Talks to Peter Collins - September 1999
IT'S not only mums-to-be that get a bit anxious leading up to the birth of a child, dads can get edgy too, especially when they've lost their job. That's just how Mike Harding felt when he found out he'd been cut by the London Knights in August, having been one of the few players on the team to have told they'd be returning. "You assume that as the crucial months of June and July go by everthing is set in stone and I had just starting wandering when London would be contacting me about flight details and such when McSorley told me I wasn't in his plans," explained Mike.
Handed the task of turning the Knight's fortunes around, incoming coach Chris McSorley didn't see Mike as being part of his masterplan, and with a baby on the way Mike could well have done without the problem of having to find a new club. "I talked with him and he felt he needed to bring his own guys in, which I can understand but his timing made things kind of stressful, although I suppose I'd rather have known then than a month into the season. "The fact it happened when my wife was so pregnant really got under my skin, but now the smoke's cleared I think it's worked out for the best."
At the time though prospects didn't seem too good. "With leaving his decision so late I thought I'd struggle getting a club. I knew from talking to guys around the league that most SuperLeague rosters were full. I could have waited for a month or two to see if there were any changes and I also sounded out a few teams in Germany and Austria and of course back home. "But I wanted to stay in England, it would be a more comfortable situation for my wife and I wanted to get involved with the GB team. "When I made the decison to come to Europe I realised it would be tough to go back to North America, plus with a baby on the way I didn't want to be at a training camp in October because it's due on the 15th.
"I really didn't think Manchester had roster space left, so when Kurt made contact everything happened very quickly." Now alongside his new teammates he can forget last season's troubled times down at the Docklands Arena and look forward to a life with the Sekonda SuperLeague champions. "It was a difficult situation last year because we didn't have team unity, the club had absolutely no history or tradition and we never developed as a team. In contrast Manchester were winners with a superb organisation behind them." And it wasn't as if he could ask former Knights teammate and new Storm hero Greg Gatto for any advice. "Greg was already over here preparing to go out to Switzerland, so I just e-mailed him to wish him luck. When I found out I'd been released by London he'd already gone. "As soon as I'd signed for Manchester I wanted to join the team as quick as I could and earn a role, and going out to Switzerland was the only way to do that, and myself, Greg and Rick Brebant worked well together. "We then had a bad night in Nottingham but I really enjoyed Sunday's game against Ayr and scoring your first goal for a new club is always a great feeling, a real confidence booster. "There's a sense of confidence here, most of the guys have been together for a while and they expect a lot from each other and the new guys, but that kind of attitude wins things."
Before coming to England the 28-year old, 6ft 4ins, 15st, right winger from Edmonton, Alberta, was drafted by Hartford (the Whalers' 6th choice, 119th overall) in the 1991 entry draft, and went on to spend the next four years with University of Northern Michigan (91-95, making the WCHA 1994 All-Star team) before turning pro. The next two years (95-97) were spent with the ECHL's Richmond Renegades and the AHL's Springfield Falcons. He then decided to try his luck in England after Guildford Flames' coach Stan Marple persuaded him to move to Surrey, and what a move it proved to be. His 46 goals and 57 assists for a points total of 103 from 44 regular season games, and 21 points from 10 play-off outings made him the best two-way player in the British National League and helped the Flames to a superb treble (BNL, Playoff and Southern Premier League titles). It also guaranteed him the Players' and Supporters' Club player-of-the-year accollades as well as being named in the BNL All-Star line-up.
"I didn't know what to expect, I just wanted to get away from North America, enjoy my hockey and if possible make a new start in the UK," refected Mike. "Once I'd been over here a while and got to know what the SuperLeague was all about I knew I'd like to jump up to that level and took the opportunity when it came." Last season he received a royal summons to join the fledgling Knights, and, despite the team coming last in Superleague he managed to finish fourth top scorer with 9+12 for 21 points from 37 regular season games. Now, with a new team, a new challenge and a new home in Monton, Mike can get on with his hockey and together with Geri-Ann they can both look forward to the birth of their first child in the autumn