Danny Meyers – September 2011

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Danny Meyers joined Panthers from Bracknell Bees, moving North with then coach Mike Ellis. Becoming captain in the 2008/09 season, he has gone on to lift two Challenge Cups and a Play-Off Championship.
He lives in Nottingham with his wife and two young sons.
Danny spoke to Cat’s Whiskers editor Jono Bullard straight after the open training & autograph signing session on Thursday September 1st
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First question will be one that every Panthers fan wants the answer to. How is the shoulder and when is it going to better?
I’m sure that people won’t believe me when I say this but I genuinely don’t know how long it’s going to be. Literally all I do at the moment is skate, I don’t touch pucks or anything like that. My day consists of getting to practice an hour before everyone, working with Scott Poundall. What he does is massages my shoulder and stretches it out because although the range I have at the moment is strong, but when it goes further it will be weak, so what we’re trying to do now is extend the shoulder so I work on the weak bits. So the day starts off with Poundy making me cry in the morning then I start doing my strength work. The guys then start to arrive so while they’re on the ice I’ll jump on the bike for 30-45 minutes and I’ll the take to the ice for the last 30 minutes where Mr Strachan and his happy whistle skate me for the rest of the practice and then back into the gym afterwards. Right now it’s a case of taking it step by step because with me not doing any puck work it’s hard for me to anticipate when I’ll be back, what I do know is when I will be back it’s going to be properly fixed.

Have you set a date for your return?
I have a date in my mind. Corey doesn’t know about it, my physio doesn’t know about it, not even my wife knows about it! If I start telling people a date I’ll give myself added pressure to get to that date. Funnily enough the date that I have I actually think I might be a little bit before given the progress that I’ve made which has been excellent, I’m really, really pleased, especially when I’ve had surgery when you wonder if it will ever get better.
I can’t lie, I have had fear playing for two or three seasons. I didn’t want people to know how bad my shoulder was, especially the other players in the league. I was in a bad way, my wife would have to roll me out of bed every day, I haven’t slept on my right hand side for over four years now. When I saw the surgeon he said ‘it’s really stupid what you’ve done’. It dawned on me then and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it in the off season and I think I’ve got to be smarter now, which I am doing, I’m taking those steps now.

As Captain, how difficult will it be for you seeing the guys on the ice while you are on the sidelines?
I think it’s easier now. I was originally supposed to have the surgery in January, the surgeon said ‘we have to get you in straight away’ when I saw him in December. However at the time we were going through a rough patch, K-Wall (Craig Kowalski) was injured. Anyone who knows me knows that this team and my team-mates mean an awful lot to me and I just figured that I’d played with it so long why not continue playing? I spoke to Corey and Gary (Moran) about it and the decision was made that if I could continue I would. At that time I wasn’t ready to step away from the team and I would have found it incredibly difficult to watch from the sidelines.
The good thing is that this season I’ve been able to prepare for this, I knew I wasn’t going to be starting. The surgeon told me that this surgery means I can’t play contact for six month, I had the surgery on May 20th so that would take me to November 20th, so I knew I was going to be out for a long time, I knew that it was a major operation so I was able to get my head around it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been tough this past weekend in Belfast but I still felt I could contribute on the bench with Marcus Maynard and Marc Levers being new to the defensive role I was able to offer advice and also advise the other guys too. It always helps when the team is playing well and I thought we were exceptional this weekend. I have no doubt that it’s going to get tougher now that these are proper league games now but I’m mentally prepared for it now so I’m OK about it.

Moving on to this season, we’ve had a lot of the core back from last season and all of the Brits. How do you think we’re going to do?
Like any other year, you look at our roster and expectations are high, and so they should be. It is a little bit different this year and I suppose I should be saying that to fans in order to promote the team, but it is actually different in regard to the training and the off-ice, it’s a lot more professional. It’s not just guys being told by Scott Poundall that they have to go for a run or ride the bike, they’re actually doing it by themselves which we’ve never really had before. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been professional off the ice but I just feel the players that we’ve brought in and the players from last year who are looking to excel again are taking care of themselves a lot more. Scott Poundall, our physio, has managed to strike a deal with NRG Fuel where we’ve got a lot of protein. I guess to some people that doesn’t mean a lot but to a player it does because of your recovery, especially if you’re playing on a Saturday. If you have a 7 o’clock face-off, by the time you’ve played the game and eaten it’s late when you get home, you can’t always fall asleep straight away because you’re still kind of wired so it can be tough, especially if you’re on the road the next day.
I can’t predict how this team is going to be, it would be wrong of me to say ‘this is the year’ and stuff like that, I don’t have any right to say that, I’ve never won the Elite League so what right do I have to say we’ve got the team to do it? Until you’ve won it I really don’t think you can say something like that. Having said all that I do feel really confident in our team, I like the way we’ve got an enormous amount of speed and the commitment so far has been top notch and really encouraging.

