Friday, October 24th, 2009
The Captain of Nottingham returns home to help Gades
He was thousands of miles away from Woodstock, but somehow he managed to feel right at home thanks to the game of hockey.
When Woodstock Renegades assistant coach Jack McLaren enrolled at the University of Nottingham in England last year, hockey was the farthest thing from his mind. He was focused on earning a masters degree in international security and terrorism.
"I wasn't even planning on bringing my hockey equipment, but changed my mind at the last minute when I found out they had a nice arena in Nottingham," McLaren said.
The arena McLaren had heard about is home to a couple of teams. The Nottingham Panthers, a professional team in the United Kingdom's Elite League, and the University of Nottingham Mavericks, the varsity team at the school McLaren attended.
He had heard a little about the pro team before leaving for Nottingham but it was a huge surprise when he realized the university also had a team.
"I didn't even find out about them until I got down there and then I was like, 'Wow, maybe I should try out,'" he said.
Not only did McLaren try out, but he made the team and was named captain.
It became apparent to McLaren that he stumbled onto the closest thing England had to a hockey hotbed.
"They have a decent grassroots program in Nottingham. I think having a pro team helps," he said. "The Panthers have a really good following. Of course there were a few minor differences that took some getting used to, most notably the hockey lingo."
In England a hockey bag is called a hockey kit and a jock is referred to as a box.
"I didn't know what to say the first time somebody asked me if I had my box on."
The other big difference was in the skill level. McLaren played Junior B for a couple of years and wasn't used to the new standards.
"By Canadian standards they weren't the greatest team, but certainly not as bad as you might think," he said.
McLaren also said it wasn't as rough as the Canadian game, but he learned early on that it can get chippy.
"In my first game over there I took a high stick in the mouth and lost one of my front teeth," he said.
McLaren was forced to fly home to Canada for thousands of dollars in dental work. Undeterred, he returned to Nottingham in time for the team's next game and led the team to the British Universities Ice Hockey championship to cap one of the greatest experiences of his life.