” ….. all I ever wanted to do was play for the Pirates !”
The JASON PORTER Interview
First of all, as a father of four and therefore totally unsympathetic to any hardship, how’s life as a hockey playing Dad bearing up ?
“It’s been a real struggle this year ! I guess being a hockey playing Dad wouldn’t be too hard, but trying to combine that with a full time job has proved to be the real problem. With training four nights a week and two games it does not leave much time to be at home. I knew it would be a problem and when I spoke to the team in the Summer I was originally going to sign and keep in shape and only play as cover if anyone got injured. That turned into playing home games at the beginning of the season due to us having a short squad and somehow that turned into playing full-time due to funds not being available to sign new players. So I guess things didn’t really go to plan, but I am looking forward to spending more time at home after the season has finished. I have missed seeing Max and I am sure Jo would appreciate some more help around the house !!!!!”
No doubt ! Let’s kick off on the hockey side by rolling back the years to those early days of Lawless, Carnegie, Hereward Video Library, etc. Can you remember when you first decided to give hockey a crack and who it was who inspired you ?
“John Lawless and John Hunter first encouraged me to take up ice hockey. John Lawless was the coach of the junior teams at the time and talked me into giving it a go. Back then the only available training time was 5am on a Saturday morning and John used to pick me up and take me to practice. John Hunter gave me an old pair of his gloves that were way too big and a stick to get me started.”
I seem to recall you getting some unjust stick when you first dressed for Pirates (1985 ?) with some fans suggesting you were only making the side because of your parents involvement …… were you conscious of that and was it extra tough in the changing room because of who you were ?
“I guess I was an easy target for the boo boys when I first started playing seeing as my parents were involved in the running of the team. I guess playing for 16 years proved them wrong. I was aware of what people said but that only made me more determined to succeed. It never caused me a problem in the changing room and back in those early days the senior players really took me under their wing. I am still friends with many of them now and we still keep in touch.”
Once you had made the Pirates roster, you found yourself playing D with NHL legend Garry Unger …… that must have been some experience for an up and coming youngster !
“When Garry joined the team we were all in awe of him, he was an amazing player ! He was light years beyond anyone on the ice. He used to run a training session in the mornings for the YTS players. At the end of each practice we used to play a game where four or five of us would try to get the puck off him and always fail miserably! I never realised what a legend he actually was in Canada until he arranged a summer job for me working in Canada at a hockey school, where he coached. It was funny to see how excited people got when he was around, asking for autographs and photos. He was a good friend of Andy Moog who was the Edmonton Oilers goalie at the time and he used to take me round his house for barbeques and to play pool in his basement !”
Now there’s a claim to fame ! You also found yourself introduced to a razor-sharp, fresh faced Doug McEwen who I recall taking the league by storm when he first came over !
“Dougie played with Garry and Todd Bidner that year and were unstoppable. Its crazy when you look back that the team released him after one season when he was such a great player. A decision I think Dougie made them regret many times over the years as he always used to step up a gear when he played against us. Although I am sure when he looks back he sees it as a blessing in disguise as he had 10 great years with Cardiff Devils.”
Pirates seemed to go through coaches like they were going out of fashion in those early years. Was there one who you felt made a real difference to your development and why was that ?
“I think the first coach that I remember who really made a difference was Rocky Saganiuk I can still remember his first practice, about half way through he took me to one side and gave me a few tips on how to do things differently and I felt the benefit straight away, something coaches hadn’t done before. He made you play with confidence and created a great team spirit where all the players gave 100% for each other.
The other coach who I felt made a difference in my development was Cam Plante. Again he was a coach who didn’t just run through his book of hockey drills, but would take you to one side and show you what you were doing wrong or how you could do things better. He was also the sort of coach who got 100% out of his players as you didn’t want to let him down”.
Wembley in 1991 must have been a massive experience and, in particular, the victory over Lawless, Hope, McEwen, etc in the semi-finals !
“Wembley 1991 is without doubt my fondest memory of my hockey career. I used to go and watch the finals every year and I don’t think many of us could actually believe we were playing there. I was standing next to Cassy Dawkins during the national anthem and when it ended the cheering from the crowd was deafening. We had to shout to hear what each of us were saying, the atmosphere was unbelievable and I was covered in goosebumps. I had only just turned 20 at the time and was playing second line wing with Kevin King and Dean Edminston. I wasn’t always a defenceman although it was probably a good career move as I don’t think I would of played as long as a forward.
To beat Cardiff was fantastic as they were the reigning champions and had never lost a game at Wembley. Somebody brought the video of the game on the bus last year and we made Dougie sit all the way through it, he was given a hard time that day !!!”
