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

The Bow Tie Incident!

I have to say working with Benn Olson on the Premier Sports Elite Ice Hockey League inaugural live broadcast was a fantastic honour. Olson was a great analyst and really showed his love and knowledge of his sport. He also stepped out of his comfort zone and did a great job on LIVE national television!

What viewers and myself probably didn’t realize before the game was what a stylish dresser Olson was! You probably don’t think that one of the toughest guys in the EIHL would be a bow tie fan! See what happened at the end of the first broadcast!!

Well, not sure I can pull off a bow tie on future broadcasts – but also not sure I want Olson following up on his promise! Tune into the EIHL on Premier Sports to see what happens. Enjoy your hockey weekend wherever you’re watching!

To subscribe to Premier Sports visit www.premiersports.tv.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

A Premier Deal!

ELITE LEAGUE ANNOUNCES TV DEAL WITH PREMIER SPORTS

The Rapid Solicitors Elite League are delighted to announce they have secured a live television deal with Premier Sports.

The new exclusive deal includes a live game once a week on a Saturday night and also involves coverage of the play-offs.

Coverage, which will be fronted by Aaron Murphy, begins on Saturday 23rd November 2013 at the Skydome as Coventry Blaze host Belfast Giants (7pm).

The EIHL will be live on TV from November 23rd!

The EIHL will be live on TV from November 23rd!

It takes the amount of ice hockey on Premier Sports to 45 hours per week.

Elite League chairman, Tony Smith, said: “The Elite League is thrilled to have live coverage on UK television.

“We would like to thank Premier Sports for joining us as a media partner to provide this fantastic coverage for supporters.

“We hope that fans support the commitment and investment from Premier Sports into the Elite League.

“The league believes this will help grow our fan base across the UK and Ireland.”

Richard Sweeney, general manager of Premier Sports, said: “We are delighted to be able to support UK ice hockey by covering the Elite League.

“With 15 games a week from the NHL, NHL Tonight and now a primetime Saturday evening game of the week from the UK, we can now officially say to fans that we are your home for hockey in the UK.”

Games will be available on Sky channel 428, Virgin channel 551 and around the world via the Premier Player (www.premierplayer.tv).

ABOUT THE COMMENTARY TEAM

Aaron Murphy joins the Premier Sports team once again to host and do play-by-play on the EIHL Game of the Week.

He was the lead commentator for Premier Sports’ Team GB coverage at the 2013 World Championship in Budapest.

Benn Olson & Murph will call the 1st game on Premier Sports!

Benn Olson & Murph will call the 1st game on Premier Sports!

He has covered NHL, KHL and the EIHL in his career. Aaron will be joined by a different expert each week to add local flavour to broadcasts.

ABOUT PREMIER SPORTS

Premier Sports operates on Sky channel 428 and Virgin Media channel 551 in the UK and is also available online via www.premierplayer.tv.

It launched in 2010 offering viewers in the UK an opportunity to receive wall-to-wall coverage of their number one sport.

Its current portfolio is made up of over 1,000 live events per year and includes rugby league for the UK and Australia, ice hockey, motorsports and South American football.

To subscribe to Premier Sports visit www.premiersports.tv.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

NHL Pride and Punching

It’s a fantastic time of year for all hockey fans. Global leagues are up and running, rinks are buzzing with the whispers of the game – and the NHL is back – and oh what a start to the season it has been.

But, the debate that won’t go away is once again on the lips of most ‘experts’, the debate about the ‘barbaric’ act of dropping the gloves and fighting in the NHL. Does it belong in the top league? Does it have a place anywhere in the game in any league?index

It’s a debate that walks a fine line. There’s the camp that stands by the belief that fighting keeps the ‘rats’ and ‘head-hunters’ in their boxes, the belief that they would run amok without the fear of a good belting.  This camp points to self-policing, and singles out grease balls the hockey world over, who run around slashing, high-sticking, taking liberties, and talking trash to stars in all leagues. We know these players…they exist everywhere…and yes sometimes they are deterred by the presence of a true heavyweight on the ice.

