Premier TV Coverage!

There’s some great EIHL action coming for all UK/Ireland viewers on Premier Sports!

Don’t forget to tune in for all the broadcasts – as I’m joined by Paul Adey and Neil Russell in commentary. Next up December 14th – the Coventry Blaze host the Sheffield Steelers. See below for the rest of our upcoming games:

Some great action from the EIHL coming on Premier Sports!

Some great action from the EIHL coming on Premier Sports!

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Face-Off: Doug Christiansen

You have to respect anyone who has been a head coach, and a champion in hockey. It takes an incredible competitive mind to taste success in any league – and with the improvements in the UK over the past few seasons – a league title is no easy accolade. Doug Christiansen has been at the top of the EIHL – and has also led Team GB into battle as a head coach.

The guy is an astute student of our game – a master tactician, and a good quote as well! Doug has left the UK game, and has moved on to a big new challenge in North America. I caught up with him recently, enjoy our 1-on-1 chat here:

Murph On Ice – Thanks for taking some time to join me on the website here Doug.

Doug Christiansen – No problem Murph, thanks for having me.

MOI – First off tell UK hockey folks about your new gig and about the USHL overall – and explain how the opportunity came about?

DC – I worked with the Boston Bruins at their Development Camp this summer for their draft picks and prospects. I really enjoyed working with high level young players who are working to achieve their goals. The USHL is the top development league in the United States. We have 54 players rated to be drafted in the 2015 NHL entry draft, last season 51 players who played in the USHL were drafted including 16 alums. We have players from 13 different countries and over 95% of our players play Division 1 college hockey. My job is to bring the top young players throughout the world to our league. Our primary competition is Major Junior in Canada.  I scout, evaluate and recruit the top young players  throughout North America.

MOI – Obviously there was some great moments both as a player, and coach for you in the UK. Are there any specific highlights that stick out from your time on this side of the pond?

Christiansen and Murph in Riga with Team GB.

Christiansen and Murph in Riga with Team GB.

DC – Coaching the National Team was the biggest honour of my career. It was really special. I loved every minute of it. Domestically, winning the league title in Belfast was the highlight. We had a great team full of great men. They were a pleasure to coach. Coaching in Edinburgh was a great experience. I learned a ton and met some of my best friends in the UK. The Edinburgh teams played so hard and were such great people. We had great characters and we shared some great memories, as well as, some that were not as great. Coaching in Edinburgh was tough but I really have fond memories of working with Scott Neil, Jock Hay and everyone involved. Everyone who works with the Capitals truly loves the team.

MOI – Who are some of the best players you coached in your time over here and why? Favourite hockey people you worked with?

DC – Martin Cingel was a real friend in Edinburgh. He is a great family man and helped me through some tough times. Kyle Horne is an absolute beauty. Never a dull moment around him.

Corey Neilson is a much better person than he gets credit for. I loved beating him and he loved beating me. He pushed me to be better. He is a great hockey coach.

Jon Gleed was one of my all-time favourite players, he played the game the way it should be played. Josh Prudden was another player that I think highly of as a man and player.

Jeremy Rebek was an outstanding professional and great leader. Adam Keefe is all heart. Loved coaching him. Robert Dowd is such a good man too. I love how he has embraced Sheffield on and off the ice.

Rob Stewart and Jock Hay were really good friends that I shared a lot of laughs with, and plenty of long bus trips.  I trusted and respected their opinions.

Todd Kelman and I are far closer than people think. We went through a really rough time in Belfast that people have forgotten about. I truly believe leaving Belfast after the 2012-13 season was inevitable for both of us.  I think had 2012-13 never happened, we may still be there.

Christiansen had great success in Belfast. Photo Courtesy - belfastgiants.com

Christiansen had great success in Belfast. Photo Courtesy – belfastgiants.com

Jeff Mason is a class act. Great player. Great person. Frank Doyle is an outstanding man. Mike Hoffman was a true character and leader. He was a big reason we had success in Belfast. We have become good friends and are working together to grow the game in the USA. I think we will have some exciting partnerships in the future.

