November 14th 2019 Eleven players from the Great Britain Para Ice Hockey Team will fly out to Berlin, Germany to compete in the B Pool World Championships and hopefully place near the top of the table. The GB Squad have not attended a competition since the Japan Worlds where they fought bravely to try and secure a bronze medal, but sadly losing to Slovakia. That being said Matt Clarkson #5 did get the only goal for the GB Team, which is a true testament to both him and the team for not giving up despite taking injuries during the game.
The GB Squad will be lead out by their Captain Tyler Christopher #9 who has been playing the game since 2010. This is the first time he will Captain the side and he said, “Getting picked to be the Captain was so unexpected, but this has been a dream of mine ever since I touched the ice for the first time in 2010. I am so honoured and proud to lead the team out onto the ice for our first game.”
Tyler will not be alone in leading the team as he will have his trusted lieutenants or Alternate Captains, as there called, and they were given to Matt Clarkson #5 and Karl Nicholson #6. Both of them are experienced players with many years of competitive sports behind them. Karl, who has played in quite a few World Championships, said, “The thrill and privilege of being selected to represent your country never gets old. Knowing you’re among the best players in the UK and the sacrifices we have all made to get there always manages to make me feel proud.”
Matt Clarkson said, “For me, representing Great Britain in the Para Ice Hockey World Championships means so much, especially as I never expected to be able to compete in sport at any level having been born with Spina Bifida. So the challenge of playing at an international level is a privilege and something that I relish and look forward to. I am proud to have been selected as an Alternate Captain and welcome the opportunity to help lead the team on to the ice and achieve its goals in the tournament.”
We have several new guys in the team who I have no doubt will be feeling a little nervous, however I know they will be looking forward to representing their country and the pride they will feel as they put their GB Hockey Jersey’s on for the first time will be like nothing they have experienced before. But the experienced guys in the team will be there to guide them through the emotional storm that is to come as we play our first game against the Slovakian team on day one of the tournament.
Shirley Packwood is the Team Manager and has arguably the most important job on the bench looking after the medical needs of our Athletes, and on occasions will make an appearance on the ice if and when someone gets injured (As one of our athletes found out in Japan 2016). Shirley is our point of call if we start to get any niggles or sore muscles, which let’s face it, is going to happen as Para Ice Hockey is a hard, fast and a full contact sport. It would be inconceivable to think any team would finish a tournament with no injuries. That being said we would have a lot more injuries if Shirley was not on the bench.
Peggy Assink, who is the assistant coach and a Canadian (we don’t hold that against her), comes from a background in Para Ice Hockey. As we know most if not all Canadians are born on the ice and only know two seasons… The one with snow and ice, and the one without snow and ice. Peggy has been a great asset to the GB Team helping out our head Coach Ian Offers, in supporting the Athletes on and off the ice. She says, “It has been a pleasure to work with this group of athletes and staff who are working tirelessly to both fundraise and prepare for the upcoming Worlds. The Athletes have impressed the coaching staff with their dedication to training on and off the ice and I can’t wait to see the GB Squad compete in Berlin.” Peggy has a wealth of knowledge that has made this team better prepared than any of the last few competitions we have been to and we are all looking forward to the prospects of a great tournament and hope to reap the rewards of all the training we have done on and off the ice.
Our Head Coach, Ian Offers, has come from a hockey background and it is safe to say he eats, breaths and lives for Ice Hockey. If he doesn’t know something about Ice Hockey, which is unlikely, it’s probably not worth knowing in the first place. Ian took over the role in 2015 where he brought a new way of coaching. Everybody in the team noticed a difference straight away and we were excited as to where the coach could take this team of great players.
The Coach said, “The GB programme has been through a lot of changes since Japan (2016) as we look to make it more professional and organised. When the Management Team spoke to the Athletes 18 months ago, outlining our expectations, all of the Athletes bought into the concept. Now, after a lot of hard work, we get to see how we measure up against our peers. The sport still has no funding in the UK so we rely on sponsorship and clothing sponsors for our on and off ice apparel, but the steps we are taking are leading us in the right direction. In my opinion, I have the best roster of players, all playing for the same goal and all of them are proud to pull on the GB Shirt and show the world what we can achieve.”
As our Coach said the GB squad is completely self-funded with generous people and company’s donating money to help our athletes get to the Worlds. This time round we have been sponsored kit by the likes of Kappa, Mowbray Sports, PLS Solicitors and We Are VHUK, which is absolutely wonderful. So a big ‘Thank You’ goes out to all the companies that have sponsored us by way of kit. We hope to do you all proud at the Berlin Worlds.
The GB Team have been training for the Berlin Worlds for nearly two years now and we have really worked hard on all aspects of our game on the ice and off the ice in the classrooms. The sacrifices athletes have made to get to training has not gone unnoticed by the Management Team, but as any athlete knows, if you want to be the best in your field of sport sacrifices have to be made. Speaking to everyone in the team they all say the same, “They could not do what they do without the love and support from loved ones back home. The un-sung heroes who are left to keep the home fires burning while their respective partners go off into the night and train hard into the early hours of the morning. The athletes come back home creeping into the house all stealth like as not to disturb the dog and wake their loved one up even though they know she will be sat up in bed with folded arms saying, “You’re not getting into bed until you have a shower.” So, a HUGE ‘Thank You’ goes out to all those understanding partners who support us every day.
To the Great Britain Para Ice Hockey Team, the last 18 months have been building to a crescendo where we will be United in the losses, but more importantly in the wins. Every one of us has the Passion to strive for excellence and will leave every last bit of us out on the ice after each game. We are the Elite of the UK and we all believe we can go toe to toe with the rest of Pool B and we will not shy away from a scrap. We are not the team of old, for we are better in every way. We are a proud team that will fight to the very last whistle.
GB Squad, I leave you with this quote:
‘How hard would you play today, if you knew you couldn’t play tomorrow.’