There’s also the side that believes that the ‘code’ is a thing of the past, and that fighting needs to disappear as the game evolves at all levels. This camp points to the excellent hockey played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (where fighting disappears and is almost non-existent), or the Olympics where the best compete without any pugilism. This group also believes that ‘staged’ fighting, where two well-known heavyweights are predestined to drop them with little to no provocation, has no place in the sport.

So who is right in this murky mist?

I would have to say that I truly believe that fighting is a part of hockey and indeed should be. I don’t like the ‘staged’ nonsense, but I believe in self-policing (in the EIHL for example, I believe that the players know far more about the game than most of the officials, thus it is an important aspect to control the trouble makers). I also believe that in the NHL, a guy like Milan Lucic is a player of fantastic skill, toughness, physicality, and yes, he answers the bell with a passion that can frighten and intimidate an opponent. He embraces the excellence of all things we like about the game when played properly. It’s one of the reasons the Boston Bruins have a recent Stanley Cup, and two Cup Final appearances in three years.

I can speak about this subject with some experience. I have been in more than a few fights on the ice…going all the way back to junior…and it was always something I didn’t mind participating in…I have a missing tooth and a past broken nose to prove it…not to mention the bad knuckle and wonky finger.

I’m not someone preaching on this either way with little to no experience. I have been around the game professionally in my broadcasting career from EIHL to NHL, Olympic Qualifiers and World Championships – with plenty of levels in between. The point is that when I have talked to people in the know on my travels through this hockey life, 75% will tell you that fighting is a part of the glorious game we all love.

You don’t need to be influenced either way by me – but what is your take on fighting?

Future NHL Hall-of-Famer Jarome Iginla has fought throughout his 530 goal career:

I decided that I would poll some people who deserve huge respect in any level of hockey – I asked if they believed that there was a place for fighting and why. The people I spoke with have played the game, and work within the game…and I believe that their opinions carry major weight.

One of my favourite broadcasting colleagues over the years has to be the one and only Barry Melrose. A former NHL player, coach, and of course now a TV personality, Melrose was a tough honest player in his day. He is one of the most frank and passionate NHL voices in the game. I spoke with him about the debate.

“Fighting belongs in hockey and should stay. It is a tool to intimidate or to stop your team from being intimidated.” Melrose told me,“It is a tool, and can be used to change the momentum of a game. Best of all it is exciting as hell. No one leaves a game during a fight.”

I also asked Belfast Giants General Manager Todd Kelman (who is also a former player), his thoughts. He is considered one of the top hockey minds in the UK game, and is an influential executive in growing the sport.

“Fighting is a necessary evil in our sport. It keeps players honest, and without it I believe you would see a lot more stick work, or dirty hits. I am not a fan of two heavyweights going into a game knowing they will have to fight, but when it happens in the heat of the game and is situational, I think it is fine.” Kelman said,“A lot of people don’t understand it, but it has always been a part of hockey, and I think it helps self-police the game. Not many minor leagues have the technology and man power to review every game and assess suspensions for things after they happen.  And in my time, I have seen a lot more people get injured from a dirty hit, a bad slash or a cross check than I have seen get hurt in a fight.”

I have a lot of time and respect for Adam Keefe. He’s the captain of the Belfast Giants, and pound-for-pound one of the toughest guys in the EIHL. He’s also no stranger to dropping the gloves, and has had plenty of big tilts in his career. I chatted with Keefe to get insight from a guy that makes a living with the occasional scrap, and asked him if fighting should be dropped.

“If you took fighting out of the sport there would be a big increase in dirty hits and stick play from players, solely because there would be no deterrent or repercussions for their actions. I think instead of fights as retaliation, you would see a dirty hit matched with another dirty hit, or illegal stick work.” Keefe stated, “There are many more hockey injuries resulting from an illegal hit or dirty stick play as opposed to fisticuffs. However I do agree that staged fights do have a limited place to none in todays game.”