Of course, Jeff Hutchins is my best friend in the UK. He should be getting credit for the success of Paul Swindlehurst. Too few British players try to apply their craft outside of Britain, and Hutch helped develop Swindlehurst from an EPL player to a player at an NHL Rookie Camp. He deserves a ton of credit.

MOI – As a league the EIHL is always looking for ways to enhance the fan experience and help grow the game – are there any things that you think the EIHL could do to make hockey bigger over here?

DC – The league needs to identify standards that are mandatory. The league has grown tremendously. The quality of hockey is better than ever. The EIHL needs full-time employees with no ties to any teams. It needs someone to hold teams accountable. The problem is that the league teams do not want that. They want to run their business the way that they want to, and not be held accountable. The bar should be set at a level that pushes the game forward and forces teams to adapt.  Having a set level of professionalism across the board will make everyone’s experience in the EIHL better.

People say it is impossible or there is not enough money. They are wrong. There are people everywhere who want to be involved in sports who will do it for less money. The issue is the fact that the league shareholders want to run the league as they see fit. Accountability is a dangerous thing.  The frustrations the fans have with the league, are the same that the coaches and players have. For the game to reach its full potential, the league needs to take the next step and that is an independent league office whose full time job is to grow the league, improve the quality of play and improve the fan experience.

One thing that should be mentioned is how well Belfast engages the community, they’re actually out trying to make it a better city. There is a reason they were in Sports Illustrated with an eight page article. They set a standard not only for the EIHL but for all sports teams. Their work goes unnoticed far too often.

MOI – There always seems to be a few controversies in the EIHL with suspensions and discipline every year. The new Department of Player Safety seems to be moving in the right direction. Do you think it’s a good step forward for the teams and players knowing where they stand on disciplinary decisions with the new system?

DC – 100%. Video evidence, openness is the way to go. The league is far better than it gets credit for. The league can compete with the best leagues in Europe.  The league is held back by the perception that it is a goon league. It is far from a goon league. The best way to tackle that bias is to stop having incidents and punishing offenders.  The concussion trends and litigation in North America will reach Britain sooner rather than later. The EIHL having player safety rules in place is a big step toward that.

Being involved with the USHL has been interesting in seeing how discipline is handled. Every major infraction is reviewed, there are fines for referees getting calls wrong, and fines for teams for not sending in video up to $25,000. Accountability for everyone is important but that can only be done with a non-bias league office.

MOI – You joined me on TV in commentary for the Grand Final last year on Premier Sports – in your opinion is having the EIHL finally on TV consistently a good move for getting new fans out to the games and venues? Did you enjoy the commentary experience?!

DC – I really enjoyed the commentary. It was fun to watch two of my old teams. Of course, it was a bit awkward watching Sheffield but, frankly, I signed that team. They went through a lot and G (Gerad Adams) getting his first title was special for him and the players. The EIHL being on TV is a big step forward. The goal should be more live games and exposure throughout Europe. One major benefit the EIHL has is that it is the NHL of Britain. It is in the biggest cities, and is the highest domestic level. It can get partnerships with companies that can really grow the sport, a full time marketing person for the league would be able to pay for their own salary, while growing the league.

MOI – With your new role – and development of younger players a key point – what do you think UK hockey can do better to give young home-grown players a better chance of playing at higher levels?

DC – British hockey is at a crossroads. It has to decide if it wants to be a country that can compete for Olympic places and Pool A spots. Hockey is exploding throughout the world. Nations like South Korea, Norway and Switzerland put together long term plans for success. They followed those paths and had some bumps in the road. However, the progress is obvious. Switzerland has gone from being a country ranked in the 20’s, to a silver medallist at the World Championships, and an Olympic nation. Norway has done similar things. GB was ranked number 20 in last years rankings. It is getting caught, and passed by other nations that have full time employees. For example, Japan has highly paid full time coaches in charge of development.

