Category Archives: Other than school

#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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What does sewing mean to me

This is my response to the question posed by Naomi – What does sewing mean to you?

 

I sew because I am (was) a Guide. This is the first sewing project I really undertook, although it is not (quite) all my own work. It was my Grandad’s army blanket – my sister has the matching pair – and my Nan sewed on the first 20 or so badges. I have had it since the age of ten, and now, at 39, it is ‘finished’. Well, it’s never quite finished, but I think it’s full. Over the years I have sewed on badges that have been swapped at local, national an international levels, those that I have bought at camps or events or places I have visited, and those that have belong to other people. It started with a ring of badges around the edge, and has worked it’s way to the middle, with many badges having been re-positioned over the years. It is a talking point on camp, a conversation starter as we compare badges, and a gigantic memory of fun times with others. It was on my bed when I was at university, as a way of staying connected to home.

My stitches have definitely improved over the years!

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As you can see, this piece was completed in the summer of 1996. I was 18, and had just started work on my Queen’s Guide Award. One of the sections required that I started a new personal skill, and developed it. My Queen’s Guide Advisor enjoyed cross stitch, and suggested this was something that I could do. I liked the poem, and designed the whole piece. Each of the images around the edge mean something and are related to that summer – Orchestra tour, first aider on Brownie pack holiday, camping with PHAB, a trip to Dominican republic and a summer romance. The mice also have a meaning, but I cannot recall (or find the piece of paper that explains it, which I thought was attached to the back. It’s probably inside the frame…). There’s a bee amongst the flowers, and finally my initials and a reminder it was for my Queen’s Guide.

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I completed a couple of large scale kits during my time at University, and then life as a teacher got in the way. About five years ago, I started taking regualar train journeys with a friend. Some days we’d sit and chat, other days we’d gaze out of the window, but most days we’d do both, which meant reading was out of the question. I found instead a small cross stitch kit that I had, and tucked that into my bag. I can sew and chat at the same time, and it feels like I’m keeping busy. This moved on to sewing on the train regardless of who I was (or wasn’t) with; it’s a good conversation starter, if that is what you are after. I find that stitching helps me to switch off, you have to be concentrating or else it all goes wrong, and feel a sense of achievement when I finish, as I have never been particularly ‘arty’. Once framed though, these cross stitches become art, and are something to be proud of.

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Russ Cowley #OnFire

With over 640 games and nearly 100 goals, Russ Cowley’s career with the Blaze spans 15 years. As well as playing, he has almost finished his PhD looking at fan response to transgression in sport at Coventry University.

For three seasons, he played alongside Blaze Head Coach Danny Stewart – how easy was it to make the transition from team mates to coach? “At the beginning it was a little strange,” explained Russ. “I think we’re both different people than when we played together – him as a coach and me as a player. We both have more experience. He handled things well when he came in and had meetings with guys that were coming back and told us what he was here to do. He also said what role he wanted me to fill as a player. For me, and the way I look at life, he’s the coach and that’s how I see him, regardless of me playing alongside him previously. I don’t look at him any different to anyone else in the room.”

Russ is known as being Mr Versatile. He is confident playing as a forward or as a defender, and has been known to switch during a game due to injuries. Is this an easy thing to do? Russ laughed, “I said I wanted to do one shift as goalie and then I have played everywhere! I think it’s tough when you swap positions. You have no time to get within your comfort zone within a position, you have to start thinking about all the set plays of what your job is, off any draw, in any zone and that’s whether I’m switching as a forward position or going back on the back end. You have to read the game as a D man to get a good gap between you and the rush that’s coming at you. Once I start playing in a position for a longer period of time it becomes easier because I get in the comfort zone, and get to know my line mates. Swapping a lot is tough, but like I say you get more comfortable being in one position. I’ve been playing defence since November now.  I guess some players wouldn’t be able to do it, the way my head thinks as a forward I think defensively. I skate well and I can read the game as a D man well. After me, the only other person who could do that would be Robbo, but he brings so much up front. In the last few years, one of the things that helps this team and one of the reasons the club has me back is that I can go back there if we get injuries. I do prefer playing as a forward, but I’ve always been one of those players -if there’s a gap I’ll fill it.”

