Craig Britton Interview – April 2001
Let’s start with the present and ask what’s behind the rumours of you trying to join the boys in blue. Is this true and does it rule you out of a return to Pirates next season ?
“I must be honest now and admit I have applied to the forces in the past but unfortunately I failed ……… I must have been too short !!!”
Oops …… where did that picture come from ? For the newer Pirates fans, tell us a little about the early years and how you came to break through into the Pirates side.
“I think this picture was taken in the Rocky era when I was 16. I was called up for a game against Hull and that was the start of my Pirates career.”
So who were the big names in the side at the time and who were your biggest influences ?
“The Imports at the time were Trent Kaese, Dale Jago, Neil Morgan, etc ………. along with a young Jason Porter and Jon Cotton ! I think my biggest influence was probably Dale Jago and Rocky Saganiuk himself.”
Tell us how the original departure from Pirates came about ?
“It was mainly down to the fact that the team were trying to go fully professional and I wasn’t able to commit myself on a full time basis due to finances. I also had a full time job and that prevented me from training during the day.”
What was life away from Peterborough like and who were some of the some of the players you teamed up with ?
“My first stop after leaving Pirates was up at Blackburn, on loan with Rocky. I played on defence with Doc Durdle and Trent Kaese was one of the forwards. My more recent travels have taken me to Milton Keynes Kings with Mark Mackie and to Chelmsford Chieftains twice with Jon and Darren Cotton. So far as other players are concerned, I’ve teamed up with Scott O’Connor, Jeff Lindsey, Paddy Scott, Neil Abel, Brad Kirkwood, Norman Pinnington, Mark Twaite, Kevin Conway just to name a few.”
Did you actually remain based in Peterborough during your time with Chelmsford ?
“Yes, I’ve traveled from Peterborough to all the teams I’ve played for apart from when I was at Blackburn where I shared a house with Jon Cotton and John Haig. I’ve many a funny story from my travels with the Cottons ………. but I can’t talk about them here !”
That’s a shame !!! During your time away, you must have watched with some interest and not a little sadness as your home town club lurched from one financial crisis to another.
“It was obviously very sad to see the Pirates struggle and I felt for the players, the supporters and the management as I had some experiences of this from my earlier time with the club but, after the support that was shown rebuilding the rink let alone the hockey team, I knew deep down that the Pirates would survive …………. great supporters can take you a long way !”
So how did the return to Pirates come about …… and what convinced you to make the move back ?
“To be honest, I was very close to hanging up my skates last summer due to one thing or another but when I spoke to Doug and was given the chance to play for my home team again, it was simply a chance I couldn’t turn down. I never wanted to leave in the first place so it was good to get the chance to come back to where I’d played most of my hockey.”
It would be fair to say that a few eyebrows were raised when news of your signing was announced. Many Pirates fans remembered the young Craig Britton struggling for ice-time in the mid-90s and were suggesting more bench warming duties this time around. How confident were you about making the move back up to the BNL ?
“I was confident that I’d be able to compete at this level even though I was a little apprehensive as I knew people would be watching and judging me. There are a lot of good players in the EPL who have played at higher levels and the teams I’d played for in the EPL were of a good standard, which had helped my confidence and hopefully improved my game.”
Once the first games were underway, what were the immediate differences that you noticed between the EPL and BNL ?
“Basically, the speed of the game and the standard of imports.”
Talking of imports, it must have been reassuring when Doug refused to move to replace firstly Kevin Mitchell and then Dwayne Newman and put his faith, instead, in his British D-men.
“It was certainly good for the British players to know the coach had faith in his signings and, in return, we made sure we all gave 110% effort. It was a major blow, however, to lose players like Kevin and Dwayne …….. we just had to work real hard until Dwayne could return to the team.”
You seemed to repay Doug’s vote of confidence with a hugely confident and competent display despite facing some pretty formidable opponents. Without boosting their egos too much, who were the opposition players that impressed you most during the season ?
“Todd Dutiaume was probably the best forward in the league in my opinion.”
Looking at your blue-line colleagues, I have to say I was seriously impressed with Dwayne Newman. Just how good is he to play alongside and have in the camp ?
“150% commitment and a never say die attitude ……….. says it all !”
It must also be comforting to have Pasi Raitanen backstopping for you. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more consistent season of netminding for Pirates in twenty years ……… how does he do it ?
