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CATCHING UP WITH FORMER WHEAT KING MERV PRIEST

….Merv Priest

You were born in Kirby Muxloe in England but grew up in Canada. Tell us a little bit about your younger years and when you moved away from Britain? My family emigrated when I was only 2 years of age so I don’t remember anything from those couple of years but my earliest memory of my home town in Canada is the snow and cold. I lived in a place called Thompson where the winters were extremely harsh but I was lucky that I loved to play hockey as it gave me something to do rather than sit in the house and wait for the winter to pass. I spent almost all of my free time on an outdoor rink called, The Juniper Rink, as it was only across the road from my house. The temperatures would regularly be in the -30 celsius but I would wrap up and spend hours playing with whoever else showed up. The summers were great but short and I spent a lot of my time either at a cabin by the lake or playing baseball.

What are our earliest memories of playing hockey or even learning to skate? I actually learned how to skate on a frozen pond. It sounds very cliché I know but it actually happened. The ice would freeze up to 6 foot thick so there was never a concern about falling through. We simply took a shovel and cleared the snow before then skating around. Once we moved into the new house I just started playing on the outdoor rink like everyone else.
In 1988-89 you played with Norman Northstars in the MMHL before playing three years in the WHL with Brandon Wheat Kings. Thinking back to your early junior days who was the best player you played with or against back then? I played with Trevor Kidd and Chris Osgood. They were 2 great goalies who both went on to have a lot of success with Ossie winning a few Stanley Cups. I played with Jeff Odgers who probably wasn’t the most talented player but what he lacked in talent he made up for in hard work, tenacity and toughness. Odgie went on to play in the NHL where he was even Captain which wasn’t that surprising as he is probably one of the best teammates I have played with. I played with Glen Gulutzan who has coached in the NHL and Kevin Cheveldayoff who has been a successful GM for the Winnipeg Jets. My GM and Coach in Brandon was Kelly McCrimmon who is now the Assistant GM in Vegas and he is being linked with any GM job in the NHL. There are others who played in the NHL for brief periods but if I had to answer the question honestly I would say Ossie has had the most success and there is even talk that he may get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. I played against Alexei Kovalev at a famous tournament for 16 year olds held in Quebec at Christmas time. I played for Western Canada while he obviously played for Russia. He was probably the most talented player I have ever played against. I remember trading our denim jeans for one of their famous winter fur hats. They, the Russians, were so excited about getting their hands on Levi jeans as they had never seen them before.
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How much did you enjoy your three years playing with the Wheat Kings and how tough a league was the WHL with guys looking to make the grade? I have some great memories from those 3 years. The league was tough as the game was much different back then. We used to have to warm up at separate times from the opposition so that we didn’t have any brawls during warm up. I grew up a lot in those years. We played 72 games in a year with our nearest road trip being 4 hours away. I spent a lot of time on a bus either sleeping or doing homework as we were still expected to graduate from High School like normal students despite spending half the time in school as them. We spent all of our time together and became more than teammates. I lived a long way from home but I never considered it hard work as I was having so much fun doing it.
In your last year at the Wheat Kings you played alongside current Fife Flyers Head Coach Todd Dutiaume. Todd had a great career here in Scotland with the Flyers. What do you remember of him as a player and a guy? Todd was a great player who worked hard and got the most out of himself. I remember him being a positive guy who was well respected in the room and he has gone on to do well over here too. There were a few of us from Brandon who ended up playing over here. Jeff Hoad, Trevor Robins, Mark Kolesar, Graham Garden, Troy Kennedy, Dwayne Gylywoychuk and myself.
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You then went down the schooling route and attended the University of Brandon for a year and a half. Tell us why you made that move in your career and why you only stayed a short period of time? I was getting traded from Brandon to another team in the WHL but I decided to take another route instead. We were given scholarship money for playing in the league and the University was offering me a scholarship as well. In all honesty I made that decision too early and should have done it later in life. I left because I had an offer to come over and play in Telford. My intentions were always to go back and finish off my degree but it never happened.
Did you enjoy your time playing and studying at the University of Brandon? Brandon University was great but it was different. It was less intense with much less games to play. The standard was good as most players had also just come from junior. I would have enjoyed it much more if I had done it another 2 years down the road.
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(Photo – Brandon Bobcats Archives)
Mid season 93-94 you arrived here in Britain to sign with Telford Tigers in the then British 1st Division. How did this move come about that you arrived on these shores? As mentioned earlier I held a British passport so I could come over and play as one of the 5 imports. Chuck Taylor was the manager at the time and Troy Kennedy had recommended me to him. Chuck called me at Christmas and I came straight over for New Year. My first game was against the Solihull Barons and we beat them but the game was something like 11-7. I had never played in a game like it before so I was a bit surprised.
You played alongside another former Murrayfield Racer in Telford, David Smith, How did you find your time in Telford and the league in general after arriving? Smithy was good to me. We were roughly the same age and he took me under his wing. I remember him making fun of the clothes I wore as I clearly had no fashion sense. He was a good player too and he played on a line with Kennedy and Paul Fleury. The league was an eye opener to say the least but it was great fun. We had a rivalry with Milton Keynes at the time and they had Paddy Scott playing for them. Paddy is a few years older than me but he also comes from Thompson. We didn’t get promoted that year which was a shame but we had a good team and should have done better really.
