Goodbye Granda

As some of you will know, the last 3 months of my life have been incredibly tough. Just 12 hours after the Eisbären season came to an end, I was sitting in a hospital in Northern Ireland visiting my Granda who had just been diagnosed with terminal & aggressive cancer. We didn’t tell him I was coming home. Only 3 people knew of my last minute trip home. Over the next month I ended up spending more time in Belfast than in Berlin, travelling between the 2 cities almost every week. It became somewhat of a normal way of life.

Then just a couple of days after my birthday he sadly passed away. From receiving the news to arriving at my front door in Greenisland was just 14 hours, the wonders of modern transport helping me get back to spend time with my family when it mattered most. Those weeks racked up quite the credit card bill, but it was worth it to spend an extra few days and moments with the most important man to ever be in my life, and to share in the many stories and memories people had about him.

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I decided to continue on what would have been our third annual trip to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations in early June. He had repeatedly told me to still go regardless of his health situation, but with him not there it was a strange experience. Seeing the outpouring of love and respect from not only the group that he annually travelled with, but also the group of people from Saarbrücken and their incredible gesture of holding a moments silence for a man they only seen 3 days a year made the week an incredibly memorable one.

During the week I scattered some of his ashes on the D-Day beaches at Arromanches, as despite not serving during World War 2, he always loved his annual trip to France with some of his best friends. And Arromanches has, in his opinion, the best mussels in France, so it seemed like the perfect place for part of him to forever be resting. Seeing the faces of all his friends filled with tears was something I will never forget. Ian Crangle, my grandas annual room mate for these trips, and the company bugler, played an emotional rendition of ‘The Last Post’. Bystanders all stopped for a moment and looking out over the sea. It seemed like time stood still for the minute I was on the beach, and I hope I made him proud.


Then exactly 2 months from his passing, the entire family got to say their goodbyes as the remainder of his ashes were spread to sea at Carrickfergus, a place he called home for over 50 years.

For those of you who never knew Alan Hamilton Senior, he was a great man. To summarise his life in just a single paragraph is a challenge, but I will give it a try!

Born in 1938, he grew up in a Belfast suburb before lying about his age in order to join the British army. He joined the Royal Ulster Rifles where he served during the Cypriot war of 1957/58, and also in British occupied Wuppertal in Western German in 1960. He returned to Britain to marry my Grandmother Iris in 1963, raising two daughters and working as a Texaco fuel tanker driver. He reached the level of branch manager before stepping down to spend time with his now extended family of grandkids, but also to take care of my grandmother Iris, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers. She passed away in 2004, and the void in his life she left behind was noticeable. If anything he started working even more then with the Royal British Legion. He became chairman in 2006, a role he proudly held for 10 years until his death. He was also a main organiser behind the annual Armed Forces Day in Carrickfergus, even bringing the famous Red Arrows display team over in 2013.


I was very close to my Granda, and the last 2 months since his passing have been extremely strange. No longer receiving the weekly whatsapp message about a random topic has been a strange void in my life. And I just know he would have been constantly on the phone to me about the Northern Irish football team in the Euros, as he always had immense pride in his national team, no matter what the sport. Plus, he would have loved that England v Iceland game!

It was tough to say goodbye to a man who was effectively a father for me. He taught me most of what I know today. The realisation has hit hard that I am the last remaining Hamilton to continue our family name, a name which he single handedly built up to its current status and reputation in his local community. And not only that, but to live in the shadow of a man who had so many friends in so many places, is going to be an incredibly tough job.

If I can even be half the man he was, I will be happy.

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Alan Hamilton 1938-2016


6 Monate in Berlin

Roughly six months I have lived in Berlin, and I can honestly say I have loved every minute of it! The history, the nightlife, the food, the sports, and of course the beer! It has changed my life completely, and I couldn’t have done any of it without the help and support of my friends and family, particularly my mum Elaine and granda Alan! But I can’t help but feel like I am one of only a very few people doing something like this, and I will try to explain why…

When I look back home to Belfast, and all the rest of my friends throughout Britain and Ireland, I see everyone settling down and starting families at a young age. I will admit, I was almost one of them. At one point just a couple of years ago I had two brochures of engagement rings. Sadly that chapter of my life didn’t have quite the happy ending, but I think its safe to say that things did work out better for both myself and my ex in the long run.

But enough about the past, lets talk about the present and the future. I am now living in Berlin, a city I have always loved, working as a statistical analyst for the Eisbären Berlin, my dream job, and most recently I became a tour guide around the city, which is both a dream job and in my favourite city!

To say I am somewhat lucky to have found happiness in almost every aspect of life is an understatement. But it wasn’t until recently when I started re-watching the American sitcom ‘How I Met Your Mother’ on Netflix that I realised what a fantastic turn my life has taken. Someday about 30 years down the line, that will be me sitting my kids down and boring them to death with stories of what their dad got up to in his earlier years!


Stories like how interrailing back in the summer of 2014 opened my eyes to the many different cultures throughout Europe, altered my perceptions of people, and pretty much changed my entire life. Going to the London Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2012. Visiting Normandy in northern France and listening to stories from someone who was there on D-DayWinning two Elite League championships with my hometown team. Sitting in the press box at Boston’s TD Garden for last years Beanpot final.