Nice one ! It’s a shame that the big Wembley finals weekend is now just a distant memory …… it would certainly add some extra incentive to play-off hockey if it was still around today.
“Wembley was such a huge event …. every player dreamed of having a chance to play there. I guess I was very lucky to make the finals twice. When I look back I think the play-offs were certainly a lot more intense because of this. Back then I think teams felt it was more important to win the wembley finals then the league campaign. It is a shame it is not held anymore as it used to be the highlight of the year for the supporters as well as the players.”
I think there’s a fair few who agree with you on that one. Before closing the book on those first ten years, the debate continues today as to who was the greatest of those legendary early D-men. McTaggart, Unger, Dark, Durdle, Hope, McEwen, McCauley, Stewart, etc …… you played alongside all of them so who do you rate the highest when you look back and why ?
“That list of players has really brought the memories back. They were all quality players and I would like to see any of them playing in the team today. I think Shannon left the year before I started playing but I used to love watching him from the stands so it was great to get a chance to play with him when he came out of retirement a couple of years ago. I think McTaggart and Dark were probably the two most intimidating players we have had. I will also remember McTaggart for the time he use to spend helping us young players. However, the best defenceman from your list would have to be Doc Durdle. He is the most skillful defenceman I have played with and had the ability to win a game for you.”
Of course, after the Rocky Saganiuk era ended, the club hit some extremely desperate times with some massive losing seasons. That must have been some come down after the highs of Wembley.
“Those were very tough years and certainly was a come down. Once we had lost the big sponsorship deals with Silver Spoon and Norwich and Peterborough it became hard for us to compete with teams on big budgets. It really became an ongoing battle for survival. There are a lot of people in Peterborough who should be very proud of themselves and are owed a great deal of thanks for ensuring that the Pirates are here today. They sacrificed their time and money when it would have been easier to just call it a day.”
Didn’t you briefly nip off to the now defunct Stevenage Sharks at some point ?
“I did and it still angers me when I look back on that year. Not because I was released, but because of the way I was treated by the directors and the coach. There had been a lot of bad feeling left over from the previous year when Cam Plante had been sacked as coach and I think the intention was to clear out the players who stayed loyal to him, such as myself, Stevie Johnson, Cassy Dawkins and Mark Salisbury. All players who certainly had good years left in them and would have been happy to have carried on playing for the Pirates. That year Cassy Dawkins and I were living together and had both spoken to the team and had verbally agreed to return for the up coming season. Every year I have played for the Pirates I have agreed my contract verbally and sometimes not actually sign a contract until a month into the season. Two weeks before the season started we heard a rumour that they were not going to sign us. When we first confronted them they would not give us a straight answer and the next day we got a call from Tony Hunter saying we were released. Why they didn’t have the decency to tell us this earlier, I do not know, but by leaving it to the eve of the season it put us all in a position where it was too late to find another club. I can only assume this was done intentionally.
Tony Hunter claimed in the Evening Telegraph that year that he was going to have the strongest Pirates team ever and that we were all released to bring in better players. So I guess we all felt a bit smug when they went on to have the worst season in Pirates history ! I was lucky that Mark Mackie was coaching Stevenage that year and offered me a place to play, to be honest it was quite nice being one of the players who had been brought in and not one of the homegrown players who are taken for granted. I was treated very well and enjoyed my time there. When the Pirates collapsed halfway through the year and new Directors and Coaching staff approached me about returning, I felt it would be wrong to leave Stevenage, halfway through a season after they had treated me so well. I did come back and guest in a league game against Slough that year, so at least I can say I have played for Pirates every season for the last 16 years !”
After precariously meandering through the wilderness for what seemed an eternity, the lights seemed to be switched back on when Troy Walkington arrived at the club. At the time, he seemed to bring a new discipline and a new sense of pride to the club. What do you remember of your early encounters with Troy ?
“It certainly proved to be good news for myself as I had played against Troy the previous season whilst I was at Stevenage. He must have seen something he liked as he approached me in the Summer to return to Peterborough and I will always be grateful to him for giving me the chance to come back and prove people wrong. Troy was certainly a disciplinarian and a very focused coach. I think all the players when they first meet him certainly knew he was in charge and that he was not to be crossed. That first year he put together a competitive team on a small budget that went on to develop over the next few seasons. He brought a professional approach to the club and also brought back the pride.”
Of course the ill-fated 1999/2000 Pirates side turned out to be a financial gamble that backfired but it still must have been an awesome side to have played in and, after the turmoil of the many preceeding barren years, it must have been fun skating into every team’s barn as the top dogs !