Take it for what it’s worth, a lot of good hockey people who make a living in the sport still think that fighting has a place. It’s an issue that won’t change over night, and certainly will continue to create much dialogue and debate. Hockey is a hard-nosed game, and fighting for the moment is still a big part of the fastest, toughest game on the planet. No one likes to see an incident like Geroge Parros getting injured last week in Montreal, I don’t think anyone enjoys that, but it’s a physical game and injuries happen. Parros himself has stated as much. Let’s enjoy the speed, skill and intensity – including the odd fight once in a while.

What’s your take on this?! As always comments and questions are appreciated! Enjoy your hockey weekend wherever you’ll be watching.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Welcome Back!

It has indeed been a wonderful summer. I hope you have enjoyed your off-season. I was fortunate enough to be in Boston to cover Stanley Cup Final games three and four back in June – not a bad way to kick off the sunny months!

Since then it has been a whirlwind for me. I have been to Newfoundland to see my family, and I have moved from London to Dublin, but now that the summer is drawing to a close, it’s time to concentrate on my favorite thing – HOCKEY!

I started to ease back into covering the fastest game on earth, with a few summer interviews with guys who will be very important to their respective clubs. I had the pleasure of chatting with new Cardiff Devils goalie Dan LaCosta back in July after his signing was announced. LaCosta is a fellow Newfoundlander, and a former NHL player, and I knew that chat would be a good one. He’s a real competitor, and true professional – they’ll love him at the ‘Big Blue Tent’.

It's a new season in Belfast - and the Giants are ready to get going.

It’s a new season in Belfast – and the Giants are ready to get going.

In August, I spoke to one of the fiercest guys in the EIHL, and one of the finest leaders on any team – Adam Keefe. I have a lot of respect for the Belfast Giants Captain – he plays the game at a fast, hard-nosed pace – and is always there for his teammates. Pound for pound, probably the toughest guy around.

Now, as I look forward to the start of the 2013/14 UK Elite League season, I cannot contain my excitement! I will be calling Belfast Giants home games this year for Giants Live TV. I started last weekend (August 31-September 1) with two exhibition games against the Bolzano Foxes. Not many ‘experts’ or onlookers gave the Giants much of a hope against the Foxes who will play in the Austrian League this season, but co-commentator Simon Kitchen and I got to cover two wins for the men in teal (6-3 Saturday, 2-1 in OT Sunday).

The Bolzano coach is Tom Pokel – who is also the Italian National Team coach. I met Pokel in Budapest when I was calling the Team GB games over there at the World Championships for Premier Sports TV. Pokel’s Italian side won the Gold in Hungary, and he is a fantastic bench-boss – and a great measure of what new Belfast coach Paul Adey was up against in that exhibition series. I spoke with Adey after both wins, and he was thrilled at the effort of his club, and pleased with how his lines had looked throughout the weekend.

Well, exhibition game are just that – exhibitions! But things are always easier to gauge when you’re winning – and from my perspective in the commentary box, Giants fans should be happy as they start the journey this Saturday at home against Edinburgh.

Some things that really caught my eye – the Calvin Elfring pairing alongside Cody Brookwell. Elfring was an offensive force against Bolzano – dangerous on every shift. Brookwell was rock solid, and Elfring knew he was free to roam as his partner would be backing him up defensively.

The Giants had 2 impressive wins over Bolzano in exhibition play.

The Giants had 2 impressive wins over Bolzano in exhibition play.

Dustin Whitecotton on a line with Colin Shields and Jeffrey Szwez – this trio looked at times like they could take over the game! Whitecotton was the ‘Man-of-the-Match’ last Saturday after the Giants 6-3 victory. He’s so strong on the puck, makes intelligent passes, and never seems to be out of position. He could be a fan favorite at the Odyssey without a doubt. Szwez has that easy skating stride that looks as if he’s taking his time, but then all of a sudden he’s past a defender and it’s panic stations for the opposition. Long, smooth strides that kind of reminded me of a hockey god – Mario Lemieux! Colin Shields was also magnificent – and his power-play goal on Saturday in the second period can be described as an absolute rocket – the guy can shoot the puck. All in all, a fantastic trio that will have the rest of the EIHL worried.

