South Yorkshireman Ben Bowns looked certain to win the Elite League trophy with his Cardiff Devils team, last season.
But the Welsh ran out of steam and the championship was hi-jacked by his ‘local’ club, Sheffield Steelers.
Great Britain goalie Bowns has since re-signed for Devils - the only club he says to have invested in his talents - and is now determined to prize the crown off Steelers’ head.
The 25-year-old Swinton man spent nine seasons in Sheffield’s hockey programme, ending with the Steeldogs in 2011-12.
Many Steelers - including coach Paul Thompson - find it incredible he never starred for his home club. Today Bowns talks in detail about his career and future.
Question: Devils seemed odds-on to win a trophy or two last season. What went wrong?
Answer: To be honest it has been the most frustrating season I’ve ever played in my life, it was a roller coaster that didn’t end how we wanted. To be in front all that time and then lose it on the last week of the season was gutting. From a personal standpoint on my playing performances, I had my best season and now I have to focus on doing what I can to build on that and go up another level.
Q: Does your club feel you threw the League away rather than Steelers won it?
A: It would be easy for me to agree with that given how we feel down here. But it would be unjust to Steelers. They did enough to win the league title. If you don’t want to give Steelers the credit they deserve then yes, you can make that claim but it would be massively unfair. They did everything they needed to win, adapted better than others and were more consistent. We lost confidence at the crucial point and it cost us the title.
Q: Will Cardiff being an even stronger next season in the new rink?
A: We will definitely learn from last year and the new rink will help that. Other teams say the Big Blue Tent was an advantage for us because visitors had to ‘adapt’ to the smaller ice but you could argue that they only had to play on our small ice a maximum of 10 times. Flip that argument then you could say that we had to ‘adapt’ to the larger pads 30 times as a minimum so we were at more of a disadvantage. But we aren’t a team or club that makes excuses. It doesn’t matter what size the pad is you have to win!
Our new rink will definitely be a boost and make us stronger. I used to get excited for games at the BBT but turning up for training in the winter in typical Welsh rain meant that sometimes it was hard to look forward to training. The rink was damp and cold and hard to warm up in before training. The new rink is all nice and new, it’s dry, clean, it’s bright and the dressing room is awesome. So now I look forward to training every time I wake up, not just the games. Our rink is the only arena in the league that has a full bowl of seats (all the way around the pad) so when you play in front of our sell-out crowds it is unbelievable.
Q: How settled are you in Wales?
A: Re-signing was a no brainer because it’s the club with the most ambition. The ownership group is unbelievable, me and my girlfriend love the city, we live on the edge of Cardiff Bay so you wake up and it feels like you’re on holiday! The other massive reason is that Cardiff is the ONLY club that has invested in me ever and I think they’re the only club in Britain that will continue to do that. When a club treats you like Cardiff do then it’d be a bad decision to move away.
Q: Who was the best EIHL goalie last year?
Miika Wiikman by far. He’s extremely good technically and probably the only goalie where if I conceded two goals I fear we’d lose because he’s so good. In the big games he raised his play even more. When you combine that with the defence that Nottingham had in the Challenge Cup and Play off finals, he was almost unbeatable. Although he puts added pressure on me by being so stingy on allowing few goals, I look forward to playing against him knowing I’m going up against a goalie that (NHL apart) is one of the best European goalies around.
Stewart in Coventry was awesome again, Holt (Braehead) was brilliant as well as Fulton being solid when he went to Braehead, Murphy (Belfast) was as good as ever even though he came off a year lay off due to injury, Lakosil (Dundee) was unorthodox; on his best nights was almost unbeatable, Koenig in the playoffs was solid, Brown (Fife) was extremely good in the second half of the season, Kalemba (Manchester) had to cope with almost a non-existent defence at times because they were so offensively minded - he was underrated due to the high scores in their games.