Christiansen at home at the rink. Photo Courtesy - IIHF.com

Christiansen at home at the rink. Photo Courtesy – IIHF.com

Great Britain has to decide if it wants to be in a pool with Netherlands, Croatia, Romania etc. or move up. It is not all about dual nationals either. It is about player development at a young age. I truly hope Great Britain takes the next step.  I was disappointed that Ice Hockey UK employed a service to analyse the growth of the game and I was not contacted. Regardless of what people think of me, I was involved in five international tournaments and seven domestic seasons. Any thorough independent investigation would have contacted me even if it was only for a dissenters viewpoint. Hockey is big business throughout the world. Currently, too few overworked shareholders in the success of British hockey prevent the actual growth of the game. The game needs full-time attention. The EIHL needs to decide that international tournaments during the season are more important than a weekend of games. Every EIHL team could take the weekend off, and have the contracts with the players not pay them for the week. For example, the EIHL season is 30 weeks. The league pays the same 30 weeks but players get a 1 week vacation during the Olympic break. Import players would love it. A week in Paris or Rome. British players would be able to spend time with their families or represent their country.  The EIHL and IHUK have to decide what they want British Hockey to be.  There is nothing wrong with being in a group with Romania, but the nation can move up with the right strategic plan. It will take time.  They only way out is to develop and follow a strategic vision.  The rewards will be worth it!

MOI – Any chance we’ll see you around a rink in the UK any-time soon – maybe for a challenge cup junior match in the future between the USHL and a UK all-star team?

DC – I really hope I am back. I have a lot of great friends in the UK, and some fond memories. I am hoping to be back in Edinburgh for the British Open next summer at St. Andrews. I think the UK should look to bring a team of under-20’s to the USA for a tour. I think it would be great exposure for the players to be scouted, as well as, for the players to understand how the game is played here. I think it would be eye opening for them to see 10,700 people watching hockey for players under 20, like what happened last week in Sioux Falls in the USHL.

MOI – Thanks again for coming on to talk hockey Doug, good luck in the new job, and see you hopefully sooner rather than later..

DC – No problem Murph, enjoy the rest of the season over there.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Doug Christiansen is also on twitter: @USHLPlayerDev

A Very Premier Deal!

In case you’ve been abroad this summer – or maybe just out of the UK hockey loop – here’s the official Press Release for the new broadcast deal for the EIHL with Premier Sports TV. I’ll be calling all the action this season…can’t wait to get started September 12th (click here for the fixtures so far). See you at a rink this winter!

Official Release:

RAPID SOLICITORS ELITE LEAGUE/ PREMIER SPORTS Press Release. 

WEDNESDAY 6TH AUGUST 2014

ELITE LEAGUE AND PREMIER SPORTS ANNOUNCE NEW TV DEAL 

The Rapid Solicitors Elite League have renewed their television deal with Premier Sports for the 2014-15 season.

This season’s exclusive deal includes live matches throughout the season, including the playoff semi-finals and final.

Tony Smith, the Elite League’s chairman, said: “It’s fantastic news that we have Premier Sports back with us for next season.”Last season’s deal raised the profile of the sport and it was great to have such live television presence.

“The show was well supported by Elite League fans and well received – and we look forward to working with Premier Sports again.”

Richard Sweeney, CEO of Premier Sports, said: “We are delighted to confirm coverage for next season of the EIHL, which complements our NHL, IIHF and CHL coverage.

“It means over 550 games of ice hockey are shown every season from August through to June.  “It is also great news that the playoff semi-finals will be shown for the first time on television.

“We look forward to working hard with our production partner to further enhance the live shows and, with the launch of free HD streaming for Sky-platform Premier customers, it is exciting times ahead for UK hockey fans.”

The channel has offered a promo code for new subscribers for ice hockey via Sky, yet to subscribe.

For those with Sky they can get their first 2 months for only £5, with no connection fee, to allow them to watch EIHL, NHL, the new Champions Hockey League and the IIHF World Championship. Use the code EIHL2014.

Virgin customers can subscribe for £7.99 per month, directly via the platform.

Visit www.premiersports.tv for more information.

The promo code is valid until the end of August 2014.

T&C’s apply. Visit www.premiersports.tv for more information.

You can follow Murph on Twitter in the upcoming season here: @MurphOnIce

 

The Summer Itch!

It’s always the same for me at this point of the summer. The World Championships are long over, the EIHL Playoff weekend a far away memory, and the Stanley Cup is on a tour around the globe with the Kings’ players and staff.

