Photos: Supplied by Ben Nethersell
Oxford City Stars havce brought in defensive young gun Ben Nethersell who will split his first senior season between the Stars and Swindon Wildcats in the EPL. I caught up with Ben recently and this is what he has to say about himself!
482Days: When did you start playing hockey and how did you get into the game?
BN: I started when I was about 6 years old. Some students who lived at our house took me skating in London and it just carried on from there.
482Days: You’ve been at the Okanagan hockey school for the last 3 years – what was that experience like?
BN: It’s definitely been a life-changing experience. I’m really grateful to my parents for sending me there because it’s a big commitment from them, but I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t gone. It meant I lived away from home since I was 14 which was good for life skills and developing me as a person and hopefully I can bring that into my game as well.
The school were very good, they let us out of the first set of morning classes every day so that we could have an early training session on the ice and then once most kids left for the day we would stay behind and make that lesson up – then we’d hit the gym for an hour after school – so it was pretty full on. They were also really flexible in terms of letting us have time off for GB.
Hockey-wise, I was on the ice almost every day and hopefully that’s something that won’t change too much this year. I’m on a 2-way with the (Swindon) Wildcats so I should be on the ice for training 3 times a week. It’s a little bit less than I did last year but I’ll hopefully still be in the gym every day and of course I should have 2 games most weekends across both teams.
It didn’t leave much time for a social life, but my social life was hockey!
482days: You wore the captain’s armband for your final year at Okanagan, and you wore an ‘A’ for GB last year – what’s the experience of that like in a very high-performing team?
BN: It was a learning curve and it really developed me in different ways as well. You learn to talk to different people in different ways. Some people in games get angry and some get quiet and you need to learn how to lead everyone.
482Days: Looking at your statistics in the U18’s – you seem to pick up a lot of points for a d-man (25+58 in just 35 league games). Do you consider yourself as an offensive-minded defender or was that just a role you played for that team?
BN: For that team, I did step up quite a lot! But for a d-man I think that is one of my strengths – I like playing offensively, I like joining the rush and hopefully I can bring that into my game this season.
482Days: You’ve represented GB at U18 level for the last two years. What was the experience like to represent your country?
BN: It was a different level. No-one can really prepare you for that! I mean I iced every day at Okanagan but it’s still completely different level to be playing every day as well as training and the standard of opposition is obviously higher. There’s nothing you can do to really prepare for it on or off the ice. This year I was assistant captain, which was a massive honour and I loved every minute of that as well.
482Days: Are you still pushing for a place in the U20’s team this year for the WC in Hungary?
BN: I made it through the first round of cuts and I have one more trial before they cut to the final team. I have kept pushing myself to stay fit this summer and I’ll get a couple of games under my belt before the final trial, and hopefully get myself there again. I don’t know how many D-men are left but everyone there is really good. So a lot will depend on what the coach is looking for and if you fit into what he wants from the team. We’ll have to see what happens.
482Days: You’ve already played some senior hockey over the last 2 years with games at both NIHL2 and EPL level. How does the level compare with junior A league?
BN: It’s different obviously – it’s more physical and the guys shoot the puck a lot harder. A lot of guys in the EPL want to be hockey players as a job, so it has a more competitive edge – compared to U18’s where for a lot of the kids it’s a bit of a hobby. I’m ready for this step up now – NIHL1 is a good level and I’ll have the EPL games to keep pushing me as well.
482Days: Do you need to mentally adjust your game depending on who you are playing for?
BN: No. I just try and be myself in every game. Even when I was playing at under-12’s I was the same. I was just trying to be as good as I could be. It doesn’t matter what situation – as long as you are focused on doing your bit.
482Days: What made you decide to join Oxford and NIHL1?
BN: I’ve heard a lot of good things. I spoke to Shane Moore who came here last year and he really enjoyed it. When Simon messaged me and told me what he had to offer, it was a good deal for me. Meeting the guys for the first time made it even more obvious that it was a good decision. It’s such a good group of guys and I think it is going to be a great year and hopefully we can also win some medals!
With 9 defenceman signed this year it’s going to be competitive for places – you aren’t going to take 9 d-men into a game! So it’s going to keep pushing me to make sure I’m not just in the team every week but to make the top 4 d-men spots. Of course sometimes I might get called up (to Wildcats) and someone will take my spot and I’ll have to push hard to win it back again. That can only be good for my development.
482Days: You’ve had your first training sessions with the Oxford team now, how are you fitting in?
BN: They are all really welcoming. I’ve never been in a team where everyone gets on like that – there’s always at least one guy… But here everyone clearly gets on really well – it’s great. I really enjoy coming to training, even though it’s like 10pm at night because of them.
482Days: Did you participate in the pre-season fitness testing with the team? How did you get on and did you get given anything to specifically work on/improve?
BN: I think I did pretty well and I’m pretty happy with all my scores and stuff. They did give us some sheets of things to work on in the season – but that was for everyone, I didn’t get anything extra specific to me. So I’ve been doing some of that over the summer and hopefully when we get re-tested I can do even better.
It was really good that the club did that for us. Obviously everyone needs to be fit for the season if we want to win (and to avoid injury). There’s not many teams that will be doing this continual assessment – even in EPL some teams don’t do this.
482Days: You are on a 2-way contract with Swindon’s EPL team as well – how will that work, which team will have first choice on your time for games?
BN: Simon (Simon Anderson, Oxford coach) has first choice – no matter what. But he’s pretty understanding. He knows I want to play in both leagues and how important it is for my development. So I am hoping that he’ll be flexible and release me sometimes when it is not an important game here but I have a chance to get some time with Wildcats.
I’ll definitely be playing in the first three of the four warm-up games Swindon have. The last one clashes with training before our first game – so I won’t be playing in that as Simon wants me here at training. But playing in the other three, so it will be able to get going and bring that into our first big game here in Oxford.
482Days: What are your longer term hockey ambitions?
BN: Keep pushing myself and see how far I can get. I don’t have any specific ideas about where I want to end up but I want to keep pushing myself up the leagues and seeing how high I can get. I’d consider a move abroad if the right opportunity came up – but I don’t have any fixed ideas at the moment. I’ll see where hockey takes me. For now I want to concentrate on enjoying this year and playing as well as I can.
482Days: How would you describe yourself as a hockey player?
BN: I’m definitely offensive-minded, but I think I’m a pretty well-rounded defenceman. The coaches I had at OHA taught me different things and I think I can play in all aspects of the game.
482Days: What do you consider the biggest strengths and weaknesses of your game to be?
BN: One of my strengths is my playmaking. I don’t expect to score goals every game but I’m good at picking out the pass and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t rack up some assists over the season. A weakness is sometimes a lack of belief in myself – so I just need to learn to go for it really.
482Days: What has been the highlight of your hockey career so far?
BN: Probably winning a bronze medal at the World Championships with GB (2 seasons ago) – that was pretty special. It came down to the last game and a penalty shoot-out (against the Netherlands – and it took 8 rounds of shots to decide it!), so it was really such a good feeling to win that and take home a medal.
482Days: What are you most proud of in your hockey career so far?
BN: Probably being named as assistant captain for my country. Growing up, playing in Streatham, I never expected to be given the chance to help lead GB.