Hockey can be like that – we see the goals – we see the big hits – we see the more noticeable attributes. But, something I was equally impressed with last weekend was the partnership between David Phillips and his brother Kevin. If Elfring and Brookwell are going to be able to play big minutes and frustrate teams, then Adey needs that brother pairing on the blue-line to be solid, and play important minutes too. He got exactly that against Bolzano. I would venture to say that the Phillips brothers were unsung heroes in the pair of wins. They made no mistakes, were always in position, and did the little things right all weekend. Davey was also very physical, and he had several big hits, and came to the aid of teammates on a few occasions.

I could go on and on, but the point is this – the Belfast Giants looked very good against a team that was supposed to be better than them. They looked like a team that has cohesion, and understanding of what their new coach expects from them – they look like a team that will contend and battle for trophies throughout the upcoming campaign.

And I am very grateful to be a part of that campaign! I’m really looking forward to calling regular season action at the Odyssey throughout the year, and am certainly in the mode after the two exhibition games. Tune into Giants Live TV – drop me a tweet with a question or comment and I’ll try and mention it on air! After all, hockey is supposed to be fun – the EIHL is accessible and interactive – and we get it all going this Saturday!

Enjoy all the action wherever you are, and whoever you’re cheering for. I look forward to hearing from you.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Face-off – Adam Keefe

You have to respect the players of the EIHL. Most of them are good guys, who are approachable for the fans and media alike. I have been fortunate to interview some of these great characters, and there’s none better than Adam Keefe.

The guy is the heart and soul of the Belfast Giants, who hits, fights, blocks shots, and chips in timely goals.  In a phrase, he’s a ‘coach’s dream.’ I caught up with Adam recently, enjoy our 1-on-1 chat here:

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

Adam Keefe – No problem Murph, anytime.

MOI – The past few seasons in Belfast have been very successful for you and the club. What have you been doing training wise this summer to get ready for a big year for the Giants, with new players and a new coach?

Adam Keefe will suit up again for the Giants. Photo Courtesy - belfastgiants.com

Adam Keefe will suit up again for the Giants. Photo Courtesy – belfastgiants.com

AK – Belfast takes pride in being a competitive team for every championship available, that is one of the reasons I came to Belfast. We have been fortunate these last two seasons to have a team that was a contender for all trophies and we look to continue that this season. On a personal level this summer I have spent it like any other summer,  getting back into top form for the end of August. I do most of my off season training on my own in a local gym and getting on the ice anytime I can. In today’s game everyone must train hard in the off-season or the game will pass you by very quickly.

MOI – With Coach Adey coming in to take over behind the bench, what expectations do you have for yourself and for the entire club going forward?

AK – I think everyone is excited and ready to get the ball rolling in this new Giants era with Paul Adey taking over as new bench boss. I expect everyone will have something to prove all over again as Paul has not seen many of us play I’m sure. So, I expect everyone will show up to training camp in top shape and ready to battle for titles.

MOI – Losing players, and new guys coming in is part of the business in the EIHL. Losing Craig Peacock will be tough, but who are some of the new Belfast players you’re looking forward to working with and why?

AK – I think for the most part we are used to the big turnover of players from year to year, but anytime you lose one of the top British forwards in the game in Craig Peacock, it’s a big blow to the teams depth. I think Todd Kelman and Paul have done a great job recruiting some quality guys to replace the guys we have lost from last season. I believe we still have three import forwards to sign before the season gets on its way and I have total confidence that we will get the right guys for the job. I’m excited to work with all the new guys next year but I can’t say they would be excited to play with me unless they like to chase down high flips and handle passes in their feet!

