LONDON, UK – Wightlink Raiders Player Coach Jeremy Cornish completed a decade of hockey in the UK this weekend, but fell just short of adding another trophy to the island’s cabinet.
A Play-Off final defeat to the all-conquering Chelmsford Chieftains highlighted a familiar trend of a 2013/14 NIHL season dominated by the Essex side, but with the Raiders close behind in almost every competition.
The Raiders finished as runners-up in the league, second in the South East Trophy and as silver medallists in the Play-Offs.
“I would say frustrating is a perfect way of describing it” said Cornish, who arrived on the Island back in 2009.
“Chelmsford once again have raised the bar in our league and it seems we are always coming up short against them”
“I could also say it’s motivating for me to know what it’s going to take to beat them; I know as a club we are a bit sick of falling short each year and I guess you could say it maybe keeps me interested and keen to put my squad together for next season”
Wightlink are a side that have consistently challenged for honours since Cornish arrived, despite often being discounted as genuine contenders at the start of each season.
A far reaching recruitment strategy each off-season has seen Cornish bring in talent from the local area as well as further afield in the UK and abroad.
This year they finished above the highly-fancied Invicta Dynamos in the league and also despatched the Kent side in the Play-Offs to put themselves in range of Chelmsford.
“I am happy with the season, but any time you come away empty handled without any silverware you have to realise it’s not been a successful season” admitted Cornish.
“I don’t really worry about what people predict, as a coach it is my goal to win the league every year, but what I really want is a team that is in the running for all competitions right up until the last weekend of the season”
“I tell my guys there is no point playing if we are not competing every week and this season we did that once again”
Five seasons as a Player Coach on the scenic Isle of Wight just off the South Coast of England has helped develop not only a hockey club that had to make a transition to National League Ice Hockey but also the big Canadian’s coaching skills.
“Next year will be my sixth in the league and it has developed each year” said Cornish, who won the league with the Raiders in 2010/11.
“When I first dropped down the league was nowhere close to where it is now. My only concern is that the top teams in our league will distance themselves from the rest of the pack and I would like to see a more balanced league”
“I know that sounds a bit silly coming from a coach with one of the top teams, but that would take another whole article on how we as a league could make that happen”
“I have changed our style of play over the last year, we used to sit back and trap and now we are a more attacking team”
“That has left us exposed at the back at times and for a coach that is defensive minded that has been very frustrating at times. We gave up too many shots against this year and I will be looking to upgrade in all positions”
“You can’t settle with what you have or you will be left behind. I think that’s true at any level of hockey”
Despite the disappointment of losing on aggregate in the season showpiece, the Raiders did manage to hold the Chieftains to a 3-3 tie in the first leg of the Play-Off final, but more pleasing than that was the fact that Ryde Arena was packed to the rafters with hockey fans.
Cornish is rightly proud of the way the club has managed to build itself up over the years and recognises that the foundations currently in place make it a good place to be.
“The crowd for the final was fantastic, we are very fortunate on the island to have a strong fan base and guys love playing on the island for that reason” explained the Lucan, Ontario born forward.
“I do feel proud to know that the present Raiders are a team that we have brought together and I have great support from our owners Geoff Underwood and Steve Price”
“They take care of the guys and it’s important not to forget the people behind the scenes. We have an excellent supporters club and all of these factors make our club attractive for players”
“It wasn’t very long ago that recruiting was a painful process, now players know they can come to the island, be taken care, develop their game and have a chance at winning each week”
As a coach, Cornish has proven that he has taken all that he has learnt in the game, both in the UK Elite League, Central Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League across the pond, and implemented systems and a professionalism to the Raiders.
However at 34 he does have that nagging question hanging over him that all hockey players have asked of them at that age.
“I still love playing and I feel I can still contribute, playing keeps me young and I know I’ve got the rest of my life to stand behind the bench” admitted Cornish, who is now settled in leafy Hampshire with his family.
“I will make that transition when I feel the time is right, but for now I love playing and will continue. I enjoy being around the guys and watching my teams develop each season”
“We aren’t as fortunate to have the same consistent line-up Chelmsford do each year and seeing our guys adapt to playing on our rink and buying into our style of play is very satisfying as a coach”
Wightlink will no doubt have a very busy summer recruiting, but one thing is for sure and that is that their coach knows exactly what he needs to bring success and that he has the reputation to help attract the right players across the Solent for 2014/15.
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