“Mmmmm ……. it’s those sausages isn’t it ?!!!”
Looking back on the season, as we approached the Christmas period and with back to back victories over Blaze and Flames, we were starting to seriously threaten the top end of the table. What was the feeling in the camp at the time ?
“I’m sure we were the talk of the league at that time and when that’s the case, everybody wants your scalp. We were well aware of our limits and standards and we knew if we didn’t perform in every period of every game we’d be punished.”
For me, the turning point appeared to be the Xmas Cup home game with Blaze when they blew us away with an awesome sixty minutes of power hockey. It seemed to take weeks to get that one out of our system. How did you see it ?
“It did put us in a rut and we just couldn’t get ourselves out of it.”
We did eventually seem to graft our way out of the slump. Was that down to sheer hard work or was there some other factor involved ?
“I guess the only other factors were the bounce of the puck and a few referee decisions going our way but it was definitely the hard work that was the key.”
Let’s move on to the play-offs and what, for me, were probably the most exciting three weeks of Pirates hockey I’ve ever witnessed. Memorable game one was the away game at Milton Keynes. It looked like season over at two down but we somehow clawed it back to win on penalty shots. What sort of emotions did the bench go through on that night ?
“We all knew deep down that if we kept at the task, we could do it ……….. but it was a close one wasn’t it !!!”
It certainly was ! The following night saw Blaze in town and what must have been a fantastic atmosphere to play in ……… the rink was rocking that night ! Again, we pulled that one back with a late goal after Doug called a time-out. What exactly did he say to you all ?
“I can’t really remember what was said, but to be honest there wasn’t really a lot that needed saying ……. we knew this was our only chance. To us, it was like our final and the crowd was out of this world ……… they made us succeed !”
More dramas then came with the visit of Flames. Word on the street had it that they were going to take the game easy but it sure didn’t look that way from where I sat. Going into the changing room at 1 – 4 down at the end of the second, what was the mood in the camp and what did coach McEwen have to say ?
“Flames certainly didn’t take it easy on us ! Again, it was down to the players in the room to get us out of the “poo” and nothing needed to be be said apart from this is our last chance of survival. We simply had to dig deep again and we did ……. and there was a lot of help from the crowd again that night.”
During that evening, were you aware of what was going on down at Milton Keynes, with Blaze clawing their way back from the edge of defeat ?
“We didn’t know the result which was a good thing, it meant we could get on with the job in hand. I’ve got a lot of friends at Milton Keynes so I was hoping they would do well for us !”
When the game went to penalty shots, who or what determined that Jordan Shields would step up for the big one …… given that he stayed in the back ground for the Milton Keynes shoot-out the previous week ?
“Doug makes that decision and I’m sure glad its up to him !!! The team had no set penalty takers so it was down to gut feel on the night !!!”
That must have been a huge moment when he put the puck away ……. he claims he was confident of scoring but how confident were you guys ?
“100% confident of course !!!”
Losing the two goal lead in the home semi with Bison was a big blow but I sensed there was still a lot of confidence in the camp on the way down for the second leg. Did you feel you still had the beating of them ?
“Yes …….. the team was very confident going to their rink as we’d picked up some good results there in the past but taking a lead there would have helped.”
What was the gameplan down at Basingstoke and how did you see the game ?
“Basically, to give them as little space as possible and not to concede an early goal. Our plan was working until some refereeing decisions went against us to let them in …… once that happened we were chasing the game.”
It must have been one of the best travelling Pirates contingents for many seasons …….. did it help having them keeping it loud for you down there ?
“Great support always helps the team. It’s like an extra player on the ice ……. the noise was right there as you went onto the ice.”
If the nucleus of this season’s side stays together for next season, we must fancy having a real tilt at some silverware.
“I’m sure if the core of the team returns with the same spirit and attitude, we will be pushing for some silverware.”
I always like to end on something a little off the wall so ………. just how crazy is Jesse Hammill and how pumped up was he for the end of season play-off games ?
“I’ve known Jessie for a few seasons now and he has the best game faces in the league ……. he’s like a bull in a china shop !!! Seriously though, I feel Jessie did a great job for the team this year and he’s always there for his team mates.”
Thanks for your time Craig !
“That’s okay ……. and before going, I’d like to say a big thanks to Friends of the Sock for their support this season.”