MOI – There’s been a lot of interesting signings across the league, which team do you feel has improved the most this off-season and why?

Adam Keefe is a fan favourite in Belfast. Photo Courtesy - OHL Alumni

Adam Keefe is a fan favourite in Belfast. Photo Courtesy – OHL Alumni

AK – I have followed through twitter a bit on who other teams have signed and what kind of teams are being built, I have been impressed with Coventry and Cardiff’s signings so far and I think they will be a force to reckon with next season. As always I’m sure Nottingham and Sheffield will be among the top teams and I’m very interested to see if the Scottish teams and Hull can pick up where they left off last season. I felt near the end of the season any team could beat any team on any night and that’s the competitive league we are all looking for.

MOI – Nottingham are coming off a fantastic year, do you think that they are still the main competition standing in the Giants way for a league title?

AK – Nottingham is always in the way of a title championship, but I think this season there will be a lot more teams in it until the end. Should be an exciting season.

MOI – You had a good working relationship with Doug Christiansen during his time in Belfast. Will it be weird to see him behind the Steelers bench, and will those Sheffield matches be extra special games on the calendar for you?

AK – It will be weird to see Doug on the Steelers bench for sure, but hockey is a business and sometimes these things happen. I know Doug will have Sheffield ready to play every night regardless if it’s against us or any other team. I expect the games with Sheffield to have a little added excitement to them, but like the last two seasons we will have to get through them to get to a title.

MOI – Belfast fans are some of the best in the league, was the city and the fan-base a big reason why you decided to come back for another season in Northern Ireland?

AK – I love Belfast as a city and as an organization, the city and the fans bleed passion and there isn’t a better feeling then stepping onto the Odyssey ice every weekend in front of those fans. That’s why I decided to come back to Belfast.

MOI – Your brand of tough hockey is well respected by all associated with the EIHL, who are some of the guys that you are looking forward to battling against this season and why?

AK – The league seems to have gotten a little bit tougher again this season already, I’m not looking forward to battling anyone in particular, but am looking forward to battling them all night in and night out. I’m sure my trips to Cardiff and Coventry will be entertaining as always.

MOI – And finally, change can be good, and there’s been plenty in Belfast. Are you as excited this season to get back to business at the Odyssey as you have been in the past and why?

AK – I’m really excited to get back to Belfast and get back to work, the sting from losing last season is still there. I think all the returning players are coming back with that same feeling and we know the new players will be coming with one thing in mind, and that’s winning championships.

MOI – Thanks again for coming on to talk hockey Keefer, see you in September.

AK – No problem Murph, enjoy the rest of your summer.

The 2013/14 Elite League season kicks off on Saturday September 7th! You can check out Adam and the Giants, and all the teams in action from then, as they chase the League Title, and a spot in the EIHL Playoff Final Weekend.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce

Face-Off – Dan LaCosta

The off-season has been a busy time for most of the UK Elite League’s clubs. The Cardiff Devils have been one of the most active teams throughout the summer. The backroom staff have been doing a great job of recruiting at all positions, and none more important than in the crease!images

I had the pleasure recently of catching up with new Devils’ goalie Dan LaCosta. He brings a wealth of experience to Cardiff Bay, including successful stops in the OHL, Canadian University hockey, the AHL and NHL. He’s also a fellow Newfoundlander, so I was excited about this particular interview!

Enjoy my 1-on-1 chat with Dan LaCosta here:

Murph On Ice – First off Dan, thanks for taking the time out here in the summer to do this for the website!

Dan LaCosta – No problem Murph, thanks for having me.

MOI – Let’s jump right in! Who were some of your hockey role models and influences growing up and why?

Dan LaCosta brings NHL pedigree to the Devils. Photo Courtesy - thetelgram.com

Dan LaCosta brings NHL pedigree to the Cardiff Devils. Photo Courtesy – thetelegram.com

DL – I really looked up to Mario Lemieux, I just found he was so entertaining to watch and just thought the game at such a higher level than the rest of the players during that era.  Also my father, he was a goaltender as well, like most young boys I think it’s pretty common for them to look up to their dad. He was always a very kind and respectful person, as well as a very hard worker.