It’s the time of the summer itch! Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy the time off after hockey finishes. It’s nice to have a look at other sports – I love Wimbledon and the British Open. And, here in Ireland, I enjoy the Gaelic Football and Hurling. But after that month, I start to think about the frozen sights, sounds and smells of my favourite game.

I start to get in the mindset of calling hockey games on TV again, I start to look over rosters and contemplate the various contenders of the leagues I cover. But, most of all, I just miss the game, and the people who work around the greatest sport on earth.

So, to make me a feel a bit better, and to get rid of this itch in my hockey brain, I will have a look back and some highs, lows and strange moments from last season across the Olympics, World Championships and the EIHL.

Moving Up the Ladder

It was the 19th of October and the Cardiff Devils were in Coventry to play the Blaze. It was to be the pilot shoot for Premier Sports EIHL TV coverage. Benn Olson (injured) and I would be calling the game, and to get to the studio we had a strange set-up in the Skydome. Our position was in the corner on top of a coffee shop, and the only way to get up there – a rickety old ladder straight up 30 feet – while carrying a laptop and other notes! Not to mention spectators walking underneath and past the ladder.

Olson and Murph survived to work together on many EIHL and Team GB games last season.

Olson and Murph survived to work together on many EIHL and Team GB games last season.

Olson and I both thought the producer was joking. I let Benn go first of course – he’s a lot bigger than me, and I thought if he survived the climb then I’d be fine! People think TV is glamorous – let me tell you climbing ladders and hanging off a roof top to call a game is more scary than glamorous. It also made bathroom breaks more of a myth than possibility that night. Luckily, we survived to tell the tale – and the EIHL Game of the Week was off and running on a season long journey on Premier.

1-for-3 House Rules, you Kidding Me!?

February in Sochi was an interesting month in my career to say the least. Magnificent and strange rolled into one. Covering the Olympic hockey tournament is an honour and I loved every minute of it. It was a busy time – so not much in the way of a social life over there. I did get out for a pint on a Tuesday evening, and had a “let’s just get out of here” moment. A few colleagues and I stopped in a local cafe for a beer. We were the only non-Russians in the place. We had decided that it would be good to go where the locals go. After ordering two of the local cold ones a bill came that seemed strange. It was certainly more than I had expected. My colleague was a star at converting to the local currency and quickly realized we had been charged for six beers not two. He also foolishly questioned the bartender, who called over his friend who blocked out the sun, and had no neck! He asked if there was a problem in broken English – at this point I sprang into action – said there was no issue and gladly paid for the six while we downed the two. I was never so relieved to get out of a bar. Great fun though – and a life lesson – know the landscape and know the exit strategy!

The heart of a Giant

Giants Captain Adam Keefe is a great leader for his team.

Giants Captain Adam Keefe is a great leader for his team.

I have a huge amount of respect for Giants Captain Adam Keefe. I actually would have felt safe in that Sochi cafe had Keefe been with us! The guy blocks shots, fights, plays the game the right way – and above all else – leads by example. The Giants were magnificent in winning the EIHL title with a month to spare last season – and Keefe was instrumental in that. When it came down to the Playoff Final Weekend though, the Captain in teal was not right. A knee injury was apparent. He could not walk – let alone skate and hit the way he wanted to. I remember rehearsing on set for the Grand Final for Premier Sports that Sunday April 6th, and out of the corner of my eye the Giants arrived and headed into the dressing room area. There was no sign of the Captain. Three minutes later he limped in, straight legged on the injury and strained. His face more hurting than his knee. He knew he would not be a factor. He knew that at this moment when he was needed most, he would not be allowed to exert his will, his leg betraying him. Most players would not put their equipment on. Most would be in a suit and tie. Keefe dressed though, was on the bench for his team in full gear, and shouted encouragement and made himself a part of that Grand Final. Adam Keefe is a warrior, and great leader – an example to all about the respect of the game.

