I've been another having one of my chats with somebody from the world of UK ice hockey. This time, I spoke to a former player, journalist, and a man that truly is legend of the UK game. When you speak to David Carr, however, he would have you believe that he's nothing more than an Average Joe. Indeed, the 37-year-old Durham native tells us that if he were to write a book about his hockey life he would probably call it "Bang Average". In a career that spans almost twenty years, and some four hundred plus games played, I think you have to be quite a bit above average to be successful in a physical game like ice hockey for that long.
Having started his career playing for Billingham Eagles - an organisation that has, in its various incarnations, also bred EIHL stars such as Michael Farn and Robert Dowd, the 6'1" defender has also spent time playing at Alexandra Palace with spells at both Haringey Greyhounds and Racers interspersed between five seasons at Oxford City Stars, before spending the last seven seasons of his illustrious career at Streatham.
And if all that wasn't enough for him, he's also equally well known around the National Ice Hockey League community for his weekly league round up for online magazine Pro Hockey News. His game reports and often lighthearted articles making winter Monday mornings more bearable for many a fan - myself included.
So, with such a well loved personality, and an ambassador to the game, I thought it was time to buy him a virtual cup of coffee and find out more about "Carrsy".
I started by asking him about his career and began with how, in those heady days back in the North East, he got into ice hockey, and how old he was then.
"I first skated at Durham at around the age of 8, I think, and I started playing hockey when I was 10. My cousins both played and I got their second hand kit and started playing down at the old Riverside Rink. It was a good time for hockey in the North East of England in those days and Durham had the best team in the Country and a very strong junior development. I don't think I was on the losing side for the first two seasons I played - nothing to do with me really, but many of the junior teams at Durham were British Champions at that time. I would make up for this early glory with plenty of losses later in my hockey life."
Who was your favourite player back then?
"Durham Wasps had a French Canadian forward, Mario Belanger, and I thought he was class. Later I always thought Rick Fera was really cool, but other than that I haven't really had many favourite hockey players. I have always been a massive Sunderland football fan and, as a spectator, that has always been my first love despite my devotion to hockey."
With a career of almost two decades, what do you feel were the highest and lowest points?
"Tough question as, if you look at my CV, I've won nothing of note since Under 14s. Escaping relegation with Streatham on the last day of the season in Slough was pretty special and emotional. Also, the charity game organised for me by Streatham which allowed me to play with some of my favourite people in the game. Having the stand at Oxford named after me is something I still can't quite absorb, but it blew me away to have such an honour. "The lowest points, I think, have been whenever I have been injured. It's gut wrenching to not be able to play and I have had a few that kept me out for weeks at a time."
What is the best rink you have played in?
"I am going to be a bit random here and say the World Pond Hockey Tournament venue in New Brunswick, Canada. Multiple rinks carved out on a massive lake, with a heated bar attached that you skate into - something dreams are made of. There is something great about skating on ice outdoors, especially as a Brit. In the UK, Oxford or Alexandra Palace are my favourite to play in, Streatham's ice is way too big for my liking."
Who would you consider your biggest inspirations going through your career?
"Not particularly inspirations, but I was lucky enough to have two amazing coaches as a junior in Glynn Hall and Tommy Punton at Durham and Sunderland. Their attention to detail and discipline, in hindsight, was ahead of it's time. I think that if you get a good start in the game it gives you a foundation for the rest of your time. Too many kids don't get that any more at junior level so by the time they reach a senior team they have a ton of bad habits and are, basically, not coachable."
Who is your favourite team/player in any league, worldwide?
"Well, I have a terrible track record for following sports teams. I had a Quebec Nordiques top as a kid and we all know what happened to them! Then I followed the Minnesota North Stars and they moved to Dallas so I have a casual love of the Montreal Candiens now. In the UK I follow all my old clubs but I have little interest in the Elite league."
Since David mentioned the Elite league, I brought up the changes that are coming in the NIHL this season. As he'd been quite vocal about the new league format, I asked him what he thought was the reason for all the chaos that came about during the changes.
