With just a few days remaining and tickets now sold out, tension and excitement is building as the most popular, almost legendary, match of the Varsity series grows ever nearer. This Monday, the National Ice Centre in Nottingham will hold host to over 7,000 screaming fans from two very different universities as Uni fight to keep their 2 year winning streak over Trent in what is now officially the biggest Ice Hockey Varsity game outside of North America. Seven years of this match, along with the Nottingham Knights Cheerleaders performance and the Under 10’s mini game, means that Varsity’s flagship fixture is an event now, not just game. Head Coach Simon Hopkins, the man whose commitment, time and energy has gone into creating this Varsity event and who works with both Universities’ International Offices recalls that often the deciding factor for whether a student comes to study in Nottingham can be for the chance to play in this very match.
With the Nottingham Mavericks usually playing together as one team in three divisions of the British Universities Ice Hockey League, it is a difficult tactical task for the club to split up and play against each another. Each team has a strong individual support group behind them on the day. Uni will be coached by Johnny Pusztai , a former Panthers player and now a master butcher! As well as Stuart Bliss, the Nottingham Captain for the last few years, meaning the team is certainly in good hands. While Hopkins claims he does not care who wins, the prospective sides certainly do, and us student spectators even more so.
With a large turnover of players since last year there will be a lot of new faces on the ice. Alex Karsay, a Slovakian former junior international, has been named “the stand-out player” for Uni. Karsay plays defence and has trained with the Nottingham Panthers. With last year’s goal keeper Mervyn Tasker being named man of the match, it would seem that our goalie this year, John Sylvester, has got a reputation to uphold. John’s an experienced goalie though, having played for the Streatham Redskins who won second place in the English National League. Sylvester recalls his Ice Hockey heroes as having been local mentors to him throughout his ten years of play, with a particular respect for goal keeper James Tanner back in his home town of Kent. Hopkins has every faith in Sylvester proclaiming that he is “just as good as Merve the Mervinator”. Hopefully it won’t be all about building from the back however, and with a whole host of experienced players on our side we have been told that we are “just as good up front.”
Paul Moran has been highlighted as a particular Trent team danger. He’s one of their assistant captains and he’s club captain for the Mavericks. Moran has certainly had a lot of experience, playing for the Nottingham Panthers, the Belfast Giants and the Sheffield Steelers. “And he is only 27 now!”
It looks as though it will be a fairly well balanced match in terms of players and coaching staff which means the fight is on. Oliver Soward, President of the Mavericks, encouraged us all to be as supportive as possible on Monday, saying “You can definitely feel the crowd. They’re definitely a big part of the night” – so let’s be as loud and encouraging as possible and may the best team win.