Rob Schistad is one of the most experienced individuals that has ever been involved in Irish Ice Hockey having played in a number of World Championships and Olympics for Norway. For the last two seasons he has been helping the IIHA develop its national team programmes and Irish Ice Hockey in general.
With years of experience and dedication to the sport, Rob has coached the Senior Men’s Irish National Team during the last two seasons, including the gold medal team in Luxembourg. He was also part of the coaching staff for this past season’s U18 Irish National Team that travelled to Mexico. He was even in Scotland with the Irish Select Team that finished third at the Dundee Stars Tournament back in May.
His commitment and determination is evident when he speaks about his playing career. The IIHA is proud to have him as part of the team developing ice hockey in Ireland as Rob’s coaching is second to none.
After applying to the IIHA to attend the 2011 IIHF Hockey Development Goalkeeper Coach Programme in Vierumaki, Finland this week, his application was successful. So Rob sat down with IIHA Editor Martin Grant this week for a Questions and Answers session in which he talks about his time in the Olympics, playing in four other countries, his view on Irish Ice Hockey, its future and the potential of players here.
Where and how did you first start to play ice hockey?
I grew up in a small town in southern Ontario and I would have started to learn how to play when I was 5.
Have you always played as goalkeeper or have you ever experimented with playing out?
The first day the coach asked who wanted to play in goal I volunteered and I have never played as an out player.
What drew you to the position of goalkeeper?
It was the only position I was interested in playing as you got the most ice time and would also get to wear the cool gear.
How did you first become involved with the Norwegian National Teams and how has it been to be involved with that programme?
My father was Norwegian so I have dual citizenship. I went over to Norway when I was 20 to play a year just for the experience. I enjoyed it so much I never went back. During my third season George Kingston became the national team coach and he gave me a chance to play. 11 seasons later I stepped down from the national team. Playing for the national team was fun because it added a different element of intensity to play for your country. Plus the guys I played with were a good group of players that pushed each other to work as hard as you could to be a better player.
Playing in the World Championships and Olympics must have been a great honour for you, how did it feel?
Playing for Norway is something I am very proud of. Norway is a small nation and hockey is a small sport with few rinks and not that many players. After being promoted to the A pool in my first championship, I played in 8 A pool tournaments and only 1 B pool the next 9 years. I always looked forward to the next time the team got together to play as we were playing the best hockey nations in the world and it was fun to challenge yourself against the best.
What is your best memory of both the World Championships and the Olympics that you played in?
The 1996 world championship in Vienna was my favourite tournament. It was the one championship that I managed to keep my play at a high level for all 4 games I played and it opened the way for me to play for Sparta Prague. Up until then no Norwegian goalie played outside of Norway and even now no one has been a starting goalie in a higher league than the Norwegian league. The two Olympics were not very successful for me but my best memory was from the 1992 Olympics and skating out for the warm up in the game against Canada and on the other side of the rink was the foreman of the construction company I worked for in Canada when I was a student. He was hanging over the glass wanting me to sign his program.
In club hockey, you’ve played in Norway, Czech, Germany and even the UK, how did you find playing in all those different countries?
Each country had its own style of play that was different. In Norway we flew for all our away games and it took some time to adjust to the larger ice surface and more technical style of play compared to the hockey I played in Canada. Playing for Sparta Prague was my favourite as the quality of the league and the players was very, very good so every game was a challenge. The DEL in Germany was more North American in style as there were so many Canadians playing there and the long bus trips could wear you out.
How did you end up playing in Basingstoke for the Bison?
I was living in Edinburgh as my partner Paula was working there and I was debating if I should retire from playing or give it 1 more year when I talked to Richard Little who played for the Bison. He was a team mate of mine for 2 years in Stavanger and had been playing in the UK for many years. He said they were looking for a new goalie and if I was interested I could play.
And now you’re in Ireland and in Carlow of all places. So what brought you here?
I met my partner Paula in Oslo when I was still playing in Norway. We had a long distance relationship for several years as she worked in Oslo and then Edinburgh while I was in the Czech Republic and Germany. During the summers we would come to Carlow and fix up the house she grew up in and then she got the offer to work in Trinity College. When I finished playing for the Bison I packed my bags and moved over here permanently.
I’ve heard that you’ve even been playing inline hockey in Kilkenny with the Kilkenny City Storm; how do you find inline?
I met Mick Cummins last summer at the AGM in Dundalk and he convinced me to join them for some fun. I don’t play that often but it is a laugh and some exercise. I played inline back in 1996 for half a season but I did not enjoy it so I needed a 15 year break before I was ready to try it again.
Which do you prefer – ice or inline?
There is absolutely no doubt. Ice for me is the way the game should be played. From a goalie perspective playing on the ice allows you fluid movements that you just can’t do on roller blades.
Obviously everyone knows you’ve been involved with all of the Irish National Teams and you have been away to World Championships with both the Senior and U18 Men but how did you first get involved with the IIHA and the Irish National Teams?
I noticed on the IIHA website that they were inviting players to try out for the men’s team last season. I am a sports rehabilitator so I thought maybe I could help out the team as a therapist and a goalie coach, so I went up to Dundalk and met William Fay, Tony Griffin, Kenny Redmond and Jim Tibbetts and since then have tried to help out as much as I can.
Have you enjoyed the time you’ve spent with those teams?
Yes I have. I enjoy being involved in hockey again and the coaches and players have been good to work with so that has made it easier to travel from Carlow up to Dundalk and now to Belfast.
What do you think the future holds for the Irish National Teams and Irish Ice Hockey on a whole?
I am worried about the future because without a proper rink (or rinks) and teams to play for in the south, it is very difficult to develop the skills needed to play a team sport such as hockey. The results from this year’s world championships for all 3 teams’ show that without a rink we suffered and will continue to do so if the situation does not improve.
How would you rate the standard of goalkeepers in Ireland as compared to other nations around the world?
I have seen good potential here with goalies showing they have the ability to be good, but it is hard to compare as they do not have enough ice time and game experience to develop their skills. We had a goalie clinic last year in Dundalk with the idea to have clinics at regular intervals during the season so that the goalies could work on improving their skills but with the Ice Dome closing down we were unable to continue the clinics.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to any goalkeepers looking to improve?
Goaltending is a 24/7 job. You cannot just show up to the rink and play if you have any ambitions to be good. Every day you can do some type of training to be a better goalie, and every day you do not is a wasted opportunity.
And Vierumaki, are you excited about the Camp?
Yes, very much so. I haven’t been in Finland for a long time now and I look forward to being at the camp.
What are you hoping to gain from it the most?
I hope to learn more about organising a training session so that the goalies can get the most out of the session.
What are your plans for the future?
I am hoping to have more clients for my sports therapy clinic and in hockey I will be going up to Stavanger Norway several times during the season to do some goalie coaching at a sports school and hopefully I will be able to help out the Irish teams this year as well.