The following year 1993-94 you played 3 games with Milton Keynes Kings. Why only 3 games? My second year over here was a bit of a joke up until I ended up in Edinburgh. I played for Milton Keynes after the Romford Raiders had folded. I was only ever going there for 3 games while they waited for their import to come over. I met Rick Strachan who I ended up playing with in Basingstoke but there isn’t much else to say to be honest.
You then arrived here in Edinburgh to join the Racers a few months into the season. How did this move come about? Edinburgh needed an import and I was now playing with the Teeside Bombers. I jumped at the chance as they had a good team and were expected to do good things. Not only that but it was a chance to play in a great city. I moved straight away and played on a line with Dean Edmiston and Richie Lamb.
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We had a very impressive roster that season. What guys impressed you the most? There was a lot of talent on that team. Tony (Hand) is obviously a great player but he had the perfect combination with Ivan (Matulik) and Chris (Palmer) on his wings. Ivan was strong and fast while Chris could score from anywhere. We also had big Mike Ware on defence. Waresy was easily the toughest player around and because of that he had so much space to play with. It was a tough team who played for each other. There was Plewsy, Waresy and Paul Hand who would make sure the other team knew they were there. Plewsy was only young, I think he was still wearing a face mask at the time, but he was a fierce competitor who took no nonsense.
In my opinion one of the best ever lines to play here in Edinburgh, Tony Hand, Ivan Matulik and Chris Palmer. Just how good were they 3 to play with? Great line with a perfect balance of talents. They were fun to watch and good teammates.I ended up playing with Tony on the National team and Ivan in Cardiff. They were both great players with different sets of skill. Tony saw the ice so well and Ivan was just so much quicker and stronger than everyone else. Ivan was one of the funnier guys I played with along with Waresy.
How would you sum up that season as a Racer? Edinburgh was unbelievable. I was lucky to play in a great city at such a young age. The team was great and we had success making it to the finals at Wembley against Sheffield. We beat Nottingham in the semi final that year and that will always be one of my fondest memories as I was able to score 3 goals in such an iconic rink.
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How much did you enjoy living in Edinburgh and what did you do away from the rink? It was a great place to live. I would spend a lot of my time with Mike, Ivan or Deano. I golfed at some of the local courses, went to the gym or took in the sights of the city in. I had my own flat which was close to a football ground so I took in a few games when I could as well.
Big mad Mike Ware was part of the club then. You played with him again briefly in Cardiff at the end of your career. Just how crazy was he out there on the ice and any funny stories you remember about him? As I mentioned earlier Waresy was one of the funniest guys I played with. He was tough, easily the toughest guy in the league, and he would chase guys around the ice if they upset him. But he was also able to score and he was allowed a tonne of space to carry the puck due to being so feared. Waresy would do anything for you and was a good friend to everyone on the team. He was so respected for how he was both on and off the ice. I remember Waresy bouncing Chris Brant from Bracknell off the ice in a fight once and I couldn’t believe how strong he was….it was more impressive because Brant was tough himself. There wasn’t a player he wouldn’t fight and he never let any player take advantage of his teammates which was great for a skinny guy like myself!
Ivan Matulik was to be your teammate and captain in Cardiff in years to follow. Just how good a guy and player was Ivan? Great, funny caring guy. I played roller hockey with him in Vancouver for a while as well but he was almost too fast for that sport. He would have me in stitches on the bus or in the changing room. He was a good leader who lead by example. I used to beat him at crib all the time which he didn’t like and he’ll never admit to. You will not find a guy who will say a bad word about Ivan or Mike.
Scott Plews was a young up coming Dman back then. His son Tyler now plays with Swindon a team you also played with. Plewsy is a top guy and speaks very highly of you. What do you remember of Plewsy? Plewsy was tough, real tough. He was fearless and he would nail people all the time. He skated well and he was another great teammate. He was still wearing a cage back then but I remember him challenging anybody. I remember a brawl started against Bracknell I think and this poor guy, I can’t remember who it was, got aired up with Plewsy. Plewsy ragged him around the ice for fun and left him with a goose egg on his head. He was a good guy off the ice too and we went out for a few beers together. He loved the game and loved playing in Edinburgh.
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This was to be the Racers last ever season. This was a huge loss to British hockey. Would you have considered returning if the club had stayed aloft? We all wanted to stay, everybody loved it there. It was a shame but these things happen. Jock (Hay), our coach, let everyone play and what more can I say about the city. The time spent on the bus could have been better but I was used to that from my time in Canada.
The Racers did make the Play Off Finals that last season at Wembley. Obviously now the Finals are played at Nottingham but Wembley was very special. What are your memories of the place and that weekend? It was only my second year in the country so I didn’t know too much about the whole experience or play-off format but I remember showing up at Wembley and just seeing the atmosphere in there was incredible. There were fans from all over the country, not just those from the teams playing, and in the semi we had Sheffield fans cheering for us. I scored a few goals which made it great but it was the atmosphere that I remember the most.
For the next three years you played in Basingstoke with the Bison. How much did you enjoy that time in your career? Basingstoke was good for me. I played some decent hockey there and Peter Woods trusted me which allowed me to put up some decent numbers. I was playing for them when I got selected for GB so that period of time holds great memories for me. We had a team full of single guys all about the same age and therefore we spent a bunch of time together. We weren’t the best team unfortunately but we had a great bond and got on so well.