Then there’s the more recent events like somehow landing an interview with the Eisbaren within 10 days of touching down at Schonefeld Airport. Getting to wear Uwe Krupp’s 1996 Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup championship ring. Watching the Super Bowl on the jumbotron at Mercedes Benz Arena. And the endless evenings hanging out with friends; wether its in a cool bar, coffee shop, or a nightclub, my life is pretty much like living in a tv show now!

And of course I can’t forget the more interesting stories like ‘the kebab incident’, kicking a polizei car, missing the last train home and staying in the club until 5am when they start up again, and the chipped tooth (which my mother will only be discovering as she reads this… sorry mum!)

There is one thing that I have noticed in my brief 6 months living here, and that is that the British and Irish as a whole are probably the least travelled in the world. Yes, we do travel a lot in terms of city breaks and trips to Magaluf, but the rest of the world actually travel a lot more extensively. There are a lot of people who simply spend a few months in a new city, renting a small room, getting a shitty job to pay rent. They generally just have fun, and after a while they simply pack their bags and move on to another new city in another new country for another couple of months. I have met so many people who do this, and I can’t lie, I’m thinking of possibly doing it as well at some point in the future.

My point is that everyone back home now-a-days is so driven on finding a career and buying a house, getting married and having kids, and it all has to be done some time in your mid-20’s so you can ‘relax’ and cruise to the finish line. What I don’t understand though is that everyone loves some surprise and suspense in their lives. TV shows, movies, books, sports… they all have some unpredictable moments, twists and endings, and that why we love them. Put it this way: If your football team done all the work in the first 25 minutes of the game and then just cruised to victory at the final whistle, would that still be interesting enough to keep you a fan game after game, year after year? Probably not, so why should life itself be any different?

Now I understand some people won’t agree with what I’ve said. Travelling, experiencing new cultures and getting out of your comfort zone isn’t for everyone. But it is what most people crave in life. New experiences, meeting new people, learning new languages, living new lives.

I will leave you with one final thought. It was something my former boss told me moments after I informed him I was quitting my job and moving abroad. It was surprisingly meaningful, and I remembered every word he said:

There are 7.4 billion people on this earth. Billion, with a B! And most people live their entire lives within a 25 mile radius of where they were born and raised. They go to school, get a job, make friends, and even find the love of their life, all within a 10 minute drive of where you grew up.

Even if you believe in the statement that someone is one in a million, that still leaves seven and a half thousand people out there for you, and in my honest opinion, you’d be damn well lucky to find them all in your home town.


EIHL and DEL – They’re pretty much the same, right?

I have been a citizen of Germany for just over 5 months now, and in that time I have been consulting with one of Europes biggest ice hockey teams, die Eisbären Berlin, who compete in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. After spending the last 7 years with my hometown hockey team in Belfast, I can’t help but make comparisons. So hopefully in this blog I will help explain both the obvious and the not so obvious differences between the two leagues.

The on ice product is actually very similar. Britain has done nothing but improve over the years, and Germany has struggled with the creation of the KHL and the rise of many other major leagues around Europe. From my vantage point I can see that the British league is most definitely on par with the DEL-2, able to compete with them each year in the Continental Cup, and the likes of Brian StewartBrett Jaeger, Brendan CookTyler Plante and Jeffrey Szwez able to compete in both leagues.

Each year we see teams from the EIHL compete with the top flight Germans in the Champions Hockey League. Now, comparing the EIHL with the DEL just because they got a few wins under their belt is a bit more of a stretch. Yes, both Braehead and Nottingham have defeated DEL opponents in the last 2 seasons, but there are a few factors that play into this. Mainly that both teams have only been together for a few weeks, and that injury-free rosters are a huge plus. And while I’m not trying to demean the performances of any EIHL team, the reality is most European teams actually change the style and tempo of play for the CHL for the reason that import limits are so much stricter in other European leagues.

The main differences between the leagues though is off the ice. And there are so many ways this differs, so I think the best way to compare these is to make a list with a description of just what the difference is.

League Operation – Most fans of the Elite League will agree with this straight away, but I don’t think you realise just how much of a difference there is between the EIHL and the DEL in terms of behind the scenes operation. To compete in the DEL you need to buy a one off license which comes in at a rather costly €800,000¹. Obviously the EIHL cannot charge anywhere even close of half a million pounds per team – they probably cannot even raise that combined. But the key here is to get some input from each team to help cover operating costs such as league travel, logistics, and the ever hot topic of officiating. This fee, combined with the television deal covers everything the league needs to run successfully. And, if a team needs/wants to leave the league for whatever reason, they sell their license and get their money back. This cash then helps set them up to continue operating as a DEL2 team. Best way to explain this is if Manchester had to purchase their EIHL license from Hull – Hull would then use that cash to help continue the Stingrays in a lower league until such a time as they were ready to move back up. But instead the Stingrays simply lie fossilised at the bottom of the Humber.

