At the start of the 1996/1997 season things were a lot different for the Nottingham Panthers. They were a small fish in a big pond and were still playing in the Lower Parliament Street Rink. The Panthers were about to embark in a new era in British Ice Hockey, the Superleague era.
Panthers, then coached by Mike Blaisdell, signed two players from the Richmond Renegades in the ECHL. These two would have a dramatic impact on the Nottingham faithful and are still considered legends by Panthers’ fans. Firstly, Trevor Robins, a netminder who played with such intensity and aggression, a player who could single handily steal wins on his own. In three seasons with the Panthers Trevor posted a save percentage of 91.9%. Also signed was a small feisty centre man from Vancouver, British Columbia. Not the biggest, but a player who had the heart of a lion, a tenacious worker and a player who saw the Panthers through the transitional arena change. Certainly one of the best face off winners and averaging a point a game for six straight seasons and a joy to watch. This man is Greg Hadden who spent six seasons with the Nottingham Panthers who also has the honour of having his number 11 retired. Jay Courtney spoke to the former Panthers sniper.
JAY – My first question is what tempted you to come to Nottingham?
GREG – I was playing roller hockey in San Jose, California the summer before I came to Nottingham. Mark Wolfe played on that team with me and I was talking to him about where he was going to play his next ice hockey season and he said he was going to play for a team in Ayr, Scotland. He told me his agent would be able to get me on a team in the same league if I wanted to go over there. I ended up hiring his agent and he was the one that got me the deal with the Panthers.
JAY – In your first season with the Panthers, your team mate from the Renegades Trevor Robins was also signed, was this a help for you?
GREG – Having Trevor on the team was a big help. Not only did I know he was a great goalie but having a familiar face in the dressing room when you come to a new team always makes your first few weeks easier.
JAY – You were lucky to play with some serious talent, but who stood out for you?
GREG – There were a lot of great players. Robins, Dallman, Olsen, Adey, Leach, Drouin, Struch, Jinman, Nieckar, Paek. This list can go for a while. There were some great players that played for the Panthers.
JAY – What was your favorite rink the ‘fabulous’ National Ice Centre, or Lower Parliament Street?
GREG – I enjoyed them both but The Old Ice Stadium was better. The energy and excitement in that rink was amazing. The fans were so loud. They were so close to the ice you could talk to them, especially when they still had the netting and not the plexiglass. The old Ice Stadium won us a lot of games, I know the visiting teams did not like to play there.
JAY – Randal Weber and yourself were players that went through the arena change did the teams expectations rise because of this?
GREG – I think they did. With the new rink the Panthers were becoming a bigger product. There were more seats to fill. The best way to fill seats is to have a winning team.
JAY – During the 1999/2000 season Mike Blaisdell left the Panthers for the Steelers did this affect you at all?
GREG – This did not affect me. Mike and I were friends but players coming and going were a way of life. Every year a few players left and some new ones came in to take their place.
JAY – Keeping to the coaching questions, you played with Paul Adey and you were coached by Paul Adey, what were the differences between him as a player and a coach?
GREG – It is always tough when you go from being a player to being a coach especially when you played for that team and still have lots of friends playing. I think Paul coached liked he played, he was very dedicated to the team and he made sure he was prepared for every game. He ran very good practices. The players had a lot of respect for Paul, especially the ones that had played with him.
JAY – Many fans have memories of the events of 9th February 2001, the Bench Brawl against the Steelers. Do you have any memories of that evening?
GREG – The bench brawl was a very crazy game. I get reminded of it every once in a while as it is on You Tube and people back home still ask me about it. I think it was only a matter of time something like that happened in a game between Panthers and Steelers. Those games always had lots of emotion and I think that brawl was a combination of a big rivalry and some unsettled disputes between a few players
JAY – You hold an amazing record of most points in an ISL game, is that one of your proudest moments as a pro hockey player?
GREG – The record of most points in a game was one to remember for me. It was one of those games that everything is going your way. I have the game on Video and actually watched a little bit of it a few weeks ago. The best part of the video was seeing the old Ice Stadium.
JAY – At the end of the 2002/2003 season, Nottingham Panthers retired your number 11. Can you describe any of the emotions you were feeling when your number was raised?
GREG – When the Panthers retired my jersey it was bitter sweet. Watching my jersey being raised up was a very proud moment for me and it was a very big honour. On the other side I new this was the end of my career as a Panther and a pro hockey player.
JAY – Do you miss playing pro hockey?
GREG – I do miss playing pro hockey at times. I have a great career that I enjoy now. Being in a career where you enjoy going to work everyday makes being retired from hockey a lot easier.
JAY – What do you make of zero tolerance?
GREG – The zero tolerance rule would have helped me as a player. I think it gives the smaller more skilled players room to play. When the rule first came out I was not a big fan of all the penalties. The game was just about who had the best powerplay. Now that players are getting used to the rule change and have adapted to it I think it has made the game better.
JAY – Last question you are considered a legend by Panthers fans do you have a message for them?
GREG – To all the Panther fans I still can’t thank you enough for all the support you gave me during my career in Nottingham. It is great to see that the Panthers and hockey are doing well in Nottingham. I do try to keep up with team on the internet. I do show the youtube clips of the fans during the Panthers games to my friends at work. It is easier than trying to scream and sing like you did. I am still looking forward to coming back to Nottingham for a visit. Hopefully it is sooner than later.
I would like to thank Greg Hadden for participating in this interview. I was personally intrigued about the arena and rink differences from a players point of view. They are certainly a lot of words that can describe Greg Hadden. Hard working, honest, classy, gritty, loyal, competitive and driven. Even though it has been six seasons since Greg retired he is still highly regarded by the Nottingham faithful and that is the best tribute he can be paid.