The start to the 2012 season for the Melbourne Mustangs has been up & down, dropping games that they should have won & falling short against the new boys Perth Thunder. But with things started to improve & coming off their first win of the season last weekend against the Gold Coast Blue Tongues, i was able to catch up with Mustangs alternate captain Chris James, as he discussed hockey life & the Melbourne Mustangs IHC.
1. How did your love for ice hockey come about?
When I was younger, I used to go to roller blading lessons and at the end of the lesson, we would play a game of inline hockey. They started up a team from that class, so I joined it and starting playing inline when I was 7. After a few seasons, a guy joined our team who had come across from ice hockey so I decided I wanted to try that. That was when I was 11. I already loved playing inline so moving across to ice was an easy transition, and anyone who knows hockey will tell you once you’re part of it, you rarely leave it!!
2. At age 15 you moved to the Czech Republic to play hockey. What was the experience like playing in a different hockey culture?
It was very different. Hockey over there is like AFL over here. Every town has an ice rink, and an ice hockey club and each game the arenas are filled. The Czech extra-liga (their top division) is huge! The clubs are supported by a massive advertising and sponsorship base as well as having world class stadiums which are filled to the brim each game. As a 15 year old it was heaven. I was living and breathing hockey. Unfortunately, at 15 it was also tough being away from home and everything I knew, so I decided to come home and finish school instead of staying and pursuing hockey.
3. You were involved in a motorcycle accident prior to the 2011 season. How is the body holding up? can we expect a fit & firing CJ for the entire 2012 season?
Yeah I was quite disappointed last season after working hard over summer I was feeling fit and ready for the season. I definitely rushed back too early from the accident and didn’t let my shoulder heal so ended up playing my 17 games with it still separated. I had to call it quits halfway through the season and rehab the shoulder before I did any more damage.
The Mustangs had quite an intense pre-season for this year and I think we’ve gone in a lot stronger and fitter than we were last year, hoping to use that as an advantage in our season. Given that strong base and a proper rehab program last year, the body is holding up well. I’ve had no concerns from the shoulder so far, so I’m definitely hoping to make it through the season fit and firing.
4. It’s been somewhat of a shaky start for the Mustangs this season?
We were definitely disappointed not to come away with wins in the first two games, especially when we definitely believe we could have. Looking at the positives, however, we’ve shown we can push the best to the line and are looking to take that mentality forward through the season.
Our new coach arrived only the week before the first game so we have been learning to play to his game plan, and he’s been learning how we play. It was always going to take some time for us both to adapt to each other but things are starting to click and we’re looking to move forward and add some numbers to our Wins column.
5. How important was getting that first win for locker room moral?
A win is always good for morale. Like I said above, we were disappointed not to have chalked up a couple of wins already, and it was bitter sweet to again give up a decent lead in the last period and allow the other team back in the game. That said we’ve proven to ourselves we are a quality team and I think that’s what we needed; to prove to ourselves how good we can be. Having that confidence in ourselves and the team is a very important component to the game and if we build that up, then our on ice performance will just keep getting better.
6. Since last season we have seen a change in head coach. What has it been like working under Bill Wilkinson?
As I mentioned, it was always going to take some time to adapt, both for him and for us. Bill has unbelievable experience and massive hockey knowledge, so we were always going to come away better hockey players and a better team having him as a coach. Steve Laforet put in all the hard yards in the pre-season getting us ready before Bill arrived so that we could hit the ground running. It’s still early in the season, and as we continue to learn from Bill, we’ll just keep getting better.
7. You had your first taste of AIHL action in 2011 as both club & player. What is the goal for the 2012 season?
We achieved what we set out to achieve last year, and that was to show that we could take it to the teams in the league. Obviously this year we want to improve on that again, and be a finals contender. I think we have the team for it, so that’s what we’re aiming for.
8. You played in a very entertaining opener against the Melbourne Ice. How important are the derby games to the players?
There’s always going to be a rivalry between cross-town teams and it’s felt by the fans as well as the players. The games always feel that little bit more intense and with the Icehouse filled to capacity the atmosphere is crazy.
9. The loss of Scott Corbett was a big blow to the Mustangs family, his impact on the club was enormous. The replacement imports epecially Jake Ebner & James Stanford seem to be settling in well?
Yeah, it was tough to lose Corby after last year, obviously he played a huge role in the birth of the Mustangs and it was going to be a case of big skates to fill.
Last year we showed that while we were a very capable offensive team, we needed to strengthen the defensive aspect of our game. The addition of Dean Moore and James Sanford with Scott Levitt returning from last year has really strengthened our defense. They’ve also been working really well with our local defensive players to help them improve which is great.
Having lost Corby and Bourke from last year, we’ve needed other players to step up offensively. Ebner has jumped into the scoring role with 5 points in 4 games, and we’ve had lots of players contributing to the scoring which is good to see.
10. We have seen the AIHL expand into Perth. How big of an impact can ice hockey have in the Australian community?
I’ve always said that hockey is everything Australians like about sport. It’s super fast, very physical and exciting. When people come to a game, they keep coming back. It just needs the exposure. We’re starting to see it with the AIHL expanding to Perth, the increased media coverage this season (including decent mainstream media coverage) and the crowd numbers increasing. If things keep accelerating the way they are then I’m expecting big things for the AIHL in the not too distant future.
11. On a lighter note, do you have any pregame rituals?
I’m not too superstitious. I generally run through the same off-ice warm up, but that’s about all. I think if you get too caught up on rituals, if something prevents you from running through that ritual, it can mess up you whole mindset. I like to keep it simple.
12. Who is the biggest prankster in the Mustangs locker room?
I don’t think I could pick one. Everyone thinks they’re a comedian on that team.
13. Getting off the AIHL for a minute. Can you give us a tip for the Stanley Cup?
I’ve been saying since LA knocked out Vancouver that they’ll win it. I’m standing by that!
14. Thanks for your time today. Best of luck to you and the Mustangs in season 2012.