Behind The Mask #2 | Ben Bowns: Cardiff Devils

Ben Bowns is the starting goaltender for the EIHL’s Cardiff Devils and one of the consistent choices for the Great Britain Ice Hockey team. Having played hockey from a young age, Ben has always been passionate about the game. Chasing The Puck recently got the chance to go behind the mask and find out a bit more about what makes this goalie tick. We discover a bit more about his love of dogs and who his celebrity man crush is.

Have you always had dogs?

I had dogs growing up at my parents, we always had German Shepherds. They already had two [Fudge and Candy] when I was born. Fudge was 18 when she passed away, I was 5 years old. Candy was 16 when she died and I was 7.  It took me about another 7 years to get my mum and dad to agree to another dog, even with the clause that they would only have another German Shepherd. This was when we got my last dog Jake. We got him from a rescue centre in Bawtry, Doncaster. He was six months old and a bag of bones as he was found tied to a tree in some woods. He wasn’t exactly a people dog apart from me, Mum, Dad and Grandma. He hated my ex-girlfriend but ‘tolerated’ my current girlfriend Jade. He loved her out of the house on walks and no stranger was allowed to walk near her without being stared at or growled at, but, as soon as we got home he decided she was allowed to sit down but not allowed to move from her spot unless she had food for him!!

Unfortunately he died last January due to organ failure at 10 years old, unfortunately I didn’t get back to say goodbye, as sad as I was and still am about him passing away it’s nice to know he had a happy life with us after what he’d gone through before he was found.

Ben with his gorgeous French Bulldog, Stitch. Photo credit: Ben Bowns

Tell us a little bit about your French Bulldog, Stitch.

In October 2015, a few months before we got Jake, me and Jade bought a French Bulldog from a breeder not far from where we live now. Jade has always wanted a dog and I was missing having one around. As you can tell from above, I’ve always had big dogs but living in an apartment we knew it wouldn’t be fair keeping a big dog here so we had to go with a smaller low maintenance dog. I’ve always loved Bulldogs and Frenchie’s don’t have as many problems as British Bulldogs so when Jade said she wanted a French Bulldog I was more than happy to let her have one. He’s now 15 months old and although he’s not that tall or long, he’s pretty big for a Frenchie and weighs 13kg which is almost all muscle… I wish I was as muscly as he is!

Stitch has been unreal and helped me massively with taking my mind off hockey and relaxing. I used to come home when Jade was working, put on our last game and watch it for a few hours to see what mistakes I’d made. I’d watch video from practices and assess my game, watch the NHL, watch the KHL, watch the SHL and well, you get the picture. I ever switched off from hockey and spent too much time dwelling on my mistakes, to be honest I’d fry my brain every week from not switching off.

Whereas now, I come home and he comes to the door with something in his mouth for me and his bum wagging (his tail is too short to wag) and I instantly forget about everything that’s just happened on practice or in a game.

Where do you like to take him for a walk?

During the daytime I’ll have lunch and then take him for a walk. Cardiff is unreal for owning a dog with all the places you can go. Where we live in the bay right now, there’s walks along the waterfront or into the main area of the Bay. There’s a decent area of grass in the middle of our apartment complex where he can just go crazy and run around to let off steam. 5-6 minutes of driving brings you to Cosmeston Lakes and Country Park where we’ll walk around two big lakes and through the fields and woodland for a few hours. However, his favourite place in the world and my favourite local place is Barry Island. Once the summer is finished, there are 3 beaches down there and a bay area where the tide goes for miles out at low tide so he can just rip around and roll in the sand, just make himself as mucky as possible before going ankle deep in the sea to cool off. No deeper than ankle deep though because he’s scared of the water!

After this we usually pop into a coffee shop and have a drink as almost all of the cafe’s and coffee shops there are dog friendly. Barry Island really is a great place to go if you have a dog, not just for walking them but also because of how nice it is down there on a sunny day!

It is also worth noting that another of his favourite places to go is the dressing room. He loves all the attention the guys give him… If you don’t stop and take him in if we ever walk by the changing room door then he stops, sits and strops as a little protest because he wants to go in there.

What is your favourite thing to eat?

Not sure to be honest as I love almost all food! I love a good steak, we make at least one pie every week at the minute which is Chicken, Leek and Mushroom pie. I always enjoy pasta but by the end of the season I’m usually sick of it because we eat that much during it. Any roast dinner is always a big hit with me, especially when Jade does the meat in the slow cooker, it does have to have Yorkshire puddings and gravy though.

The one food you really don’t like?

The one thing that sticks out that I do not like is seafood. I can eat lobster and calamari plus some white fish and tuna but anything like prawns, mussels, shellfish etc. I really don’t like. Oh, and parsnips too.

What do you see yourself doing after hockey is over?

I honestly don’t know, I don’t like to think about that just yet as it’s a little scary and hopefully over a decade away. I used to want to be a fireman but now I think I’d prefer to be a dog handler in the Police Force. I just don’t want an office job as I like to be out and about as well as doing something physically demanding.

In your downtime, how do you like to relax?

Mainly chilling at home with the dog or walking down the beach with him. The apartment we live in is great but I can’t sit inside apartments all day. I like to be outside in the fresh air doing something. On the odd occasion I will have my goalie partner, Thomas Murdy, round to beat him at FIFA and have a laugh at how bad he is on it!

How did you come to play hockey in the first place?

