Read on to check out our interviews.
With Nottingham’s Brit contingent widely regarded as the best in the league we caught up with the youngest of the full squad, forward Josh Ward, who has impressed over recent seasons after summer camps at Corey Neilson’s training school in the USA. We spoke to Josh after the Panther’s semi-final victory over the Cardiff Devils about Corey, David Ling and the possibility of a Grand Slam.
As one of the youngest players on the team, what advice would you give to aspiring hockey players?
Make sure you work hard, that’s the biggest thing. If you have a goal to play at a high level then make sure you keep that goal and keep working until you reach it.
What’s it like working for Corey Neilson?
It’s fantastic. I’m obviously very grateful for the opportunity that Corey gives me every time I get to go on the ice. I’ve been around Corey in the Nottingham set up from a very early age so it’s been nice to see Nottingham grow as a hockey team as well as with Corey being the coach, so it’s been good.
What are your plans next year, or for the next few years?
I’d hope to be in and around Nottingham as much as I can. It’s a great city, fantastic fans, and I’ve played my junior hockey here so it’s obviously the team I always aspired to play for. As well we’ve got the success we’re having now so it would be good to continue that.
With all the great imports we’ve had this season, what’s one of the most difficult things about getting on the ice with them?
You know, possibly just the nerves. You’re playing with a guy like David Ling who’s played in the NHL and the experience he’s had you just want to play well for him and you want to do a good job, but you know those guys are so experienced and talented they make it very easy for young guys like myself to step up and play a part.
After reaching the milestone of a first league title in over 50 years, we’re now one game away from a treble…
…the old Grand Slam as they call it.
…how’s the general mood in the camp?
It’s very calm actually for what we’re about to be part of I think. You know, obviously guys are thinking about [it]. I’m sure the celebrations if and hopefully when it happens will be good.
We grabbed ex-Panther and guest of the Elite League Kevin Bergin for a quick Q&A during the second semi-final between Belfast and Coventry. Kevin has been over in France after leaving the Nottingham Panthers at the end of the 2009-10 season and had become a fan favourite for his work rate, physical presence and willingness to drop the gloves with some heavyweight enforcers.
Hi Kevin, great to see you again. What’s it like to be back in Nottingham?
It’s always a good feeling to walk back in here, all the fans still recognise you, walking down the street, into the building, it’s a packed house, the atmosphere, it’s always special.
Would you consider playing the UK if there was an opportunity?
Well of course, I enjoyed my time, especially here at Panthers. It’s a great league, lots of fun and I would never say a bad thing about England and if I ever had an opportunity to come back I’d be happy.
How do you rate the Panthers team this year?
They have a good PK, K-Wall’s been outstanding. They’ve been solid all year, I’ve been following on the Elite League show and watching the highlights so my money would be on them to win tomorrow.
Who would you say has been your outstanding player?
Well David Ling obviously has brought a lot more than just his goals, his assists. He’s an experienced player, he’s brought grit, I’ve seen the highlights against Sheffield and everybody wants to kill him so he gets people off their game, so it’s not only the amount of points he’s brought. He’s the kind of player like Bruce Richardson but a little more skills.
What are your plans for next season?
I don’t know yet. Right now I’m a free agent.
So if Corey Neilson calls…
I’m a free agent and we’ll see what happens. Right now I’m a tied up in France with a French girl so right now the first option might be to go back to France but I’d never keep the door shut to any offers.
Having been a welcome user of the live updates service provided by Jono and The Cats Whiskers it was certainly a shame to hear he might not be continuing and alarming to find out about the abusive comments directed to his team over the season. We all know you can't please everyone all the time but there's little room for detractors when you're offering a valuable, yet free, service to people all over the world.
We were honoured that Jono gave up some of his valuable beer drinking time on the morning of the play off finals to chat with us.
FREEQ: Everyone wants to know. Live updates for next season?
JONO: I’m not doing them. There will probably be live updates but someone else will do them. Nobody’s contacted me yet, but I’ve had enough.
FREEQ: It must take away a lot of enjoyment of the games?
JONO: It has yea. I did the game against Sheffield where I didn’t do it this season and that brought it home how much of the games I was missing so I decided to knock it on the head, so I can get my enjoyment back more than anything. I have enjoyed doing it and it has been great but it’s time to stop.
FREEQ: And no-one’s contacted you from the club to carry it on?
JONO: No they haven’t. What I would really love to do is audio commentary like at Sheffield because then you can watch the game and comment on it, you don’t miss anything. If the club would allow me to do that I’d love to speak to them about it.
FREEQ: If Nottingham were to get past Hull who would you prefer in the final?
JONO: I think I’d prefer Cardiff in the final, simply because Belfast are such a good side and so packed full of talent. No disrespect to Cardiff but I think Belfast would pose a bigger threat.
FREEQ: You’ll be back next year and renewing your season ticket enjoying games without the distraction of live updates?
JONO: Yea I will. I’m renewing. The Cats Whiskers site will still continue and I’ll still be doing articles on that. What I pledge to do each weekend I will do a page and say where updates will be where they can updates on twitter or where there is audio or commentary so people can still come to The Cats Whiskers website and there will be a link to whatever coverage is available.
Visit http://tcwfanzine.wordpress.com/ for more from Jono and The Cats Whiskers team.
Player Coach of the Nottingham Panthers Corey Neilson blames all the other teams in the league as the reason Nottingham again failed to win the elusive league title the fans crave.
In the press conference following his team’s 10-3 demolition of Hull Stingrays in the playoff semi final he was drawn into answering questions about the failure to mount a sustained title challenge and in an astonishing outburst he criticised other teams for not showing up against the likes of Sheffield Steelers while suggesting other teams always try and beat Nottingham.
He even said that losing to Coventry was ‘depressing’ and that “every time someone plays against us it’s like game seven Stanley Cup playoffs” before adding “I’m sure somebody will lynch me for saying these things.”
Who that ‘someone’ will be is up to you to decide. Maybe the media, maybe the GM, maybe the fans, but the frustration was clear to see: “Each and every game we’ve lost we’ve played good hockey. It’s not our fault Sheffield goes in and gets more points than us in a game. They were not good and I don’t mind saying that. Teams can fall asleep against them.
“They start Woolhouse and [win] games 2-1 in overtime. Every game we played it was a war because teams want to beat us, probably because I say these stupid things all the time.
“Each and every game was tough. Each and every night was tough for Belfast, I’m not taking any credit away from them; they were amazing. In those tight games we lost at home, I thought those [Belfast games] were the two pivotal games of the season; head to head we didn’t get it done. It wasn’t because they were miles better, it wasn’t because they weren’t better, they were good games and they found a way and we didn’t and during the season we lost to Coventry too which was depressing.
We asked Corey if he would be around next season to which he replied “who knows”.
Maybe another trophy at the play off finals could convince him to return and finally ‘finish the business’ in the league.
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