Your first two years you played with former Murrayfield Royal Mike Wagstaff. What do you remember of Wags? Wags was as chilled out a person as I have ever met. We spent a lot of time together in my first year along with Chris Chard and Tony Redmond.
The Bison team stepped up to the Superleague whilst you were there and had some top players such as Kevin Conway, Richard Little, Patrick Scott and Rick Strachan. How much did you enjoy the level of play in the ISL? Yeah as I mentioned earlier I enjoyed my 3 years there. We underachieved but the league was tough and we had to compete every night to have any success. There wasn’t a night where we could take a night off but it was a real pleasant surprise as the league had improved so much almost overnight. Playing with Kevin Conway was great as I had only ever heard of him. He was talented offensively and quietly competitive. Strach was tough which I don’t think many people knew…I remember almost getting into a fight with him in training once as we did 1 on 1 drills. Lucky for me the guys stepped between us just in time! The worst part was that we were good friends and we sat beside each other in the locker room.
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(Photo – Mike Smith)
Next stop for you was two years in Cardiff with the Devils from 1998-2000. You won the ISL Play Off title your first year. How enjoyable was that winning a championship? Great team. The biggest difference I found was that this team knew how to win and wanted to win every night. My role changed a little bit for them as they already had 2 offensive centers in Steve Moria and Vezio Sacratini so I played a more defensive role and on the 2nd powerplay. I played with Nicky Chinn and either Doug McEwen or Mike MacWilliam. I don’t think anybody touched me for the whole season with those two guys on my wing! Winning the playoffs was amazing. We came second in the league and then beat Manchester in their barn in the semis to reach the final against Nottingham. Our line played really well in the semi with Chinny getting a hat trick. I think Ivan scored 2 in the final, one short handed, to beat Nottingham. The league was very good then which meant we had to be at our best. As I said earlier this team knew how to win games and everyone was aware of their role in having success.
The Devils team over they two years was full of class. Who were the guys that impressed you the most? Steve Moria, Ivan Matulik, Frank Evans, Steve Thornton, Vezio Sacratini, Mario Simioni, Martin Lindman, Stevie Lyle, Ian McIntyre, Kip Noble, Big Mack and Chinny. A great blend of skill, toughness and speed.
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(Photo – Mike Smith)
How would you sum up your time with the Devils? Loved it. The old rink in the city centre was full of character. The fans were as passionate as I have ever met. They treated us well and the city is fantastic.
The Devils are in Nottingham this weekend for the Play Off Finals. You know what it takes to win a Play Off Championship. Do you have a message for your former club and supporters? It’s great to see the Devils have made it back to the Finals! Good luck to Richie, Mysie and the rest of the team. And most importantly best of luck to the fans….have a great weekend!
From 2000-03 you played in the EPL with Swindon Phoenix/Lynx. Again you won a championship in your first year. Sum up your time in Swindon? It was a different time in my life. The level of hockey was lower than I had been playing but we had a couple of years of uncertainty in Cardiff as there were issues with getting a new rink. I remained the coach of the Devils junior development and was lucky to coach players like Jonathan Phillips, Matty Myers, Ben Davies and Phil Hill to name a few. Our Swindon team was full of some amazing characters. Grant ‘Ace’ Bailey, Robin Davison, Simon Keating, Gareth Endicott, Lee Brathwaite, Kenny Forshee and Mark Richardson. We had fun and we had success.
MK Lightning vs Swindon Lynx, ENPL, 05-01-03
(Photo – hockeyphotos.com)
A young 14 year old Mark Richardson played in Swindon with you. Did you know back then he would go onto have a great career, currently in Cardiff and with GB? Yes. He loved hockey and worked his ass off. I became player coach in Swindon and tried to play the kids as often as possible. Richie played on my wing. His hockey IQ was far in advance of his age and he could skate. Did I know he would play 800 games at the top level, probably not, but am I surprised, not one bit. Classy guy and he made me look good more than once.
You spent your last year in Swindon as Player Coach posting 73 goals and 66 assists in 46 games, before returning to the Devils in season 2003-04. You only played 17 games before deciding you wanted to start a career outside hockey, Tell us about this? It was nice to come back. Things had got sorted with our rink and the current owner, Bob Phillips, asked me to return which I did. Bob took some abuse for what happened in Cardiff but in all honesty he could see what was happening and was trying to do his best to secure the best deal for the Devils. Not all the fans seen it that way but I would imagine if you asked them how life is in the new rink they would agree it was for the best. The Devils are filling that stadium now and have tasted success consistently for years. I left because I had decided to get a real job and the police had offered me a position which meant my training started in December. I wanted to end it on my terms. I knew I could have played for a number of years but I felt it was the right decision for my family.
As file name.
(Photo – Mike Smith)
Was it tough walking away from the sport after all they years? Yes and no. It was all I had done from a very young age but in the same breath I wanted to try something new. I left on my terms and got treated well by the club and the fans when I did it. I wouldn’t change the decision I made but if I’m honest I do miss hockey.
You also represented Great Britain on a number of occasions. How much an honour was that to represent your country? It meant everything to me. My family loved it to and came over to watch some of the games which was a pretty special moment as well. I loved playing for GB and I was lucky enough to come away with a silver and bronze medal from the World Championships.
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(Photo – Mike Smith)
Tell us what is going on in the life of Merv Priest these days? Well I’m still working in the police with 4 kids who are growing up fast. I’ve stayed in Cardiff with my wife and life is good. Cardiff is a great place and I have met some good friends.

