The Building Craftsmen Dumfries Solway Sharks have always had a reputation for developing top-class ice hockey players, a reputation that the club and the coaches are justly proud of. The past season saw the club player pathway fulfil its purpose, with a record number of players who had come through the ranks of the Junior Sharks playing with the Senior team in both the Scottish National League and the English National Ice Hockey League.
The Sharks work in partnership with Dumfries and Galloway Council to enable young people to take up the sport with Learn to Play ice hockey sessions at Dumfries Ice Bowl every week, often with Sharks players helping out. These sessions are the first step on the player pathway that goes through all the age groups at the Junior Sharks, with those players showing potential being invited to train and hopefully play with the Senior team when they are old enough. The majority of the current Sharks team started their careers either at Learn to Play or with the Juniors, following the pathway and now taking to the ice in front of an appreciative crowd each week.
Team Captain Struan Tonnar started his career playing with the Junior Sharks before making the jump to Seniors as soon as he was old enough, and last season saw a total of 16 of his fellow Sharks team who had experience of the pathway, all playing with the Juniors before progressing to the Seniors, a testament to the quality coaching they receive as well as the joined-up working between both clubs and the local Council.
As well as the Sharks there are opportunities to progress further, with the pathway extending to Elite League club Glasgow Clan due to an affiliation arrangement that sees players who show potential train and play with the Glasgow club. Numerous players have benefitted from this arrangement in recent years, and the past season saw Scott Henderson, Ruairi Lockerbie, Gary Russell and Liam Stenton all turn out for the Clan as well as playing for the Sharks.
Sharks head coach Martin Grubb told us, “Player development is key within the whole of the Solway Sharks and Sharks junior program and I think this is yet another year where we have proved that the partnership we have between the Council, junior and senior club has produced more quality talent from the player pathway. It is important to the junior players within the club that they can see a link between the clubs and that there is an achievable goal, and this season has proved the opportunities are not only the Solway Sharks but it can be Scottish Conference teams, NIHL, Elite league and also the GB National teams. The young players within the team this season have done a great job stepping up to play more games than they have done in their junior careers and the willingness to work hard and learn means our coaches are able to develop these players into good hockey players and even better people and that is a key objective of our club and will help sustain it for the future.
We lost a lot of players who had developed in our junior and senior teams to the NIHL National league this year and we are proud of that and of how well they did in the new league. We want to continue to provide the best development opportunities we can from our LTP program right to the very top of the sport and we had a fantastic season and these young players deserve tremendous credit for that. We will continue to do what we can to ensure every player fulfils their potential and hopefully we can get back on the ice once this pandemic allows, but in the meantime it’s training at home as everyone stays safe.”
Junior Sharks Chair Leanne Thomson commented, “We have a great relationship with the Council that sees players learn the basics of ice hockey at Learn to Play sessions before coming into the club when they are ready to take a place in their age-group team. With the expertise of our coaches and the experience gained in training and games players develop their skills, and as they get older those who show potential are invited to go along to Sharks training sessions to help their development. It is great that our younger players can see boys that they were on the ice with a year or two ago pull on a Sharks shirt and play in competitive games at the rink, and shows them where they can get to with hard work and a good attitude. We are a really joined-up club and we reap the benefits as some of the Senior players have completed coaching courses and the kids love it when they come along to help out with learn to play or a training session. This season has seen Andy Craik and Scott Rae become the latest Juniors make their debuts with the Sharks team once they turned 16, and both lads proved their worth with goals and assists for the team. We are all looking forward to getting back on the ice once the current emergency is over and restrictions are lifted, and until then our players are practising their skills at home so they are ready for the start of the new season, when we will hopefully see more of our players follow the player pathway and break through into the Sharks team.”