How important is it to have in an Elite League team a decent core of British players? In my opinion we have the best in the country, what do you think?
I think we have the best in the country. Maybe I’m biased there but I look at our depth and I don’t see a team that has better Brits than ours. I don’t really want to name teams but there are some who will struggle this year purely because they don’t have strong enough British players. It’s no fault of their own but unfortunately for the bottom five teams are always going to be bottom five because they don’t have the best Brits. You can bring imports in year after year, but British players you can’t just pluck out of the air. It’s great that we’ve been able to stick together and we all have the continuing goal of winning this league, being successful and representing this club. I know I’m the spokesperson as Captain of the club, but everyone does deeply care. In sport these days there seem to be less attachment between fans and players, especially in football, but I still like to think that hockey still has that where there is an affiliation between fans and players, it’s not just some guy kissing the shirt then handing in a transfer request the next day. We have guys that generally do care, they get banged up and hurt a lot throughout the year. Fans and media don’t know about it because we like to keep it to ourselves, but players care here and the British players certainly do. It’s important that we do because the new imports have to follow our lead, when they arrive in the country they have to see what standard it is on and off the ice and they don’t look any further than the British players, so it’s important that we set the standards for the new imports and tell them what’s expected, and I think every British player does that.

How important is the junior development here at Nottingham considering it has brought through the likes of Robert Lachowicz and Josh Ward. Is the production line there?
I’m quite amazed by this junior development to be honest with you, it’s really very, very good. When I grew up in Bracknell we had nothing like this, I believe here they skate two or three times a week and then have off-ice as well. I had an hour a week until I was fifteen years old, I would have loved the ice time they have here. They continue to bring these players through, we now have Marcus Maynard, last week we had Sam Glossop the goalie who was brilliant. I was watching practice last week with Adam Goodridge and we were laughing because he kept stoning Corey, so we found that quite amusing!
The Nottingham junior development should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done and I hope they continue because the British players have to come from somewhere and right now they seem to be coming from Nottingham so they should be very proud.

Moving on to the league and our inability to win it. How much of that is a millstone around the teams neck? Is there a lot of pressure from not having won the league in so long?
It’s quite unfortunate in a way because the five new guys who’ve come in, it’s not their fault that the Panthers haven’t won the league in fifty odd years or whatever it is. I take my responsibility for the last five seasons but before that I wasn’t here. For me, I haven’t won the league in five years, I know it’s what the fans crave but we have to be sensible here and realise that it’s a little unfair to put it on these guys. We do expect pressure here, we have a fantastic facility, look at the amount of people that have come for the training session tonight, it’s incredible and the new guys were completely blown away when they saw how many people were here. If you’re going to take the adulation you have to be able to take the criticism and the pressure as well and that’s what my father always instilled in me, it’s about finding that even keel. For me, it’s got to a point now where I feel my career rests on this league championship. I feel like if I’m unable to win this then there will be a huge hole in my career that I will look back on with a huge amount of regret, emotionally and physically with my shoulder. I’ve invested a lot into this team and since becoming captain I’ve tried to install a certain kind of attitude and way of thinking in our team. I’m very proud of being captain and I think that’s shown, I’m immensely proud of being captain of such a fantastic club. I came here to be captain, I didn’t come here just to be a fifth or sixth defenceman and leave after the first year, I came here because I wanted to make an impression the first year. I was assistant captain the second year and captain the third year. It was my intention to come here and be captain and win the league, so for me it’s massive.

You mentioned criticism there, three seasons ago in your first year as captain you did seem to take an awful lot of criticism from the fans. Did that affect you in any way?
At first it was tough, I wasn’t used to anything like that. I’d come from Bracknell where I’m the hometown kid, it’s a small club, no matter how bad I played I never got any criticism because of that. It was tough at first. I’ve been captain of every single select team in my life, from conference under 12’s to GB under 20’s so the captaincy was never that big of a deal for me to deal with. But at the time I was the best player on those teams so it was easy to lead by example. What I struggled with here was that I was trying to be the best player for the Panthers as captain and I wasn’t the best player and I’m never going to be the best player on this team. I struggled with my role an awful lot, Corey asked me to play a lot more offensive, which I don’t think I was ready for but despite that I feel I was a good captain, I just didn’t play very well and I didn’t have a good season. It was unfortunate that the fans jumped on my back but more than anything I felt it inspired me, certainly the next season where I was particularly happy with my performance. I think I’ll always look fondly on that season because I felt like I responded in the right way and I feel like since then I’ve really kicked on.