Officiating – Admittedly I haven’t paid much attention to the Elite League this season, but every week my twitter is filled with complaints about officiating. The reality is Tom Darnell, Mike Hicks, Dean Smith, Stefan Hogarth and the rest of the crew are all there is in Britain, and they are actually very good by IIHF standards. I’d even go as far as saying they are better than some DEL referees! The problem is the lack of officials. Britain’s league is seen as semi-pro by most people in the world of hockey, simply because you don’t use the 4 man system. And I know the response to this will always be “we don’t have enough officials and can’t afford the travel” – well, see my first point as to how to help solve that. Also, I told our head coach about the whole Belfast v Edinburgh overtime fiasco back in September, and I genuinely believe he thinks I made it up as some kind of rookie hazing the coach thing. Side note: What are the British officials are doing with the Danish league this year? Why is it not a two way system with their officials helping out the EIHL?

Travel – Every year I always see a couple of people discuss the topic of travel in the EIHL and complain about Belfast and the Scottish teams being too far to travel to. Guess what… every league has some bad travel logistics. All you can do is find a way to make it work. Teams in the DEL bus almost everywhere in their super awesome team busses with amazing graphics plastered up the sides, except us. We don’t even have a team bus. Berlin are the Belfast of the German league. Hamburg and Wolfsburg are in very similar travel situations. There are 7 teams down in southern Germany, and 4 more clustered out in the West, with us 3 up in the north/east. The other 11 teams travel almost exclusively by bus, as the most you will visit an opposing team in the regular season is twice. But the other three teams rarely bus, opting for flights or the slightly longer but less hassle option of trains. Then you have to add hotels into the equation as just like in Britain you can rarely fly commercial after 11pm, and trains would’t get you back to your city at around 2 or 3am, getting you to bed around 4.

Thats just the DEL. Jokerit is a KHL team based in Finland, and they started their season with a 4 game, 8 day, 14.000km road trip to some of the furthest teams in the KHL. They had to pay over a quarter of a million pounds sterling for a charter plane alone, and complications with Chinese airspace added about an extra hour to and from Vladivostok, as well as a fuel stop and crew change in Novosibirsk on the way back from Habarovsk.

Source – Twitter

The National Hockey League also has their problems as the Atlantic Division actually has the entire Metropolitan Division geographically separating the six northern teams with the two Floridian teams.

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Side note: I started writing this blog a few weeks ago, and since then its come out about the possibility of a KHL team in London. Eisbären Berlin and Kölner Haie were approached by the KHL in 2008, and both rejected as they didn’t think it would be successful. Thats two of Germanys biggest terms with regular 14.200 and 18.500 sellouts of die hard hockey fans. That was also 8 years ago, and still no German team has joined the league, and it doesn’t look like any one is interested in doing so within the immediate future. A brand new franchise would be incredibly hard to sustain, not just financially, but logistically as mentioned above, and also in terms of fan base. Could you guarantee enough ticket sales to create enough revenue to maintain a healthy bank balance? Realistically Sheffield and Nottingham are the only two viable options, and even then I don’t think this would work very well.

Import Limit – The DEL operates a strict import policy. It currently sits at 11 imports, with 10 being allowed to dress for a game, and thats it. If someone gets injured you can’t just replace him and when he gets better you have two guys battling for one roster spot. Theres no healthy scratches. Theres no one month injury cover contracts. Once you have used an import slot, its done for the season, and that includes season ending injuries as well.  Most teams only sign 10 imports, leaving one spot open for an emergency goalie should it be necessary. If you use all 11 import slots you better have confidence in your backup goalie to play 2 games a week should your starter get injured, and your third string goalie better be ready to see a game or two every month, and number 4 on your depth chart then has to take the load of the remainder of the DEL-2 season.

Dual nationality does however count as a German passport, i.e. Daniel Heatley with Nurnberg. This goes back to my point at the beginning about the CHL. Teams cannot afford injuries of any kind. To lose an import in a side competition is a catastrophic loss, and losing a national team player is even worse as they are pretty much irreplaceable. Yes, every DEL team has a fantastic junior system with good players they can call up at a moments notice, something Britain doesn’t have. They will rarely more that 8-10 minutes, but they don’t just fill the bench while every other guy gets double shifted, they do actually see some ice time. (See 17 year old Maximilian Adam who is one of Germany’s 35 NHL Draft eligible players in 2016 who was called up this weekend to help fill in for injuries to 3 of Eisbären’s top 6 d-men, and seen approx. 5 mins of ice time in a special teams heavy game.) I don’t even know what the import limit is in Britain now, but I’d suggest it is dropped to 8 or so, with British passports counting as non-import players.

Fans/Atmosphere – German sports fans are like nothing I have ever experienced. The atmosphere in Berlins fankurve makes even the best Elite League fans look like they are part of a funeral procession. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get goosebumps at every game at the Mercedes Benz Arena. From the opening song ‘Hey, wir wollen die Eisbären sehn‘, to the entrance and introduction of the players, the ‘Dynamo’ chants, and the famous ‘Ost Ost Ost Berlin’ at the halfway point of every game. Not to mention the banners and flags, as well as the pyrotechnics at the end of the intro video! It may sound like it may never work in Britain, but I happen to think it would. The standing terraces are a hot topic in the UK for obvious reasons, but each teams fan section has strict rules as to how things operate. Flags cannot be waved while play is ongoing, no flares inside stadiums, drums are fine, and banners displaying any political messages must be authorised by a ‘fanbetruer’, a representative for the team who works to organise the fan section. Also, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a couple of ‘scheisse scheisse’ chants when addressing the opposition and their fans, but that would lower the PG rating which most British hockey teams are aiming for.

