You’ve now well and truly dipped your feet in the water so far as coaching is concerned ……… how does it feel ?
“The coaching part has been excellent this season. I’ve been fortunate to have a great bunch of guys, their attitudes have been second to none …… all in all it makes my job a whole lot easier.”
What have you found to be better than you expected and what has turned out to be tougher ?
“When I had my first player/coach job way back in the Lee Valley days, it was a a lot tougher, but the experience has given me a lot more confidence, playing here for so many years, has given me a better insight into this job. The more senior players this season, like Dwayne, Pally and Mackie have all been very supportive as well. I don’t claim to be the best coach these players have ever had but I try to keep things interesting and enjoyable. The team Directors have also been very helpful, I mean last season Randy and I got to the point where we didn’t want to answer the phone, because it was him calling to tell us what we had already done. This season I just get on with it, with little hassles.”
You’re sitting near the top of the BNL as we enter December ……. would you have forecast that pre-season ?
“Looking back to the August ET, my prediction ……. the play-offs. Nothing has changed but if, come the end of January we are still in the same position, then and only then will I start to think about league titles.”
Having seen all of Pirates rivals in action, who would you say are the two or three teams best equipped to go all the way ?
“So far, the strong teams are Coventry, Guildford, Basingstoke, Hull and Fife. On any given night, any team can beat any other team which makes for the best league and good hockey games to watch ……. you lucky fans !!!”
…… and, without boosting their egos too much, which players around the BNL have impressed you most ?
“Players can be great one night and terrible the next. I like players that work hard week in week out, they may not be the all star players or the most talented on the ice, but there are no surprises, you know exactly what you get when they are on the ice. “Hard work beats talent unless talent works.” To name a few who I feel work hard, Dwayne Newman, Todd Markus, Steve Chartrand, Steven Lynch, Todd Dutiaume, Mitch Grant.”
The fans around the BNL are starting to sit up and recognise Pirates British contingent ……. you must be pleased with their contribution so far. Do you think having so many “local” lads really makes a difference ?
“When I first came back to the Pirates I always wondered why the local talent was not used, the Cottons, Britsy, Morgan even Rosco. Does it make sense to bring players in even if, in some cases, they’re not as good as the ones who are travelling out of Peteeborough ? Imagine if Clarkie was still playing here ……….. all local talent !
My idea was to have players who take pride in wearing a Pirates shirt and would work for the cause …… not just turn up for the pay cheque. I was watching the Under 16’s play and noticed how big Guildford’s players were, there was some talented ones but our players, although smaller, still played with feistiness and desire perhaps because they were playing at home in front of friends and family. It’s the same for the Pirates …… they don’t want to get embarrassed at home, so they work that extra bit harder to prove they can play, and play very well. They know if we play poorly, they’ll get stick at work !”
Going back to the early days of the season, you must have been devastated to lose both Mitch and Pally so early ?
“I knew what type of player I was getting when I signed Pally, so his loss on the ice to us meant that we had to change our style a little bit. With Mitch, we never really got to see his ability in the short time he was here. One thing I was glad of was my signing of Dwayne to help shore up the defence. People had warned me he was not a goal scorer which I already knew, but he plays with such intensity on every shift ……… as if it’s his last, and this has a knock-on effect on the players around him. Mark Mackie and myself were also available to play defence to help things out.”
Will you be keeping in touch with Mitch with a view to checking him out for next season ?
“I spoke to Mitch before he left and told him I would check him out in Summer if possible. He also said he knew of players I could look at for next season.”
Losing Dwayne must have seemed like a major blow at the time but the response from the other D-men must have impressed you ……….. after all, you haven’t needed to replace him.
“It’s been a revolving door on the blue line this season, when I started the year I had five solid D-men but, after 3 games, I was down to just three. I was then able to bring in two more defencemen in Hammill and Morgan then, the Dwayne incident happened and Hammill moving up front meant that I was limited to four ……… but these four are playing some of the best hockey I’ve seen them play in a while – very solid.”
Jordan Shields has been the source of much debate amongst Pirates fans, he’s not your dashing, cut and thrust forward but he keeps notching up the points. Are you pleased with his progress after such a long lay off ?
