Premier League has developed him as a player. “It’s made me more mature as I took on a bigger role as an EPL player. I had more of a role on the team and more responsibilities on the ice, which helped me develop and grow as both a player and as a person. I’m more patient on the puck, hopefully!” And your hits? He pauses then continues, “I go to hit and sometimes it doesn’t come off right, but that’s what happens when you go at someone at speed!”

 

With the move to Elite comes a raft of import players, which means that Griffin moves down the pecking order in terms of defensemen. Does this reduction in ice time worry him and will it affect his game?  “I’m fine with being 6th D. We have three lines of defence which hopefully we will roll all the time. There will be situations where I don’t play, and I understand that. That’s where I’ve got more mature, if I’d been put in that position when I was playing in Coventry I’d have been annoyed, but it’s better for the team and the other players”, he reflects. “You bring in imports to be good, and better than me. I can learn from the import players and develop my game further.”

 

Moving back to the Elite league means a chance to play teams you’ve not seen for a while. Where are your favourite places to go? “My favourite rink is Sheffield. I love playing in Belfast as the city is great to visit, and Nottingham have a great rink. Edinburgh has got…character, it’s a lovely city to visit! I’m looking forward to the triple header weekend, they have been good fun before.”

 

Playing at Elite level means having on ice training pretty much every day, as well as needing to find time to go to the gym. On top of this, Griffin is studying Graphic Design at Coventry University, and somehow needs to find time to study as well. He explained, “I’ll be training in the morning and trying to fit my university work into the afternoon. Hopefully I’ll get a sports scholarship again this year, so that the team can help by talking to my lecturers. As long as I get the work in, and I can do my coursework at home, I’ll be fine! I’ve done so many courses.  I was later than most people going to university, as I wanted to play hockey. if someone asked me now, I’d have gone to university at 18 and played hockey after! At the time though, when Thomo (Paul Thompson, former head coach of Coventry Blaze) asked me to play hockey I thought that if I declined then I wouldn’t get another opportunity. Looking back at it, at where I am now, I wouldn’t be here I’d still be playing at a lower level.”

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#OnFire – Doucet

Unedited – as published in OnFire, Sept 2017

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Guillaume Doucet made the unusual decision to move from the Elite League and Challenge Cup Champions, Cardiff Devils, to spend a season with one of the new teams to the league, Milton Keynes Lightning. He’s had a varied experience as a player, having played in the UK, France and Denmark since leaving McGill University.

 

Why did you want to come and play hockey in Europe? Doucet explained, “I knew I wanted to try the experience of living in a different country with different cultures, food and people, to meet new people and travel the world, and I thought that playing hockey would be the best way to do that. I knew I wanted to travel from a young age, so as soon as I graduated from playing college hockey in North America I tried to find a spot over here. I ended up in France and I loved it. My plan was to come to Europe for one or two years and I’m still here, six years later!

 

Which has been your favourite country to live and work in? “I think that hockey wise, job wise, the UK is a good fit for me,” said Doucet. “It’s more suited to my style of play, as it’s more North American, which is what I am good at. I was able to have two good seasons here with Cardiff, so now it’s easier for me to get a job, and I know people here, so that helps. Culture wise, France was nice. The food is good, the scenery is awesome and I love France. I met my girlfriend in Denmark, so Denmark was nice too. She was here with me last season in Cardiff and she’s here with me this year too.”

 

As you mentioned, you had two good seasons with the Devils, getting over 30 points each season, so why did you choose to move on from a trophy winning side? “It was not an easy decision. We had a great season last year, and I enjoyed my time in Cardiff,” he said. “I was at a point in my career where I wanted a little more responsibility, a little more action. The way that Pete approached me and what he was trying to build here in Milton Keynes was something that I felt that I could help and be a part of. It’s a good challenge to start from something new and turn it into something good, something successful. It was a hard decision that became easy as I thought about it. The location being so close to London means I can try something different, something new. I play hockey to try new things, so I thought it was a good fit.”

 

How is your experience of playing in the Elite league going to help the team? “I have already been using my off-ice experiences to help the players who are new to the country to sort things like paying their council tax and getting Wi-Fi! Hockey wise, I’m hoping that I can play like I usually play, and help them with the little things. I feel like I know most of the guys in the league, the rinks, and most of the refs. I’m hoping that I can prevent some stuff and help when the issues happen.”

 

Are you excited for the team and looking forward to the season? “Building something from scratch is exciting. It’s a completely different ball game to the team last year, I’m not sure people realise the Elite league is so different. That’s going to be something I’m looking forward to, and the challenges that we will have to face.”

 

Finally, some people have been keen to write off the chances of both of the new teams in the league before the players have even stepped onto the ice. How do you feel Lightning will do this season? “I think we have a chance to win the conference,” Doucet said. “In this league, on any night anybody can beat anybody. If you don’t show up, I don’t care who you are, you are going to lose a game. This is what the Elite League is now. On paper, Coventry and Manchester have a good team. It’s not going to be easy for us to win the conference, but if you don’t have high expectations you are not going to achieve anything. We have to expect to win the conference and we’ll see what happens. It depends on how well the team gels, there’s a lot of factors to think about.”

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