"I thought hard about just keeping my mouth shut because nobody likes a whiner and one problem with writing about UK hockey is that fans and, indeed, a number of commentators can rarely see past their own team - it's how a lot of clubs and leagues get away with very poor behaviour. A few weeks later, I wrote a piece in Pro Hockey News articulating what I thought about all the drama, which also got mixed reviews.
"The writing was on the wall for the EPL when they started really ramping up their spending in the recent seasons. Add to that the fact that the Elite League continues to sit above everyone, swallowing or spitting out teams, and doing whatever it likes unattached to the rest of the league pyramid means that things will continue to change like this every few years. You just need to read a few Ice Hockey Annuals to see that there is nothing new here; it's as it's always been. I guess it just touched me more this time round because the league and teams I have been championing in my writing for the last eight years will change completely and I think there are turbulent times ahead."
So, with all that in mind, where do you see the league going in the future?
"Once again, negativity is the easiest emotion to express in life. But, if you look at both NIHL 1 and 2 they are both badly unbalanced. For the fans and players of those at the top it could be a fun season (for a while). For those at the bottom, they may well consider their options come the Summer of 2018. The recruitment so far suggests no attempt at balancing the competition so, at risk of being crowned Mr Misery 2017, I believe the league is a flawed last minute compromise and will be changed again soon.
"I hope I am wrong but in sport team owners and fans want to win so they will rightly try and put the best team on the ice they possibly can. The problem is that the competition soon gets boring if you turn up at the rink knowing the score line before the game. It will only take a team or two to drop out of the Elite League in the next few years and we will be back to the start again anyway, which makes it doubly frustrating."
Moving away from ice hockey, you mentioned a while ago that you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. What inspired you to do that?
"All good ideas start in the pub and Kilimanjaro was no different. I had a few beers with some friends after work in Central London; saw a special offer poster with a giraffe and Kilimanjaro on it in the travel agent's window nearby and the next thing you know, it's booked. I woke up with a hangover and a flight to Kenya booked. It actually cost less than what most of my mates spend going to Ibiza so it was actually a bit of a bargain."
Can you tell me more about that expedition? When did you do it? How much and what kind of preparation did you do? How did you feel during the expedition? How long did it take you to reach the summit? And how did you feel when you got there?
Our training consisted of a trip to Scafell Pike in the Lake District, where we got up and down the mountain quicker than we expected in the morning and a few early afternoon pints quickly developed into a heavy session of booze that left us all feeling worse than when we had arrived. Possibly the worst training schedule for Kilimanjaro we could have come up with.
"We went for the cheap option (of course) which included a long ten hour bus ride from Nairobi in Kenya to Moshi in Tanzania. The Chinese were still building/financing a new road back then so it was easily the worst dirt road bus ride I had been on - and that includes the buses we used to get when I was playing for Billingham! In true local fashion, they kept loading all sorts of junk on the roof and even a goat or a sheep at one stage. The trek up to the summit took four days and was actually quite smooth. Thankfully, I'd managed to get some decent gear as my old Haringey team mate Blair Dubyk worked for North Face and got me a hefty discount.
"When we got to the summit, I was in a state of confusion due to altitude sickness and I was convinced that some guy was trying to take pictures of us to sell back at the bottom of the mountain like they do at tourist attractions. Being a tight Northerner, I was a bit grumpy about this and, looking back, it did seem a weird thing to imagine. The best feeling was standing in the hotel swimming pool afterwards with a can of Kilimanjaro lager as we had all made it to the top. We were all celebrating when in walked ex England goalkeeper David Seaman, followed by Stoke manager Tony Pulis and TV celeb Nick Hancock. They were all due to go up the following day for charity and we had a good chat with them. Seaman is a man mountain, by the way; no wonder he was a good goalie. The hotel was a long way from four star, so it was funny to see them all in there and I think I read they didn't get to the top due to bad weather and sickness. One thing is for sure, the journey home would've been an absolute nightmare if we hadn't got to the top. Worse than any hockey bus home after a big defeat."
You also took part in a London to Brighton cycle ride last year, how was that? Do you have any plans to repeat that? Or maybe even take part in next year's Ride London?
