Behind the scenes with …. Richard Carpenter, NIHLS League Manager

With the 2017/18 season less than a month away, fixtures almost complete, rosters (mostly) announced and updated rules in the bag it feels like a good time to catch up with League Manager for NIHLS, Richard Carpenter.

Hi Richard, first things first, most of us know you as the League Manager for NIHLS but what is your full time occupation?

I’m a Senior Member of the University of Oxford, working in the Humanities.

And when you’re not busy running the league, what do you like to do with your spare time?

During the off-season like right now, I’m typing this from next to my tent camped out in East Sussex and enjoy seeing different parts of the country and enjoying the break off from the game. During the season, I typically attend over 50 games of hockey a season, so my weekends are fully booked up from September until the end of April. On a Monday night however, I can be found playing in the Witney and District Cribbage league, myself and Nancy won the Mixed Pairs a few years ago.

Everyone seems to have a favourite NHL team – which is yours?

For reasons that are long forgotten, I support the Columbus Blue Jackets. One of these days, we might even make it to round 2 of the playoffs!

You’re married to the powerhouse behind 482days.com, how long have you and Nancy been together and do you always agree about hockey?

We often agree, but when we disagree we tend to fight our corner. We’re both individuals that are very passionate about the sport but those who sat on the committee when we were running the Oxford City Stars will tell you that we hardly agreed at all! We’ve been together for coming up to 10 years now, married for four. Unsurprisingly, we met through hockey.

Do you play piamg and do you drink your tea out of a piamg mug?!

No, I don’t play it. I don’t drink tea or coffee, so typically for me a 482days.com mug means that I’m not feeling well and drinking a lemsip out of it!

Which is your favourite rink in the UK?

So hard to pick just one. For sheer history and atmosphere, either Kirkcaldy or Whitley Bay. As a modern facility, I love ice Sheffield and it’s design, it’s always such a pleasure to go there. It wasn’t love at first sight but I’ve come to really like the new Streatham rink, although, for me, the original was such a special place. However, if I had to pick a winner overall, one that has the whole package, I think it’s hard to look past Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff Bay. Brilliant exterior, two great pads, outstanding sight lines in the main arena, it’s superb to have it in both NIHL1 and NIHL2.

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Action at the old Streatham Rink (courtesy of Rick Webb)

What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen at a game?

Plenty that I can’t say! But one that always makes me smile is at Coventry back in the 2000/01 season. Hilton Ruggles, ex-Whitley, Manchester, Cardiff and Newcastle forward, signed for Coventry in the first season after the move from Solihull and was very much a character. He took a 2+10 and went to the box for his penalty. After getting in the box, he had a quick read of the Coventry Evening Telegraph and then after a few minutes, a fan turns up and passes a packet of chips from the café through. Suffice it to say, sat in the block right behind this, it was hilarious. He was also the best ever player to be refused a contract for the Murrayfield Racers, but that’s another story.

So tell us about your first ever experience of ice hockey?

My parents took me to watch Sheffield Steelers vs Durham Wasps in the old Heineken Premier League back in the 93/94 season, and I loved it from the first moment I watched it. Because my mum and dad knew people that worked/volunteered for the club, I had the full tour as well which was great!

Have you ever played hockey and if so, who for and what position did you play?

I’ve never played. I was learning to skate once and broke my ankle on both sides. And so, can’t play, can’t skate. Can’t coach either.

How long have you been League Manager and in a nutshell what does this entail?

I joined the NIHL LMC as NIHL Assistant League Manager (South) in August 2015 and became NIHL League Manager in August 2016 and we’ve just appointed another NIHL League Manager to cover the Northern Conference as of this May.

Each of us League Managers does two things, we are responsible for the day-to-day running of the league, answering queries from clubs, approving matters under the rules where required. We do not do fixtures or registrations, nor do we suspend players. A typical week for me is about handling any club correspondence. On a gameday, we stay available to help resolve any issues that may occur across the country

Each League Manager also has a specialism and mine is rule-writing/NIHL Governance, hence why I write the Rules of Competition and bore people about them on twitter.