So it came to last season, you’re captain of a team that wins two trophies, you lead by example and you have every right to say ‘that showed them’ Did it feel like that?
No because I don’t play for people who don’t believe in me, I play for people who do believe in me and I’m not looking to be a fans favourite here, I don’t need to be a fans favourite to go to sleep at night. I very much appreciate the support, but if the fans don’t like me and we win, I win because that’s what I want ultimately, I want to win, desperately! If I’m accepted by the fans then that’s even better for me, but the important thing is that they get behind the team. As a captain you are going to have to be a scapegoat, you are going to have to be the guy that when things go wrong they’re going to look at you and there’s going to be times this year when they’re going to turn round and look at me for sure. If we were to have a bad year this year then the onus would be back on me and I accept that, I accept my role that there will be good times and there are going to be bad times. Regardless of whether I’m the fans favourite at this moment or whether I’m the fans pet hate, for me I always have to keep that even keel and keep it professional. I like to protect my team-mates a lot and if it means I’m taking some flak which stays off the rest of the guys, I have no problem with that at all.

Going back to last season, we started off brilliantly and then there’s the incident in Coventry, K-Wall gets injured, you’re injured the next night and then there’s a massive dip in form. Did you ever think in your wildest dreams that at the bottom of that low, we would ever come back and win two trophies?
I can’t sit here and say, ‘yes of course’, we were still in both cups and obviously we had chances of winning both those. I still have regret about last year, I do, the league still bothers me. I’m not trying to take away anything from last year and maybe we should jump on this positive train, but for me I still look back at last year and I’m still a little pissed off about it to be honest with you, because we got off to a great start and we were looking good, really good. We finished great and what we did turned out to be historic, but it still nags me, it still wasn’t right and it still wasn’t good enough. Maybe that’s just my desire of winning this league, still parts of last season really do not sit well with me. Just because we won those two cups I hope it hasn’t covered over the cracks that were there that need addressing and we’re trying to address. It would be easy for us to say ‘we won two cups, everything is great, what a great season’. Was it though? The last four weeks were great, but from late December to February it wasn’t at all. I’m a very positive person but I also like to think I’m realistic as well and those three months were really tough and there were things that were not right at all and I think a change of personnel has been good for this team.

Rick Strachan came in to help Corey out, has that been a positive change?
Personally for me Strachs has been a huge influence on my career. He was my first professional coach when I was sixteen and he took me to Milton Keynes when I was eighteen, I’ve played in Solihull with him and he was my GB national coach so I have a very close relationship with Strach and I know what he brings to this club. I thought he added a huge amount and he took a lot of pressure off Corey. Personally for me I wouldn’t be a player/coach in this league, I just couldn’t do it. It’s an awful lot of pressure, especially at this club it’s incredible.
Corey known as an attacking coach, what do they call it ‘Sexy Neilson Hockey’ or whatever it’s called. Strachs is that old time grind it out kind of guy so the balance worked out well in the end, every so often Strachs will reel it back in.
I’ve seen a great defensive display already in Belfast. We had Dan Green in net and he was outstanding, but at the same time I didn’t feel we gave up that many good scoring chances. The way that we play our defence is a little bit different to others, we kind of allow teams to have possession in our zone which could look like we’re getting dominated, but anyone who knows their hockey and watches how many decent scoring chances we give away, we’re not going to give many away. In the past we’d out-shoot teams 40 to 15 and we’d lose 3-1, many times. We’d have the puck so much and teams would just sit back and seem to counter attack us every single time, we’ve kind of changed things around and it obviously worked for us in the end.

No matter who the players are, who the coach is, the club always seems to have this great start, a lull at Christmas which generally ruins the league chances and then a strong finish. Why?
That’s one of the things that needs addressing. We’ve just got with this strength & conditioning coach who has run a lot of tests on us, tests that the guys and I have never done before. It’s been really interesting and the great thing is everyone seems to have really bought into it. I’m currently on a diet right now because I’m being talked to about body fat and things like that. The things that he’s shown us has been quite remarkable really, they’re going to re-test us in six months and then continue re-testing us, which we haven’t done before. It’s going to show whether the reason we’re not performing in practice or a game individually, is it down to tiredness, is it because our diet isn’t right, are practices too long or short stuff like that. We’re really trying to leave nothing uncovered, can I give you a reason why it’s happened every year? No I can’t, but we’re trying to find solutions for it and I think that’s the important thing. If you give up then you shouldn’t be here and we are generally trying to find solutions why we haven’t been able to win the league so far, we’re not just sitting on our laurels and looking back at last year. This is a new season now, let’s draw a line under it and go again. When I’m at the end of my career I’ll look back on it but for now I’ve yet to win anything with the Panthers and my hunger is still as high as it has ever been.