“The first half of that year was great fun, it was the best Pirates team I have played in. We had some great talented players, but we also bonded from day one. I don’t think I can remember a year where everybody became so close, so quickly. It was fun convincingly beating the likes of Guildford and Fife. The club did take a big gamble and unfortunately it back fired on them. We had the best team in the league, but still could not attract anymore supporters. It would have been nice to see how far we could of gone.
The second half of the year was back to the normal fight for survival, but I think the spirit of the team carried through the year and we surprised a lot of people by having a good play-off campaign.”
Talking of play-offs, last season was relatively uneventful until the post-season action but, for me, those play-offs were the most intense, most exciting and most dramatic weeks of hockey I can recall in twenty years of following Pirates. Was it fun on the other side of the plexi too ?
“It certainly was some intense hockey, every game was a hard fought battle and it was great fun to play in. I think sometimes those sort of games are harder to watch than to play in. There is a lot of pressure because you do not want to make a mistake that can cost the team the game, but you get so involved in what you are doing and that you are doing it right that you don’t have time to worry about anything else !”
I guess it was enjoyable enough to convince you to stay on for another season but you’ve gone public with your declaration that it is your last but …….. is it ?
“This is 100% definitely, without a shadow of a doubt my last year !!!!! It is a very hard decison to make, when I think the next year I will not be part of the team it makes me very sad. But we all have to call it a day sometime. I went to Pirates first ever game and haven’t missed many since whether it was watching or playing. I was the stick boy for the team before I had ever put a pair of skates on, and from those early days all I ever wanted to do was play for the Pirates. I have made a lot of very good friends over the years and it is like being part of a family. I have a lot of great memories to take away with me and I would like to thank everybody involved with the club, the fans, players and directors for their continued support over the years. I guess I’ll be bugging the directors for free tickets next year !!!!!”
I’m sure they’ll find you some ! I’m sure it’s hard work at times but it must still give you a huge buzz to be playing in a primarily British D.
“It has been fun for the last couple of years although we have come under some stick at different times, but people that understand ice hockey know that playing defence takes all five players on the ice, and if anyone of those players does not do there job it can result in you getting scored against. But I think we have shown that when everybody sticks to the game plan we can play strong solid D and have managed to shut down high scoring teams such as Coventry. Hopefully Craig and Pete will stay with the Pirates as they are maturing into good defencemen and hopefully players such as Geoff O’hara and Bernie Bradford can breakthrough to be regular members of the team.”
I’ve been hugely impressed with Craig over the last two seasons, he seems to be maturing into a very, very useful D-man.
“I think Craig has had a very good year and you always feel confident when you partner him in defence. He has really progressed this year and I think a big reason for that is that he has started to use his tail and is playing a lot more physical game than he used to. You can see the confidence in his play and I think he will be a great asset to the team in the years to come.”
It’s been a tough season for Pirates with us coming up a player or two short in most games but bringing Glenn in as a bench coach was an interesting move …… tell us a little about his style and what you think he’ll bring to the side.
“I think bringing Glenn in was a great move on the part of the directors. He gained the respect of the players from his first practice and now the directors have persuaded him to stay, it will be a great foundation to re-build the team upon. He has got the players to understand what their role in the team is and to bring structure back to our game. He has already taught the young players much over the last couple of months and it will be exciting times ahead for them as he will be able to develop them into very good players.”
I guess it wasn’t the perfect season to end on !
“It’s certainly been a long and frustrating one, and not the sort of year you want to end your career on, especially now that the play-offs are out of our grasp. I’m just looking to enjoy and make the most of my last games and to soak up the atmosphere of the last few home games of the season.”
We’ll look out for the final game hat-trick …… thanks for your time Jason !
Best D-man played with ? Cam Plante
Best forward played with ? Randy Smith
Best coach played under ? Cam Plante
Toughest opponant ever ? Ken Priestley
Toughest opponent still playing ? Todd Dutiaume
This player will be a star ? Craig Peacock
Biggest joker played with ? Danny Shea
Biggest joker in current squad ? Grant Hendry
Best hockey memory ? Wembley 1991
Funniest hockey moment ? Slug stopping a puck with his forehead on the bench in Paisley !
Worst hockey moment ? Going to Stevenage
Most embarrassing hockey moment ? Jumping over the boards at Wembley for a line change ….. I caught my foot and landed flat on my face !!!
Biggest hockey regret ? None
Biggest strength ? Reading the game
Biggest weakness ? Skating
Football team ? Arsenal
Drink ? Jack Daniels
Food ? Peg’s Sunday dinner
Confession ? I once hit Steeler Dan (Sheffield’s mascot) around the head with my hockey stick!
Music ? Depends on mood
TV ? X Files