The Inferno Interview Ben Bowns
Ben Bowns has signed on the line for his third term as the Devils net-minder. A product of the Sheffield Scimitars youth programme, Bowns has established himself firmly as a Devil and last year was the top Elite league goalie with a save percentage of .918 and the EIHL best Goals Against Average of 2.50. Picking up awards for 'British Netminder of the Year' (for the second year running), 'British Player of the Year', 'EIHL Netminder Of The Year' and he placed on the 'Elite All-Star First Team'. Add to this a World Championships silver medal and the Erhardt Conference Championship, securing his services for another year at the Devils is a massive boost for the club. Ben kindly took some time out of his off-season to answer some questions for us.
The-Inferno - You're back for another season! We're guessing the experience in Cardiff is still pretty good?
Ben Bowns - The experience in Cardiff is still pretty awesome yeah! It’s more evident than ever that it’s the best place to play in the EIHL by a long shot. We have the best fans, the best owners, by far the best city and now we have a great rink too…nowhere else in the league has that to offer so when the Devils told me they wanted me back it was a no brainer for myself and Jade. The way you get treated is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and you literally have nothing else to worry about apart from your performance in training and games. I know Sheffield fans like to claim that I’m a ‘Sheffield boy’ & a ‘Steeler at heart’, I’m as much of Steeler as I am a Vancouver Canuck! As far as I’m concerned, Cardiff is my home right now and as long as the Devils want me here, I will be here if my plans are to stay in the EIHL.
The-Inferno - So we finally made the move from the BBT into IAW, was it much of a challenge for you adapting to the bigger ice and different surroundings?
Ben Bowns - I personally think IAW makes it easier to play and train. Don’t get me wrong I LOVED the BBT, the atmosphere on game night had to be experienced to be believed but when you turned up every morning for training especially during the height of winter where we get so much of that traditional welsh weather (rain) and the rink was freezing, damp and dirty it was hard to look forward to going in to the rink. The lighting wasn’t great, the ice was grey instead of white and the end that I trained at always had a big draft blowing through from the zamboni pit and fire doors so any time I had to stand around a little during a drill I lost all the heat in my legs and had to fight to get it back and get moving properly again. Now the rink is new, the rink is clean, the ice is white, the ice is smooth (most of the time) and the lighting is really bright! It means that you wake up everyday looking forward to everything about training knowing that you’re going to pleasant place. Tracking the puck is way easier due to the bright lights & with the white ice, the ice is smoother so its a lot easier to move or slide on and what people don’t realise is that the big ice pad gives me a little more time to react to shots or more time to get across my net on passes. So all in all I think IAW is an easier place to play than the BBT and doesn’t take anywhere near as much out of you as the tent did.
The-Inferno - The last time we spoke to you, you mentioned finding quite a difference between the conferences. Last season it seemed that the majority of teams put out pretty good teams! Does it feel like the league is improving?
Ben Bowns - You can still tell a big difference in terms of intensity when you play the opposite conference but I think with the quality of players in that conference last year that drop in intensity made them harder to play against than teams in our conference sometimes. I think anyone looking at the EIHL from any angle can see straight away how much it’s improved over the past few years although last season was a different level to any other league campaign I’ve ever experienced, there wasn’t one game where we got to the rink and thought ‘Yeah, we’re gunna do this easy’, every night you had to turn up and be at your best if you wanted to win.
The-Inferno - But we've also seen an increase in the number of imports for both the EIHL and the EPL this offseason... Do you think this will ultimately end up hurting British player development? Particularly for netminders?
Ben Bowns - I think the import limit is too high in the Elite right now for sure BUT I also think that the league’s hands are tied to a certain extent because the NIHL and the EPL quite simply aren’t doing their jobs in terms of developing their players to a standard that they can reach that next level and then when players do reach that level, rather than their EPL team helping that player get an EIHL contract and talking to teams for them or even pushing them to make the jump they offer that player more money than any Elite team could to start with. At the same time though that player still has the choice to reject an EPL offer and to play at Elite level for less money but we rarely see players doing that now. To give you an idea when I moved to Hull I went for £250/week in my offer and had 3 offers from the same EPL club of £400, £500 and then finally £600/week each time I rejected the offer in order to make the jump. Now I was smart enough to do that but a lot of young players now just see the money and get too excited about it so end up staying in the EPL.