Social Media/Promotional Material – This is more of a cultural thing rather than a difference in the hockey leagues themselves, but I thought it was worth including anyway. Eisbären Berlin are probably the most socially interactive team in the DEL with a over 9.000 fans on Instagram, 13.000 followers on Twitter, and almost 100.000 likes on Facebook. They are still a couple of steps behind some of the promotional stuff the British teams do (specifically Belfast). But to be honest I think this is more a Germanic thing. The country as a whole is very different with social media compared to Britain. It simply isn’t as huge here as elsewhere in the UK, USA, Canada, etc. Even I have I have turned off push notifications from Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on my phone because they were beginning to annoy me. So if its not a text or WhatsApp, I probably won’t see it until the next time I’m sitting on the toilet. But the biggest difference is promotional material such as the excellent videos the likes of Belfast and Sheffield use. Especially Belfast. Not that I’m biased, but seriously Belfast have some awesome videos in their archives. Advertising over here its a bit more mainstream. Huge billboards, printed press, radio and TV commercials, and so on. There’s even a 25ft tall portrait of Micki and Pohly wrapped around the Dunkin’ Donuts at the Ostbahnhof. I just don’t think the Germans have grasped shamelessly hilarious promotional videos yet. Maybe I’ll talk them round to it next year…

Playoffs – Seriously, sort your shit out Britain. 4 victories and you win the “playoffs”? No one takes that seriously. A player actually laughed when I told him that. It needs expanded in some way, and by doing this you will instantly get more recognition as a good hockey league, therefore bringing better players to the league, therefore raising the level of competition.

For those that don’t know, the DEL playoffs start with the top 6 teams from the 52 game regular season qualifying, and the teams ranked 7th to 10th compete in a pre-playoff best of 3 game series. The winning teams then go through to the actual playoffs, a 3 round best of 7 game series using the traditional 1v8 or 9, 2v7 or 10, 3v6 and 4v5 ranking/bracket system.

Schedules – At the time of writing this blog the lowest number of regular season games played by an Elite League team is 34, and the highest is 39. In the DEL the lowest is 39, and the highest is 40. And after tonight this will change so that all 14 teams are on 40 games played. Every team will remain on the same number of games played throughout the remaining 2 months of the regular season. This leads to a much more competitive end of the season, as theres no maths needed to calculate teams catching up points using games in hand. And I remind you this is all for a league championship which is comparable to the NHL’s Presidents Trophy. It gives you top seed for the playoffs, and thats about it. Eisbären’s regular season championship banner doesn’t even hang in the MBA, instead being located in the teams practice facility (and former home arena) the Wellblechpalast. The reason for this perfect symmetry in the DEL schedule is that teams play all their games every Friday and Sunday. Obviously in rare exceptions there are a couple of midweek games. But apart from that, it is pretty much a perfect schedule. Obviously this would be more difficult to enforce in Britain with bigger events priority over hockey games at certain venues, but there still shouldn’t be a 5 game spread throughout the table at any time throughout the season.

In Conclusion – The on ice product is comparable to a certain extent. Obviously the styles of play and team systems used on the bigger regulation ice over here are different than Britains hybrid skill/physicality style of play. And running 4 good competitive lines vs 3 good competitive lines will wear a team down quickly. So while EIHL teams have defeated DEL teams recently, it doesn’t quite mean they are on equal terms on the ice. But the main difference is behind the scenes, as I hope I helped illustrate in this long and rambling blog. Every other league in Europe has a stable structure similar to the DEL, and operational organisation behind it is helping push their individual league toward being more competitive with other leagues throughout the world, including the KHL and even the NHL.

Whereas Britain, well, you have Tony Smith, chairman of “the board” of the Elite Ice Hockey League. A league which will never change as long as he is in charge, kind of like FIFA. To become a better league and to actually be able to compete in the likes of the CHL, it will involve a league wide makeover. Every team needs to buy in to making the league great, and I just don’t know if every team is willing to do that.

Reichstag Dome

From Belfast to Berlin

Todays the day. I have just boarded my flight to Berlin, a city with double the population of Northern Ireland. A one way ticket, a backpack of clothes, a suitcase of some more belongings, and two weeks in a hostel. That is quite literally all I have… which when you take into consideration that I made this decision back in April it really isn’t much, but I have done all I can do for now.

I need to apologise right now for this blog, because I started writing it about 3 weeks ago and I know it will get pretty rambling and lengthy. But please bear with me as there is a lot of people who have been a part of my life over the last quarter of a century who I need to thank for being there for me before I embark on this new journey.

From way back in Greenisland Primary School, where I coasted through 7 years of education before somehow getting an A in my final exam and sticking it to the teachers who doubted me; to Belfast High School, where once again I casually cruised through 5 more years of learning, gaining just enough grades to continue my higher education elsewhere, and making some friends who ended up being hugely important influences in my life. Guys like Hazer, Dill, Warren, Hollie, Emma… you were my first real close group of mates!

