After commentating on several domestic & international junior hockey tournaments over the past few months, TCW Podcast presenter Jono Bullard picks out the players to keep an eye on for the future.
I’ll be honest, prior to December 2016 I hadn’t watched much junior hockey and really paid no more than a passing interest. Thanks to my change of career I’ve been privileged to commentate on five junior hockey tournaments since December, which has meant my passing interest has become an almost full-time occupation, especially over the past few weeks.
I’m optimistic for the future of the game in the UK. From what I’ve seen I believe the talent pool is deep, the standard and quality of hockey I’ve seen is far beyond anything I expected and that can only bode well for the GB national programme.
As I said, I’ve seen five tournaments, GB Under 16’s in Dumfries, The Rob Laidler Plate for under 18’s in Swindon, the IHUK Under 20’s finals in Dumfries, The EIHA National Finals in Sheffield (U11, U13, U15, U18) and the EIHA Conference Finals (U11, U13, U15 & U17). I’ve chosen eight players who I think have the potential to reach EIHL level and possibly beyond in the next few years. The caveat I’ve used is that I have had to seen each player in at least three of the five tournaments I’ve watched. I’ve chosen one netminder, three defencemen and four forwards.
Netminder: Bradley Windebank – Chelmsford (Stats)
At just 15 years old Windebank is playing up to under 18 level already. I’ve been very impressed with his positioning and angles, he stops shots brilliantly and is excellent low down.
His figures for the season just finished are outstanding and if he continues on this trajectory I can see him starting at NIHL level by the time he is 17 and perhaps higher by the time he is 21. Certainly a netminder I can see starting for the Great Britain senior team in the future.
Defence: Reece Cochrane – Fife (Stats)
Cochrane is what I would call an old-fashioned defenceman. He takes care of his own end first before he looks to transition. That said, he is excellent at taking the puck forward and scored at a rate of 4 points a game in the Scottish under 16 league.
At 16 he played for Fife Falcons in the Under 20’s league and was part of their national title winning team as one of the best players on the ice in the final.
Defence: Joseph Hazeldine – Nottingham (Stats)
Hazeldine has spent time training with Nottingham Panthers, so Corey Neilson obviously sees his potential. He has also represented Nottingham Lions & Deeside Dragons in the NIHL in the past season. Blessed with height and bulk, Hazeldine is perfectly suited to the blue line. He is quick, strong and possesses a bullet of a shot as well as an ability to carry the puck from defence to attack.
Defence: Daniel Hitchings – Chelmsford (Stats)
I really like watching Hitchings play, like Cochrane he takes care of his defensive duties first but is one of the best transitional players I’ve seen turning defence into attack at this level in the games I’ve seen.
Excellent puck carrier, excellent distributor, excellent defenceman. Watch out for this guy.
Forward: Mason Biddulph – Guildford (Stats)
Mason Biddulph has it all. Pace, skill, skating ability. He is a naturally gifted player and he uses his potential to the fullest. Already plays up to under 20 level where he scored 27 points in just 7 games.
Biddulph has an astonishing ability to keep hold of the puck, but on the rare occasions he does lose it he will battle straight back for it. This makes him exceptional on the penalty kill and in powerplay situations where he revels in the extra space.
He plays with an edge, which can get him into disciplinary trouble, but I believe it makes him the player he is.
Forward: Tommy Huggett – Chelmsford (Stats)
Of all the players I’ve seen play at this level I haven’t seen anyone who can keep hold of a puck like Huggett. Not only that, when he has the puck he is constantly looking for a shooting lane, which could explain why he scored an astonishing 44 goals in just 13 games at under 15 level this year.
My only criticism is that he could look for the pass more but with a natural finishing ability like he has, it could be argued that he doesn’t really need to.
Forward: Austin Mitchell-King – Coventry (Stats)
Mitchell-King isn’t what you would describe as a ‘flashy’ player but he’s stood out for me every time I’ve seen him due to his ability to carry the puck forward, hold it up for his team-mates and fight for it in the dirty areas.
He had an impressive 19 points in 13 games at under 20 level this season and was a pivotal part of the Blaze team that reached the under 20 national final in Dumfries.
Forward: Michael Power – Okanagan (Stats)
Power by name, power by nature. Mikey Power is the stereotypical power forward (no pun intended) and plays with a maturity well beyond his 16 years. A pivotal part of Okanagan Hockey Academy UK’s success this season, he plays 5 on 5 (where he has an almost telepathic understanding with line-mate Jordan Kelsall), on the power play and also on point on the penalty kill. Not only he a superb puck carrier with a demon of a wrist shot, he also has an ability to find space to take a pass.
From what I’ve seen I would say he has the potential to go to the EIHL and beyond in the next few years, he is already playing up at NIHL level with the Swindon Wildcats.
There are many players who could have made the list but didn’t meet my caveat. Tyler Nixon, Nathan Ripley & Thomas Palmer at Sheffield, Bradley Bowering & Jarvis Hunt at Peterborough, Sam Talbot at Bracknell plus Cade Neilson & Kieran Brown, who are based in North America, are players I have also been very impressed with and are players who will go on to bigger things I’m sure.
The upshot is that there is a great depth of talent in the junior ranks in the UK. It’s up to those who run the sport in Great Britain to harness their potential so that Team GB can continue to improve. The ambition has to be to reach IIHF Pool A and if the French, Danish & Norweigans can sit at the top table there’s no reason why we can’t with the right infrastructure and investment. It’s clear that the playing ability is already there.