Manchester Phoenix trio head to Estonia with GB sledge hockey team
Manchester Phoenix sledge hockey captain Karl Nicholson, goaltender Steve Midghall and Rob Allan have been selected in the Great Britain squad for a three-game series against Estonia in Tallinn.
The games are part of Team GB's preparations for the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship B-Pool in March, which takes place in Nagano, Japan, the host city of the 1998 Winter Paralympic Games.
In addition to the competitive three-game series, which gets underway on Friday 22 February, British and Estonian players will take part in sessions with injured personnel from the host country's defence forces to introduce them to the sport.
Nicholson is one of Great Britain's most experienced players, along with fellow Nagano veteran Ian Warner of the Yorkshire-based Kingston Kestrels. He is also one of the national team's main attacking threats, possessing speed, skill and a powerful shot.
Midghall, meanwhile, has only been playing sledge hockey for around eight months. Nevertheless, his rapid progress has impressed Team GB coach Andy Linton, who selected the goalie for the New Year's Cup in Russia in January and has tipped him to become a "key player" for the Paralympic team.
Allan is another rookie who Linton believes has the potential to become a top international. A familiar face to many Phoenix fans as a penalty box attendant on match nights, he is a relentless competitor who embraces the physical side of this full contact sport.
Manchester Phoenix sledge hockey coach Pete Hagan said everyone at the club was "immensely proud" to have three representatives in the GB party travelling to Estonia.
"We have our captain, Karl, who has done it all pretty much in the sport and is an integral part of the national team, the Phoenix and the growth of the sport. Despite his experience and presence, he is still so approachable and willing to help out anyone – a great person to have on any team," he told CT Sport.
"Rob's progress has been amazing to watch. From the first time he sat in a sledge to where he is now is remarkable. He has such a passion for the game and deserves all the success he has had and in the future; a great example for any new player and what they can achieve when they put their mind to it.
"And if any more inspiration was needed then Steve Midghall is a prime example. Like Rob, he had never played the game and within a matter of months had made an impression with the GB setup and made the squad; a real inspiration.
"All the players on the Phoenix are really putting in the work, with a new session at Widnes on Tuesday nights, 8:45pm-9:45pm, they are hitting the ice twice a week and hopefully that will improve our success this season in the league and help those GB players in preparation for the road to Sochi 2014. Everyone associated with the Manchester Phoenix will be wishing the GB squad all the best in their Estonia trip and beyond."
Team GB's trip to Estonia was set up after discussions between British Sledge Hockey Association chairman Matt Lloyd and Britain's ambassador to Tallinn, Chris Holtby, about the power of sport to make a difference.
"Estonia is a team that GB have played on a very regular basis with matches being competitive and played in the true Paralympic spirit," Lloyd said.
"We see this as the start of an international development programme, which will benefit not only both countries elite programmes but provide inspiration and opportunities at all levels of our sport."
Sledge hockey was developed in Sweden in the 1960s. Players are strapped into a sledge fitted with a blade and propel themselves across the ice at high speed using two sticks in a style similar to skiing. The sticks are also used to control, pass and shoot the puck. Because players are strapped into a sledge, everyone plays with the same restrictions regardless of whether or not they have a disability.
The rules are the same as ice hockey with a few small variations to allow for the differences in equipment. For example, penalties are served on the ice rather than in the penalty box.
The GB sledge hockey programme receives no central funding and the squad is currently raising money to support their bid to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Donations can be made here.
For more information on the Manchester Phoenix sledge hockey team, which is open to both able bodied and disabled players, contact Pete Hagan on 0161 301 6848 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Andy Jowett
Pic: Grant King/5holephotography.co.uk