Lake: "It's great to be recognised by fans"
28-year-old Canadian forward Ben Lake was last weekend named the Genting Casino Coventry Blaze’s iExcellence Player of the Month for September 2018.
The award was handed to the popular number 9 after the game against the Belfast Giants which, despite team defeat, saw Lake complete a ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’, scoring a goal, grabbing an assist and fighting Jonathan Ferland. To top it all off, he was also awarded the Genting Casino Man of the Match.
This week, Adam Partoon caught up with Ben to discuss his hot start to the season, his time in Coventry, and his MBA opportunity at Coventry University Business School.
AP: Fantastic news on winning the iExcellence Player of the Month – how does it feel?
BL: Yeah, it's obviously a great feeling to be recognised by the fans who voted, as it’s a little bit of a confirmation that you're doing something right. But, I think a lot of guys on the team have had strong starts to the season so I think it could have gone to a good number of guys!
AP: Despite the results this past weekend, the Blaze have had a strong start to the league campaign, and as evidenced by the late winner against Glasgow and the fight-back against Nottingham, we appear to have a team with a strong mentality?
BL: As a group I think we are hungry and have a hatred to lose. Having a young team has also helped upped the intensity levels in practice and in games. I think as a team we've seen quite a bit of resilience with a few come from behind wins, which I believe is a result of everyone being very mentally strong, nobody gets too down when we fall behind a goal or two.
AP: Talking of the Clan game, that game winner with 13 seconds left, how did that feel?
BL: That was definitely one of the more timely goals in my career, but to be honest I thought there was a lot more time on the clock than 13 seconds. From what I remember, I had just got on the ice and Niki (Alex Nikiforuk) made a great play, seeing that I had some speed. I noticed I had a bit of a step on the defender so I just tried to take it to the net. It's a move I've tried a few times but it has never really worked, luckily the goalie froze and I was able to slide it into the net.
AP: You have had a really strong start to the season – what prep did you do over the summer?
BL: I'm a big believer in taking some time away from the rink in the off season; the season is very long and taxing on the body so I think it’s vital to come back to pre-season feeling refreshed and hungry to compete again. Obviously it’s important to stay in shape so in the summer I go to the gym 4 times a week to keep my strength up and I’m big into mountain biking. I live in Calgary in the summer which is only 45 minutes from the mountains so I try to get out there as much as I can to ride. My parents also live in Vancouver Island so I try to spend a couple weeks of the summer out there to be with family and get some home cooked meals!
AP: You’re combining playing with study at Coventry University this season. Tell us a bit about the course and how it feels to be back in education?
BL: It's been great so far. There's five of us doing the MBA which was a huge reason for me signing back with the Blaze. We're currently into our second week and to be honest it’s a little strange being back into a classroom since it was three years ago that I did my undergrad. The course seems like it’s going to be extremely helpful for when I eventually retire and begin my search for a new career. I find it’s a really great way to get your mind away from hockey, sometimes you can over think things way too much and when I'm studying it just brings my mind more in tune with the goings on of the world.
AP: Before games, you and some of the players enjoy a kick about outside Ikea. Is this just to blow off steam or is this part of your pre-game warm up?
BL: For me, I'm not a fan of the traditional warm up’s as I get bored. Once we've done all of our meetings before games, we have quite a bit of time, so it's a great way to have some fun and a little banter with the boys while getting loose. What we're playing is called ‘two touch’ so it's good fun to have a little competition within the boys before the games. All the British guys like to poke fun at the North American’s lack of skills.
AP: I know you were close with Dax (Lauwers) and both travelled across to the UK together from Alaska last season – are you still in touch with him? Did joining a new team with someone you already knew help you settle better?
BL: Yes, Dax and I played together so we were very familiar with one another when we came to Coventry. It's always tough going somewhere new when you don't know anybody so it was really nice having some sort of familiarity upon arriving to Coventry, especially since we were living together. I still speak to Dax every now and then and I'm sure he's enjoying his retirement back home in Alaska.
AP: Your stats show a big jump in goals scored from your time in the ECHL to the EIHL - did you think your move to the UK would be so prosperous for you offensively?
BL: Coming to the UK has been a huge step in my career. If I'm being completely honest, I was starting to fall out of love with the game prior to making the move over here. In the ECHL I was placed in a third line energy role and was made aware I would never have the opportunity to move up. As a player, when you get stuck into a role when you believe you can achieve more, it’s really tough to get excited for games. Obviously I still worked to move up, but that never materialised and I knew it was time for a change. I owe a lot to Danny (Stewart) for giving me the opportunity I was looking for to succeed and contribute on a nightly basis.
My parents are both from here in the UK and I have a UK passport so I visited here a lot as a kid so I was pretty confident in what to expect. Obviously moving to a new country will always be a bit of a culture shock, but I think having so much family over here really helped me prepare and acclimatize to the move.
AP: And last but not least, I see a growing number of young Blaze fans with the #9 jerseys, you are clearly becoming an inspiration! What message do you have for the aspiring academy prospects that are watching intently from the stands?
BL: For me, the biggest thing is having fun. Back home in Canada especially I see so many overbearing parents thinking their kids are the next Sidney Crosby and making it all about themselves instead of allowing their kids to have fun and let the coaches teach their kids the many lifelong lessons hockey can teach. I was so lucky that my parents never forced me into anything, they let me play because I loved to and if I didn't want to do it anymore they would have been totally fine with it. Basically what I'm saying is you have to enjoy the game. Those who enjoy it want to be there, and work for it will in most cases end up succeeding.