Streatham Redskins have a long and proud history in ice hockey. Founded in 1932 (although the ‘Redskins’ part of the name was not added until 1974), the year after the new ice rink was opened on the High Road, the club is one of the oldest in the UK. The club has won many trophies over the years, with 11 league championships and 3 autumn cup wins to their name. These include their ‘British Champions’ in 1959-60 season when they were crowned as the top team in the nation and the Streatham team alumni include Olympic gold medalists (from the 1936 British winning team).
Their last league title was won in the 1981-82 season and I believe that this was actually the last piece of silverware to be held aloft by the Redskins. This means it’s been a long 34 year wait for Streatham hockey fans and nobody feels this more than the team captain Joe Johnston.
Joe Johnston was an early starter in senior hockey. As a 13 year-old, he joined his uncle Jim in representing Streatham 17 times in their final season (1993-94) before the club folded. He then moved to Guildford hockey club and continued to play senior hockey for the Guildford Flames and was part of their BNL Championship winning team in the 1997-98 season. He also represented GB as an U18 player and has a European Junior Championships (Div C) gold medal to his name.
At the turn of the millennium he dropped out of league hockey but was tempted back when he was asked to join the newly reformed Redskins team in 2003 and was named team Captain in that season.
With the exception of a year when he joined local rivals Invicta, and a year when he did not play
(travelling the world), Joe has been a stalwart of the club – a leader on the ice and in the dressing room. But he has yet to see the club he loves win a trophy. They have come close – runners up in the league, runners up in the cup, but never quite making it.
This weekend, Streatham play in the NIHL1 Cup final and this is a huge chance to finally put that 34 year wait to rest:
“It would be the ultimate for me to win some silverware with Streatham. My family are from the area, I’ve grown up in the area and as a Streatham fan it’s been an honour and a privilege to play for so long and captain the team I love and care about so much. Pulling the famous jersey on is something that I still never take for granted.
We have so much history connected with our club and it really has been far too long since a club like Streatham has won something so we’ll be going all out to change that this weekend. The fans deserve it as they have always been incredible and as much as I desire the personal happiness of winning a trophy with my home town club it would give me equal pleasure to hand something back to the extremely loyal supporters we have.”
On the ice, the team has been going from strength to strength in the last few years. In his year out of hockey they had a fight for survival in the league that went to the final game of the season where they beat Slough in a relegation battle that saw them finish in the safety of 9th place. In the next three seasons they climbed 2 places in the league each year and surprised many when they took 3rd in the league. Off the ice it’s a similar story – despite the upheaval of moving into temporary accommodation in Brixton, the club has been going from strength to strength and since moving into their new rink have built a strong and lasting foundation, growing crowds and building their social media to become one of the league power-houses.
There has been a feeling of expectations this season. Streatham made some marquee signings in the summer with Nick Chinn and Chris Wiggins joining them from the EPL. Many felt that Streatham would be the team to challenge the mighty Chelmsford in the league this year. The Redskins had a strong start to the season, but a bad patch in the two months before Christmas put paid to their league title hopes.
But the league itself is over now and there are still two trophies up for grabs so the hunt for silverware is far from over for the Redskins this season. Joe knows he has a strong team around him and I asked him how the team was feeling and what he needed to do to motivate them for the challenge of Chelmsford this weekend?
“As the captain of this group there isn’t much I have to do to motivate them. I mean, if you can’t motivate yourself for the challenge of a cup final against the best team in the league then you might as well take your hockey kit off and go home and play tiddly winks or something.
We have a lot of leaders in our ranks and with the likes of Chinny around there’s experience all around. There’s a lot of our team that will be used to playing in cup finals and the big games and to them it’s probably just another important game. Personally I’ve played in some huge games like the World Championships final for Great Britain, winning a gold medal, where the pressure was insane.
For a few of us this weekend will be different in that we’ve been long serving and long suffering Streatham players. And that’s where the difference lies. Those who have been around the club long enough will have been through some real dire times where the prospect of a playing in a cup final would have been almost laughable.
We’ve come through the evolution of the club and seen ourselves develop in to a good team so for some of us I think it will mean that little bit more – and I say that without any disrespect meant to the other players.”
Joe isn’t underestimating his opposition – Chelmsford are favourites here to win their third trophy of the season and while not unbeatable have been incredibly strong and consistent throughout the year.
“Chelmsford are a class act and are consistently the team to beat in our league but to quote an old coach of mine who shall remain nameless: “The sun even shines on a dog’s arse once in a while.”
I’ll leave you to decipher just what the hell that means exactly but the sentiment is that sometimes it’s your turn. We have an opportunity this weekend to cause an upset and achieve something special. Current form is against us but that kind of goes out the window as it’s the best team over the two games this weekend.
