talks to Peter Collins - Feb 2000
Originally published in the match night programme of 17th Feb 2000
MOST of us watch the guys play from our seats in the stand, but Chris Main got to watch the last home game, the 3-1 win over the Panthers,from the best seats in the house - on the players bench. With Frankie Pietrangelo picking up a knee injury in the warm-up the night before in Sheffield Strom had to draft in a temporary replacement for the Nottigham game while Frankie's injury was assessed and Coach Kurt Kleinendorst turned to Altrincham Aces' back-up Chris Main.
"Watching from the bench was amazing, I mean it's fast enough when I play for the Aces but it's so much faster at this level and a lot more physical," explained Chris. "Aces' coach Dave Shepherd rang me up about 10pm the night before to tell me he couldn't start me the Sunday night because the Storm wanted me as back-up to Mark Bernard. Well, you can imagine what my first thought was - OK, this is a joke right? And when he managed to convince me if was for real it still took a while to completely sink in. When I got to the Arena I went out for a gentle skate with the injured players for about 30 minutes. Then as the day progressed I went out for the pre-match warm-up. I could tell just from that 20 minutes or so how much more intense the game is at that level. The shots were far faster and harder, but it was a great experience and I'd do anything to be involved in it again."
Although he wasn't called upon to go into action Chris was nevertheless ready and waiting. "Sure I was nervous thinking about it but I just tried to keep my concentration. As a goalie you have to rely on your reading of the game, reflexes, speed and of course luck. I pride myself on my up-and-down speed and concentration. You have to focus totally on the game, you can't allow anything to distract you, so you have to be mentally tough. If you let your mind wander you won't be ready for when you go on. If you're mind's wandering while you're on the bench it will still be wandering when you hit the ice, so you have to focus from the first drop of the puck if you want to keep your mental edge. That's what I tried to do and that's why the game went past me in a blur."
So what does he think of Frankie and Bernie then and does he model himself on either or both of them? "Well, they're both amazing netminders. They have their own styles and I'd say Bernie is more of a stand-up goalie while Frankie is more of a butterfly goalie. As for me I try to play somewhere in between. I'm big (6ft 1in - and still growing!) and I try and use my size to intimidate opposing forwards, if someone's coming at me I'll go out to them and make myself even bigger."
He then gave an insight into what's it's like in the locker room before the guys come out for a game and during the period breaks. "The pre-game talk consisted mainly of Kurt telling the guys to play with the same energy and passion they showed the previous night in Sheffield and not to take the Panthers for granted just becasue they'd struggled on the road. It's a totally different style of coaching to what I've seen before, instead of the coach telling it how it's going to he Kurt lets' the players analyse what they have to do and everyone gets the chance to say what they think. During the period breaks the players continue to have a huge input in what is said."
So how did this 18-year-old kid from leafy Cheadle Hulme get to be in a position to be picked to play for the Storm? Well, like my youngsters who watch the Storm and dream of a pro ice hockey career, due to the lack of ice time with there only being two rinks to skate and play at (Altrincham and Blackburn) Chris got involved in the next best thing - roller hockey. "I first started playing on Lane End Primary School's playground in Cheadle Hulme with my mates. When we started to i prove my dad called the player-coach of Stockport Shadows, Ben Sykes, and we started to turn out for them. Originally I was a defenceman but one day at practice we didn't have a goalie so I said I'd stand in and I've been between the pipes ever since, although I've come a long way from playing with a skaters' stick and a baseball mit! The Shadows then statred playing at Macclesfield Leisure Centre and two other teams sort of formed around us and we became Macclesfield Meltdown. I'd already started ice skating and just over a year ago I started playing ice hockey at Altrincham progressing up the ranks to the Tigers (under 19) and after a while my coach Neil Owen asked the first team coach Dave Shepherd if I could train with them and it took off from there."
But Chris has also had to show the kind of dedication and get-up-and-go that is needed by anyone intent on making it to the very top in British Ice hockey, which included putting his - and his parents' - money where his mouth is. "The last three years I've been going over to North America to Craig Woodcfoft' ice hockey schools. The first year we - Chris Halley, Phil Keelan, Pete and Ian Norgate, Andy Roberts, Dom Moore and myself - went over, 1997 to Chicago, it was arranged by a guy who played for Macclesfield Meltdown, Kurt Richards. He was the one who got a leaflet and asked if we were interested and we were. The last two years we've been in direct contact with Woody's brother, Todd and we've been going to Toronto, paid for with money I raised from jobs and with the help of my mum and dad, Danise and Bryce, I couldn't have done it without them. I learned a lot, being coached by ECHL netminders. Then last year I also attended the Storm School at Altrincham where I was coached by Frankie himself, which was brilliant." So, what happens now? "Well, I've been working on my hockey career since I started playing with the Aces and I use my job (he works in a graphic design studio) to keep me going while I play hockey. But if, say, a BNL team came in for me then I would jump at the chance of joining them because it's the next level up from what I'm used to playing now and hopefully it would lead to a playing in Superleague. Once you've experienced hockey at that level it's hard to go back down to ED1. I don't wish Frankie anything bad but if it takes him a while to recover I'd do anything to be brought in again, it would be a dream come true. Playing for the Aces under 19s was great, the step up to the first team was even better but now I've had a little taste of what it's like in Superleague I'm hooked. It's a huge steeping stone and it's already on my CV."
He also feels it sends out some important messages to the hundreds of kids across Greater Manchester who would do anything to have been in his skates, even if it was only for one game - for now anyway. "A British kid, and a local one at that, not only training with the team but getting a place on the bench tells anyone wanting to play at this level that hard work really does pay off. It also says try different things like roller hockey and when you get the chance grab it with both hands. Since the game I've practiced with the team and I'd like to see others given the chance too. It would be great if the Storm could come to some kind of agreement whereby they used the Aces as a farm team, because that would give a lot more local players the chance to train and even play at the highest level and give them the incentive to try to get into full time pro hockey. Although he didn't get to see action he does have the memory of being on the bench and being trusted with the job of keeping the puck out of the Storm net had anything happened to 'Barnyard' Bernard. And he also experienced something of what it's like to be a Storm player off the ice, too, when one of his mates, Mark Thomas, had him sign his Storm shirt, hockey stick and programme! A fan himself, Chris was, however, not as fortunate when it came to getting a souvenir: "I'd love to have kept the shirt I wore but unfortunately it was Frankie's and I don't think he'd have been to happy if I'd have run off with it. Still, if all I ever do is sit on the bench as back-up for one game I can still say I iced for the Storm wore the shirt of a Stanley Cup winner!"
PETER COLLINS 2000