Young whippets ready and able to boost Hounds
Not so long ago they were skinny whippets skating rings around their fellow juniors, but now they're on the cusp of glory with Haringey Greyhounds - writes Jonny Weeks.
Not so long ago they were skinny whippets skating rings around their fellow juniors, but now they're on the cusp of glory with Haringey Greyhounds.
It has been astonishing season for Nick Alley and Calum Mathison who have become regulars in Haringey's senior team, and a trip to the national final in Coventry this weekend is reward for their stunning progress.
Nick and Calum are both just 17. But such is their talent, they can expect to feature in the game against Sheffield on Sunday - fulfilling an ambition that many older players never achieve.
The only irony is that their team-mate, 14-year-old Freddie Trimble - who has also featured for the seniors this year - is unable to join them.
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"It's going to be so big, so intense," said Nick excitedly. "We've never played in the play-offs until this season, not at any level, and now we're going up for the finals. I'm more excited than nervous. I've been putting in extra sessions at the gym to make sure I'm ready, and no matter how much I play on the day, I'll try just to enjoy being there."
The teenage trio have been skating for differing lengths of time - Calum first took to the ice after watching a match when he was 13, and brought his friend Nick to training with him, while Freddie began figure skating when he was just six. Their enthusiasm for ice hockey has grown ever since.
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"I love the speed and the adrenalin rush of scoring a goal," said Calum.
"And the adrenalin rush of making a big hit," said Nick.
Calum went on to admit: "I've had a couple of fights in the junior ranks and there have been times since I joined the seniors that someone bigger than me has grabbed hold of me.
"If it came to it I'm ready to drop the gloves, but fortunately it hasn't happened yet."
All three players have retained links with their respective junior sides while becoming more and more involved with the Greyhounds. Nick still features for the under-19s (Wolves), Freddie still plays for the under-16s (Whippets), and Calum has been drafted into Guilford under-19s on a two-way contract.
However, Freddie's commitment to the Whippets means he will be unavailable for the Greyhounds' final.
"I'm disappointed, but I knew there was only one decision," he said. "I have to play for the youth team because we've got an important game against Cardiff and we need to win.
"I've just got to take it on the chin and get on with it. Hopefully, there will be other chances with the seniors."
Such maturity is one of the things that has impressed Greyhound's head coach Jeff Andrews.
"They are all holding their own in the first team and don't look out of place at all," he said.
"Freddie is playing well above his age grade - he is like a 19 or 20-year-old. He is a huge kid, with uncanny awareness and very level-headed.
"Calum is a homegrown kid and a tough forward who works tirelessly. He needs to work on his hockey brain, but that will all come with experience.
"Nick has been playing for the South East England team. He is very versatile, very tough and his attitude is first class. If we can keep hold of them it will be great for the future of the club."
The Hounds finished third in the Southern League this year and topped the play-offs by virtue of a five-game winning streak. Now Andrews believes the national title is theirs for the taking.
"Hockey is all about being one big family, and that's something we've achieved. I don't think there's a team who can touch us.