Chelmsford are by far the favourites for the cup but to me that just makes us even more dangerous to play against, and when we have a full squad with everyone firing we can beat anyone we play – it’s the inconsistency that’s killed us this season and that’s been disappointing.”
But at the same time he has a belief that his team have what it takes to cause an upset:
“If we play to our strengths, play simple disciplined hockey, stay out of the box (which is easier said than done with our lot) and all arrive prepared and fired up we can win this thing. We really can. We have the belief and the ability within the team to do it.
People will not expect us to, people will not give us any hope but we know we have a chance, and sometimes in sport a chance is all you need.”
Viva la cup!
Note: Photographs with ‘unknown’ credit were supplied by Joe Johnston and used with his permission. Your photo? Let us know and we’ll add the credit.
Posted in NIHL Cup Finals
So, with the exception of a couple of ‘mopping up’ games next weekend, the league has come to its climax and we start to turn our thoughts to the final pieces of silverware for NIHL1 in the South.
This weekend, we see the cup final – where Streatham Redskins and Chelmsford Chieftains will go head to head over two legs. For Chelmsford it is the chance for a third piece of silverware already this season, for Streatham a chance to grab their first since the club reformed in 2003.
For Streatham, the desire for silverware is very clear from their players: Ryan Giles may be new to the team this year, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t hungry to bring them a cup “Streatham deserve some long awaited silverware. The club is building and has a positive future with long term ambitions. This year, we’ve competed with all the top teams and deserve a trophy.”
Netminder Will Sanderson agrees “This weekend is huge for the club. The fans have been with us through some tough seasons in the recent years and they really deserve to see some silverware. I’ve played for Streatham for 7 seasons now and things have really moved forward since my first season. Moving from the old rink, to Brixton and then to the new rink was a difficult transition, and during that period our main focus was on surviving. Now our main focuses in a season are cracking the top two and getting ourselves some silverware.”
Clearly the top two is still a goal for future seasons, but the cup final gives the Skins a clear chance of finally getting something to put in their trophy cabinet! All they need to do is beat Chelmsford over two legs. Of course, that’s easier said than done! Streatham and Chelmsford have met 6 times so far this season and the Chieftains have come out on top in 5 of those occasions – taking a clean sweep of league points and only losing in a SE cup game, after they had already secured that competition. For Streatham they will be holding on to the fact that it was in their most recent meeting that they were finally able to turn the tables. Will Sanderson believe this “Chelmsford are never an easy team to face, but we got the upper hand on them last time we played so I’m sure that will be playing on their minds.”
There is a bit of a sense of little deja vu to this match-up. 2 years ago, Chelmsford were again chasing a quadruple and had already secured the SE Cup and league trophies when they met Streatham in the cup final game. But I am not sure there is a sense of inevitability to it all. The Streatham team are in a very different place than they were 2 years ago. They are now nicely settled into their lovely new rink and are very much seen as being one of the top 4 ‘big clubs’ of the league in terms of their performances.
Last year the teams met in the semi-finals round and it was one hell of a competition with Chelmsford winning 4-3 at the High Road and then Streatham taking the game to a 5-4 win at the end of regulation at the Riverside. A scoreless overtime period meant that it went to penalty shots and Matt Turner was the hero for the Chieftains with the winning p-shot.
Looking at Chelmsford, you have to wonder if their players get a touch blasé about winning all these trophies. Apparently not though, as Cameron Bartlett says “Winning never get boring, it’s always a different challenge every single year. I don’t ever believe you can win to many trophies, you just have to work hard week in week out and gel as a team and this year I think we have better than any other year. It’s a great atmosphere in the changing room and that’s showing on the ice.”
Sean Barry agrees: “Every trophy means the same to us, although most of the boys have won everything numerous times we are all still hungry to win more. Especially with what happened last year losing the cup final and being kicked out of the playoffs, that’s given us more motivation to win all four trophies this year.”
Looking at the teams, Chelmsford are clearly going in to this game as the favourites. They sewed up the league ages ago and in the end it was by an enormous 13 point margin. But they are not unbeatable. All the other top-half teams have taken points from them this season. For me, the key for Streatham is probably winning at home. If they take a deficit into the game on Sunday at The Riverside, it really will be an uphill battle for them – but if they can take a lead into the second leg then I think they have a good chance of taking the trophy. Streatham’s Adam Wood agrees “We are obviously underdogs, but I think most would agree that’s not usually a bad thing. After having to meet Chelmsford in the semis last year and going out against them in a shootout we will obviously be looking to change the outcome. With a full team, fit and looking forward to the challenge it is surely going to be an exciting weekend whatever the final result.”