What’s the best thing and the worst about being League Manager?

Personally, I do this role to try and make a difference for ice hockey in the UK, hence why I volunteer my time for it. I honestly believe that the governance we’ve built over the past few years is starting to pay off in the game and that’s the most pleasing thing about it.

The worst thing simply is having to clamp down, when we have to do this. An example is what happened at the start of last season in NIHL1 South, when the league was nearly out of control with huge numbers of brawls in the first month of the season. The EIHA and myself prefer a more passive approach to league management, but if we have to get more involved, then we will. It’s still not something that anyone particularly enjoys though.

What do you love about hockey in the UK.

For me, the best thing about it is seeing the away support, people travelling from their own rinks, making lots of noise and supporting their team. I’d really encourage people that are just home game only fans to give it a try, travelling away from home, you’ll find it’s a totally different experience, and probably a better one from an atmosphere point of view.

If you could wave a magic wand and change three things in hockey at NIHL level what would they be?

There’s no doubt that this has been an eventful summer already. I certainly didn’t expect that we’d be in this position, with the EPIHL folded and the NIHL now the remaining EIHA Senior League. However, it’s a great opportunity to build something new as well. In terms of change, I think we’ve had enough of that already thanks!

Out of all the games you’ve watched over the years which NIHL game has been the most memorable and why?

As a fan: Feb 2010, Chelmsford Chieftains 2 – 3 Oxford City Stars. Stars go three up, Chiefs hit back to 3-2 then hit the crossbar, bounces on the line and out. Referee awards no goal, Oxford fans go crazy and seal the victory. Hockey at it’s passionate and controversial best.

As club secretary: April 2013, Oxford City Stars 4 – 3 Slough Jets. Stars trail three times but Joe Oliver scores the winner to win the league for the Stars. First time Oxford had been sold out in years and years, great to see.

Since becoming League Manager: April 2016, Streatham 4 – 4 Chelmsford Chieftains. Streatham, it’s fair to say annihilated in the Cup Final a few weeks before, edged past Oxford in 1st round playoffs, but produced a stunning performance. Redskins edged ahead but Chelmsford leveled it up late at 4. Outstanding game of hockey.

What would your stand out moment of last season be in NIHLS1? And NIHLS2?

Probably the playoff finals, 2nd legs for both. Both had a Chelmsford team, well behind after the first leg, making an incredible start to the game and everyone thinking, “surely, they can’t actually do this”. It ended up with two superb finals and I really enjoyed them both.

Of the players that you know who would you say are the most talented young players in the new NIHL currently?

I think that at the moment, it’s difficult to start answering questions on this because of all of the changes that have taken place already with this season. I think it’s fair to say, it’s going to take some time for this league to settle down and then we’ll be in a better question to think about such things.

What are you looking forward to most next season?

Without a doubt the playoffs. Sixteen team, joined up playoffs is a dream come true, it really is and I personally can’t wait for it.

And finally, I have to ask, who’s going to win the league?

As you didn’t define the league, I’ll pluck for the mighty Columbus Blue Jackets to lift the Stanley Cup.

Very sneaky of Mr Carpenter there to elegantly side-step the final question but there you have it, a brief insight into the man behind the scenes managing NIHLS. Thanks to Richard for taking time out to answer some questions whilst enjoying the great outdoors in what little we have left of summer. Don’t forget to give him a wave when you spot him next season if he happens to be at your rink.

Now, let the hockey commence …

 

Featured image from Chelmsford v Invicta playoff final courtesy of Ice Cold Photography 

 

View From The Crowd (part 3)

As the Off On A Tangent series of fan reviews draws to a close it’s the turn of Invicta Dynamos under the spotlight. With his team placed second in last years NIHLS1 and crowned play off champions, IDF (Invicta Dynamos Fan) takes us through his thoughts.

