At just 25, Craig Peacock already has winners medals at Elite and Premier League level – helping his home town Peterborough Phantoms to an unprecedented treble in 2009 before joining the Belfast Giants, where he has enjoyed league and play-off success.
Now in his fifth season with the Giants, Peacock is an established member of the national side and one of the most talented players Great Britain has produced in recent years – and he looks set to enjoy even more success with the Northern Irish club this season.
Belfast are an incredible 15 points clear at the top of the Elite League, playing some of the finest hockey the league has seen under Head Coach Paul Adey. I started by asking Peacock what it was that set this Giants team apart
“I think this season we just have a very well rounded team. There is always a different player ready to step up any given night – to score a big goal, or get the team going with a hit, or whatever it takes. (Stephen) Murphy has been great in goal for us as well, which always makes things that bit easier on the ice – knowing he will be back there to make that crucial save.”
Peacock was also quick to praise the spirit of the team in Belfast this season, as the club looks to extend its recent winning streak to 7 games this weekend.
“It’s a great group of guys; everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to win and we have a ‘never say die’ attitude – no matter how the game is panning out.”
“Everybody comes to work everyday at practice; and we just try and approach each game the same, no matter who we are playing. The league has improved once again, as it does year on year, and anybody can beat anybody it seems – so there are no easy games this season.”
The Giants dominance this year might seem to belie that sentiment at times, but the Conference system, introduced last season, does seem to have brought a little more parity to the league. Peacock’s return to Belfast in October certainly boosted the Giants title chances, with the forward contributing 13 goals so far this season, but he started the 2013/14 season with Danish side Frederikshavn.
Unfortunately things did not pan out as Peacock had hoped in one of Europe’s fastest growing leagues, but the experience hasn’t soured his hopes of success on the continent in the future.
“I just found myself in an unfortunate situation whilst over there. Maybe a different team, or a different coach, and it could have played out a lot differently for me.” he continued “It was always my ambition to head to Europe and give it a shot over there, and things started off really well. I didn’t feel out of my depth, and I had 5 goals in six preseason games. I figured that everything was fine and the coach was happy with my play.”
“Once the season started, I found myself off the powerplay, and the top 2 lines, and not really being used in the way I thought I had earned. I spoke to the coach and asked if there was anything he was seeing in my game that I needed to do, to be able to play those top minutes and on the powerplay. He assured me that everything was fine and he was happy with me and I would be playing those top minutes.”
“But after another 2-3 weeks nothing had changed and I didn’t feel I was getting a fair shot, so I made my decision to leave. I didn’t feel like it was going to do me any good to stay there as I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I wanted to.”
One of Peacock’s goals is to try and help Team GB build on some recent successes; and forget a few disappointments.
The national side made it to the final qualification tournament for Sochi 2014, but could not overcome France, Kazakhstan or qualifiers Latvia. Worse was to come, as the team was relegated from Division 1A at the World Championships in Hungary last April.
Despite these setbacks, Peacock feels the team is making progress however.
“I feel the team has made great strides in the right direction in recent years. Obviously things didn’t go the way we wanted to at the World Championships last season, but it was a very tough group and we now have a new challenge to re-gather ourselves and get back into that division this year.”
The teams quest to qualify for Sochi has also given the young forward hope for Great Britain’s chances of Olympic participation in the future – with one eye already on Pyeongchang in 2018.
“I though we did great in the Olympic qualifiers. It was a lot of fun and I was proud to be apart of that. To be just 3 games away from Sochi was amazing, and although we lost out in Latvia we have shown that we can get to that final stage – with some more preparation I don’t any reason we couldn’t pull off an upset and make it to the 2018 Olympics.”
It’s a lofty aim without any doubt, but Peacock believes a good start in such a tournament could lead to great things.
“Once you are in the final round of the qualifiers the level of competition is so high that anybody can beat anybody; if we managed to get a result in the first or second game you never know what could happen after that.”
“There is a great team spirit when we are away at those tournaments. That’s what carries us through and gets us results. We know that with the right preparation, and the guys that we have on the team that play with so much heart, we can start to achieve great things.”
The subject of preparation for the national team is always a hot topic among British hockey fans, with the current balance between club and country currently stacked firmly in favour of the former.
With wages to pay, ice rental and numerous other running costs, clubs are reluctant to have gaps in the schedule – meaning international breaks are often ignored because budgets are so tight.
For many fans, club success comes ahead of the national program – to the point where complete apathy might be the most apt description of attitudes toward Team GB from some. For the players however, it’s about hoping a compromise can be found.
“This is a tough one as I think that every player would like to see us enter more tournaments, or at least meet up as a team more often during the season. To give us the best preparation possible leading up to major tournaments.”
“But, as has been said previously, it’s a difficult situation as the clubs do have a business to run. I feel that there has to be a compromise somewhere along the line; as it is difficult to go into these tournaments with very little preparation while other nations have been playing exhibition games and training together all season long. It gives them a bit of an advantage over us right off the hop.”
“We have shown that we can compete on the international stage and I know the guys all feel we can still give more and push our world ranking up and get ourselves to the heights of the very top division – if we are given the right preparation leading up to the tournaments.”
Many fans dream of seeing Great Britain taking on the games elite nations again, but for now perhaps the best lesson Peacocks experience can teach us is in terms of development of British talent.
Peacock successfully made the transition from Premier League to EIHL – a move that some have struggled with, leaving some clubs reluctant to move for ‘unproven’ British players.
“I think its all about giving guys a chance, that’s the main thing.” Peacock told me “I think the problem a few years back is that players were making the jump up too soon, they were too young.”
“It’s great to have the ambition and want to get yourself an Elite League contract but if you come up too soon then you just find yourself sat on the bench.”
It seems to be an issue particularly prevalent among young goaltenders, but there are several other examples of players rapidly reaching the EIHL – only to come back down again.
After coming through the Peterborough junior system, Peacock spent two seasons in North America (with the Florida Junior Blades then the Richmond Hill Rams) before joining his home town club in 2007.
Two successful campaigns with the Phantoms set Peacock on the right path, an experience he feels a lot of players could benefit from.
“For me it definitely helped having 2 full seasons in the EPL before I moved up. It gives you the experience that you need at that age, you can take on a role with more responsibility and play in pressure situations and gain valuable experience that you will need when making the step up.”
Peacock also echoed the sentiments of Belfast team mate Colin Shields when it comes to the link between EPL and EIHL – and hopes the two leagues can form a closer relationship for the good of the game.
“From what I have seen since I was in the EPL, the league looks to be improving each year – which is great for British hockey on a whole. I feel that maybe there could be a better relationship between the two leagues to help bring on that next generation of hockey. For example more players on two way contracts – allowing them to train and dress in games when they can, and to see what they will need to do to prepare themselves to make the step up full time. This would also allow them to continue their development at the right speed with their EPL club.”
It is frustrating that something which should be so simple continues to somehow remain absent from the British game. Hopefully someone will look at the success Peacock has had, and the path he took, and a bigger picture will begin to form.
Thanks to Craig for his time. You can follow him on Twitter @Peaks71, and you can follow me @RobMcGregor35
All photographs © Richard Davies (Chud Photography).