Telford Tigers coach Tom Watkins swapped skates for saddle to help battle lockdown

What does an ice hockey head coach and general manager do to pass time if a global pandemic forces them off the ice for 11 months?

Tom Watkins.
Tom Watkins.

For Telford Tigers’ Tom Watkins, the answer was simple, swap the skates for the saddle.

If you’ve enjoyed a hike or two up the steep inclines of The Wrekin since the Covid-19 breakout last March, chances are you’ve been whizzed past by Tigers guru Watkins, who has used the rare free time – a lot of it – to develop a new love.

“From my own personal perspective, whereas I’d usually spend a lot of time in the rink coaching or teaching hockey, I’ve got into mountain biking in a lot more detail,” said Watkins, 42, who lives near the Telford Golf Club in Coalport.

“I’ve always mountain biked, but I’ve been spending a lot more time in the saddle than in the skates.

“I’ve been on The Wrekin every day, coming down the side of that is a bit tasty.

“We’re really fortunate where we are, through the summer we rode a lot, over to the Longmynd and back, all off road, and more local routes, or doing jumps on the steep Wrekin trail. I’m a 42-year-old rookie flying downhill!”

Tigers, double winners last season, are back in action this evening after a long 11 months away. They host Raiders, of Essex, in the five-team Spring Cup, before making he trip to Romford tomorrow.

Watkins, who hails from Durham, first played for Telford in the mid-to-late 1990s and returned to the club at the beginning of the last decade. He is happy to now call the town his home.

The former Coventry Blaze Elite League star admitted that, owing to Tigers commitments and coaching with the Great Britain set-up, he has not had the opportunity to unwind in years gone by.

Watkins said: “The last three years doing this job has been pretty full on, I probably haven’t given myself enough of my own personal space and time.

“A lot of it is intense, in the ring, coaching, teaching, from my personal perspective I’ve loved the down time.

“I’ve loved the opportunity to do something different and being out in the countryside, there is absolutely nothing better.

“It’s a good adrenaline rush, whether it’s cross-country or downhill biking, it’s given me something to look forward to, the headspace has been brilliant.”

The head coach’s trusty mountain bike will be in action this morning, to quell any pre-match excitement and provide crucial thinking time. There is a lot to get right, off the rink too, in a time unlike any other for ice hockey.

“I think (on Friday night) it’ll be about 10 pints of lager!” Watkins laughed. “No, I’m old enough and have been around the block enough, I think it’ll be more excitement than nerves.

“You try to do all your prep as early as you can, I’m not doing anything hockey-related on Friday night but I’ll go for a bike ride on Saturday morning and lunchtime, start prepping for the game, making sure all our Covid protocols are in place.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re happy with everything, or if anything needs manipulating or changing, or if there are any questions, it’s also the first time we’re streaming games in a number of years so we have to make sure everything is in place.”

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