Marc Levers has just about seen it all; he has had the chance to play alongside NHL legend Theo Fluery, and British legend Tony Hand MBE. Marc has also had a rather successful playing career winning two Challenge Cups in Nottingham Panthers in 2004 and 2008, and winning the league with a highly talented Belfast Giants roster in 2006. Jay Courtney recently sat down with Marc to find out about his career playing professional hockey.
Remember the days of when you were just about to finish College, what do you do, get a job and work hard and climb the company ladder? Do you flee the nest and go to University to work towards a specialized degree? These were the same thoughts going through Marc Levers’ mind when he was preparing to leave college; Marc said “That was it. I had no plans, I was at College, never thought I would get paid to play hockey, I was thinking what do I do after College? Which University am I going to? That’s when the Hockey kicked in, and teams said “come and play for us we’ll pay you this”. Fortunately for Marc this has worked out having spent time on the Isle of White, Basingstoke, Belfast and two stints in Nottingham. With Marc coming from Derby I had to ask him how did get into Ice Hockey with the city not having any direct relationship with hockey. Marc commented “Growing up it was a hobby, and my parents but more my Dad pushed me forward and said ‘pick a sport’. Growing up it was always football and rugby at school, hockey was a hobby playing once a weekend, and I never thought it would become a job”.
The turn of the new Millennium meant new times for the Nottingham Panthers’ moving to the National Ice Centre in 2000. At the turn of the new century Marc was handed his Panthers debut, and was certainly grateful. “It all happened so quickly, I was told I was being considered as a prospect and naturally I jumped at the chance when I was offered it. I was sitting on the bench gaining experience and watching the big team in the big league.” Levers was involved in the infamous bench clearance brawl that season and I asked what he remembered of it. He said “I can’t remember too much about the brawl thank God, apart from a few bust lips from Steelers forward Scott Allison!” After splitting the season with the Nottingham Lions and Nottingham Panthers, I was intrigued to find out how Marc ended up playing hockey on the Isle of White and what challenges it brought him. “At that age I wasn’t going to make the team with the Panthers, I was playing ED1 with Nottingham Lions playing all shifts, and then teams approached me. The Isle of White offered a contract to me early, I moved away for the first time, moved in with a couple of guys getting paid to play hockey on the top line and getting regular shifts.” After a season on the Isle of Wight and in the BNL with Basingstoke Bison, Marc returned to Nottingham for the start of the first Elite League season in 2003/04. He went onto say this was a ‘dream come true’. “Basingstoke wasn’t the place for me and coming home to play for Paul Adey was a dream come true. I wanted to play for Nottingham but unfortunately I got hurt early and found it hard to get ice time so ended up watching games when all I wanted to do was play hockey”. The injury cleared up and Marc went on to win the Challenge Cup with the Panthers, their first trophy for six years.
Marc was not retained by the Panthers after that first season and moved over the Irish Sea to play for the Giants in Belfast, he said “Nottingham didn’t work out for me at that time, I needed to get my name out there and Tony Hand gave me a chance. It was hard moving as I didn’t want to move. However the three years in Belfast worked out.” Marc was one player that had the distinct honour of having NHL legend Theo Flurey as a team mate, I had to ask Marc about having the little guy as a team mate, “Without doubt it’s the biggest honour of my career so far. I didn’t believe it when I heard about it, then a few months later he’s in the changing room saying ‘Hi I’m Theo Fluery.’ It was a privilege and honour. The stuff that he did with his stick blew my mind”. One of Marc’s team mates in Belfast was their current General Manager Todd Kelman, who commented on his progress “I played with Marc for all three years he was here in Belfast and I don’t think at the time he was really given the opportunity to show his true capability. I think at the time, we were playing a different style of game, relying very heavily on two lines of imports to win games. In Nottingham, he was given a chance to play a more significant role and he has done very well as a Panther. I wish we could have had him here when Steve Thornton became coach, because he understands that success comes from having three strong lines and good British players are a big key to making that happen. We let a good one go with Levers and Nottingham got a great asset because of it.” After hearing Kelman’s kind words towards him, I had to find out if there was any coach that he felt indebted to “Give them all credit: Tony Hand gave me the chance when I needed to get out there; Ed Courtneay gave me a chance playing with the imports then when I came back, Mike Ellis gave me a chance again with the imports and time on the special teams and Corey Neilson continued to do that and given me more responsibilities”. I asked for his views on British players and playing with imports and whether or not a feeder system would work in the UK “I don’t see a problem. The lads that were here last season have left to improve as players. It would help get fitness back and may help the youngsters as well.” Marc replied. During his career, Marc has iced for some famous sides and he regards the Giants side including Fleury was the best “I have to say the Giants side playing with Ed Courtenay and Theo, just sitting there watching them going to work was incredible” he reminisced.
With Marc being local to Nottingham, I asked him who were his favorite players growing up? “I was a defenceman in juniors so Terry Kurtenbach would be up there, obviously Paul Adey, then the British guys Hunty (Simon Hunt), Ashley Tait, but there was a different guy each year, I liked Darcy Lowen and Greg Hadden, who I got to know when his career was ending and mine was starting. Graham Garden and of course good old Barry Nieckar”.
Levers has been to several clubs throughout his career, so I asked him how does he feel when a new guy joins the team and how does he help them settle in. “I love it, I’m a friendly guy, like to be the friendly one showing guys around. I know what’s it like being a new guy in a new place and nobody wants to feel like they’re on the outside. Corey’s done a good job at bringing back the core. I also think Nottingham is a hospitable place and everyone’s made welcome, with open arms as well”. Does Marc recommend any places to hang out? “The guys that live in the City do that, where we go and hang out, I’m normally told where we’re going”.
On the ice there are some heated rivalries. Marc has been in the position to play to two of the more intense league rivalries, Belfast vs Coventry and Nottingham vs Sheffield, so which is the more intense rivalry to play in? “Nottingham and Sheffield, it’s in a league of its own”. Levers isn’t the most prolific scorer on the Panthers roster, but coach Corey Neilson said of him “He gives us so much energy and draws opponents into taking penalties” However he has a habit of scoring goals when you most need them, so do any stick out in his mind? “Yes, one I scored against Coventry two years ago when I came back, I made a move and shot from the high point. It was disallowed and I punched the plexiglass and broke my hand, I Can’t believe I was stupid enough to break my hand, then the hat trick against Sheffield I remember each shot. I can’t describe the feeling, it’s surreal, With Sean McAslan, David Clarke and Jade Galbraith, who can score 30 goals, maybe it feels different for them.”
So it’s the end of the interview, I’ve one last question, possibly quite an important question giving the current economic situation. What are you going to do after you’ve finished playing ice hockey? “I’ve not thought about it yet, I’m just enjoying myself. I’m not getting any younger and I’m just doing my hobby for a living”. And why not?
The Cat’s Whiskers would like to thank Jay Courtney for conducting the interview and Marc Levers for his time.