Redemption for the Great Eight

It was sad to see all the bad press that Alex Ovechkin got in Sochi. He had the weight of a nation on his powerful shoulders – and when his team failed to deliver the coveted Gold Medal on home soil – Ovie felt the daggers. I remember calling that Russia versus USA game in Sochi – when TJ Oshie became a shootout legend – but more distinctly I remember Vlad Putin being in a private box up above my commentary position. I remember looking back and seeing his gaze at the Russian team when they lost to the Americans. Fast forward to May 25th – a Sunday in Minsk. Ovechkin and his Russian teammates would play or Gold at the World Championships. I was calling the game for Premier Sports – and I won’t remember the score, and I don’t remember all the finer details of that win over Finland, but I’ll never forget the toothless grin on the face of Alex Ovechkin as he received his Gold Medal. He looked like a man who had just been set free from so much disappointment. He looked like a kid who had rediscovered his love of a game, and at the same time, a man who regained his pride in playing for his country.

Golden Baby, Golden

Murph loved the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi.

Murph loved the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi.

Back to Sochi. For every strange and terrifying moment, I was also given strange and terrifying opportunities! To be informed that I’d be a part of the commentary team for both the Male (Feb. 23) and Female (Feb. 20) Gold Medal games sent my head reeling. I had called ten Olympic games at that point – but to be appointed to the finales of both tournaments was an honour I’ll never forget – or take lightly. As a Canadian – it was a dream come true. But celebration would have to wait, there was a job to do for the Olympic Broadcasting Service – and I had to be impartial, and the most professional preparation had to be completed. Let’s just say I had never been more nervous – but also strangely calm and ready at the same time. I can remember every moment from both of those games. I remember my pride that Canada had won two Gold Medals – but more importantly I remember that I had done my best and really felt great after both calls. I still pinch myself about those few sunny February days along the coast in Sochi – the Bolshoy Ice Dome will forever be one of my favourite places.

I am fortunate that I have many more memories from last hockey season. It was truly an honour to commentate on over 45 TV games across so many different leagues and levels. The above are a few things that stand out both on, and off the ice! Here’s to many more memories ahead, and here’s to the 2014/15 season.

There’s also the excitement over the new European Champions Hockey League. I am proud and humbled to be a part of Premier Sports coverage of this new venture. Check out some of the fixtures here.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and see you at a rink somewhere this winter!

You can follow Murph on Twitter in the upcoming season here: @MurphOnIce

Happy Canada Day!

As a Canadian living abroad – I get a little homesick every July 1st! I have had the pleasure of living in Europe for nine years now – in both London, England and Dublin, Ireland. These are two great cites in two fantastic countries – no doubt about it – world class. But on July 1st I always day-dream about my favourite haunts, and pass times back home, and of course family and friends.

Don’t get me wrong – I am very fortunate living permanently abroad, I make a living working in hockey, covering the game and commentating on domestic UK, and international hockey. I also live in a city with a great musical and sporting culture – and as a ‘Murphy’, Dublin is a great fit. So, in honour of my homeland today I thought I’d share this classic:

Happy Canada Day wherever you’re celebrating. And if you are in Ireland, remember Molson Canadian, Moosehead and Tim Hortons are readily available to all of us who miss home!

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

A Premier look back…

 

Well hockey fans, the UK season is over, and Team GB have finished their World Championship campaign. So, it’s time for Murph to look back at a fantastic first EIHL season on Premier Sports TV! Some hosting, some commentary, interviews, and some of the lighter side from a great year of hockey coverage on National TV.

What a hockey season – and an honour to be a part of the National TV coverage of the EIHL. Thanks for all the feedback and support throughout the year!

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Grand Finale!

EIHL Playoff Championship Game – TV FINAL LINE-UP

APRIL 2, 2014

Premier Sports are delighted to have assembled an expert panel and commentary group for the Elite League playoff final.

The action gets under way this Sunday April 6 from 3pm with an hour-long build-up that will look back on the action from Saturday and look ahead to the big game.

Host and play-by-play commentator Aaron Murphy will be joined for the pre-game show by Cardiff Devils captain Mac Faulkner to preview the big match, and look back at how the teams got there.

Faulkner, who is one of the best players in the league, will bring an elite players’ perspective and analysis for viewers.

Neil Russell will join Faulkner and Murphy before puck drop and will also handle all rink-side interviews and features.