Then theres my working life. It all started in 2007, working a year and a half in Core Systems with Phil, G, Catherine, Jane, Julie… my first real taste of the office lifestyle. 3 years of my life were then spent in Dunnes Stores, who legally I cannot bad mouth because they were generous enough to donate £250 to my charity ice hockey tournament last month! I had my ups and downs while working there, and almost each and every person who worked with me made some sort of an impact in my life. Ursula, Sarah, Alan, Sheila, Gillian, Karen, Laura, Rebecca, Michael, Clare… due to the high rate of staff turnover there’s a literal butt load more people to mention that I cannot fit in here, but they were all amazing people to work with! Also, I still have that size 24 blouse if anyone wants to hire me for their wedding.

After three years in Irelands version of Marks & Spencer, I then moved to the actual Marks & Spencer where I worked on and off for a year, again learning new skills on merchandising, cash handling, customer service, and of course, endlessly flirting with every female who worked in the entire building. Not that I was very good at it, but it helped pass the time!

Last but not least, theres Product Earth Solutions, who rescued me from unemployment in January 2014. After just one month of hard work, I simply floated through the next year and a half doing minimal work for minimal pay, making endless “thats what she said” jokes, inventing any excuse for a chippy, and generally getting sloppy with the whole ‘close Facebook when the boss walks into the room’ thing. But I made some great friends there; Chris, Ally, Becky, Gary, Raymond… they all made going to work that little bit more fun!

Then theres the whole ice hockey side of my life. I went to my first game in 2002, and fell in love with the sport. I then first skated in 2006, and met a whole new group of people that would end up being hugely parts in my life growing up! Dawn, Victor, Julie, Dale, Laura, Adam, Toffer… again the list is almost endless, but they were all great friends to me throughout those years!

Back in 2008 the new Giants coach Steve Thornton asked Dale Cree (who ironically would go on to become MD of the company I’d work for 7 years later) to help assemble a team of ‘statisticians’ to give him an extra advantage in coaching.  I didn’t actually like statistics that much to begin with, but I stuck with it. That team of stats guys would then quickly dwindle from 6 to just myself within a few months. It was around this time I actually started to get into it, and the rest as they say is history!

That history was winning 5 titles and 2 league championships throughout my seven years there, and I loved every minute of it! I need to thank Steve Thornton for getting me started in statistics, Paul Adey for our weekly coffees to chat stats and hockey, Todd Kelman for being my all time favourite Giants player (even if he did abandon us for Cardiff), and of course Doug Christiansen for continually helping me improve myself, and for still giving me guidance in my career path. Then theres the players like Tim Cook, Keefer, Lloyder, Sandy and Shieldsey to name but a few, and of course all the off ice guys: Glover, Dave, Matt, Jo, Brooksy, Bobby, Rachel, Michael, Laura, Kira, Paddy, Coach and Davy… again the list of friends I made at the Giants is endless, and they are all fantastic people who I will miss seeing on a weekly basis.

Then there’s Dumfries. A place I visited as a fresh faced 17 year old for my first ever ice hockey camp, and I had the privilege of returning in 2013 to be a statistician at the world championships, and again in 2014 and 2015! Meeker, Searlait, Craig, Scott, Jessie, Struan, Mitch, and more. All of you made my annual visits worthwhile!

Last season I even got the chance to partner with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Each week I would watch up to three game tapes, spending on average 4 hours per game, recording analytics and statistics on every player. Helping provide future NHL stars like Max Domi and Mitch Marner with data to help improve their game is something I will always cherish doing, and I need to thank Rob Simpson and both Dale and Mark Hunter for that opportunity. Also, for all you hockey nerds with a keen eye on hockeys future, keep an eye out for Victor Mete!

Hockey analytics is as of right now a literal ‘one in a hundred million’ job. And even though I do have my name in the mix, hopefully someday soon I will get into sports analytics.

Last month I also had the honour of playing in the UK Forums All Stars Charity Ice Hockey Weekend in Sheffield. I was a late addition to Team Breast Cancer Care, and still managed to rack up £1,198 for a great cause! In total that one weekend with 130 players has raised over £70,000 for 8 separate charities!! There wasn’t one person I met at the tournament that I didn’t get on with. G, Dave, Kez, Astill, Nic, my first line buddies of Alex, Matt, Carl, Steve, and everyone else on Team Boobs! It was great to meet you all, and I’m already planning next years trip! And of course theres the Team NI lads; Aaron, Glover, Sauce, Maca (and Emma) and Dave. Together we raised almost six grand, and the fact I got to spend one of my last weekends at home (in Sheffield) with you guys was awesome!

One more thing hockey has gave me is a very generous 50/50 win in 2014. Yeah, the year when I was filling out my name and address when Drew Fata scored ‘that goal’. That night is all a bit of a blur, and not quite for the reasons you would think! But as I walked back to the hotel with two good friends in Mel and Stevie Robinson, they gave me the idea to go interrailing once again… which I did!

