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.

Alan

“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

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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