"Less glamorous than Kilimanjaro. Basically I just woke up one Sunday and decided to see if we could ride from Greenwich to Brighton using the Sat Nav on my phone. It was a right slog and I didn't realise how many hills there were on the route. I don't think I will bother doing it again! I had a backside like the flag of Japan by the time we got to Brighton and I have never been so pleased to catch a Southern Train home."
Such a shame - I'd have had a go at that with you, Carrsy.
So do you have any more big challenges lined up for the future?
"Well my son is coming up to the age when he can start skating, so maybe that's my next challenge. Plus there's the ongoing quest to lose four stone."
One thing that every NIHL South fan, whichever team they support, agrees on is how much we all look forward to your weekly Pro Hockey News roundup. How did you get into that?
"Thanks very much. I signed for Streatham and around the same time, I saw an advert from Pete Lewis of Pro Hockey News advertising for writers. I had dabbled before with programme columns at Oxford and Haringey and I thought I would give it a go. My first game for Streatham, against Invicta, I fell awkwardly and tore ligaments across the top of my foot. I was out injured for three months so to keep my interest going I started a weekly round up from around the league. I quickly got a few photographers on board from different clubs and it spiralled from there. All of the players and fans loved it as no one had bothered covering the league in the past.
"The ENL, as it was then, would get a few sentences and stats at the back of Powerplay Magazine or the usual biased rants on The Hockey Forum, but there was no one else putting in time and effort like we were. I scaled back the news articles in recent seasons, but I always believed that for the time and effort all the players, fans, and coaching staff put into a game at this level, they deserved some proper online coverage. The dynamic has changed now in the NIHL so this season will be interesting to cover and I can't deny I have lost some of my enthusiasm. In many ways, I feel that I may have come to the end of the road and it would be better to move on to new things rather than continue with poorer output. Everyone has a shelf life."
Have you ever thought of a career in journalism?
"Someone once said to me I was wasting my time writing about hockey as I could make good money covering other sports, which was very kind. I guess it's a hard thing to crack and there are a lot of good writers about all working a lot harder to find paid gigs. I have a job at TfL and, at the moment, that keeps me busy. Plus I get free travel in London so it would have to be something big to replace that! The key thing to me is knowing the subject you're writing about and having first hand information. I had the unique position of being involved as a player and a coach so you get so much insight and knowledge that the fan in the stand can't see or doesn't know about. Everything has a back story, there is always a bigger picture and being involved meant I could write things with some kind of balanced authority. I read a lot of stuff online and fiction soon becomes fact in our little hockey bubble, only a few can cut through the bull and actually know the full story. This is harder for me too now that I don't play and, again, a reason why I think my writing may well lack the zest it previously had."
Going back to your career, since you hung up your skates, what would you say you miss the most?
"Well, I still play recreational hockey with a great group of guys for London Devils so the skates are still getting some action. My ex-team mates and the crowds at games I would say are the biggest things I miss. There is a bond you get with your team mates when you are spending so much time together playing a contact sport that can't be replicated. You see everything from the laughter to the tears, to the blood and everything else. You support each other through personal problems and emotional issues away from the rink. I have been lucky to play with so many lovely people over the years and we shared many highs and lows. The funny thing is, most are all at different teams or retired anyway so nothing stays the same forever. I hate that about sport and, indeed, life.
"Also, it was a privilege to skate out in front of a decent crowd each week at a number of clubs I played for. Last season with the Devils we played Streatham Chiefs directly after an NIHL game and I saw all my old mates in the room before the game. All the fans were saying hello and it was great to be back as I hadn't been to many games - I had a warm glow inside. After the game had finished I went under the stand and changed into my hockey kit and skated out for warm-up then something hit me hard. The stands were empty and everyone had gone. It's weird but it was the first time I had ever played at Streatham in a game with no crowd. On the flip side, it was lucky no one was watching as I stunk the place out - some might say nothing new there."
Finally, with such a glittering career behind you, what advice would you give to someone who wants to get into playing ice hockey now?