He first started watching Invicta when he moved to Medway seven years ago and has been a loyal supporter ever since. Like the two fans in the previous reviews it was the excitement, grit and determination shown throughout the game that attracted him to watching. As he says ‘There is nothing like watching the end to end rushes, ending in a highlight reel goal to get you on your feet’

IDF has chosen the 2008/2009 season as his favourite so far as a hockey fan when the Mo’s were ENIHL Southern and National champions. It was a great team with both talent and character.

As a member of the Mo’s ‘barmy army’ his stand out moment from last season was the playoff final second leg at Chelmsford. Dynamos held an incredible five-goal lead from the first leg but conceded after only seven seconds. Chelmsford were at their brilliant best for most of the game and got the lead down to one goal before Scott Bailey and Callum Fowler scored to take the pressure off in the third period. The feeling of relief when the final buzzer sounded was incredible. The celebrations afterwards were something that this particular Invicta fan will always remember.

In agreement with the previous two reviewers IDF feels the new league set up is lop sided to say the least which he feels is a shame as the previous NIHLS was such a competitive and sustainable league where there were often upsets to expected outcomes. The facts that the ex-EPL teams had no salary caps placed on them and have made little effort to down grade their teams means that the NIHL teams are all going to struggle.

IDF doesn’t think that the new set up is a long-term solution and that one of two things will happen. Either the EPL teams will decide that this league is not good enough for them and break away to form their own league or teams such as Invicta, Streatham and London will get smashed week in, week out and request a drop to NIHL2.

Even though he doesn’t see the league working well IDF believes that the NIHL clubs did the right thing accepting the ex-EPL teams into the league or they would have had nowhere to play and nobody wanted to see them go under. However, he did think that the league chairman could have done more to protect the NIHL teams and put more restrictions in place to prevent the EPL teams spending so much. One of the side effects of the current set up is that the bigger teams have been able to poach the top players from their previous clubs by offering better contracts. All this has a destabilising effect on the new league.

Invicta’s roster seems weaker than last year according to IDF although it’s still early days. The club’s habit of drip-feeding signings is frustrating particularly as it looks like the team has only signed one player so far that has recent EPL experience in Chamberlain. Lots of quick and exciting youngsters have been signed up but the fear is the higher-level players will quickly capitalise on their inexperience. Additional EPL standard players need to form part of the team such as Callum Fowler as this is vital to a successful season.

Although he’s a little disappointed in the level of some of the signings so far, IDF feels that the influence and presence of netminder Damian King will be huge if he can stay fit. Damian was massively instrumental in winning many games last season and kept the team with a fighting chance in many more.

With Callum Fowler yet to be announced, IDF believes he will be a huge loss if he doesn’t sign. He knows the club and despite being a bit feisty he can always bring the fans to their feet and light the lamp.

When I asked about the coaching set up at Invicta, IDF thinks Kevin Parrish gets a raw deal from a lot of fans but he always has the clubs best interests at heart. You can’t like everything a coach does and IDF hates the way signings are revealed but as Parrish is the head coach, it’s done his way. Prone to the occasional melt down the head coach is often criticised by some but IDF accepts that’s just the way it is!

As far as the competition is concerned this season IDF predicts London Raiders will be the Mo’s greatest rivals as they now have Sean Easton as their head coach and will be looking to move forward. They have signed a lot of players from Chelmsford who have winning experience and could even give the EPL teams a run for their money at home. IDF also mentions how much he enjoys the banter with the Raiders fans and in an aside says they probably have the second best social team out there (behind Mo’s of course!)

IDF is refreshing in that he’s looking forward to all the games this season. The NIHL games will be competitive and Dynamos should get a few wins from them but he’s also looking forward to seeing the skill levels of the new teams especially Basingstoke Bison who have a lot of quality and have added to it with ex Mo’s players Elliott Dewey and Ashley Jackson.