In two separate interrail trips in 2011 and 2014, I visited 26 cities in 15 countries. Along the way I made many great friends, from Ben, his partner, and the Sprogg family I met in Munich; soon to be wed couple Aaron and Sarah in Salzburg; the 5 girls from Belfast I went swimming with in Lake Bled; Bradley and Niall who we bonded over Top Gear and US Late Night Talk Shows on that interestingly endless train journey to Budapest; Kirstie for a great evening in Prague; my 2 fabulous Scottish pals Shannon and Mel, along with Brittany, Riley, Erin, Simone, Tim, Fran, and the three welsh guys who’s names I cannot remember, all whom I met in Berlin; Steve, Steph and Gary, and also Elizabeth, all in Copenhagen. There are a load more I have probably forgot to mention, but again I could ramble on for days with stories about everyone!

Then theres that elite group of people who are probably most glad I am leaving, the guys and girls I’d class as my best friends! Mark and Vikki for many, many chinese nights, and for providing me with God children! Sam, you were such an annoying cousin growing up, but our love for Top Gear and Tesco brought us closer together than I ever imagined! Mark Dornan, I think its time I finally admitted that I am obviously the Gus in our scenario… Good luck to you and your Juliet! Neil, my go to video nerd and endlessly annoying Boston buddy… same time next year? Stephanie, the main reason I have WhatsApp, and my personal rear of the year winner for the last two years! Sally, our heart-to-heart coffee dates were always a highlight, I guess you will just have to come to Berlin for our next one! Becca, you made me the man I am today, and despite how things ended you will always be one of my closest friends. You have all made huge influence in my life, and I can’t wait to have you all come visit me whenever and wherever I get settled!

Finally, I need to thank my entire family, but especially my mum and granda. We’ve had our ups and downs, but you two done whatever you could to give me a good life. Ever since granny past away a decade ago it has just been us three, and I can only hope that she would have been proud of what I have done so far, and what I’m setting off to do with my life. I can’t wait for you two and Gary to come visit me when I get settled in Germany!

Hopefully this blog served as a decent insight to my life and the future I am embarking on. And I also hope that I won’t be coming home in a few weeks with a maxed out credit card and my tail between my legs! If I missed anyone out, it was never my intention.

Thanks for the memories.


“At the end of the day you gotta go out there and just do it yourself, really. You gotta make mistakes along the way; and over the years you will find your own path.” – Sig Hansen

UK Forums All Stars Weekend

NI Invasion at UK Forum All Stars

In just a few weeks, I will travel to Sheffield with 5 good friends from Belfast to take part in the 8th annual UK Forum All Stars Ice Hockey Charity Tournament being held in Ice Sheffield from the 24th to the 26th July, and will feature 163 players from all over the UK playing for 8 different teams, each representing a separate charity.

These teams are:

So far over £165,000 has been raised since 2008, including over £45,000 this year alone, and the Northern Irish contingent of just 6 players have a combined £3.5k to their names with 3 weeks still to go!

Meet the Team:

Dave Seay #25 – Prostate Cancer UK

I am delighted to be taking part in the 2015 UK All-Stars Ice Hockey Weekend. I love playing ice hockey and have heard such great things about the UK Allstars Weekend.

Set up so that fans that love the sport of ice hockey from across the UK could come together and have a fun, enjoyable and great time playing ice hockey and whilst raising money for a number of good causes.

My team is Prostate Cancer UK so please donate as much as you can for a such a great charity. Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men. Over 42,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year – that’s more than 110 men every day.  1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime, and there are over 300,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer.

Thanks for taking the time to read and thanks for all the donations towards Prostate Cancer UK🙂

Dave Seay – Picture: Alan McNeice

James Glover #14 – Dreams Come True

For a number of years now I have wanted to do something for charity and there is no better way for me to do this than playing the sport I love.

The UK Forum All Stars Weekend has raised a phenomenal amount of money for various charities since 2008 and I am proud to be representing the Dreams Come True team at this years competition.

From the outset there was only one team I wanted to fundraise for and fortunately that is the team I was assigned. All of the 8 chosen charities carry out fantastic work however Dreams Come True is a charity that I am extremely passionate about.

Dreams Come True is a children’s charity serving England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, bringing joy to terminally and seriously ill children by making their dreams come true. Over the last 25 years Dreams Come True have helped more than 5,000 children and young people as well as their friends, family and carers.

In my work with the Belfast Giants I have been fortunate to see first hand the joy and excitement young children experience when they get to meet their favourite player, watch a practice from the bench, or go on a tour of the locker room. I want to help create moments like that for seriously ill children and their families and by supporting Dreams Come True, hopefully make the hard times a little easier for someone.

To bring me back to my first point, hockey attracts a unique breed of people. The 136 players taking part as well as the officials and fundraisers for Sheffield 2015 are not only doing something they enjoy but also they are making a difference. Please give us your support. Donate what you can, share a post on facebook, retweet a tweet and let’s get the £200K milestone smashed. Every penny is going straight to the charity and will go a long way in fulfilling the dreams of a young person.

