Talks to Peter Collins November 1999
CAPTAIN is not a role every player wants or is suited to and where Manchester Storm are concerned it's certainly not very good for your health. But then Jeff Tomlinson, who might not be the biggest player in the world though he certainly has a big heart, is enjoying the challenge. Last season Davey Morrison lost his balance in a charity game and ended up fracturing his cheek bone; this year Troy Neumeier lost an edge down at Cardiff in the B&H semi second leg and dislocated his shoulder, since then he' s had an operation and is out for the season. But Jeff isn't daunted by the task of filling Neumy's boots. But how come he came to be chosen as captain? "We had a vote at the start of the season to see who the Captain and assistants would be and I was voted an assistant," he explained: "When Neumy was first injured I came to the rink one day and saw a 'C' on my jersey, and when we found he was out for the rest of the season it kind of stayed there. I'm enjoying it, it's quite an honour and I take a lot of pride in it.
I've played for a lot of great captains, guys I've really looked up to like Mark MacKay, Kevin Todd, Dave Morrison, guys who have played in the NHL and are still playing there. It's not an easy job but it is fun and I'm going to do give it my best. Being a leader you have to do some things differently, but one thing I won't change is my sense of fun. I'm regarded as being one of the jokers on the team and that won't stop just becasue I'm captain, everything is done in the name of the fun... but I'm not the only one, there are one or two others you know!"
Being handed the captaincy is not the only honour to come Jeff's way this season, he's also become a dad with the arrival of son Conner. "Being a dad is just great and my wife Ginny is really good about it. She let's me get my sleep although I must admit I feel guilty about not getting up to see to Connor, I do try but she doesn't make me feel guilty when I don't. It's certainly a whole new lifestyle. We used to go to the movies, go out for a meal, sleep in the afternoon but that's all changed now though we're really enjoying this new experience, even though it can be exhausting."
Having recovered from an injury-plagued first season with the Storm when he badly damaged a thumb and then a finger, Jeff emerged the team's top points scorer in SuperLeague in the championship winning campaign last time out, with 15+26 for 41 points from 40 games. He also finished second in both B&H and EHL points tables and was the club's overall top scorer with 26+43 for 69 points from 67 games. He currently stands 10th in the team's all-time scoring chart. He began his career spending three seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL (1987-90) before taking a year out of hockey, something he has since regretted. "I was 19 and a rookie with Prince Albert, along with Neumy, playing behind the likes of Mike Modano and Brian Pellerin, but three of the centremen ahead of me went on to play and are still playing in the NHL - Modano, Darin Kimble and Reid Simpson - I was 4th line centre. In my third year I thought it was my turn to shine but instead they wanted to get another player drafted in the first round and so they pushed Scott Allison (ex Sheffield Steeler now with Augsburg in the DEL). Like I said I was just a young kid and I got very frustrated, I already owned a soup and sandwich restaurant and so I decided to go into it fulltime and I returned to being a baker."
He could also have gone down another sporting road as he was interesting Winnipeg Fury FC, and could have made a career for himself in football. But hockey was very much still in his blood and he laced up his skates once again for the 91-92 season in the ECHL with the Roanoke Valley Rebels, and it was from there that he moved to the Raleigh Icecaps and came into contact with current coach Kurt Kleinendorst for the first time. "Kurt signed me early in the 91-92 season while I was out with a broken jaw and I spent the best part of two seaosns with him at Raleigh. I have a lot of respect for him and he's got better as a coach, when I first played for him it seemed he wasn't much older than the guys on the team, he's still not, but as a coach he 's really improved. When I joined him at Raleigh they were struggling, I think they were 0 and 24 but Kurt made a couple of key changes bringing in myself and Millsy and one or two others and he turned things around, guiding us to the play-offs. Although he's matured his style hasn't changed. You know where you stand with him. This is my fifth season with him, two at Raleigh and now I'm in my third year here in Manchester. I know what he's about and he knows what I'm all about and I know I can go in and see him anytime I want, he's very approachable and you always find out pretty quickly where you stand with him if you're ever in any doubt."
So how did the move to Europe come about? "When I got back into the game I gave myself three years in the minors and if I didn't get called up after that I decided I'd try my luck in Europe and see if I could make a living at the game over there. My size was always against me, I wasn't going to make it in the NHL because it's a big man's game, so when I came to the crossroads I decided to make the move. I was 21 and back home in Winnipeg I'd play in the mornings with some of the NHL guys just for fun, a good friend of mine who still captains Germany, Mark McKay, asked me in I fancied a career in Germany. I said yes, so he said keep in touch and if a guy goes down we'll give you a call. Sure enough Christmas1992 I got the call. I asked Kurt if I could leave Raleigh and he was great about it, he said he didn't want to stand in my way, wished me good luck and told me to have fun and away I went to Timmendorf where I stayed for four and a half seasons before playing the second half of the 96-97 with the Berlin Capitals in the DEL."
Originally contacted by 'KK' for his opinion on Timmendorf teammate Stefan Ketola, Jeff liked the look of the team his former boss was building in Manchester and decided to to join him once more As a German passport holder he's eligible to play for their World Championship Pool B team, although his chances of joining Storm's roster of current internationals (Rick Brebant, Jonathan Weaver, Mike Harding and Darren Hurkey play for GB, Pierre Allard for France and Dave Livingston Holland) are remote. "I'm still trying, and the captain Mark McKay is trying his best to get me selected but the bottom line is they say I have to play in Germany before they'll consider me."
One of Jeff's main assets is his speed and he's pretty sure where he gets that from. "It has to be my dad Terry. He was on the Canadian team and ran the 100 and 200 yard sprints at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1965. At the time he was probably the second fastest man in Canada and still holds a record that will never be broken, because they changed from yards to metres." Jeff is certain he and his teammates will pull out of the litte slump they've been through in the league recently. "Okay, we lost to Bracknell and then twice to London, but since then we've won at Newcastle and drawn with Bracknell and Ayr. We've got another 'D' man in Scot Campbell and another forward in Jeff Johnstone and once they settle we'll get back on track then watch us."
Looking forward to the game with Swedish side Brynas IF, Jeff put a realsitic slant on the game. "We set out at the start of the year to get through to the second round and it's still mathematically possible for us to do so, but it looks like we're not going to do it. We're still going to go out and try and win these last two games even though it looks like we've left it too late because we're a very proud bunch of guys. But these games take a lot out of you and at this stage of the season we need to focus on the SuperLeague and the B&H Final, so if you want to seed the competitons the EHL comes third because of the situation we're in. Brynas are a very skilled, very talented team that like to string passes together, but I thought we could and should have beat them in Sweden, we can certainly skate with them and they play our kind of game so we'll be going all out for revenge tonight, that's for sure."