I went to watch a Sheffield Steelers vs. Cardiff Devils game with my parents and friend (Lloyd Gibson) when I was 6. I was hooked and started playing as a player in the Spring 1997, by the hockey school of summer 1997 I was a goalie and since then I’ve not looked back.

If you weren’t playing hockey, what do you think you’d be doing for a living?

I honestly couldn’t tell you! My mum and dad always gave me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted, especially in sport but I never really did anything seriously like hockey so I really don’t have a clue what I’d be doing. One thing I know is that life definitely wouldn’t be as good as it is right now! There’s not many jobs where you get to do something you love in front of thousands of people 2,3 and sometimes 4 times a week!

You have been hugely successful in your career so far. Can you pinpoint any elements in your routine that might have led to that success?

I think I’ve been successful in terms of establishing myself in the league as a starting goalie but I’m still disappointed with how little success I’ve had in terms of championships so far. Obviously in Hull we weren’t expected to win much, losing out to Sheffield in my first season in Cardiff was tough but we were never really in front all year and only had the good last half that really put us in contention although to lose that game in Sheffield off an unlucky bounce was pretty horrible! Last season for me was much worse, we should’ve won that league championship with the lead we had going into the final month but for a few reasons the wheels really came off, we stopped scoring like we were and playing with that edge we had all year and unfortunately we threw the lead away and allowed Sheffield back into the race and to ultimately pass us. The challenge cup last season was probably the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced along with the feeling at the end of the gold medal game in the World championships. With GB we conceded with 3mins left to lose the game and the gold medal and with Cardiff we got outplayed but stayed in the Challenge Cup Final right through until 4mins left in OT when the shot went in off my post.

 In contrast to that, the best feeling I’ve ever had in hockey was my first year in Cardiff when we beat Sheffield 2-1 in Sheffield to win the Challenge Cup. Just thinking about that day gives me goosebumps, not just because we won the clubs first championship in 10 years, not because of the scenes with our fans celebrating and filling that side of Sheffield arena and the noise they created but because I got to share that day with the whole of my family. They all got tickets as well as some of Jade’s family, but having my Mum, Dad and Grandma there to see that in Sheffield where hockey really took off for me was just priceless and then being able to have Jade come down to the ice and share the experience of those celebrations with her was awesome! With it being my first championship I didn’t really take it all in properly but I’m sure if I won another then I’d definitely take it all in a lot better next time.

  As for a routine, I don’t think that really has much to do with any success, but I just have to make sure I look after myself and work hard during the weeks. I have an unreal set of players to work with and we’re supported by the best club in the EIHL by a country mile so that helps a lot!

What genre of music to you enjoy? Do you have any favourite artists?

Any really, as long as its easy to listen to, isn’t screaming or isn’t just the same tune that goes on forever with no lyrics! After being around Canadians for so long I even don’t mind a bit of country music every now and then.

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Thank you to Neil Vickers at the English Maskateer for the images of Ben’s mask.

What is the story behind your mask design this season?

I always have one side of my mask dedicated to Cardiff and one side more personal. The Cardiff side this year, I was a little stumped on what to do so I had the Devil guy that was created for our first intro video in Ice Arena Wales painted on there. I have him on the side of my mask in front of the Cardiff Bay skyline that runs right around my forehead. The other side is a picture of a bear as I’ve always had bears somewhere in my design. The backplate is my favourite piece though, it has the logo of my sponsor Puck Stop at the bottom and above that it has a picture of Stitch with a picture of Jake above it fading away slightly.

Now for some quick fire questions. Last movie you watched?

The last movie I watched was ‘Girl on a Train’

Favourite rink to play in? (That isn’t your own)

I always enjoy playing in Sheffield to be honest, they’re always the type of games you want to play in and there’s usually more of my family there to watch. On top of that its still kind of surreal playing in the arena because that’s where the journey began and I can remember sitting in the stands there looking down at the ice pad before warm up and then watching the away goalies taking shots during warm up etc. then I’d obviously sit and watch the game with my parents and friends. I’d always have chicken and chips there too in between the first and second period every time I went (until they became too overpriced).

 What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?

 I wouldn’t say it’s a weakness but more what I think is the hardest thing about being a professional sportsmen. Seeing my parents getting upset about comments made to them directly or on social media about me. Don’t get me wrong 95% of the time I think it’s great for them to see me doing what I love and knowing they helped me to do it but I can see it doesn’t get any easier for them to see or hear their son being talked about in that way. For me that is one aspect that some people forget when they say stuff or write things, players do have families that see that kind of stuff and it naturally does affect them.

As for the players, I think if we really took every bad comment to heart from someone who doesn’t really know much about us, our position or the game then none of us would be playing anymore. It just becomes the norm. If you going to play professionally in any sport you have to be prepared for people who just for some reason aren’t a fan of you and you have to expect negative stuff being thrown your way. At the end of the day not everyone is going to love you!

 Celebrity man crush?

Paul O’Grady

Best goalie of all time?

Patrick Roy

 What’s your pregame meal?

On Saturday I go to a restaurant in Cardiff called La’Lupa for pasta if we have a home game. If it’s a Sunday home game then I’ll usually do a chicken, bacon and mushroom pasta bake.

 Favourite superhero?

Iron Man

Thank you Ben for giving us a chance to see behind the mask and for sharing the story of Jake. If you would like to see more pieces like this, the links for the other Behind The Mask features are below:

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