James Glover – Picture: Nicky Johnston

Jonathan McIlmurray #50 – Autism Plus

I am glad to be representing the charity Autism Plus in this years event. We all know someone or know off someone effected by autism and how tough it can be both on the people who suffer from autism and their carers. I personally know a few people who have autism and know their families which makes playing for this charity even more special.

I have been playing ice hockey for 5 years now for the Belfast Ice Foxes which as you can tell is based from Belfast, I love the sport and being able to play in this charity event is just amazing. I am lucky enough to say that i am one of only 6 people selected from Northern Ireland from people all over the UK who asked play in this years event.

Jonathan McIlmurray – Picture: Alan McNeice

Ross Gowdy #72 – Autism Plus

In July I will be playing in the UK Forum Charity All Star event for the Autism Plus team. The event has been setup to bring people from all round the UK together to play ice hockey and most importantly, raise money for the team they will be representing.

In the UK, it’s estimated that about one in every 100 people has Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While there is no ‘cure’ for ASD, a wide range of treatments – including education and behaviour support – can help people with the condition.

After playing ice hockey for 3 years at the Belfast Ice Foxes, i am delighted to be selected and play for Autism Plus and raise as much as possible. So if you can spare anything at all it will be much appreciated and go a long way whether it be £1 or £5

Ross Gowdy – Picture: Robert J Rainey

Alan Hamilton #90 – Breast Cancer Care UK

This July I am playing ice hockey at the UK Forums All Star Weekend in Sheffield from the 24th to the 26th July. This will be my first year at this event, and I am honored to be taking part in raising money for such a great cause.

I started playing hockey 9 years ago, made it as high as the Irish Amateur League in 2010 before a hit left me with a severe concussion and kept me off the ice for the best part of 2 years before I started helping out coaching a women’s team. I’ve only recently got back to skating and practising on a regular basis so I’m still lacking fitness and getting used to it all again!

For my first year at the UK Forum All Stars I am honoured to be representing Breast Cancer Care UK, or ‘Team Boobies’ as its known. Every year nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and it is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the UK, killing nearly 12,000 people every year in the UK alone. Breast cancer also affects men, around 400 men are diagnosed each year.

The research into breast cancer could someday cure this, and possibly other forms of cancer. Please donate whatever you can to make this possibility become a reality.

Alan Hamilton – Picture: Nicky Johnston

Aaron Stewart #64 – Captain – British Heart Foundation

For those I haven’t met yet, I’m Aaron, I’m 24 and three quarters, and from Bangor, Northern Ireland. 2015 will be my third UK Fallstars tournament, and this season I’m honoured to have been asked to captain Team British Heart Foundation.

Over 40,000 premature deaths in the UK are caused each year by cardiovascular disease, and the British Heart Foundation are the UK’s largest independent funder of research into cardiovascular disease.

Being asked to be a captain in any team, in any sport, is an honour. It’s something most people aspire to, and when it happens, it’s a shock.

My road to the Fallstars started about 6 seasons ago, when I first heard about the tournament. I thought it was an awesome idea. I think it’s best been described as a ‘second playoff finals weekend, without the emotional rollercoaster that goes with watching your team win or lose’.

I began playing hockey in the tail end of 2010, and first applied for the UK Fallstars in 2011, sadly, I didn’t make the roster, only the reserve list. The same happened in 2012 and 2013, until I got an email from David in April 2013 saying there had been a few people drop out and roster spots had opened up for Team Breast Cancer Care, amazingly, the team I wanted to represent. So that’s where it all started really, I made my justgiving page and spammed twitter for a solid 4 months. Team Boobs went on to win the tournament that year, which felt almost as good as hearing that the entire weekend had raised over £30,000.

In 2014 I represented Team Autism Plus, a locally based charity in the Yorkshire area. Initially I worried I wouldn’t be able to drum up as much sponsorship as the previous season. This wasn’t the case. As I’ve said before, the amount of donations and kindness and promotion you see for this event and the people taking part, is enough to restore your faith in humanity at times, and I’m sure I speak for all the players that take part, that we can’t thank everyone who donates enough for their donations and constant promotion for this event.

Hockey isn’t the biggest sport in the UK, but it has this aura around it that intrigues people, whether it be the scoring or the fights….well maybe mainly the fights, but it draws people to it. This weekend, to me, is all about the charities and meeting new people. The actual hockey plays second string to that. Whether you can or can’t skate, whether you can shoot or not, or whether you can stop or have to crash into the boards. It’s really not that important. The fact you’ve raised money for 8 great charities and being able to do so by playing and watching a sport you love, having a few fun nights out in the local area, and all while raising ridiculous amounts of money charity in the process. That’s a pretty sweet gig if you ask me.

I have no doubt that the 2015 event will carry on from the success of previous years, and I can’t wait to get into swing of things again; chatting to team mates, organising training camps, thinking up ridiculous ways to raise money, and generally, just having fun, that’s what it’s all about.

It’s an honour to take part in this event, and I can’t wait to see you all in the summer, until then, mix in a water, stay away from the mustard and play hard.

Aaron Stewart – Picture: Colin Nellis

For our tomorrow, they gave their today.