As for the goalies, the import limit being raised in the EPL should’ve resulted in a ban on import goalies in my opinion in that league and the NIHL, however now you’re down to just 3 British starters in that league I believe which is scary! If they were to split the brit and import 50/50 in games over 6the season and have the import mentor the brit then that would be a great idea but unfortunately the import goalies in the EPL are likely to play 95% of their teams games, unfortunately that means that the Brit goalies won’t be able to try out what they’ve learned in a game situation.
The-Inferno - When we last spoke the National Goaltending Programme had been put on the sidelines for various reasons, is there any update on that? Or are you still working with Dan Brabon with the players based in Cardiff?
Ben Bowns - As far as I know the EIHA coaching program was stripped down AGAIN and new people put in charge, I don’t if who that is has been made public but the people who are in charge have a much greater knowledge and a less arrogant approach than the previous set up and I hope they manage to get everything sorted and set up because I feel that if they are taken seriously then they will actually improve hockey in the UK. As for me I don’t have the time during the season to really focus on anything like so as like last year, myself and Dan both work with the Cardiff Junior goalies as well as trying to run my personal clinics whenever we get chance in the school holidays when it’s out of season.
The-Inferno - You played in an absolute boatload of games for both the Devils and Team GB last season, the offseason must not come soon enough after 74 games?
Ben Bowns - It was nice for the first weekend to not have to go through all the stress of a game but after that one weekend I started to miss hockey and all the guys like hell! Although I don’t miss the feeling I had on a Monday morning after a tough weekend towards the end of the season where I just felt drained, tired and a little stiff. Now I’m past the first 4 week phase of my training program I’m feeling nice and strong again, my posture is better and my hips are a lot looser so I’m looking forward to getting back from my holiday and getting back in the gym on the second phase of my training program.
The-Inferno - It's been mentioned that you're off to Canada again this summer, will this be to work with the same coaches as last time? How helpful has this opportunity been?
Ben Bowns - Yeah I’m off to Calgary to stay with Steve and then Brian at the end of July and I’m going to be working with David Marcoux again who is absolutely awesome in what he does. I haven’t got the exact schedule yet for this year but I’m pretty certain it’ll be even better than last year from what I’ve been told.
The-Inferno - We were so, so close to winning the lot last season but ultimately fell short. How much does that spur you and the team on for the upcoming campaign?
Ben Bowns - Massively!! But at the same time you have to put that to the back of your head, if you think about for too much then it’ll turn into a negative thought process and you’ll start believing we can’t hold on to anything? I’m pretty sure Lordo will keep whoever he feels he should and bring in whoever he feels is necessary to help push us over the finish line in the position we want to be in next season.
The-Inferno - There was a little bit of a panic when you were spotted in the new Bauer pads that weren't in Devils colours! Can you give those of us who don't play a bit of an idea how the new kit compares to the old one?
Ben Bowns - Haha…yeah it was quite amusing getting messages and receiving or seeing tweets about me in the yellow pads. I was talking to Evan Mosey quite a bit after our GB game in Nottingham about it all and he was saying that the panthers media guy was pushing the rumour by posting a picture of Evan with myself behind him, in the yellow pads and bang in front of a panthers logo. I think that was a great little sneaky move by him and I have to admit that I love it when teams’ media outlets do little things like that.
The story behind those pads was that my CCM pads broke down really badly after just 3 months of the season last year and I couldn’t risk playing in CCM gear again next season as the quality had dropped massively since I started wearing their kit 4 season ago. At the same time I didn’t want to jump into kit I hadn’t tried before, Bauer UK were kind enough to send me the pads to try out and even though they were 2” smaller than what I’m used to, I liked them that much that I wore them for GB instead of my CCM gear.
The actual kit is so much lighter than the pads I wore previously and when sliding along the ice, they seem a lot faster and smoother. The weight difference will make a massive difference in energy expenditure in a game and together throughout the season that will be huge for myself and also benefit the team because in theory I should be able to maintain my energy more efficiently each game.
The-Inferno - It felt like after losing Marsh to concussion during the season we lost that stay-at-home D-man and had a lot of defenders joining the rush! Is that alarming as a netminder, or do you just hunker down and hope they can move quicker on the way back?
Ben Bowns - I think defence had to join the rush last season, a lot of teams did that. The speed was so much quicker and defences were more mobile that by having a D-man jump into the rush it gave that quick advantage of having an extra attacker and out numbering the opposition defence. I never felt like we allowed too many odd man rushes against us to be honest and when we did, we had the D-men that were more than capable of coping with those attacks. I do want to slightly alter our approach when defending odd man rushes next season but I’ll take that up with my D-men when we go into training camp.
