To do what I do best – Carl Graham speaks to BOTW

When I catch up with Carl “Scooter” Graham, he’s slowly getting back to normality. Having gone to Canada as part of the Great Britain ball hockey team then come back and headed straight off on holiday, the newly re-signed Bison defenceman is adjusting to life back home. “Pastries every morning, bread rolls every lunch time, I probably need a bit of a diet now” says Graham, chuckling as he describes the last couple of weeks. After a some small talk and a couple of jokes about our mutual friends at the Official Manchester Phoenix podcast (Graham spent just over 2 years in Manchester) we get down to business.

The last time I spoke to Graham for the blog, he’d just been named to the GB ball hockey side. The experience is something that Graham almost gushes about, “Canada was great, I loved it. I knew it would be a great experience but I didn’t know much about the level of hockey. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to go with though, it was an amazing time. There’s a bunch of skills from ball hockey that can hopefully compliment what I do on ice.” When I ask Graham if he was aware that he was GB’s top PIMs taker he responds glibly, “I was 7th overall I believe.”

Penalty minutes form a part of our discussion as we touched on the 2012/13 campaign. Graham was the Bison’s top PIMs taker with 106 minutes across the season and had faced accusations from some quarters that he took too many dumb penalties. Graham thinks hard, trying to find the right words to adequately describe the situation. “When I was younger I got called for a lot more lazy penalties; lazy hooks and holds and the like as opposed to now where I seem to get called because I’m stepping in because people are taking liberties and I get called. I could be smarter about those, more controlled. There are times as well when I just land a big hit and the ref will feel the need to call it because it’s a big hit.” Did Graham feel that the 4 man officiating system that the EIHA tried in some games last season change anything in that respect? “You get away with a lot less, that’s for sure. It’s cut out some stuff because you now have someone watching behind the play but it’s still 2 guys watching 12 out there. There are instances where it feels one ref doesn’t call something because it seems like they’re waiting for the other one to make the call so nobody does it. Stuff like that happens but you can either whine about it or get on with it.”

With the Bison having come so close to all the silverware during the last campaign but having come away with nothing, many inside and outside of Basingstoke wrote the season off as a failure for the Bison but Graham sees it differently. “At the end of the day we can’t be disappointed with where we finished if you look at it as an overall thing but yes there was disappointment there as you want to win trophies but you have to look at taking the positives from it. You need to look at it compared to where the team placed in other years. Some will say we should have finished first, maybe we should be second is not a bad shot. We got as close as we could have gotten to a trophy.”

I was more nervous at Coventry than I thought I would be” says Graham as he looks back at the playoff weekend. “I’d always wanted to play in one and yes I was edgy but after a while you just get on with playing. It’s hard up there in some ways as it’s one game; nobody wants to be that guy to make the one mistake that costs something so it’s hard to play your best and play sensible I think. Again though it’s not like we got blown out, we got all the way to sudden death penalty shots and it didn’t go our way so I’m not disappointed.”

Off the back of such a good season, coming back to Basingstoke was apparently a relatively straight forward process for Graham. “We (coach Doug Sheppard and I) discussed were we stood on next year and we were both pretty clear on what we both wanted and where we wanted to be. It was all fairly simple agreeing my return.” The defence has been re-jigged with Alex Symonds and Tony Redmond being replaced by Joe Baird and Slovakian import Miroslav Vantroba but Graham doesn’t feel there’s much change overall. “To be honest you expect an import D man to be of a higher standard. Tosh was great and I love him but I assume the thinking is that bringing in an import is a step above what we have so hopefully Miro will come in and be amazing. Bairdy is a switch for Symo so we’re not massively unchanged all in all.”

The addition of 16 year old Elliott Dewey to the defensive corps was certainly unexpected but Graham speaks highly of the young man. “He was training once a week rather than all the time last season. When he was training you could tell he was younger and his game was coming on but I thought he was 17/18 when I first saw him then heard he was 15. It’s hard to compare sometimes at that age but he’s an incredible little player. It’s probably too early to expect him to get a regular shift every game but he can build on last year and he’ll be training three times a week with us rather than once which will make a massive difference.”

As the interview started to wind we got down to the nitty-gritty as to what Bison fans could expect this season both from the team and from Graham himself. His response starts out very measured, “it’s hard to get a balance between 15 unbelievable players who don’t come together like they should but what you want is 15 good, solid guys who will come together and get those wins. You don’t know how people will show up at the start of the season, it’s not like we have a training camp but I think we look good.” As his thoughts turn towards his own play though, Graham sounds much more emotional. His voice has been very thoughtful and controlled but talking about his own play, there’s an undercurrent of a man with a mission. “Shep has the way he likes guys to play and I’ve definitely changed how I’ve played to fit that. I’ve got to come this season ready to do what I do best. I think that over the last two years there’s a perception amongst some that I’ve softened off a bit on the ice so I need to see if I can change that.” Graham pauses, then chuckles slightly as he alludes to an earlier part of our conversation, “in a controlled way, of course.”

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