As an ardent fan IDF feels that he will support the team no matter what, even if they dropped down a league. He loves travelling to away games with the noisy and team-motivating barmy army and he says nothing will stop that even if the team are getting hammered.

Joking that either ‘staying in the league’ or ‘winning a game’ will be the big challenges for this season IDF thinks staying competitive and keeping the fans entertained will be testing for the club. Trying to not only attract new fans but keeping hold of the some of the casual ones will be hard if the league is as one sided as it looks at the moment.

I asked all three fans what could be done to improve their club or to help meet the challenges of the future. After joking that signing Conor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) would help, IDF said he hopes that the club will be more receptive to fundraising ideas from fans to help move the club forward. He’d also like to see more of a partnership with the two local football teams (Gillingham FC and Maidstone United), which could bring new fans.

In terms of a prediction for the coming season IDF thinks Invicta will struggle to get out from the bottom three alongside Milton Keynes and Cardiff. This is however based on current signings and comparisons with other teams, which could all change with roster space still available. A couple of key additions could make all the difference. Whatever happens you can expect the Invicta Dynamos fans to be noisy and passionate when the season begins.

So as the third and final fan review draws to a close all that remains to say is thank you to IDF for a great interview and good luck to the Invicta Dynamos for the coming season in the new look NIHLS1.

Now, can we have some fixtures please so we can all start planning our winter season?! 🙂

photo credit David Trevallion

 

View From The Crowd (part 2)

In this second part of ‘View From The Crowd’ I’m chatting to SRF (Streatham RedHawks Fan) who has been a loud, proud Streatham supporter for a long time, catching the hockey bug ten years ago when offered tickets to see a Streatham game and then becoming, like so many of us, well and truly captivated.

In reflecting over the past ten years there have been many memorable moments but the most outstanding and enjoyable time SRF can remember was the year Streatham beat Slough in the struggle to avoid relegation. One of the most noteworthy things for SRF was the support from fans, which was unwavering. The Streatham v Slough game was particularly exciting to watch – exactly how it should be.

When I asked what the outstanding memory was from last season for Streatham I was expecting an exceptional goal or a surprising, hard-fought victory but instead felt moved as SRF described the disappointment of seeing Will Sanderson (Streatham’s long serving netminder and fan favourite) being left on the bench week after week, being refused ice time and then finally leaving the club. Seeing a talented goalkeeper sidelined certainly seemed to have a detrimental effect on some fans and even some teammates, which unfortunately made it memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is perhaps a reminder to us all that not every stand-out or memorable moment from a fan perspective is positive and that not everyone will see things from the viewpoint of the coach.

As we all know, the league set up for 2017/18 has put the cat amongst the pigeons and SRF feels that the new league is a challenge too far for the long standing NIHLS clubs and commented that what was a previously successful and competitive league has been destroyed as teams that had worked so hard to remain within it have been forced to leave due to financial reasons.

SRF agrees with those who have commented elsewhere in various blogs and on social media that the league will now be very much split with the ex EPL teams dominating and was surprised that league management did not implement financial controls so the EPL league could run for one season with seven teams. The future of the NIHL in the north and south could then have been debated more thoroughly and had the league put options forward for consultation teams would have had plenty of time to adequately reflect on the consequences and perhaps come to different decisions.

With the new season just a few weeks away SRF is satisfied that Streatham have made some good signings and is really hopeful that the new players gel quickly in pre-season training and the early matches to make it happen for the club.

It will of course be a challenge to follow the game for some initially as time will be lost checking the programme to identify so many new players during play. SRF feels that’s frustrating from a fan perspective, especially for those who like to shout encouragement to their favourites.

With favourite players in mind SRF singles out Joe Allen as key to the squad this season. Not necessarily renowned as a top points scorer Joe is seen as a loyal hard-grafting Streatham player who fans will continue to identify with. He’s ridiculously quick and can cover the entire ice in a flash.

