Barry Almeida and TJ Syner signed for the Blaze in the winter of 2016. Brought in as a late addition just before Christmas the American pair proved to be fan favourites and the offensive pairing that the Blaze had needed to complete their roster. They are an outstanding double act on the ice and their journey together began when they were only 5 years old.
Coming into the Elite League in the summer of 2016, Liam Stewart made an instant impression on the fans of the Coventry Blaze, both on and off the ice. As the son of Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter, he’d been in one spotlight or another for a lot of his life. He was born in London, but because of one thing or other ended up living in Los Angeles with his mother.
Finding ice hockey at a young age, he found himself training and learning with the Los Angeles Junior Kings, a team he still supports to this day and I asked him about how he felt it set him up for his career thus far. “The LA Junior Kings system was obviously great. The coaches I had growing up taught me a lot and I’m obviously very grateful for that! You see the players coming out of California now and especially the Jr Kings program, so that says a lot about the organization!”
From the Junior system in LA, Stewart went to the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. As a fresh faced youngster, the LAJK system had begun to shape him as a player, but with youth on his side he was still very much willing to learn, adapt and grow as a player. Here, he spent five years and as you can often see from twitter, he gained a very loyal bank of followers who still check in on his games and support him. I asked him about how he felt that it shaped him as a player to be in one team for such a long time. “Yeah, I spent 5 years in Spokane so a lot of the credit goes to my coach Don Nauchbaur. Then to everyone else at the Chiefs organization for helping me grow as a person first off, and then a player.”
With his move firstly to the Coventry Blaze in 2016 and subsequently to the Guildford Flames in the summer of 2017, I was interested to know how he found the hockey in the UK, compared to the WHL in America. “As for comparison it’s hard to say because the ages are only from 16-20 year olds and in the EIHL you have 17-35 year olds.” Understandable that it might be difficult to compare the two. “But the skill level in the WHL is very high and a lot of kids get drafted to the NHL out of the WHL.” He also had a little bit of possible advice for the Sheffield Steelers Liam Kirk. “I personally think a guy like Liam Kirk should give it a shot over there so he can be compared to playing against the best kids his age. Think it would be really good for him.” He offers. Sound advice and maybe worth a thought?
Liam has made quite the impact with fans, both young and old and not only of his own team either. Does he think he’ll stay here for the foreseeable, or consider playing somewhere else? Stewart laughs, perhaps he’s been asked this question before? “The fan base around the UK is probably the best I’ve ever seen… a lot of respect to the fans out there and thank you for all you guys do! As for staying in the league obviously I would love to but I also want to try and explore other leagues/places! It’s really whatever feels right is where I’ll end up!
With this being the first Elite League season for both Guildford and Milton Keynes, I asked whether he felt that Guildford had something to prove in their first season in the top league. With Guildford very much in the picture for a playoff spot, I asked whether he was feeling any kind of pressure to prove themselves. “Yeah for sure! I think both sides have proved that they will stay at the Elite League level for years to come! Guildford is exceeding expectations I think and hopefully we make a push for/in the playoffs!”
Back in December, I traveled down the M1 (and slowly around the M25..) with other Lightning fans to see the two clash at the Spectrum. Stewart made quite the impression on both home and away fans. It was a pretty harsh defeat for the MK Lightning after an extremely late start to the game, with Jordan Headley stepping into the crease in the third period. That night Stewart scored a hat-trick, including a penalty shot. I asked him about it and whether he planned on doing it to us a second time. He laughed. “I doubt it, I only get a hat-trick every three years or so!”
Keep an eye out for Stewart on the ice, at the moment he’s back in the United States recuperating from a concussion sustained earlier in the season. We look forward to seeing what the future has in store for him and with any luck, we will be seeing him return to the EIHL in the Autumn.
As the final horn sounds, the Nottingham Panthers take a 2-1 victory over the Fife Flyers. That was Panthers captain David Clarke’s final regular season home game as a member of the organisation.
From a young age, Edinburgh Capitals netminder Tyler Beskorowany wanted to play hockey.
Waiting outside the dressing room for another player, I was asked to interview Nickerson for this month’s magazine. No problem, I quickly replied. It was an on the fly interview and honestly I didn’t know much about the man, aside from the fact he’d come from Belfast and was wearing a number 50 on his back.
When he finally came out and I saw all 6ft 4, 234lbs of him, it was obvious to see why he is a bit of a fan favourite here in Milton Keynes. Despite his somewhat imposing size, he had a ready smile, was hugely approachable and was happy to talk to any fan who had taken the time to wait for him, including my four year old daughter. She looked up at the giant of a man with a mix of awe and wonder.
“At least she isn’t crying?” A small shrug and an amused grin from the big guy. “That’s the usual reaction.” He laughs, but what he doesn’t know is her dad has a full beard and is 6ft 2 himself, Matt Nickerson was nothing scary for that little fan! She actually thought he was really awesome.
We move off the concourse to talk about the upcoming visit to Belfast and how he’s adapting to the different way of life in Milton Keynes.
“It’s different here. In Belfast I lived downtown so I could bike everywhere but here I live outside of the city and so I have to drive. I live in the countryside back home in a town of 7,000 people so it’s pretty small.” Definitely taking some getting used to then.
His wife has newly arrived in the city and while he has found some nice pubs to frequent and the casino, he’s looking for somewhere a little nicer to take her out for dinner and has said if anyone has any suggestions to please tweet him (@theMdot50) with your recommendations!
