Welcome to the 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice – where we bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds around!

Murph had the pleasure of chatting with an English National League goalie, an avid hockey advocate in the UK, and writer for Pucks Across the Pond. Enjoy his interview with Rob McGregor.

Rob McGregor plays in the English National League South Division 1 for Milton Keynes Thunder. This is his first season with Milton Keynes, having previously spent two years with the Peterborough Islanders. @RobMcGregor35

Murph On Ice – Great to talk to you Rob, thanks for taking the time to join me here on the website!

Rob McGregor – My pleasure Murph, thanks for getting in touch!

MOI – Playing in a good developmental league here in the UK like the English National League, what do you think is the toughest thing you face as a goalie with so many guys trying to get noticed and move up to the EPL and EIHL?

Rob McGregor tends goal for the ENL's MK Thunder.

RM – I guess it’s no different in ENL to a lot of goalies in other leagues – there’s always going to be someone else looking for a spot. Most teams will carry 15-18 skaters, give or take, but there are only maybe two or three goaltending slots so competition can be much higher. Plus there are always young guys coming out of junior hockey looking to make the move to senior level, as well as the odd veteran winding down.

MOI – How did you get started playing, any inspirations or heroes when you were younger – and why did you want to be a goalie?

RM – I’m actually a bit of an anomaly in that I did not start playing until quite late – meaning I did not play junior hockey. I learnt the position whilst playing rec hockey and attending some goalie schools run by former Great Britain netminder Joe Watkins. I was also lucky enough to get some tuition from local pros like James Moore and former Great Britain junior goalie Euan King. As for inspirations; as a Colorado Avalanche fan Patrick Roy was naturally something of a hero of mine. I also loved watching Finnish goaltender Pasi Raitenan playing for the Peterborough Pirates in the British National League. I think it was watching Pasi play that inspired me to play in goal, he had such a unique style and an amazing ability to just stop the puck. Even now there are those guys I look to though – Tim Thomas is something of a hero of mine too.

MOI – The Thunder are a proud team, and well supported in Milton Keynes – what are the fans like for your home games, and what could an outsider like me expect on a game night there?

RM – Milton Keynes has really embraced ice hockey. Dating back to the Milton Keynes Kings right up to today with the Thunder and Premier League Milton Keynes Lightning, the town seems to love the sport and our fans are passionate about it. It’s great to have a set of supporters that gets behind the team like that and enjoys their hockey.

MOI – The Elite League is the top flight here in the UK – how’s the feeling amongst the players in the ENL that a good season there could have them on the radar for the big clubs?

RM – I think for most ENL players the next step is probably the Premier League, as the majority of ENL clubs have an EPL club immediately above them, or in close proximity geographically. That’s not to say there are not opportunities however, and you only need to look at a setup like Cardiff where there is an ENL and EIHL team. Players like Ben Davies and Luke Piggott have graduated from the ENL side to play for the Elite League outfit, and I think that’s a major string to the bow for the Devils ENL side when recruiting players. I think some folk look down on the ENL occasionally, but the league has really moved forward over the past couple of seasons and I think that is a trend that will continue. Seeing guys like Piggott and Davies progress to Elite League level, as well as players such as Richard Bentham and Robbie Brown move up to the EPL, should show people that there is some real talent in this league. Netminder Matt Colclough has also made the jump this year, moving from Isle of Wight to Basingstoke in the EPL and it sounds like he has been doing pretty well for the Bison. Clearly there are people with the talent; they just need the opportunity.

MOI – Can you tell us some of the guys you’ve faced this season or played with in Milton Keynes that UK hockey fans should keep an eye out for in the future? Any guys you could see with a future in the EIHL?

RM – As we’ve said, a couple of guys are already in the mix with EPL and EIHL clubs. We mentioned Luke Piggott, who has represented the Cardiff Devils in the Elite League several times this season. Guys like Chris Hart could also be in the frame to move up within the Devils organisation one day.  Andrew Melachrino really impressed me for Slough’s ENL side this season, and his performances have earnt him a shot with the Premier League team which is great to see. The Florey brothers have a bright future as well I think. Jake has played for Thunder all season, and has really impressed me with his composure and consistency this year for a young lad of 16. His brother Josh has also just joined Thunder after Oxford folded. He’s always impressed me as well and I am glad to have him on board! It’s all about that word again – opportunity! Give some of these guys a chance to shine and they’ll take it.

MOI – And finally Rob, how are the Thunder doing this season – and what can MK fans expect the rest of the way from you guys?

RM – We’ve made a solid start to the season. We have beaten defending champions Isle of Wight twice and pushed other top teams like Cardiff and Invicta close – so the ability to compete with the top clubs is there. But we’ve also had a couple of off nights. Consistency will be key now we’re in to the second half of the season. We’re 6th right now, and I’m confident we can remain in the play-off places. If we knuckle down and work hard I think we can hold our place in 6th, then see what the play-offs bring us!

MOI – Thanks again Rob, good luck the rest of the way, and I’ll see you in Milton Keynes for a game soon.

RM – Thanks for having me Murph! Take care.

“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he continues to bring insight from the greatest hockey minds around.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

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