Russell has appeared on several Premier EIHL broadcasts this season and is bringing his unique perspective to the show once again.

Once the game gets under way, Murphy will be joined in the commentary booth by the Great Britain head coach Doug Christiansen.

Christiansen’s close familiarity and scouting of all the players in the EIHL will be a huge asset to the show.

Christiansen will also help analyse the game with an expert coaching view and knowledge of all the teams this season, as well as looking ahead to GB’s World Championship tournament that will feature on Premier from 20th to 26th April.

“I’m excited to get this game going,” Murphy said. “What a group of knowledgeable hockey people we’ve assembled for the big final, viewers are in for a treat.

“This is a huge game and we wanted to have the best experts available for the show, so I’m really looking forward to working with Mac, Neil and Doug.”

Richard Webb, operations manager of Premier Sports, said: “We are really looking forward to covering our first Elite League final.

“We are on air for over four hours with a host of features, highlights and, of course, every beat of what should be an enthralling encounter in front of over 6,000 passionate fans.”

To sign up to Premier Sports – your Home of Hockey – then please visit www.premiersports.tv.

Premier Sports is available on SKY channel 428, Virgin Media 551 and via the Premier Player at www.premierplayer.tv.

An Olympic Experience

Have you ever had one of those moments when you pinch yourself – just to make sure that the situation you find yourself in is real?

Have you ever looked around and thought ‘whoa am I really here doing this‘?!

I had many of those moments in Sochi – a few moments that I’ll never forget on an incredible Olympic journey.

Murph in Sochi Olympic Park!

Murph in Sochi Olympic Park!

As a Canadian I have always enjoyed watching best-on-best hockey – whether it be the old Canada Cup, the World Championships, the World Cup of Hockey etc. But when the NHL became involved in the Olympics back in 1998 in Nagano – my interest – and the interest of millions became even greater when it came to international hockey. The very best in the world on one stage – the grandest of stages – the Olympics was a recipe for unrivalled levels of competition for the greatest game on the planet.

Past Memories

I remember my heart break as Canada failed to medal in Nagano. I remember where I was – who I was with – and I remember how impressed I was with Czech goalie Domink Hasek, and his poise at the very highest level of intense competition, to knock Canada out of Gold Medal contention.

I also remember everything about four years later when Canada and the USA played for Gold in Salt Lake City. I remember how great the hockey was – and how the NHL was showcasing it’s brand, and players on a scale unimaginable before their Olympic commitment, of shutting down the league every four years to participate. I remember thinking it couldn’t get any better!

Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi played host to the Gold Medal Hockey games.

Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi played host to the Gold Medal Hockey games.

I could go on about Torino – and the joy for Mats Sundin and Henrik Lundqvist – winning Gold for Sweden over bitter rivals Finland – and the celebration that reverberated throughout their homeland. How could you not again marvel in the brilliance of Vancouver – where once again Canada and the USA renewed hostilities for Gold – and a guy named Crosby jumped into history with a home soil overtime goal. A goal that sent the entire nation into frenzy and celebration!

Throughout all of these magic moments (and plenty more throughout the preliminary rounds and knock out stages of the Olympic hockey tournaments mentioned), I never once considered it could get better. I never once even contemplated that the hockey, and joy of watching the Olympics could get higher.

I was wrong. I discovered recently throughout my Sochi experience, that there was another level. An entirely different level of elation and amazement for our game.

New Realities

I will never forget commentating on the USA against Russia. T.J. Oshie and the ice in his veins in the shootout win – his heroics didn’t seem to faze, or trouble him as the pressure rose with each new attempt. I will never forget the look of frustration on the faces of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin as they realized they were bested by the Americans.

Caroline Ouellette captained Canada to Gold.

Caroline Ouellette captained Canada to Gold.

A moment in time – Canada against the USA in Women’s hockey – for all the marbles – Gold on the line – Canada trailing and yet somehow, some way, the ‘Hockey Gods’ smiled and Canada forced overtime against an American team that had looked invincible in that finale. But there was the never ending desire to win by Marie-Philip Poulin – her Golden Goal at 8:10 of overtime launching Canada to another level. I was in shock and forgot for a second that I still had to commentate! What a game – unreal.

