James Morton caught up with Lions captain Luke Thomas after last weekend’s title win and asked him his thoughts on what has been a magnificent season so far:
Q: How proud are you, that in your first season back at the Lions and as captain, of leading the team to the Championship?
A: I don’t think I can show just how proud I am! It’s my first year back at the Lions and taking on the captaincy was daunting at first, especially as you had more experienced guys on the team such as Joe Wightman and Flats. I wasn’t sure how the more senior guys would take a ‘newbie’ as captain, but they have been fantastic. If I’m honest, there hasn’t been many times this season when I’ve had to pull rank and lose it in the dressing room, which is always a good sign. It’s been more a case of the whole team knew what was required and got on with things. The guys made the job so easy for me, and it was a pleasure to be the leader of such an amazing group of players.
As I was part of the Lions team who won the league and national championship title in the 07-08 season, so success with the Lions isn’t a new experience. Doing it as Captain just makes it that little bit more special.
Q:With three games still to go, will you be still be looking out for more points?
A: Of course, there is no chance of us rolling over and doing ‘just enough’. We will be playing hard until the end of the season and will take the last 3 fixtures like we did the first 3. Having only lost 2 games all season, we have been some way above the rest of the chasing pack, only dropping 4 points out of 20 against the other title contenders. It would take the gloss off the achievement if we went on and only won the league by a single point after working so hard to get to where we are right now. It also wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the league, especially as other teams are relying on the results of our remaining fixtures in order to make the playoffs.
Q: There are still two fixtures to be played against Solihull, will you be looking to win the series against your former club?
A: Both myself and Matt have spent the season banging on about the ’4-game series’ between teams, and that doesn’t change just because we are already league champions. We have already started to talk about next season, and the possibility of been back in Div 1, and the hard work starts now. The 2 games against Solihull will be fast-paced and tough affairs that will be high in skill, low in goalscoring chances and provide a taste of what to expect from next year against the likes of Solway, Billingham etc. My achievements with the Lions this season have more than proved to those who doubted me at Solihull just what i had to offer, and on a personal level it would be great to finish strong and take at least 2 more points from them.
Q: What do you think are the chances of keeping some of the clubs star performers at the club for next season?
A: The Lions have always been a team who are affected by the two local Universities, waiting to see who comes and who goes in the summer. The current squad has several players who are not native to Nottingham, and so we will have to wait and see what the outcome of their studies are before we know exactly who will be back. We also have several guys who could go on and play at a higher level. However, they are all quite young and still developing and this is a great place to do just that. I’d expect at least 75% of the squad to return and no doubt we will have some new faces looking for a squad number come the new academic year!
Q: Even though the team have dropped points against Deeside and Sheffield, what was the key to not letting those results affect you?
A: Bouncebackability! You could say that on the occasions we did drop points, it was what was needed to re-focus and drive the guys on even more. We would come back to training the week after and push even harder. No-one spent time dwelling on points lost, instead re-directing their energy to focus on the league title. For a young team, the mental strength is immense. There has even been a couple of times that i have been put straight by the younger guys! Division 2 in the North is normally done and dusted by Christmas, with one team running away with things while the rest battle it out for the lower positions. I don’t think any team would have gone the whole season without dropping points, and to have things wrapped up before the last game of the season is some achievement.
Q: How has working with head coach Matt Bradbury helped your game?
A: Matt has to be one of the most professional, committed and driven coaches I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing for. At this level of the game, teams usually concentrate on themselves and how they play. Matt would research the opposition and spend hours plotting how to beat them. That is what has been key to our success, we had plan A, B, C and D! He runs things like a professional club, what you would expect to find in the EPL or Elite. Not many guys out there can take a squad of amateur ‘pay-to-play’ players and impose a professional structure, but Matt got the balance spot on. I certainly hope I’m around next year to further my work with him at a higher level.
It’s not too late to catch the Luke and the rest of the Lions this evening! They take on Fylde Flyers at the National Ice Centre at 7.15pm tonight. Ticket details are available here.