"Firstly, learn to skate first. So many people aren't prepared to put in the hard miles of skating before trying to play hockey. You wouldn't hop on a horse for the first time and try shooting targets while moving, so why pleople think they can learn two things at the same time whilst balancing on two strips of metal is beyond me. Secondly, don't give up if things don't happen straight away. I see kids getting upset they didn't make Conference or the England team at young ages but everyone develops at different times. That kid who just scored 50 goals a season at U13's could well be awful by U18's and the kid who wasn't picked at Conference but kept working hard is eventually the one who plays league hockey for many years. Lastly, and I've seen this before, if you are 14-18 and have a girlfriend or boyfriend and you stop playing the game or miss practice because you are "in love" then snap out of it. Now! Hockey will give you far more and they will be gone in a few years anyway. Hope that helps."
Wise words indeed from someone who has been playing league hockey for almost twenty years.
My own personal experience of David was when, after having only met him once before to ask him for a photo, whilst watching Chieftains at Streatham last season he tapped me on the shoulder just to say hello and have a chat, about the game, about cycling and about ice hockey in general. But it's not just me, you can ask anyone you like and they'll all have a similar story to tell.
In fact I spoke to Nancy Carpenter, supremo of NIHL South online media outlet 482days.com and giver of prize mugs, who told me "Carrsy is one of those guys who is just instantly likeable. I think a lot of it is his ability to poke fun at himself! I started following Oxford in his last season there - and he was always the first to make a joke about the 'sniper' whenever he caught an edge (which always seemed to happen on the blue line for some reason). Obviously, his dedication to raising the profile of NIHL1 with his weekly column and articles has made him a well-known and popular figure - but despite the amount of time he spends on that every week, he was always willing to answer a stupid question or help out with a contact when I was starting out on 482days."
Similarly Dawn D'Anger, who works tirelessly behind the scenes at Streatham keeping the club running smoothly, reminisces about some of her favourite moments with David: "Scoring his goal at Invicta, which he was totally embarrassed about. All the crowd sang "we were there when Carrsy scored", and it is still sung now. He loves his food, especially chicken and he's famous for his knowledge of chicken shops between North and South London. Always wore a shell tracksuit to training and had bad music in his car. I can still see him joining in a round of musical chairs on the ferry to the Isle Of Wight. The most helpful, loyal, and nicest of players you could meet and we owe him so much for all the help and work his not only put into Streatham but hockey in general"
I also caught up with David's former Streatham team mate Will Sanderson, who said "Dave is the leagues Mr Nice Guy, everyone knows him and everyone loves him. You can't not love him! When you think of the NIHL you think of David Carr.
"Dave and I joined Streatham at the same time in 2009 and I remember the first training session being absolutely ruined by his slap shots. I think after that session he thought I was terrible and I thought he was Streatham's northern import. Luckily he injured himself shortly afterwards so I had time to improve before he returned, then I flashed the glove a few times to put him in his place. He still managed to find that top shelf in juice boy a few times though. My most memorable moment with Dave was his epic game-changing goal at Invicta a few seasons back. We turned a 2-0 deficit around and won 7-2, and it was all down to his equaliser that just gave the whole team a boost. I think it may have even been his last goal in Streatham colours, though I could be wrong. I will never forget that feeling, and I often watch the highlights of that game when I need a pick me up. Which I'm sure Carrsy does too."
What we can take from watching ice hockey in the UK, especially at NIHL level, is that all the people involved are, on the whole, doing something they love doing and sharing it with the rest of us. They're just down to earth folk like everybody else. But to us, the fans, they are our superheroes, the people who make our hearts and minds race every weekend. And, while he may not have the string of silverware and medals to his name like others may have, many will agree that those aren't always what makes a great player. Someone that newer, younger players can look up to and learn from. Someone that is always there to lend a hand and help out whenever they can. Those are the achievements that mean something. And David Carr has a list of them as long as the Great Wall Of China. So, for that reason, I believe he should be inducted into the Ice Hockey Hall Of Fame.
I'd like to extend a big thank you to David for taking time to answer my questions, and allowing me to delve into his life and have a nose around. And also thank you to Nancy, Dawn and Will for helping me let David know how much he means to the world of ice hockey in the UK.