“Jordan was an unknown player to me. Looking at his stats would not impress you over the last couple of years but he came highly rated by Steve Thornton. I had many long chats with Steve concerning Jordan, in fact Steve had two players he recommended but Jordan was his number one choice. He’s an experienced professional and he has true potential to be a successful player in Britain. I’ve seen that potential and my part is to try and bring the best out of him week in week out.”
He seems to be forming a formidable alliance with Jon Cotton and Mark Mackie ……… that line’s looking sharp.
“The Cotton, Mackie, Shields combination ……. youth, experience and finesse all rolled into one line. I’ve probably used the line once or twice before and it’s like a puzzle. Each player is part of the team puzzle, old or young, experienced or rookie. When it all starts to fit, then you have the making of a true team. How good it gets, depends on the amount of effort they put into it. Fitness, desire, character, heart and of course the winning attitude are all part of the team aspect.”
Talking of Mark Mackie, he must rate as one of the big bonuses of the season so far.
“Magic Mark Mackie has been playing with the heart of an 18 year old, he keeps himself in good physical shape and is always willing to do what I ask of him on the ice. I knew when I approached him he was hungry to shake the Milton Keynes monkey off his back. My motto to Mark would be to focus on his role as a hockey player only, no other distractions ………’a happy player off the ice is a better player on the ice.’ ”
Let’s talk about the big man in the nets. In my books, Pasi has been the best and most consistent netminder in the BNL so far this season. You must be delighted with his form.
“The same would apply to the Bear, he is very happy playing here and a lot of that is down to the environment within the club ……. the fans, the atmosphere in the dressing room are all part of it.”
……. and Daffy also equipped himself well in backstopping the back-to-back wins over Slough. That must be reassuring.
“Daffy …… well he was, I’m told, dumped into the deep end when he started with the Pirates and responded very well. Up until this season he never really looked as if he wanted to play. I remember last season when Smithy wanted him to go into the net, he said no thanks. Smithy forced him, and he played very well against Team Canada. I think he needs a big game to play in to put himself under the pressure to win the game. Two in a row versus Slough is a good start.”
What about your own form ? You seemed to take a few games to adjust from playing as a rushing defenceman to playing back up front.
“Playing defence can take the offensive part of your game away because it is more of a controlled area. Rushing the puck from the defence position is easy because you can pick and choose when you want to do it. Nobody expects you to rush up the ice every time you have the puck, so if you have five or six shifts staying back, nobody notices. But as a forward you are always trying to score or create a scoring chance for your team. This again doesn’t always happen, in fact you can go games without even seeing a scoring chance, obviously this depends on your opposition on the night.
Look back at the Slough games you will notice the difference ……… personally I had one or two shots on Saturday with no real scoring chances, but Todd scored four. Then Sunday it was a total reverse as I scored two, Todd had none. The main thing is as a team, on any given night, we have a number of players who can score for us. The balance is healthy for the team.”
Which role do you prefer and why ?
“I think forward is my best position, I like to take guys on and go for goal. But I will play either role for the better of the team as long as it helps us to win hockey games.”
All of the players are quick to point to the spirit within the camp. Is this something that has happened by chance or something you’ve been working on ?
“It’s easy to say each player brings something different to the room each time. We don’t have one or two superstars or players who think they are god’s gift to the Pirates and that they should be treated accordingly. We have a great bunch of guys who work hard and realise without the right work ethic we are just a bunch of ordinary guys …… “start as you mean to go on”.”
So who are the big characters off the ice and why ?
“Characters big or small …….. we really have got a huge melting pot. If certain players are missing we wouldn’t have any player to take the Mick out of, some of these players are imports some are local talent, some even come from other parts of this country. Some are verbal, some are quiet but lead by example on the ice, some are humorous, some are down right ridiculous but all this makes for very interesting moments, but as you know, or should know by now, the dressing room is where it all happens and that’s where it all stops …….. sorry, but this one’s sacred !!!”
Is it part of the gameplan to fill another “import” slot in time for the run-in ?
“Imports have been phoning here, more and more each week as we approach the signing deadline and yes, the Pirates are planning to get one more import to give us the depth for the run in to the play-offs …….. budget allowing.”
Given the impressive start to the season, what will constitute “success” for you when you look back at the season in April ?
“As stated earlier success to me would be to make the play-offs. Bonus time would be to win some silverware ……. double bonus would be to win the league but, above all else, we as the Pirates will always try to achieve the highest standards of playing and win as many games as possible.”
Thanks for your time Doug !