Every year a group of Royal Ulster Riflemen from Newtownabbey make the near 500 mile, 17 hour trek by both air and sea to the beaches of Normandy in Northern France. For most of them, it is a memorable and meaningful trip to make annually, but for one in particular it means a whole lot more. William ‘Billy’ McConnell MBE served with the 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles on D-Day, and even at the ripe old age of 90 he makes the trip every summer to pay respect to his comrades, most of whom were his friends.

He flew into Normandy at the age of 19 on the evening of 6th June 1944 with the 6th Airborne Division as part of Operation Mallard, and he played a major part in the liberation of Longueval and Ranville in the days immediately following their landing.

Picture: Alan Hamilton

Ranville War Cemetery with the church in the background. Bullet holes are still visible on the church, bell tower, and the surrounding walls.

One of his most memorable and fascinating stories, is that of the battle in the village of Ranville. It is a beautiful place, with a church and bell tower dominating the village skyline, and a large war cemetery with over 2000 graves, the majority of which are soldiers from the 6th Airborne Division. While walking through the village, a German sniper opened fire on Billy’s battalion from the bell tower of the church. The the Luftwaffe soldier to took out a Royal Ulster Rifleman before being taken out himself. This scenario unfolded all throughout the Battle of Normandy, most notably in the American sector which was then portrayed in the movie Saving Private Ryan.

The thing that makes Billy’s story special though is that he was the one who took out the Nazi soldier, quite the feat considering he didn’t have a sniper rifle to do so. The four RUR men were laid to rest, not in the war cemetery next to the church, but in the church graveyard itself. Buried alongside them is the German soldier whose name is still unknown to this day. Every year Billy returns to that churchyard and places memorial crosses at the graves of his friends. He then places a cross at the grave of the German soldier. This draws a lot of questions from bystanders, but his reasoning is simple and admirable. The German soldier was just doing his job, defending his country for a better life for his family. Billy and his comrades were doing exactly the same. And for that reason he remembers the German soldier knowing that as there is no name on the grave, his family more than likely never found out where he died, or where he was buried.

Billy fought in Normandy until September when he was sent back to England before going to Belgium that winter to halt the German offensive in the Ardennes. He then went on to cross the Rhine in 1945 where he suffered shrapnel wounds. Billy eventually rose to the ranks of RSM before leaving the army in 1969.

The Royal Ulster Rifles were the only regiment in the British Army to have two battalions sent into Normandy in Operation Overlord, and when Billy returned to Normandy for the first time on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 he was shocked to see there were no lasting monuments to either of these units. He set out single handedly to change this, and for the cost of a bottle of Bushmills whiskey in exchange for some land from a local farmer, and a trip to France for a Ballymena stonemason, he had erected two beautiful monuments to both the 1st battalion (Longueval) and 2nd battalion (Cambes en Plaine).

This was my second annual trip to Normandy in the presence of Mr McConnell, and I have already started planing flights from Berlin to Paris and a train on to Caen next June for next years visit!

“When you go home, tell them of us and say: For your tomorrow, we gave our today.” ~ John Maxwell Edmonds

Clip from BBC One Documentary ‘We Fought on D-Day’ featuring Billy McConnell

Ich bin ein Berliner!

As many of you may know, later this summer I am moving my life away from Belfast, a place where I have lived all 25 years of my life thus far, and on to Berlin, a city I have visited three times in the last four years, and every time I never wanted to leave. This time I won’t be leaving. Or at least that’s the plan! A one way flight from London awaits me on August 16th, and 2 weeks in a hostel is all I have planned.

I’d be lying if I said it was a tough decision, because it was rather easy to be honest. Everything just came into alignment, and it seemed right that I move on sooner rather than later. My contract at my day job was ending later this summer, and the option for renewal wasn’t what I truly wanted. In terms of personal relationships, I was close to settling down 2 years ago. That all changed and turned my life upside down. And when it comes to chasing my dream job of working in professional hockey analytics, I have worked with 3 great coaches and won every title up for grabs in the Elite League over the past 7 years with the Giants. And after last season I felt like the team is going in a different direction and I am no longer wanted. So its time for a new challenge…

Which brings me to Berlin. Why Berlin? Many people have asked me this, and I have had the same answer for them all. I love that city. Its what I dream Belfast will become. A city torn apart, and brought back together by its own people. But with the small minority of people annually dragging Belfast back into turmoil, combined with the backwards politics of Stormont, leaves us as a troubled city and country that will take a lot longer to fix.

Last year when I was in the German Capital, I met a load of people. I met two beautiful Scottish gals (who I’ve kept in touch with, and even visited at Christmas), a Canadian lass (who was travelling the world for what seemed like an eternity), a Canadian guy who is a hockey fan and sends me many front row snapchats from Sens games (for which I will forever despise him for!), an Australian couple  and even a Finnish student who admitted she didn’t speak any German. Its a city which is surprisingly bi-lingual, which isn’t to say I’m not going to (attempt) to learn German, but it will help me get started!

Everyone talks about writing new chapters in ‘the book of life’. But I felt like I was approaching the end of my book, nowhere else to go in the storyline, the penultimate chapter if you will. So I thought to myself what I could do, and then it dawned on me. Wrap up this book, and get started on the sequel!