Photo credit (all): Arthur Foster
Invicta Dynamos have put together a strong team this season, retaining the bulk of last season’s runner’s up side and adding a few new guys into the mix. One of these is Hull native Tommy Ralph who has played almost all of his hockey in the North East up till now. With stints in both the Elite league (98 appearances) and the EPL (48 appearances).
I caught up with Tommy a little while ago and this is what he had to say for himself!
482days: Let’s start with how you got in to playing ice hockey?
TR: When I was starting out the Humberside Seahawks were having a lot of success and with a few of my Dad’s friends playing for them, I got supplied with equipment easy enough to start out when I was around 5 years old.
482days: You got your first call up to the Elite league with Hull while you were still an U18 player, especially impressive for a d-man. What was the overall experience like?
TR: Yeah that’s right I was 16 when I first got a shot at the Elite League, and it was a 5-1 win away at Coventry Blaze. It was an unbelievable experience for me to be so young and be a part of that on my debut.
482days: Did you get many shifts did you get in those first few games in that season?
TR: I got fair ice time for what I brought to the team at that time, I was used sporadically but went out and did a job when called upon. It would be fair to say I was been protected a little bit, at 16 if I was getting a regular shift there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that – and at Elite League level it can be easy to have your confidence destroyed and that’s the last thing teams want when they are investing in players for the future.
482days: Did it make you hungry to continue to play at that level?
TR: Yeah definitely! I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at that point – I’d just finished my GCSE’s and was toying with the idea of an apprenticeship or going on to college but I decided after this to put all my focus into hockey and I don’t regret it as the Stingrays gave me the opportunity to go to University and now I’m running my own business back in Hull so everything worked out eventually, for now at least.
482days: You’ve actually played at all levels of hockey in recent years – with ice time in everything from NIHL2 to Elite league. How big is the difference between each of the leagues? Which is the biggest step up from one league to another in terms of quality from your perspective?
TR: I’ve always thought that in NIHL North there are quite a few players who are better than the standard they are playing at who could easily play EPL and even more so in the NIHL South but don’t for whatever reason; whether that’s a political thing or because most players work full time jobs alongside hockey and can’t commit to EPL, I don’t know. But it definitely makes the NIHL a better standard. For my money I’d have to say the biggest jump is to go from EPL to Elite League. It’s a totally different class, most teams are signing guys with experience in the NHL and AHL as opposed to the lesser leagues like they were a few years back. That’s definitely the biggest jump in standard by quite a margin.
482days: How would you best describe yourself as a hockey player? Does your style of play change a lot depending on the level of league you are playing in?
TR: I was moulded into a stay at home D-man from my time within the Stingrays organisation as that was my best chance to be an Elite league player. At the higher levels you have to specialise in something to make yourself stand out from the rest and that could be anything from been a penalty kill specialist to a fighter. I will continue to play the same way as I always have done but with a bit more freedom. I’d like to think I can contribute more offensively than I have in recent years.
482days: It’s a very long way from Hull to Gillingham – so what prompted such a major move?
TR: Well I’m only 22 and I wanted to try something new, talking with friends from back home who have moved away to play hockey and the reputation that the Dynamo’s have as an organisation made it an easy decision.
482days: Having only played in the North before, how much do you know about the leagues down south? What are your expectations for NIHL1 South?
TR: From what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen from the NIHL South I don’t think it would be unfair to say that in regards to standard the league is not that far behind the EPL. I definitely think that the top 4 sides could compete with the EPL’s bottom 4 sides from last year. I’m hoping I can bring something different to help the team push on from 2nd place and clinch that top spot this year. It’s not going to be easy, the league is well balanced this year but I like our chances.
482days: What do you think you will bring to Invicta?
TR: Hopefully I can bring some experience I gained in the Elite League and EPL and it will rub off on my team mates and make us a better unit.
482days: You’ve been playing for Hull, who have had some tough seasons in recent years and moving to a club who will almost certainly be challenging for honours. Does that change your approach to the game?
TR: When I was at the Stingrays we were always a +500 team and challenging for the Gardiner Conference title, so I wouldn’t say we were struggling! In our final year we knocked Braehead out of the playoffs over two legs and got beaten 3-2 by Sheffield in the semi-finals controversially. If we could have gotten past Sheffield that year, and we would have if it wasn’t for some poor officiating, I truly believe we would have been playoff champions that year. As for my last year in Hull with the newly formed Pirates that was a struggle and honestly the least I have ever enjoyed playing hockey, but despite that I haven’t lost my desire to win so I believe I will fit in well at Invicta and with my team mates who all share that desire.
482days: Have you had a chance to start getting to know your Invicta team-mates yet? If yes, how are you fitting in?
TR: At the time of answering these questions I’ve got to know the owners, the coach and his friends and family and 3 team mates. I’ll meet up with the rest of the guys at training camp. But so far I think I’ve fit in well, and from what I can see there are a lot genuine and good people surrounding this club.
482days: Your still pretty young (only 22) for the amount of experience you already have on your hockey CV? Do you have any long-term hockey ambitions?
TR: I would like to keep building my CV up and win trophies with Invicta, I don’t really look further past what I’m doing at the moment, but long term I would love to have another shot at the Elite League before I retire into full time business life. I want to play as long as I can while I’m young and my body will let me.
482days: What’s your proudest moment in hockey?
TR: Either winning a junior national championship with Kingston juniors, my professional debut for Hull Stingrays, or beating Braehead in the quarter-finals of the playoffs when Carl Lauzon scored the winner in OT. Hull Arena erupted and I had goose bumps going nuts with my team mates when we won.
482days: What’s your favourite memory from hockey (if different from above)?
TR: Definitely the latter from the previous question. Beating Braehead in the playoffs.
482days: Who’s the best player you have played with?
TR: Too many to say one, I’ll answer an easier one, best goalie was Dave Brown by a large margin.
482days: And the best player you have played against?
Robby Sandrock for Belfast Giants was an excellent D-man.
482days: Any message for the Invicta fans ahead of your first game?
TR: Can’t wait to skate out at the Silverblades and soak up the atmosphere, if you do your job as our extra man, we’ll do ours for you. Looking forward to winning together!