It’s been a busy year for Russ, as well as playing he’s been working hard to complete his PhD and had to fit in family time as well. He explained “It’s been tricky this year. I’ve noticed the difference, I rarely have a day off a week. Obviously, we have Sophia, so when Rachel has her commitments I’m being a Dad. Otherwise, I’m here at the rink or working. I enjoy being a dad a lot. The joy that a child brings, it’s amazing. At home, she loves hockey. If I stick hockey on something she’ll say ‘hockey, hockey’, and sit there and watch it with me. She loves coming to the games, she talks about hockey. If I wear something with the Blaze or GB logo, she gets excited. As soon as I’ve got my gear on she’s frightened. I’ve even taken my helmet off to show her it’s me. It kills me that she’s frightened of me in hockey gear – I was hoping to take her into the room, but I can’t. I don’t know if it because what she sees on the ice makes her uncertain. I don’t smell like daddy – that could be why she’s saying no altogether!”

As ever, conversations at this time of year turn to the future, both long and short term. Russ said, “I’ve played over 600 games for the club in 15 years, I’m looking at my options for the end of the season, as my PhD will be finished by then. I’m looking at going into consultancy probably, I’m taking a long look at that route. I have enjoyed the research side of things for my PhD, I guess there’s a lot of doors open for me now. While I’m not totally certain, we’ll see what happens. When I do decide to hang my skates up I haven’t said no in my head to maybe moving into coaching, but I’ve done ten years at University and I haven’t done that to not put that to use. But never say never to having something on the side where I can help out perhaps. There will be certain priorities that have to come first!”

 

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#OnFire – Klotz

Standing at 6’5”, Garrett Klotz is one of the taller players to ice for the Blaze this season. Coming from the ECHL in North America, the Canadian brings a wealth of experience to the team. It helps, that as a forward, he is not afraid to use his size and fight when necessary. This has made him very popular with the fans, and he’s even scored a few goals as well!

How is it, playing on the fourth line? Klotz said, “It’s great, I’m more a role player, so I’ve always been on the third or fourth line, so I’m used to it. Here in the Elite League I’m getting more ice time than I’m used to, so I’m trying to take advantage of it and doing the most I can with the time. That includes a goal every once in a while, so that always helps. I’m not here to score, I’m here to take care of the boys and bring a physical aspect to the game. Whenever I score it’s a bonus.”

You’ve made a name for yourself as an enforcer. How do you feel about fighting? “I’ve been doing it my whole pro hockey career, so it’s nothing new to me. I don’t mind it. I kind of enjoy it. some nights it is not easy, but it’s my job so I accept it,” he explained.

Usually, in the Elite League, teams employ a defenseman who acts as an enforcer. Klotz playing as a forward is a slight departure from what a lot of us are used to. Does he see this as being unusual? Klotz shrugged. “It depends. Defensemen are known to more physical, but there are other forwards who are enforcers. I just do what I can. Usually they want the forwards to score, but in my case I try and do both.”

Speaking of which, how is the scoring going? He smiled, “It’s my second-best scoring season ever.  I’ve got six goals and two assists so far, I’m going to try and finish the season with ten – that’s my aim, ten goals and ten assists. We’ll see how it goes. There’s 18 games left so I’m going to try and finish strong and hope for the best.”

What made you decide to come to Coventry? Klotz explained, “My friend Garrett Zemlak played in the Elite League – he was netminder for Fife, Braehead and Belfast – and he put me in touch with Danny Stewart as he had played with him in Fife. Danny asked in the summer if I wanted to come overseas – I looked it up on the internet and had a chat with other guys I’ve played with who played here before, like Jim Jorgensen. They said it was a good city and there were lots of positives, so I agreed to come here.”

He continued, “it’s a good city with a good fan base. the fans here are a bit more intense than they are back home – they are die hard and I really enjoy it, and spending time with them.”

Like most hockey players from North America, Klotz appreciates the opportunities to travel from the UK. “Obviously, we’ve travelled with the team, that was fun, going to Belfast and to Scotland. I’ve been to London a few times too. After the season I’m hoping to get across to Europe and then maybe head over to Thailand.”

