I must start this article by being completely honest with every single one of you.
I had no idea that a para ice hockey league existed and I hadn’t even thought of looking into it even for a second, for me para ice hockey was something that you saw on the television in the Paralympics and the rest was irrelevant.
For that I am truly sorry.
I attended my first para ice hockey match between the Manchester Mayhem and the Cardiff Huskies at Altrincham ice rink and what I witnessed there was an outstanding group of players that completely blew my mind.
A regular hockey team features 4 forward lines, 3 defensive lines and 2 goalies culminating in 20 players that are swapped in and out every few minutes.
Mayhem forward Rob Allen told me briefly that this match had seen quite a good turnout for extra players, it was here that I got quite down heartened.
Both Cardiff and Manchester had 4 spare players, that was all. Manchester had a reserve goalie so they only had 3 players that could be swapped in when fatigue set in, to put that into perspective for you; imagine using the rowing machine flat out for 15 minute while being pushed over every few seconds, have a break for 5 minutes and do it again… 5 minutes and then do it again.
Even the thought of this is enough to tire me out.
The players didn’t seem to get tired though, they had no slowdown in their game and they fought for every single inch of the ice and I was on the of my (uncomfortable) seat the whole time!
Seriously Manchester Storm, I love you dearly but those seats… Oooof!
The undisputed highlight of the match for me however was when Cardiff Huskies Tyler Christopher burst through into the Mayhem zone, deked past multiple defenders and slotted past the outstretched arm of the goalkeeper. It was outstanding and, despite being Manchester through and through, I cheered for that!
What a cracking bit of skill followed up with an impeccable finish, it was unreal!
After the match I was lucky enough to get a few words with the man of the match for the Manchester Mayhem, hat-trick hero (and all-round nice guy) Karl Nicholson;
Hi Karl! Is there a specific limit on the amount of able-bodied players? Wheelchair rugby has a point system dependent on a players functional mobility, is there a similar thing in para ice hockey?
“It doesn’t matter, anyone can play. The para ice hockey club rules within a country is fully inclusive, you can have as many able-bodied players as you want and there’s no point system like basketball or rugby so it’s just as many as you want”
How did you manage to get into ice hockey in general?
“(laughs) About 20-odd years ago I was introduced to the sport through a very dear friend of mine who’s playing tonight, Pat Bailey, he introduced me about 20 years ago in late ’96 I think it was… May be a bit longer than 20 years that actually isn’t it, maths! And that was it, it took about 5 or 6 years before anybody really started to take notice, it’s quite a hard sport to learn”
Have you always played for Manchester Mayhem?
“No no no, Manchester didn’t have a team for a while so when I first started I played for
Deeside Dynamoes so I used to travel from Manchester to Deeside and train out of there and then I moved to Hull Kingston Kestrels, I played for them for about 12 years and then when Manchester set up a team about 6 years back we were under the Manchester Phoenix banner under their foundation and were supported by those guys and at that point I had a home team, I still go and train with those guys (Kingston) and I am still very close to those guys”
Do you have any pre-game rituals or does anybody on the team have any pre-game rituals?
“Graham likes to leave a great big turd in the toilet!”
Who do you think are your biggest rivals is it Kingston or is it Sheffield?
“Oh no, it’s not like them (Manchester Storm). We don’t really get on with the Sheffield guys like the Storm and the Steelers but it’s a bit one sided… I’m trying to be diplomatic!”
What would you say to someone to get them interested in para ice hockey that’s on the fence about coming or has just never even seen the game?
“I would try and get them down to one of our sessions, we’re usually pretty good at getting people over there someone will pick you up or give you directions and we have equipment there just basically get in touch”
So people can literally just turn up and have a go?
And when is that?
“It’s every second Tuesday at Widnes Silverblades Ice Rink at 7.45 but we’re usually there for 8 o’clock”
How does it feel being part of this team?
“It’s a great team, I love it to bits. I know we’re just a small group of guys compared to the other but it’s quite close-knit”
Now for the last and most important question… Who is your favorite Spice Girl?
“(Without hesitation) Geri”
And as a bonus I managed to snag the head coach Pete Hagan for a few follow up questions;
Hi Pete, noticed there were men and women playing, that’s awesome but is that how it is throughout the sport? At the international level is there a separate men and women’s game or is it unisex?
“For the domestic league it is unisex, teams ice mixed teams as there’s no reason or rules against it, we all just want to play. For Great Britain I know a new women’s program has been set up, and they’ve recently just had the women’s World Cup over in the Czech Republic so I think there could be a separate men’s & women’s team but under the GB umbrella”
What’s the hardest part about running the team?
“Getting exposure, the team is really dedicated but it’s hard getting our name out there, especially in a sports mad city like Manchester. Throw in the fact we train in Widnes and we don’t seem to fit specifically in to one region. So hard to get people to games, raise money to get out own equipment etc.”
Karl Nicholson mentioned that you train every second Tuesday at Widnes. Would you be interested in doing a follow up piece where I come take part in a training session, the reason I ask is that I heard someone say that the sport “looked easy” and I don’t believe that’s the case, I think you need incredible stamina and strength to play and I want to prove that
“Oh please invite them too! I promise after 2 mins they will change their mind!
And now for the important question, who is your favorite Spice Girl…
“Yeah I was a Posh Spice fan, dunno if that’s good or bad!!!”
Thank you to everyone for being so welcoming and friendly and thank you especially to 98 Yetiiis Photography for the photographs.