We move on to talking about Milton Keynes upcoming trip to Belfast. “I’m very much looking forward to going back. I enjoyed my time there in the rink, they have a good fan base and I love how we’ve beaten them up here [in Milton Keynes] once this season, so I’d like to make it twice.”
And how about that Barmy Army? We know Lightning fans like to travel in their droves to games, a recent trip to Nottingham showed me that but I asked Matt what he thought the fans might enjoy in Belfast, other than the hockey of course! “Oh I think they’d love a night out in Belfast. I’d recommend the Harp bar for sure. It’s not hard to get to and they have live music and whiskey. Like, 16 and 32 year old whiskeys, it’s great.”
If you want to go and try out Matt’s recommendation, it’s a 15 minute walk from the SSE Arena and the address for your Nav is: Harp Bar, 35 Hill Street, Belfast BT1 2LB. Let him know how you like it if you do go and try it!
This article was destined for release in February’s issue of Lightning Strike magazine. However, with the release of Nickerson from the Milton Keynes Lightning on 1/2/2018 I was given permission to publish it here.
Caro is the wife of Andrew McPherson, a Canadian playing hockey in Germany’s DEL2. She’s been all over the world while her husband has played professionally but that isn’t why I asked to interview her.
Mike Clemente grew in Great Falls, Virginia. From a young age, he wanted to be a netminder. Growing up he idolised Ollie Kolzig, who played at the time for the Washington Capitals, Clemente’s closest NHL team growing up. It was meeting his idol at a young age that meant that Clemente pursued his love of hockey and being an netminder.
Brython Preece. Known to his teammates as Preecey or Giraffe and to some fans as Dave… the Welsh goalie is 19 and embarking on his first professional season with the Blaze, backing up Canadian Kevin Nastiuk.
I’ve never met another Brython so I just had to ask about the pronunciation of his name. The y is more like the i in Britain. His middle name, in case you were curious, is the very easy to pronounce Mark. His brother James also plays hockey and used to play on a two way deal with the Blaze from the Telford Tigers, he got the middle name Tomas, which isn’t pronounced like Thomas. Just to make things interesting!
Following his brothers footsteps took him to the family run Ontario Hockey Camp. He liked the way the academy was run but says it was very much a case of being thrown in at the deep end. From being away from Mum and Dad for the first time to simply traveling and maneuvering an airport on his own, he says it was the first time he had to be responsible for himself. While out there, he not only spent time on the ice training but came away with a whopping 8 A-levels, studying PE, the single sciences as well as a few others. English was his favourite and he has enjoyed reading some of the English classics. Getting up in the morning for classes and keeping his bedroom tidy were two of the hardest things he had to learn to do as he claims to be one of the messiest people, but the school was run in such a way that if you didn’t go to classes, you didn’t get to go on the ice so lay ins weren’t an option.
When talking to Brython about playing goalie, he had fond memories of the early days of playing in the Cardiff Academy. He always wanted to be a goalie and his parents still have his first pair of tiny pads. He says he wasn’t always the tall kid and that when he was younger he was actually quite small and so he’s deceptively quicker than his height might suggest as his growth spurt never really changed the way he played. He still plays like the small kid, even now he’s 6ft 5! When asked about the way fans have come to perceive goalies as being ‘weird’ he laughed.
“I don’t get why they think we’re weird or crazy.. We wear full face masks, more padding and don’t fight. We’re the sensible ones.”
I asked about how his relationship had developed with Nastiuk and whether the older goalie had given him any advice. “Not so much advice, I mean not in the beginning anyway. It was more support from a guy who had been where I am now 10 or so years ago. He knows what I’m dealing with and can be there for me in a way most of the other players can’t.”
He thinks it’s extremely important for a young talent to have the direction of a goalie coach. He explains that the job of a goalie specific coach isn’t quite the same as a coach for the rest of the team and not only encompasses the mechanics of actually playing the game but also covers development on a more personal level as well. “The work is there but it isn’t such a pressure or a strict relationship and it’s far more relaxed. Which really helps.” Brython goes on to discuss the mental side of being a goalie. “If you’re playing your absolute best and someone scores on you, it makes you angry and annoyed but if you know you’re not playing your best, you can laugh it off and think, well you got one, but you won’t get any more.”
When the time came to set foot onto the ice in his first professional game, I asked him about his thoughts when he was on the bench. “Everyone said I looked really confident afterwards. I just treated it like any other game. I got into it and acted like there was no pressure… If I worried about it or got too much pressure on myself then in goal, you notice it. If there’s no pressure on myself then I can only do what I can do.”
Brython is so far enjoying his first season within a professional team and was surprised with how well he has kept up. Talking to him, I can tell he has a stellar work ethic and a will to succeed. He is an asset to the Blaze and a player we can all depend on to always do his best. It was such a pleasure to sit down with Brython and I look forward to seeing him on the ice more during the season.
This article was first published in the November 2017 edition of the Coventry Blaze’s match night program OnFire and has been reproduced here with permission from the editor Stu Coles now the program is out of print.
And we’re back! With the first Behind the Mask of the 2017-2018 season and with the Fife Flyers new netminder Jordan Marr. Jordan was so lovely to talk to and at times (with my husbands’ interjections with questions of his own) we got quite off the topic of hockey, which makes this exactly what it says on the tin- a behind the mask interview. We get to know the Jordan that not everyone gets to see – and thanks to mum Tracy, there will be some never before seen photos of both Jordan and little brother Renny!