As we all know, every year clubs say goodbye to players, some of whom make a particularly big impact on fans. For Streatham this off-season has seen much change and SRF singled out popular D-man Jack Tarczycki as the player that will be most missed siting his strengths as a great all rounder who is happy to play anywhere, is never afraid to get stuck in and is always happy to chat to the fans after the game. Jack, along with a number of other core players will be sorely missed by the Streatham faithful.

As far as the coaching set up goes, SRF readily agrees that Streatham needed a new face on the bench and very much understands that a coach should be allowed to coach. As a spectator though, SRF struggled with watching a new coach come in part way through the season, bringing many players from the disbanded Wightlink team and then casting aside so many good, long serving players, denying them the chance to shine.

For this, next trickiest of seasons for a club who made a very hard choice in staying in the NIHLS1, SRF says the games against the EPL teams will be the hardest to watch with the potential for some heavy losses and the more competitive and interesting games to see will definitely be those against old rivals Invicta, London and Milton Keynes.

As a long-term fan SRF felt that despite the best efforts of some, last season’s atmosphere down at the rink in SW16 was a little more diluted than previously and for some fans it was a disappointing year with so much change. With the additional challenge of potentially big deficits against the better quality teams this coming season, supporters may look to go elsewhere and SRF feels that could become quite challenging for the club.

Reflecting on this, SRF would like to see more chances for supporters to engage with players at Streatham such as post game photo calls and autograph opportunities, and hopes the club might arrange a meet and greet for the fans before the season starts. This would be especially beneficial to families who don’t go to the pub after games and for everyone to get to know the new players. If flyers advertising events as well as games were distributed regularly to local supermarkets, retail outlets and take-aways it might also help to gain the support of new fans locally.

As the Streatham faithful ready themselves for what is likely to be a difficult season in south London there is still optimism as SRF predicts a realistic sixth place behind the ex EPL teams, remaining thoroughly competitive with the original NIHLS clubs.

A massive thanks to SRF. You know who you are although nobody else does of course. You have managed to be honest and forthright in your comments which you said you found hard to make and although you may feel a little jaded right now I’m sure there will be good times to come.

Finally, good luck to the fans, players and management at Streatham IHC ‘The RedHawks’ for the coming season, stay loud, stay proud and keep the faith.

photo credit Joe Allen by Dave West

View From The Crowd (part 1)

Is it me or does the off-season seem never ending? As we all wait anxiously for fixtures news and for September to arrive, my next three blog posts reflect, together with three long-term NIHL supporters on the changes to the league, newly announced rosters and the future of the NIHL.

Having selected someone from each of the three top teams from last season’s NIHLS1, I’ll be chatting with three avid supporters of Chelmsford Chieftains, Invicta Dynamos and Streatham IHC.

As I promised faithfully not to name them so they could be completely honest in their responses each contributor will be referred to as CCF (Chelmsford), IDF (Invicta) and SRF (Streatham).

In this first post CCF (Chelmsford Chieftains Fan) gives an insight into his view of the Chieftains. I hope he will forgive me for summarizing some of his very thorough answers to fit today’s blog.

So, CCF has been following Chieftains religiously for three years, and sporadically for a couple of years prior to that. Before then he was a fan of the original Manchester Storm for many years and still follows the fortunes of the new Storm in the Elite league now.

CCF tells me he watched his first ice hockey game twenty years ago. In fact he remembers it well as it was the sad day that Princess Diana died. It was such an emotional time but after listening to hours of TV and radio coverage he decided to take a break. On this particular day, pretty much the only event in Greater Manchester that wasn’t cancelled was Manchester Storm’s pre season game against bitter rivals, Sheffield Steelers.

The atmosphere in the arena was electric, the music was pumping and people danced in the aisles during the breaks. Sheffield scored and the away block went nuts. Manchester scored and the roof got lifted clean off the arena! That was it CCF was hooked on hockey.

