‘This is it’, were the words the U18 Irish National Team’s General Manager Mr. Jim Pepper used when interviewed by The Dundalk Democrat’s ice hockey reporter, Martin Grant, before his team jets off to Mexico this Friday for the 2010 IIHF World U18 Championship Division IIIB in Monterrey, Mexico.
Eighteen weeks of preparation, training, games, booking flights and a whole list of activities is about to come to an end when the U18’s fly out from Dublin airport in an effort to retain their current bronze medal or go one above that and pick up silver or the top gold medal.
Head coach Sean Dooley, assistants Steven Ewen, Vytatus Luckeviocius and off-ice fitness coach Petr Castka have worked tirelessly around the clock preparing this team to the best it can perform to and has achieved the highest potential that each player can produce.
Speaking to Martin Grant this week, the manager of the team Jim Pepper said : ‘I can now see light at the end of the tunnel after working so hard with the team off ice putting all these things together and I cant wait to get on the plane now. The wheels are turning and I can’t stop them now. The last eighteen weeks is now coming to an end when we leave here this Friday and I’m really looking forward to it now.”
As this is Jims first year in the job he is now depending on the experience and guidance from head coach Sean Dooley in final preparations ahead of the tournament in Mexico. The host city has a population of three and a half million which is sure going to be an advantage to Jim Pepper where he can make new ice hockey contacts while over in Mexico.
On arrival at the Mexican airport, the team will be welcomed with a huge ‘Cead Mile Failte’ by Irish Americans who will support the team during the entire tournament.
Busy days ahead
A busy schedule has been organized for the Irish team who will open the tournament on Sunday against host Mexico. On Monday they will take on New Zealand and will have a rest day on Tuesday. On Wednesday they will take on South Africa where the team will be looking for the luck of the Irish as it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Thursday the team will rest and on Friday they play their final match against Israel with the closing ceremony on Saturday. On Sunday they will play a local Mexican team in an exhibition match which Jim organized. And in-between all of the on ice action, tours of places of interest have been organized for the team and parents.
Jim praised the work of his fellow management colleagues by saying ‘The coaches have done a tremendous job. They have put it countless of hours in training this team. Fitness coach Petr Castka is gift to the team and the amount of training and work he puts into the team is unbelievable. One sure think I can say is that we are going a very conditioned team. I’d say this is one of the best conditioned teams that ever left this Island for ice hockey’,
Team bounded together
Pepper commented on how well the team has bounded. ‘ I’m very proud of them’ he said, ‘Their a tight bunch of lads and they have gotten to know each other well. Last year they were players from different parts of Ireland but this year they are now Team Ireland and there is no division or clicks. I saw guys who where hardly not talking to each other and are now supporting each other at every match and training session. It truly is amazing’. Some of these players have played with each other now for more than a year, some for three, and know each other very well both on and off the ice.
Tough competition but Bronze still in sight
When asked about who he thinks is the toughest competition the team will face, Pepper said ‘That is a question I have been asking myself a lot and I try not to think about it that much because I’m concentrating on our team, but I think the southern hemisphere teams don’t travel for the fun. Mexico I don’t know much about because last year they where brought back down a division so this year they could be looking to get one up at home. Israel I don’t really know much about. New Zealand I think is the team to beat because they aren’t travelling to come second.’
Jim reckons that the team is capable of winning a game in what is a tough division. ‘Realistically speaking I don’t want to come last. I really want to win a game’ he said, ‘This is a very tough section and it is far from an easy division. If we win a game we could go on and win a second and then we have a bronze medal. We are looked as the under dogs but we all know the Irish like to be the underdogs in many sports’.
Jim thanks Democrat and all involved
On concluding his interview Jim said that he would like to thank everyone involved who has helped him to prepare for this world championships. ‘I would be here all day if I was to list the people I would like to thank, but I am going to single out my good wife Catherine for all her help and having to put up with hearing about ice hockey every day at the dinner table and I would also like to thank the Dundalk Bulls Ice Hockey Club as a whole for all their input’. He went on to thank the Irish Ice Hockey Association, team sponsors and The Dundalk Democrat for all their publicity and hard work.
To keep up to date with all the action and results from Mexico log onto www.iiha.org starting next week for Jim Peppers blog.