Like the ceremonial changing of the guard outside London’s Buckingham Palace, ice hockey players of color in Great Britain are experiencing a generational shift.
Nottingham Panthers forward-assistant coach David Clarke, one of Great Britain’s greatest home-grown ice hockey players, retired from the game last month at the age of 36 last month.
He represented Great Britain over 90 times in international competition during a playing career that spanned from 1996-97 to 2017-18.
“In terms of a role model within British ice hockey… it was always great to see a black player in such a high-profile position not only at the highest playing level but also representing GB,” said Ethan James, a 19-year-old goaltender from London who played for Great Britain’s Under 20 team in December. “He’s definitely been the biggest name for all kids to follow.”
Nottingham Panthers forward says goodbye to fans in his final game. He retied as one of Great Britain’s most decorated players (Photo/Nottingham Panthers).
Now it’s the next generation’s turn to lead, and they’re eager to take the reins.
Team GB forward Mason Alderson Biddulph, was the fourth-leading scorer at the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Championship Division II-Group A in Tallin, Estonia, earlier this month with 6 goals and 3 assists.
His nine points, tops for Great Britain, helped the team win a gold medal in the six-nation tournament and secure a promotion to IIHF Division I-Group B.
Mason Biddulph led the gold medal-winning British team in scoring and was the fourth-leading scorer among all players at the 2018 IIHF U18 world championship in April (Photo/Hendrik Soots).
Biddulph was voted best forward by the tournament’s directorate, selected best player for Great Britain by coaches, and was named bestTeam GB player in 6-3 victory over Estonia in which he had two goals.
“I had no expectations of what we were going to do at the world champs, as it was my first time there,” Biddulph said. “So when we won the gold medal in Estonia and earned promotion, it was a surreal feeling and a moment I will never forget. It was important to GB as it was the first promotion in ten years, but it was important to me as an individual because it became the highlight of my career so far.”
The 16-year-old’s performance was just part of a a stellar 2017-18 season. As captain of the Guildford Firekings U18 team, Biddulph scored 29 goals and 10 assists in nine regular season games.
Biddulph comes from a hockey family. His father, Brian Biddulph, was a rugged defenseman who played in Great Britain from 1982-83 to 1999-00 for teams in Streatham, Slough, Peterborough and Lee Valley.
Great Britain forward Mason Biddulph, also known as Alderson, celebrates after scoring a goal against Estonia in April 2018 (Photo/Hendrik Soots).
The elder Biddulph also played junior hockey briefly in Canada for a team called the Langley Eagles in what was then known as the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.
Like his father, Mason Alderson Biddulph is looking to test his talents in North America. Next week, he’s scheduled to attend a training camp of the Smith Falls Bears, a Junior A team in the Central Canadian Hockey League.
“The ideal hockey path I want to take is the Canadian junior A to an NCAA college route because of the standard of hockey and the chance to get a good education,” the younger Biddulph said. “Of course, I’d hope to turn pro in North America with dreams of the NHL, like any kid. But I would never overlook playing in Europe’s top leagues like the KHL, NLA, DEL. .. Magnus and Serie A.”
Ethan James has already ventured across the pond to North America to play. He recently finished his second season with the Essa Stallions of the Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League.
He showed that size doesn’t matter when it comes to stopping the puck. The 5-foot-6 netminder compiled a 17-1 record in 24 games with the Stallions in 2017-18. He had a stingy goals-against average of 1.37 and a .949 save percentage, both CPJHL bests.
He backstopped the Stallions to the CPJHL championship with a 6-1 record playoffs record and a 2.16 goals-against average. James was a first-team CPJHL All-Star in 2016-17.
At 5-foot-6, British goalie Ethan James, playing in a CPJHL All-Star Game, is proving that size doesn’t matter in net (Photo/Mark Mauno).
“He’s got very good reflexes, he’s quick,” said Stallions Head Coach Sylvain Cloutier, a former American Hockey League and British Elite League forward who skated seven games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998-99. “If he was 6-foot-2, who knows where he’d be? ”
Hockey teams from juniors to the pros adore big goalies. The average size of an NHL goalie is 6-foot-2 and about 201-pounds, but several goalies exceed that. Dallas Stars netminder Ben Bishop is 6-foot-7; Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinneis 6-foot-5; and Pittsburgh Penguins backstopper Matt Murraystands 6-foot-4.
“I honestly think height shouldn’t matter,” James said. “If the goalie that is 5-foot-7 can stop the puck just as well as a 6-foot-plus goalie, why shouldn’t they get the chance of going professional?”
Goaltender Ethan James manned the net for Great Britain at IIHF tournaments in 2016 and 2018.
James played for Team GB at the 2018 IIHF U20 World Championship Division II-Group A in Dumfries, Great Britain, in December, appearing in two games a posting a 2.55 goals-against average.
He also played in two games at the 2016 IIHF U18 World Championship Division II-Goup A, in Brasov, Romania, and posted a 5.35 goals-against average in a backup role.
James has become known on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for something more than his penchant for making big acrobatic saves: His big hair.
He has the best Afro in hockey this side of retired WashingtonCapitals forward Mike Marson, who sported a natural to the NHL in the 1970s. But James’ ‘Fro is rooted more in hockey superstition than fashion.
Superstitious, British goaltender Ethan James doesn’t cut his hair during hockey season (Photo/Courtesy Ethan James).
“When I was an Under 12 (player) with Romford I played with the Under 14s and we went undefeated that season and I never cut my hair during that season,” he said. “So ever since then, during the hockey season I just let my hair grow.”
And how does James fit those fluffy ‘Fro into his goalie mask?
“I just push the hair back and put the helmet on,” he said.
Just because David Clarke hung up his jersey doesn’t mean that Team GB is short a Clarke. Morgan Clarke-Pizzo, his son, was a forward GB’s U20 team in December.
Clarke-Pizzo, 18, attends the Ontario Hockey Academywhere he scored 5 goals and 9 assists for its U18 team in 2017-18. He had 21 goals and 21 assists in 52 games in 2016-17.
He was scoreless in five games at the IIHF tournament in Dumfries but that didn’t stop his father from beaming with pride.
“Time flies for sure! I’m extremely proud to see him living his dream and representing his country and turning into a nice young man,” David Clarke told The Nottingham Post. “He’s still got a long way to go, but it’s good to see him and the team doing well.”
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.