Matt Bradbury is currently in Harbin, China coaching the British Universities men’s team at the World Student Games. Before the team set of for the far east, Matt spoke to Jono about the upcoming tournament and the previous tournament in 2007 in Turin.
Jono: Matt, can you give us a background of the tournament for those of us who don’t know a lot about it.
Matt:It’s probably the third largest sporting event behind the Summer & Winter Olympic Games, 2007 was the first year that Great Britain had participated in Turin. I think it’s very hard for people to appreciate how big this competition is without actually being their, right down from staying in the Olympic Village in Turin to 10,000 people attending the opening ceremony. It’s like a big party atmosphere, full of excitement. When it was GB’s turn to go on it was great, you are out there representing your country and it something that the players and myself can look back on for the rest of our lives.
Jono: What is the standard of competition you are facing?
Matt:The players that they send to these tournaments are top class, the Canadians had one guy who was drafted to the Maple Leafs for the 07/08 season and six guys who were playing in the ECHL, some of whom were racking up 40/50 points a season. We love to get that calibre of player playing in the Elite League, so that was the level we were playing against and we don’t expect that to be any different when we go to Harbin. The real coup for us is that we are in a group with Canada, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and the hosts China. To play against the Canadians, most of whom will be going on to bigger and better things, is a real honour and we will be the first GB team to play against the Canadians at this level for over 50 years. The other good thing from my point of view is that we play against the Czechs and Kazakhstan who we played in 2007, so it will be a good marker of how much we’ve improved as a team. In 2007 we went to Turin because it was an opportunity to put GB on the map and it couldn’t be missed, but we went with a fairly weak team. We knew the area’s that we wanted to strengthen for 2009 and we’re now miles ahead from where we were in Turin. This year we’re taking with us two top quality netminders in Stephen Fone and Geoff Woolhouse, both of whom have had international experience. We’ve got Elite League and EPL level players which we didn’t have in 2007 so we know straight away that is going to give us more of an edge as a team.
Jono: What are the realistic expectations for the tournament?
Matt: In 2007 we got beat 12-0 by the Czechs and we got beat 22-1 by Kazakhstan later in the tournament when they needed goals to make it to the semi-final stage. We’re looking at improvements in scoreline and shots on goal. In 2007 we had 350 shots against and we only had 40 shots. We were averaging just 8 shots a game, so that shows you the level of competition we were up against. We’re going there with an open mind, we know that our first three games are against Canada, the Czechs and Kazakhstan, we then play China and that is the game we’re aiming to win. The GB under 20’s recently beat the Chinese under 20’s 9-1, we’re around the same world ranking as China. Will get our systems sorted in the first three games so we’re ready for the Chinese game. Game five is then a placing game against an equivalent level team from the other group in the tournament, which will probably be someone like Korea. So realistically we’re hoping to come back with a win, but also on improvement in performances to show that we’ve narrowed the gap and prove to the other nations that we can play hockey. Looking at the schedule I’d like to finish fourth in the group ahead of the Chinese,that’s what I’d ideally be looking for.
Jono: What sort of preparation has been put in for the tournament?
Matt: We’ve been working with this team now for about 18 months, myself, Mike Urqhart, Andy Marshall our conditioning coach and Simon Hopkins our manager. We meet once a month on a Friday, usually in Sheffield, and we get two ice sessions a day on those days. To meet so regularly is really good for team morale and team spirit. We consider that if we’re going to come up with results then we have to bond as a team. We take time off work to meet on those Friday’s, it’s just got to happen. We started with a pool of 200 students and in 18 months have whittled that down to the squad we have now. A lot of things will work in our favour, most of our games are not in the late evening like they were in Turin, the rink is only 20 minutes from where we are staying, so the team will be able to prepare without having any late nights like we did in Turin.
Jono: What comes next after this tournament?
Matt: We are already planning for the 2011 World Student Games in Turkey and 2013 in Slovenia, we’ve got first year students who will still be eligible in 2013 such as Tom Norton, Mark Patterson and Robert Lachowicz as they are only first year students. I’ve then got another couple of guys who I’ve brought into the programme early, Matt Haywood from Sheffield and Sam Bullas from Nottingham, those two guys have been working with the team so they know what to expect when they’re eligible to be included in the team.
Jono: What help have you had from the league’s themselves, the EIHL and the EPL?
Matt: We contacted the coaches, we named the team early, we made people aware of the kind of players we wanted. The help has come from us contacting the coaches, we’ve spoken to Corey Neilson, we’ve been up front with Paul Thompson at Coventry and Ron Shudra at Sheffield. Fortunately the EPL is governed by the EIHA, so if a player is called up for international duty they have to be released. The Elite League is a little bit different as they are a separate governing body, but the coaches have been very good to us and released the players we wanted.
The Cat’s Whiskers would like to thank Matt for his time, to keep up to date with the team in China you can visit the official website of the games at http://www.harbin2009.org/ or follow the results on this thread on The Cage Forum.