My Passion With Neil Hardy
I started playing ice hockey as a child aged 11 and have been playing semi-professionally on and off ever since.
While skating at Queens Road (Silver Blades) Ice Rink in Sheffield with a friend one day we saw a poster requesting 30 youngsters to train to play ice hockey. We were keen to go along and see what it was about. Ice hockey in Sheffield went from that advert to the largest junior development in the country under a legend of Sheffield ice hockey, Craig Webster, now the landlord of the nearby Royal Standard pub.
Once I started training I was hooked on it and as a teenager I played for Great Britain’s Under 18s and later the Under 20s team, as well as for England in the Under 19s. My highlights include playing in the World Junior Championship in Albertville, France, in 1999 in venues from the 1992 Winter Olympics, and where I scored an equalising goal in our final game. Other more recent standout moments include taking the titles of both ENL Playoff Champion and North Champion in the 2004-05 season when I played for Sheffield Scimitars, (now known as the Sheffield Steeldogs) under head coach Richard Clegg.
I decided to take a few years out in 2006, as playing semi-professionally, working and studying for a degree was becoming too much.
But then last year I was best man at the wedding of a good friend and hockey player and on his stag do I met his coach and the chairman of the Sutton Sting ice hockey club Ian Johnson.
Ian invited a few of the former players down to training, one thing led to another and I ended up playing a few games.
I currently play as a forward for the Sutton Sting team, who are affiliated with the West Midlands but practice at iceSheffield.
Returning to ice hockey again I realised I missed the game a lot. I also wasn’t really doing any exercise so the main reason to start getting involved again was to help me get fit and healthy.
When I got back out on the ice for the first time I realised just how unfit I had become!
Previously, I would probably have trained at least twice a week and played on average 40 games a season as far north as Fife and as far south as the Isle of Wight.
Although my schedule is slightly more relaxed now – training once a week and playing approximately ten games this season – it’s definitely made me remember how much I enjoyed it, both the playing and the camaraderie.
My wife and daughter have been to watch a few games and my two-year-old really enjoys it – although she takes after her mum, being more interested in horses.
She has a lot of energy though, so I can see her getting involved in sport like her dad.
Neil Hardy is product metallurgist at Sheffield Forgemasters International.