As is the case with many fans he’s not sure what to make of the new league set up. The established NIHLS teams consider it to be an enforced promotion to EPL, while the former EPL clubs are seeing it as an enforced relegation. Whichever way you look at it, there’s going to be a big gap in NIHL1 between the ex EPL teams with the bigger budgets and the teams already in NIHL1.

Unfortunately, CCF acknowledges, there will be an equally big gap in NIHL2 between the teams already there and the ones who dropped down from NIHL1 including Chelmsford.

CCF feels that perhaps league management should have capped the number of imports in the EPL to two and then enforced compulsory promotion to the EPL for the league champions from each NIHL region, thus bumping the EPL back up to nine teams for 2018/19. An overall NIHL champion from the 2018/19 season could then have been promoted to the EPL taking it back to ten teams.

As for this coming season our avid Chelmsford fan is happy with the team that Chieftains are putting together and has every confidence in Ben Clements who is building a roster with a good mix of youth and experience. With room for one or two further players in the team he’s hoping hard hitting playmaker Bailey Chittock might make a return.

With a new coaching set up at Chelmsford this season CCF feels that although Ben may not have the experience leading the team, his history with the club, his understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in the team and his experience in coaching the junior goalies will prove invaluable.

Reflecting on Chelmsford’s 16/17 season, the stand out club moment for CCF was the team emphatically winning the league and cup double after a shaky start.

On a more personal note that many hockey fans will identify with he also made many new friends in both fans and players last season and was especially flattered to be asked to photograph Danny Hughes at Riverside. Another special moment being when legend David Carr tapped him on the shoulder at Streatham just to say hello leaving him slightly star struck.

The strength in this season’s team, CCF believes, will come in the shape of the Bartlett twins up front who have proved that they are among the best players in the league. In defence, Matt France and Ethan Boolkah will be the ‘go to’ guys with Sonny Phillips building on last season’s success in goal.

As so many Chieftains players moved on CCF found it difficult to single out players who will be missed although imports Huska and Zatopek deserve a mention because of their huge influence on how the team played last season. Some of the younger players from the Warriors set up will also be missed along with Jake Sylvester, who CCF feels is perhaps the biggest loss to the team.

CCF admits that whilst respecting the financial issues the owners faced with staying in NIHLS1, he’s disappointed that the Chieftains won’t be in the race to defend their title against the EPL teams this season. He does think though that dropping down a league and rebuilding should work and the team will come back stronger.

People say that winning all the time gets boring. It doesn’t. Winning by a huge margin gets boring. So, for CCF, he’ll be looking forward to the games that are close, where every battle for the puck and every face off is crucial, where there’s a goal or two in it and it’s worth pulling the goalie in the last couple of minutes to try and tie the scores. We all love watching those nail biting, heart stopping, edge of your seat games don’t we?

As far as challenges go for the club CCF thinks it’s going to be about keeping the fans that were only there because the team was successful in a higher league. If the team is going to return to NIHLS1, it will need the fans to pay the entrance fees to enhance the budget.

Bearing this in mind, CCF would love to see the club do more on social media for supporters like some of their counterparts do. He’d also like to see more fan engagement on match nights such as competitions with signed sticks as prizes, signed shirts or tickets to future games which might help to keep the casual supporters more engaged with the club.

With Chelmsford Chieftains taking their place in NIHLS2 this season CCF singles out Bracknell Hornets as their greatest rivals. Danny Hughes has been building a strong team during the summer and CCF considers they’re going to be hard to beat. He does however remain optimistic, confident even, that Chelmsford will achieve league champion status again.

A great big thank you to CCF for taking the time to chat who has proved that the fan view can be just as interesting as the player or club view.

All that remains for me to say is good luck to Chelmsford Chieftains this season in the new look NIHLS2 and keep those fans happy with plenty of great hockey.

Look out for part two in this series where I chat with one of south London’s long serving Streatham RedHawks fans.

photo credit: Ice Cold Photography