MOI – As a goalie, what are some of the most important things you work on in the off-season to get prepared for a new year?

DL – In the off-season I actually try to spend a lot of time away from the rink and enjoy time away from the game with my friends and family.  I live a pretty healthy lifestyle and always try to stay in great shape so that makes getting back into things much easier.  When I am training for hockey I try to just work on explosive and functional movements, I actually train pretty similar to a tennis player would.  I don’t want to get to big and bulky, I need to be athletic and able to move fluidly.  I also do a lot of yoga, I feel it benefits my flexibility, balance, and mental focus.

MOI – What have you heard about the EIHL from other players and insiders? What do you expect once you get between the pipes for Cardiff?

DL – I expect it to be a challenging league, I have heard that it’s very competitive and there’s a lot of parity in the league.  So far the reception I have gotten from the fans has been amazing, I was actually pretty surprised at the fan base.  I have heard a lot of great things about the league, and the level of play was compared to higher end ECHL type of caliber. I have heard Cardiff is an awesome place to play, and I can’t wait to play in front of the Cardiff fans for the first time!

MOI – What were the main factors for you in deciding to sign on for the Devils this season?

DL – Honestly the deciding factor was both getting the opportunity to do my MBA from an international university, as well as the opportunity for my wife to continue her career as a teacher.  I was set to retire and attend Law school in the fall, but this was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down.

MOI – Gerad Adams is one of the most respected guys in the EIHL, have you spoken much with G, and what has he told you about the team and the expectations for the upcoming campaign?

DL – I haven’t spoken with him much, but we have exchanged a few e-mails.  He seems like he will be a great teammate and I have heard he’s very well respected by the players on the team as well.  Everyone I have spoken with has the expectation for the team to be strong next season, and compete for a championship.

MOI – The ‘Big Blue Tent’ in Cardiff is one of the toughest places for visiting teams in the EIHL. What have you heard about the BBT?!

DL – The Big Blue Tent is the arena!?  I actually thought it was a beer tent (laughs)!  I heard that Cardiff’s fans are very loud, and it is an intimidating place to play as a visiting team.  As a player there’s nothing better than having a great home fan base and an exciting atmosphere to play in.

MOI – Tell Cardiff fans what they can expect from Dan LaCosta in goal once the puck drops in a few months?

LaCosta had a great AHL career for the Syracuse Crunch. Photo Courtesy - syracuse.com

LaCosta had a great AHL career for the Syracuse Crunch. Photo Courtesy – syracuse.com

DL – All I can say to the fans is that I am going to come to Cardiff and work and prepare as best I can to help the team win as many games as possible.

MOI – You are an experienced guy with NHL games under your belt, what’s been your most memorable career highlight thus far?

DL – It’s a tie between my first NHL start/win, and winning a national championship with my university team at UNB last season.  My first NHL win versus San Jose was obviously a great moment, I worked my whole life to experience that and it’s every young goalie’s dream.  The National Championship with UNB was very special as well, it was the first championship I had won in a long time, and I was very close with my teammates there which made it even more special.

MOI – And finally, Cardiff fans are some of the most passionate and loyal in the entire league! Have you heard much from the ‘Red Army’ since your deal was announced?

DL – Well, once the team announced they signed me I had about 400-500 more twitter followers within a few days after the announcement.  I was blown away, but also very excited.  All I have heard is that the fans are great, and are very loyal supporters of the team.

MOI – Thanks again Dan, it was a pleasure, looking forward to seeing you play at the BBT!

DL – Thanks, Murph, see you in Cardiff.

The 2013/14 Elite League season kicks off on Saturday September 7th! You can check out Dan LaCosta and his Devils, and all the teams in action from then, as they chase the League Title, and a spot in the EIHL Playoff Final Weekend.

You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce