Talks to Peter Collins March 2000
SHORN of his trademark ponytail, Scot Colin Downie may not be as recognisable to Storm fans as he was in that historic first season, but they'll certainly not fail to see that his passion for the game has not diminished.
Now a sales executive with Time Computers, the 26-year-old is getting married next year Jeannie, but before that the couple are looking forward to the birth of their first child, due 6 May this year.
So how did Colin come to end up back at the club: "Lipper called and asked if I could help them out by being back-up to Bernie. Altrincham's Chris Main had been acting as back-up while Frankie gets back to match fitness but he couldn't make some of the games so he asked me and I jumped at it. Not not only did it give me another opportunity to be involved in hockey at the highest level, it also gave me the chance to meet players like Mike Morin again and the fans, who I consider as friends too. When I came out the other night against Sheffield it sent a shiver down my spine and the reception I got was brilliant, it meant a lot."
His first game back in a Storm shirt was the final game of the regular season away to the London Knights. Still fondly remembered, fans like Emma Shelmerdine dug out their first season shirts with 'Downie' emblazoned across the back and wore them to the game.
Then in last Sunday's opening play-off fixture in Cardiff Colin came close to getting back on the ice when Bernie stopped a rocket of a shot with his groin. "Watching the game on Sky on Tuesday night I could see myself sitting behind the bench and my head seemed to sink lower and lower behind the boards the longer Bernie stayed down! But to be honest I'd have loved it, I'd have gievn it my all and I feel I'm still capable of doing a good job at this level."
Since those halcyon days of the 1995-96 season Colin has been with the Blackburn organisation and is now semi-pro, as with a family on the way long term security is his new goal. "I really landed on my feet with Time, I work at the head office in Burnley and they're a really good company to work for. I have great bosses who let me have time off to train and play and I can't say enough about them, without their help I wouldn't be able to continue playing."
But he very nearly wasn't in a position to help the Storm out in any case, due to injury. "I snapped a hamstring about seven weeks ago playing against Whitley Bay and but for physio David Fevre I wouldn't have been back so soon. David, who used to be with Manchester United but is now with Blackburn Rovers, devised a rehab programme for me and it's worked. I still have to get back to full match fitness but I could play if called upon and not let anybody down."
Since Lipper's phone call Colin has been training with the Storm and it's something he 'd like to do more often. "It's been really good. It's a huge step up from the level I'm playing at now - Northerm Conference of the English League - but in a way it's easier because you know what guys are going to do with the puck. In ED1 they don't always do what they would like to but I suppose that's the difference between full time pros who've played at the very highest level and part-timers who train maybe twice a week if they're lucky."
Talking of training, Colin is the Hawks assistant coach, giving Bobby Haig a much needed hand along with Mark Ward. He also helps coach the juniors, from the stick and puck sessions open to all to the recognised teams. So since he's had a chance to experience life as a coach, how does he rate our very own Kurt Kleinendorst?
"I tell you he is awesome, he is the man. I've never worked with someone as professional, it's a real education watching him, he's top notch." And players who have caught his eye? "Well. I'd have to say Pierre Allard is the hardest working player I've ever seen, he works his rocks off every game, he's phenomenal. Also Rob Robinson is just huge at the back and Bernie is a very focused goalie. Up front the Askew-Lozhkin-Duthie line is superb, lots of skill and speed and they know where the net is."
But as far as producing British players to Superleague standard is concerned, Colin's not so optimistic. "ISL would have to invest in the lower leagues to bring the standards up to a high enough level to give Britsih kids a chance of making it. But the league and the clubs have enough on their plate with survivng themselves, but something has to be done. New rinks would certainly help and I can't understand why a new public rink hasn't been built in Manchester, or somewhere like Bolton. Also, I can't understand why there's never been a rink and Superleague team in Liverpool, it's just as sports mad as Manchester and can you imagine the rivalry between Storm and a Liverpool team? It would pack both arenas out every time the met."
A late starter in hockey terms, Colin didn't take to the ice at Glenrothes until he was 13. He then moved to Dundee where he made up for lost time by making the GB under 16s side by the time he was 15, having started in the club's under 15s before making it onto the first team, where he first played with Jeff Lindsay, destined to be the Storm's first ever captain. Next stop was the Fife Flyers where he won a championship during his three year stay
Lured by what he describes as 'loads of money for a kid' he then headed south to the Storm's forerunners, the Trafford Metros, backstopping them to a fifth-placed finish in British first division and rounding off the season fourth in the divisional netminding table. That was achieved despite missing games due to a serious shoulder injury which required surgery. "I dislocated it several times, but because we didn't have a spare netmider I had to pop it back in and continue playing, which wasn't exactly the ideal thing to do but I just got on with it, I wanted to play."
In 1995 - 'The year of the Storm' - Colin, along with a handful of Metros stars were kept on by the brand new Manchester club after they'd bought the Metros out. And Colin was heading the league's netminding standings until Christmas when coach John Lawless decided to bring in John Finnie after failing to land GB international Martin McKay from roses rivals Sheffield Steelers.
Although it was a successful time in his life Colin also reckons he learned a lot from the experience. "My time with the Storm was a big learning curve for me other than in a playing sense, I mean people forget I was just 22 - that must make me the oldest 26-year-old in British hockey! - I was a young kid on a team of superstars and looking back I maybe didn't handle the limelight as well as I could have but like I said I was still a kid." In all, despite Finnie playing the majority of games in the second half of the season, Colin still finished second behind his teammate in the league's netminding stakes.
With Lawless intend on building the team Colin found himself pushed out by the arrival of German stopper Marc Gronau for the Storm's first season in Superleague and so he moved to close rivals, the Blackburn Hawks as their number one. "I just wanted to play and although I was stepping down to the British National League it was regular ice time and I believe if you're not enjoying something then you might as well not do it. Now I'm playing at an even lower level, but it's ice time and I'm still enjoying it. I get a real buzz from the coaching side too, not only the first team but also the juniors, we have one young netminder who I'm convinced will go on to play for GB."
The team then changed it's name from Blackburn to Lancashire for a season and Colin found himself behind Barry Hollyhead in the pecking order, as the Hawks finished next to last in the BNL.
The club swapped the name back to Blackburn but dropped down another level to the English League premier division, and Colin was released, along with four other top earners in a cost cutting exercise to keep the team afloat.
This season he has returned to the Hawks fold and has been an important part of a young team in Northern Conference of the English League.
"Life goes on, I'm not going to whinge about how my career has turned out," he said: "I was an important part of that first year team that won the championship and no-one can take that away from me. I've got the medal to prove it - game over. Yes I'd love another crack playing at the top level but it will probably never come, I'd love the chance to train more with the Storm, that may or may not happen. But life goes on. I had eight years as a full time pro and although hockey is now taking a back seat in my life I still enjoy playing and I'm really into the coaching. Outside the game I've got a great job, I'm getting married and I'm going to be a dad, What could be better?"