Klotz keeps busy when he’s not on the ice. “I just go to the rink in the mornings and train on the ice. In the afternoons I go to the gym and do some off-ice training, and in the evenings I hang out with the boys, play some cards or read. We went bowling with the fans recently, which was fun. It’s nice to get some downtime and just relax in the evenings.”

As Garrett has reminded us, the season is drawing to a close, and players are starting to think about next year. He said “I’ll take the future as it comes. I haven’t really thought too much into it. I’ll do what I can here, finish strong and finish on a positive note, and see what comes my way.”

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#OnFire – Renny Marr

Unedited version of this month’s article. Such a nice chap to interview.

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Now in his second season with the Blaze, back up netminder Renny Marr has been showing us what he’s made of recently, standing in for Brian Stewart in games against the Sheffield Steelers, as well as starting in the pre-season friendly against Manchester Storm. He has also been a regular on international squads, icing for Scotland U17s, GB U18s and more recently for GB U20s.

How does it feel to be chosen to represent your country? Renny said, “Ever since I was young it’s been a dream to play for the GB seniors, so being able to play for Scotland growing up, and being selected for the GB U20s is always a really proud moment. It shows that the work I have put in is paying off and that I’m getting recognised. To be honest, up until I was 15 or so, I wasn’t really thinking about playing for GB – when you are younger you want to play in the NHL or professionally – but until I was 15 or 16 I wasn’t thinking about that, I was playing for fun. Then it got to the stage where I was training with the Flyers in Fife and getting on the bench, so I really thought that if I was improving a lot that I could maybe make the jump to the Elite league, and luckily two years ago I was able to do that.”

Renny played for GB U20s in a training camp in Slovakia, with Head Coach Tommy Watkins, earlier in the season. It included playing the Slovakia U20 team and a team from OHA Okanagan, Austria. He said “Slovakia were quite a challenge and Okanagan were also a tough challenge. It was a good test for the guys who are hopefully going to be going to the World Championships in December.”

More recently, he played another warm up match to prepare for the World Championships which are taking place in Hungary, and include Slovenia, Poland, Italy and Ukraine in the group. This time, the team took on the Hull Pirates EPL team, where Renny lined up against his brother, Jordan, with both brothers shipping three goals each.

Renny is really positive about the call up to the U20s. He explained, “I feel that it’s given me a lot more confidence, being in the mix with the other goalies. Some play in America, some play in Britain. Within the group of five or six I want to get better every day and make a push for being the number one goalie. I feel like that, along with working with Nathan Craze, the GB goalie coach, has really helped. When we were away for the week I felt like I was getting better every day, and Craze was just helping me out giving me pointers and tips, which I worked on since I’ve come back here to Coventry. Getting the call up was really good experience for me.”

Of course, he’s also working hard week in, week out with the Blaze, learning alongside Brian Stewart. “The work I’m doing with Stewy is definitely helping – it’s not lessons every day, but it’s watching him, speaking to him and learning from his experiences. Even just watching him in practice, I sometimes pick things up and trying them out for myself.”

He has had a couple of chances to put his learning into practice this season, how has having that extra ice time helped? “The first five minutes of the game against Sheffield here weren’t great, but once you get settled in and you’re playing, you don’t really think about that you are playing professional hockey, it’s just another game. I don’t really think about it too much, especially since I don’t have too much experience. It’s good to play games against Sheffield and Manchester who are going to give you a challenge. It means to me, that if I want to play at that level that I always have to get better. It’s shown that I can perform at that level, but it’s always making sure that I am pushing myself to be a starter in this league, to be better and to play more often.”

As well as sharpening his own skills, Renny spends time helping the goalies in the Blaze Academy. “Nathan Craze comes to Coventry with his goalie clinic, so I’ll help him work with some of the goalies,” he said, adding, “I come down and coach the goalies for the Academy sessions once a month or so. It’s good to speak to some of the parents and the kids, to help them get better. When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of that help and support for goalies in Fife, so I feel like by giving that to the kids it gives them something to aim for, so they can imagine themselves being like me or other young British goalies that are trying to play professionally.”

 

 

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