Streatham coach Warren Rost, certainly believes that his team can do it “For us the main issue is player availability but if we have a full squad we’ll do very well and we’ll be very confident. We’re looking forward to it. It’s been a difficult season for various reasons and we feel we have unfinished business with Chelmsford.”
I believe (note not confirmed, just my totting up) that Steve Fisher will be back from suspension for both legs but Chris Wiggins may have to sit out the first leg. Getting Fisher back will be a huge plus for Redskins – he adds a physical presence as well as being a genuine goal-scorer. Add in the scoring options of Kamil Kinkor and Callum Best and Streatham are certainly not shy of players who know where the back of the net is. Streatham also have real play-makers like Nick Chinn and captain Joe Johnston to add to the mix.
Chelmsford of course also have more than a few scoring options to turn to! When I asked coach Sean Easton who his key players were he responded with “Huska on top form can produce high end offence single handily. He can bring other team mates into scoring chances if teams try and shut him down, or given a sniff can puck the puck in the net. The Bartlett brothers as well – if one scores you know the other will to make sure one brother is not outdoing the other! Two fire crackers that bring tons of energy, speed and chip in with big goals at key times. Not only do they agitate players to take penalties they can produce big points.” You can of course add in Danny Hammond to the scoring mix and Chelmsford also have great play-makers too – for me, Ross Brears and Oleg Lascenko really stand out in this category.
Defensively, both teams have big-hitters available in the guise of Dom Hopkins for Streatham and Billy Phillips for Chelmsford. Both of them would be in my ‘top British D’ category for NIHL South. They don’t just bring the big hits though – both are also positionally strong and also offensive minded with quite a few goals and assists between them this season. For Chelmsford, import Lukas Zapotek also stands out, as does ex-EPL defenceman David Savage for Streatham.
Finally looking between the pipes, both teams have a strong netminding duo – Chelmsford’s King and Clements are a potent combination and currently top the league netminding charts. Streatham’s duo of Sanderson and Wride may not have quite such impressive statistics (although both only just below the 90% mark so hardly poor) but both have been around the game for long enough and are known to be big-game players who can really put in huge performances when it counts.
When I spoke to them, the netminders from both sides are clearly confident in their teams and up for the game! Ben Clements said “I’m really looking forward to this weekend games against Streatham they are always tough to play against. I think if we can get a good result on Saturday then on home ice I believe we can win the cup. Obviously as a team we have set ourselves goals and wining this cup is one of them so we will definitely be up for this weekend and will aim to make it our third piece of sliver wear this season.”
Will Sanderson is also feeling confident in his team “Chelmsford are never an easy team to face, but we got the upper hand on them last time we played so I’m sure that will be playing on their minds.” He added, “Being part of this team now is so different, we have some strong characters and some of the best players this league has seen. Overall I think a lot of the team are slightly disappointed in our league form and where we have ended up, but we’ve got ourselves into this Final by showing everyone what we can achieve when we are at our best and a good performance this weekend will not only give us a chance at some silverware, but will really give us some momentum going into the playoffs.”
Ryan Giles certainly has a lot of respect for his former team “You can’t argue that Chelmsford have been the most consistent throughout the campaign – that’s what wins trophies and they have two to their name already.” But he also believes that Streatham can come out on top: “We’re in the cup final and deserve to be – now it’s two games over one weekend and we’re more than capable of winning. When we are on form and at full strength, we can beat them. If we turn up to play on both days, we will walk away with the trophy.”
The two teams certainly have pretty contrasting styles. Chelmsford are a very free-flowing team and while they certainly can play a physical game it’s probably not the style that suits them best. Coach Sean Easton tells us what he thinks Chiefs need to do “Chieftains will need to play smart hockey, stay disciplined and play our systems to the T. Our weapon is speed and crisp passing plays that open up teams easily. We want to keep our feet moving offensively. Defensively keep Streatham to the wall, make sure there shots are limited from outside the dots where our excellent goalies will stop every time. Create quick counter punch offence from Streatham’s mistakes.”
Streatham can certainly play free-flowing hockey as well and have sometimes surprised teams by doing so, but they are perhaps best known for their very physical and aggressive play – really closing down the opposition with hard fore-checking and back-checking to give no time or space on the puck. Doing this consistently and well will probably be a key factor for them in my mind.
The atmosphere at the games is likely to be electric with Streatham fans known for being some of the noisiest in the league. Adam Wood certainly appreciates them “Everyone is really looking forward to it, we have brilliant, loud fans who will no doubt somehow be louder than usual this weekend and really get behind us during both legs of the final.”
For once, 482days is not going to try and call the outcome here. We are just looking forward to watching two strong teams go all out and provide us with a great weekend of hockey. In the words of Sean Easton “This weekend will be an excellent advert for NIHL1 hockey.”
Posted in NIHL Cup Finals