The-Inferno - Mike Will has signed elsewhere for the coming season and we've got Tom Murdy as your backup. How do you see the role of the backup netminders in the EIHL?
Ben Bowns - I think the move for Mike will be really great for him in my opinion providing he works hard and sticks to it but I’ll not go into too much detail as I don’t think his team have announced him just yet. It was awesome playing with Willsy for the two season and living with him in the first year meant I got to know him pretty well so I hope we will and I’m pretty sure that we will stay in touch a lot as we became really good friends.
As for Murdy, well I think Devils fans are in for a real treat when they get to see him, he’s one of the best goalies technically I have ever seen and that includes NHL goalies! I know that might sound mental that a British goalie is better technically than some NHL goalies but not every NHL has a sound technique, they just adapted to other ways of making saves and being unreal. His movement makes him like lightning and I hope to learn a thing or two off him to help myself improve my movement (so no pressure there Mad Dog!). Not only that but I consider Murdy as one of my best friends within hockey and I can’t wait to team up with him for a full season!!
As for the roll of back ups in the EIHL then I think it depends solely on who the team signs. I don’t expect to play as many games this season because Murdy is extremely capable, especially when his confidence is sky high whereas other teams won’t have the luxury of having a capable back up like us so their back ups role will be very limited. I do think that last year the league was better than ever in that department where back ups could win you games or you knew they’d go in and give your team a chance which is all that you can ask of a goalie. BUT there were still teams that didn’t put any thought and tried to get the cheapest guy they could or not pay them at all and just have someone who they knew would never play and just sat on their bench. For example look at Manchester last season when Kalemba got ‘kicked out’ in Cardiff but then didn’t get kicked out, that was one of the craziest and most embarrassing scenes I’ve witnessed in my time in British hockey. Not on Kalemba’s part or their back up’s but on them refusing to put their back up in. You can’t blame the back up goalies for wanting to be a part of an EIHL team, I’d jump at that chance too but I think that was pretty disrespectful to a guy that has put that much time and probably spent a lot of money into being at your club all year whether thats training sessions or games.
The-Inferno - We've gone from playing Coventry Blaze each and every offseason, to playing KHL, Oberliga, Extraliga and the Blaze! Does this effect how you'll be preparing?
Ben Bowns - I don’t personally see anything wrong with playing the Blaze but I can understand from a fans point of view that you have to watch them in excess of 12 times if we play them pre-season which is crazy. However, how can you not get excited about the pre-season games this year. I think that they’re going to be a great set of games and I really hope that Devils fans pack the rink and show the teams coming in just how great our fan base is.
The-Inferno - Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us again, is there anything we've missed or you'd like to add?
Ben Bowns - As players we can only apologise for how we as a team finished the season. It doesn’t matter what injuries we had that impacted us like they did but it doesn’t make it any easier to us or the fans to bow out like we did. Frankly, it was embarrassing.
However, I think it should be seen as a learning curve not just for us players but also for the staff at the club and the fans. I think that the club endured bad years for so long that the first year (where, if we’re honest, we over achieved), seemed even better than it actually was and rightly so, it set an expectation that I think the club met in terms of recruitment last season. However, for me the positivity around our club, around the players and around the fans disappeared after the first few month of the season. I think the club developed a more frustrated and negative feel which to me isn’t the Cardiff Devils, we have to be as one, from the players to the backroom staff to the owners and to the fans. If we are to compete with the teams in our league we have to be as one big beating heart and last year that ‘one big family feel’ and the typical Cardiff Devils feel of everyone is in it together seemed to disappear...that was disappointing.
I think as a group of players next season we need to bring you guys back together as one and give you the team that you deserve for a full year and make you guys proud again, let how last season ended burn away so that when we win something it feels even better!
You guys are the reason we won the Challenge Cup two years ago, you guys are the reason why we were the only team to play in every single game we possibly could all year right through to the POFW and again next season you will be the reason why we do so well, so we will need you again! I think next year will be an awesome year and I have no doubt that it’ll be a roller coaster ride again but it’s going to be worth it. I say it every year but I love the city, I love our fans, I love the owners, I love my team and I love my club, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now and I can’t wait to win something else in Devils colours again!
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