The Canadian men’s captain had been much maligned for his less that super numbers throughout Sochi. Ridiculous talk sprung up throughout the media about Sidney Crosby’s lacklustre tournament. Well, I will never forget commentating on his breakaway goal against Henrik Lundqvist as he put Canada up 2-0 over Sweden – and Mike Babcock’s side never looked back in capturing Gold in Russia. It was a hockey clinic. Three zone domination like I have never seen. I was at times not sure that I was actually seeing what I was commentating on – a sublime performance from what could be considered the finest men’s hockey team ever assembled.

Murph's view for the men's Gold Medal game in Sochi.

Murph’s view for the men’s Gold Medal game in Sochi.

All of the above were surreal – pinch myself – I hope I’m not dreaming moments. I have been lucky in my career to cover three Stanley Cups, World Championships, Olympic Qualifiers, and plenty of domestic hockey. And for all of those experiences I am grateful. For Sochi I am grateful of the opportunity – but somewhere deep down – some days I still have to shake my head, and wonder if I was actually a part of something like that. Something that I had always watched and marvelled at from afar – something that seemed like a dream to be a part of.

For Sochi I will always be indebted – because Sochi and the 2014 Olympics taught me that if you work hard, and have passion for something – then dreams really can come true.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Big Mac

The UK Elite League is filled with skilled guys on the ice, and great, charitable people off the ice, and these folks make you happy and appreciative to be around hockey in every way.

One of those guys is Mac Faulkner of the Cardiff Devils. Many people around the EIHL will tell you he’s the best all-around player in the league. Others will say that there is no better leader – and that Mac is the total package as a captain. He’s also one of the players that gives back off the ice – and always has time for a chat with a fan or an autograph. He’s one of my favourite people to talk hockey with at the rink – and I was lucky to interview him recently.

Faulkner has been a brilliant performer for the Devils. Photo Courtesy - cardiffdevils.com

Faulkner has been a brilliant performer for the Devils. Photo Courtesy – cardiffdevils.com

Enjoy my one-on-one chat with Mac Faulkner here:

Murph On Ice – Thanks for taking the time to join me on the website Mac.

Mac Faulkner – No problem Murph, thanks for having me on.

MOI - You have had 5 great years playing over here in Europe – what are the biggest differences between your time playing in Italy and now playing in the UK?

MF – In comparing the two leagues I would say that there are a few differences but in general the leagues are fairly similar. Many of the same players I played with, and against in Italy, Ling, Fata, Marsh, Blight, and Henrich are now playing here. I would say that the UK may be a slightly more physical league. My first year in Italy when some teams had 10-12 imports maybe Italy was a slightly deeper league. I think I may be splitting hairs here, in general I would say that both leagues would be competitive with each other, as evidenced by a hard fought, and close game between Nottingham and Asiago in the Continental Cup this season.

MOI – This has been an up and down year for your club – with plenty of well documented moves on and off the ice. As a leader in the dressing room – how have you approached keeping the guys focused and together to just concentrate on hockey?

MF – It’s not as much of a “me” as it is a “we”.  There are many variables that are out of our control as players, such as injuries to Dan LaCosta, and coaching changes. We have a lot of guys who have experience, and this has helped keep our team on an even keel. As players you can only control how you play, how much you enjoy the game, and how you treat each other. Each guy has stayed very positive, and come to the rink ready to work and play hard, and that’s a testament to the quality of people we have on our roster.

MOI There appears to be a little more parity throughout the EIHL this season, with any team capable of an upset on any given night. How surprised are you at the league standings at this point, and some of the results this season?

MF – There is definitely more parity in the league this season, but to be honest I’m not overly surprised. The south is always going to be ultra-competitive, but the organisations in the north have good hockey people running them. You knew Finner was going to do a good job in Braehead, and Todd and Danny in Fife, and Clouts in Hull have put together teams that have the ability to win night in night out.  Dustin Sproat, a former teammate and friend gave me the heads up on Dan Bakala early in the season. This isn’t a flash in the pan, he’s a very good goalie. With him in net, and players like Kashirsky, who won an ECHL championship last year, and Rawlyk, Dundee has a very balanced team. We haven’t played Edinburgh in a while, but they play very well at Murrayfield and can catch you sleeping on some nights. With all that said, it makes it more fun to play as a player. Each game requires preparation, effort and execution to give yourself the opportunity to win, there are no easy games. This is what makes for good hockey for the players and fans, and it should be interesting down the stretch to see how it all plays out.