 

 

Do you ever lace the skates up and play these days? I hadn’t skated in 10 years but I have recently started training with the newly formed police team. It’s only once a week but its nice to get back out there. The guys and girls who play on the team are very keen so it has been nice to share the experience with them.

Looking back on your career who would you say was the best player you played with or against and why? I always admired Ed Courtenay. He was so skilful for a big man. I enjoyed playing with Steve Moria. He was a good pro and a smart player. He was slight and not known for his toughness but he would compete each and every night. I admired Mike Ware and Mike MacWilliam for what they brought to the team. I always felt that players like them were underrated.
If you had to pick a highlight what would it be and why? Winning the play-offs with Cardiff and playing for GB. The league was tough and it was a great achievement to win the play-offs that year and I felt so fortunate to be able to play for my country.
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(Photo – Mike Smith)
For the Edinburgh hockey fans who may not remember you from your Racers days, what type of player were you out on the ice? I wasn’t graced with blazing speed (as I’m regularly reminded) but I would say I was a smart player with a decent set of hands. I loved playing so I would try to work as hard as I could each night.
Finally do you have a message to the fans of the teams you played with over the years? Well I don’t think I realised how good I had it while I was doing it. The fans have always been kind to me where I’ve played and I’ve even enjoyed the banter from the opposing fans. I think hockey is great because you can have that banter and not have to worry about any repercussions. On reflection it was such a privilege to be able to play a game where people were willing to come and watch you and add to the experience. Thanks.
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