Moving on to Great Britain, I think it is fair to say it was a surprising silver medal at the World Championships. How close did you feel to the gold?
It was tough. Looking back on it now it was a great achievement but I can’t deny that there were tears in the room afterwards. We were eight minutes away. I remember getting home and two weeks later they announced the groups for next season in Pool A, at the same time they were playing Pool A and I was just looking at the players and the problem is I don’t know if we’re ever going to get the chance again because the groups have now changed. Surviving is now a good result for us, we kind of have to re-start again.
It was an unbelievable six weeks for me, I became a father for the second time, won the Challenge Cup, won the Play-Offs and a silver medal, it was incredible. It was just one of those moments in life where you look back and see that we all just came together and it was pretty special.

What do you think the programme needs to get you to Pool A?
The obvious thing is money really isn’t it. When we played Kazakhstan their lowest paid player was on 60k a month, you could get three of our top end guys for that in a year! That guy makes that a month and he’s the lowest paid. It’s not just stuff like that, it’s the preparation, we had a week to go out and just play, these guys have international breaks, they get together at the end of the season and have a months training camp. It’s hard to compete with that, we’re behind the eight-ball anyway, we’re not a hockey nation as such. Going back to when I was growing up I had an hour a week until I was fifteen, these guys are skating every day so with regards to preparation we are always that step behind. The good thing is that the core of the GB team is around 28/29 years old, so we feel like we’re coming into our prime. We’ll give it a good go next year, we really will, but I think we’ve been unlucky in the way that the groups have changed round.

Completely different subject now, fans forums, do you ever look at them?
I remember when I first came to Nottingham, we got back from France on a training camp and we played Bracknell in Bracknell. I didn’t have a lot to do so I went down to an internet cafe because I didn’t have internet. I typed in Nottingham Panthers and The Cage Forum came up, so I clicked on it. Someone had said something about me in the Bracknell game that I wasn’t good enough and I thought ‘I just can’t do this to myself’. I’d have been asking for trouble if I went on there so I’ve left it alone since. Fans have every right to say whatever they want, so I don’t understand why a player would go on a fans forum, maybe it’s for an ego trip, I’m not sure, I just think it’s dangerous really for a player to go on there because at the end of the day it’s the coaches view that counts the most. You could be playing terrible and your coach is not happy with you, but you could go on to a forum and someone likes you on there and it can just give you the wrong impression of what is really going on. There are so many varied opinions on a player, some fans like a player because he’s good looking, some like a player because he has white skates like Molin so I just don’t think it’s the right thing for a player to go on a forum. I’m all for forums, I think they’re a great thing and I’d rather the fans vent their frustrations on a forum than in the rink at the end of a game!

Following on from that you’re are quite prominent on Twitter and have a lot of followers
You know it’s weird because I don’t have Facebook and I don’t really know how it came about, being on Twitter. A friend back home was on it and I don’t really keep in contact with him too much and my sister is on there and she was living in Germany at the time, so it was really so I could keep in contact with her, so it really just took off from there. It’s quite nice actually, I have people come up to me and say ‘I follow you on twitter, I find you Tweets really funny’. It’s kind of progressed now as a good way for me to speak to the fans. I think as a captain you should speak to the fans, such as this week I’ve been updating fans that I’ve had a skate today, I’m working out and stuff like that. Fans like that, it goes back to what I was talking about football where the relationship between fans & players seem to have broken down so it’s been quite good. Funnily enough I get quite a lot of support from fans of other teams, a lot of Blaze fans which is quite bizarre! I try to be as professional as possible, but I did like to tweet about West Ham beating Forest (laughs)! I’ve got quite a few followers on there now and it’s been quite overwhelming. For a long time, especially after the year where the fans were on my back, I genuinely thought that the fans just didn’t like me. Then I started getting messages of support on Twitter and I thought that maybe I’m not as disliked as I thought. I’m sure if we have a few bad results then the Tweets might change a little, but it’s been good. The messages I got after my surgery were overwhelming and I’m extremely grateful for the support I’ve had. This my my home now and it feels like home, I’ve moved my parents up here to be closer to my sons, my house is here, my boys were born here, I think this is the first time I’ve admitted it but I think this is home now and I’m really happy here.

Final question. At the end of your career, how would you want to be remembered?
I’d like to be the captain that lifts the league, I want to be that guy, I crave to be the captain that does it. I’d be left with a massive regret in my life if I do not win this league title. I’d like to spend a few more years here in Nottingham but hopefully people would realise I gave my all on and off the ice as a captain and that I took immense pride wearing the ‘C’. I always try to give a good impression of the club and I try to represent the club in the best way that I can, ultimately though I live for my team mates and will do anything to make them prosper because if they prosper then it’s going to help me out as well.

I’d like to thank Danny for taking time out to speak to me for this interview. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s quite a read.
Constructive comments and feedback are welcomed

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