MOI – Belfast have really stayed consistent and are off to a big lead at the top of the table – do you think that they can be caught by anyone as there’s plenty of hockey left to play?

Faulkner and the Devils need a strong finish to their season. Photo Courtesy - cardiffdevils.com

Faulkner and the Devils need a strong finish to their season. Photo Courtesy – cardiffdevils.com

MF – Tough to say.  Without doubt they are playing very good hockey. They are well coached, are balanced and play a consistent game supporting each other all over the ice.  It will be tough for any team to catch them down the stretch. One added component, and this is not to take anything away from their season so far, but they have stayed healthy.  In any league where you play 60-70 games, the team who tops the league at year en, will tend to have many key factors to their success, and staying healthy would be one of them.

We have the opportunity to play them in the semi’s of the Challenge Cup.  If you’re going to beat a team like Belfast you have to play a disciplined, 60 minute game and limit your turnovers.  We are looking forward to the challenge, and to show the league and ourselves that we are better than the outcomes of last weekend.

MOI – What are your goals as a club for the remainder of this season?

MF – Fairly straight forward.  We’re in the Challenge Cup semi’s and one goal is to win that Cup. The other is to have a strong rest of the season. Obviously we want to finish as high in the standings as possible, but as importantly we want to be playing the right kind of hockey, so that when the playoffs roll around, we are prepared to compete and play at the level required to get to the finals in Nottingham, and have success there as well.

MOI – Who is the toughest competitor you’ve faced this season and why?

MF – Marshy (Tyson Marsh).  Every day in practice he battles. Best player in our league in my opinion. Runs our PP and is one of the top scoring defencemen, plays 25-30 minutes a night, plays against the other team’s top lines, first out on the PK and fights when needed.  We are lucky to have him in Cardiff. Our league has lots of very good players. I could go on about guys off each team who push you to work every night if you are going to have any success against them.

MOI – Off the ice you are a big part of the community in Cardiff. Tell us about some of the wonderful charities that the Devils, and yourself are proud to be a part of.

MF – I’ve really enjoyed working with Hockey Players 4 Kids, and this year Jamie Elson and the Devils Community Foundation have worked with us and supported our efforts.  Over Christmas we were able to donate to 3 local hospitals and Ty Hafan.  Our fans and the CDRA were huge in fundraising enough that enabled us to buy the presents for all the children. What has been great is all the guys jumping on board from our team. Blighter and Marshy are now each running literacy programs in local schools and Ben Davies, Plumton, Morissette are working with me in a few other schools.  It has been a blast and I can’t thank the guys enough for their time and effort.

MOI – The hockey community in the UK is a tight group – lots of players I speak with love the atmosphere and passion around the EIHL. Do you agree, and do you see yourself playing over here for many seasons to come?

MF – This is a great league filled with good players and people, and I couldn’t agree more with you.  In terms of hockey, I take it year by year.  I still enjoy coming to the rink every day and trying to get better as a team and as a player.  You never know what path lies ahead, but I would love to play as long as I can.

MOI – Thanks again Mac, and good luck the rest of the way.

MF – Cheers Murph.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Answering the Bell!!

So it finally caught up to me! Benn Olson of the Coventry Blaze and I had a bit of a feud going over my refusal to wear a bow tie that he had given me as a gift. Olson had presented me the tie on a live Premier Sports broadcast – and I was supposed to wear on a follow up game. I didn’t think I could pull it off and Olson was a bit annoyed with me! Here’s the result:

So it’s not everyday you come out of retirement and kit up to go to-to-toe with one of the toughest guys in the UK Elite League! I’m pretty happy to be around to tell the tale and share the video evidence! Big thanks to Benn for being such a great sport, and for showing that hockey players the world over are great guys.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce