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Ice in his veins

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When it comes to Premier League goalkeepers, many pundits claim that the title greatest ever is a toss-up between Danish and Manchester United royalty Peter Schmeichel and Chelsea/Arsenal great Petr Cech. The latter debuted in England’s top flight in July 2004 for a transfer fee of £7 million that Chelsea paid to French Rennes. The Czech player, who moved to France two years prior, on a price tag of €5.5 million from Sparta Prague, was a highly-touted keeper at that time, having established himself as the Czech Republic’s number one and one of Ligue 1’s best since 2002.

As most footie fans know, Cech retired from professional football in 2019, with various goalkeeping records to his name. These include the keeper with the most clean sheets in a season, the most in Premier League history, and the fewest appearances required to reach one hundred clean sheets ever. He is also the goalkeeper to win the Golden Glove award with two separate clubs, shocking bookmakers and those who frequently bet online by winning this honour in the 2015/16 seasons after his move to Arsenal. His Arsenal transfer came after becoming the second choice at Standford Bridge, and Jose Mourinho writing him off due to various injury concerns.

After four reasonably successful years at Emirates Stadium, Cech decided to hang up his boots and assumed a technical/performance advisor role at Chelsea. Though, instantly after his retirement, the Czech football legend also made the curious choice to move to play amateur hockey. That choice rested as a sports headline at outlets across the globe. Below, we look at how Cech’s hockey adventure has unfolded in these past three years, during which he has surprisingly stuck with the sport.

Cech’s Guildford Phoenix Stint

In October 2019, news broke that instead of facing shots on grass pitches, the then 37-year-old keeper would have pucks fired at him on skating rinks. He took up this challenge as an acting sporting director for the Blues, putting on a hockey shirt and taking a post for the Guilford Phoenix, the reserves of British National League side Guilford Flames.

In Cech’s debut against the Swindon Wildcats, he stood at goal during a 2-2 draw in regular time and made a crucial save in the shootout that followed, stopping the Wildcats’ first attempt at goal. They missed two others, giving the Guilford Phoenix a much-needed win.

Before the match, Cech stated that he hopes to get as much playing time as possible in the coming season, helping the young team in any way he can to achieve their goals for the year.

Although many media sources praised Cech’s first amateur appearance on the hockey rink, after a decent start, the former Premier League and Champions League winner conceded two goals in less than ten minutes. Cech played twenty times for the Guildford Phoenix between 2019 and 2022, notching an impressive .931 save percentage, aiding his squad to snag a tremble, and ending the season with a goals-against average of 1.73, the league’s best.

It should get said that the Guildford Phoenix is an amateur ice hockey team that currently plays in the NIHL 2 South West Division.

Chelmsford Chieftains Expectations

As mentioned above, the Guildford Phoenix is the reserve side of the professional English ice hockey team, the Guildford Flames, a side that is competing in the country’s Elite Ice Hockey League. The Flames joined this competition in the 2017-18 season when they became its 12th team. Owned by American Barry Dow, who also sponsors the Guildford basketball team – The Kings. The Flames play at the Guildford Spectrum arena, a leisure complex that can accept audiences of twenty-two hundred people.

Though Flame fans expected that Cech would eventually get moved to play for the Flames, in a surprising move, Petr signed a one-year contract with the Chelmsford Chieftains, a team founded in 1987, playing in the NIHL South Division 1. Their home is the Riverside Ice and Leisure Centre in Chelmsford, Essex. After spending eight years in the English Premier Ice Hockey League, the Chieftains withdrew from the league and have settled in the National Ice Hockey League, in its Northern division.

Cech left Chelsea after Todd Boehly’s takeover, abandoning his position as the club’s technical/performance advisor. With more free time on his hands, the fifteen-season Premier League veteran now has more energy to devote to his childhood passion, hockey. In a statement for the Chieftain’s website, Cech noted that he is super excited about his new challenge with the Chieftains. He will wear the club’s number thirty-nine jersey in honour of Dominik Hasek, the former Czech goaltender who helped his country win gold at the 1998 Olympics, a hero of Cech’s.

Chieftains head coach Mark Saunders noted to BBC Sport that Petr’s experience and quality should add a massive boost to his squad. Saunders is hopeful that Cech can bring a winning mentality to the Chieftains and help the team reach the top of the standings.

Cech made his Chieftains’ first appearance in a 6-4 victory against the Oxford City Stars, in a game where he got the Man of the Match honour bestowed by officials.

How Good Is English Hockey?

Non-Brits would get surprised to learn that the UK has a somewhat decently-developed hockey scene. The sport has been played professionally in the United Kingdom since the early 1960s, with the Elite Ice Hockey League getting founded in 2003. The Great Britain national ice hockey team saw stunning global success at the start of the twentieth century. They took bronze at the 1924 Olympics and won gold twelve years later.

That said, of course, the quality of play in England’s ice hockey competitions is not up to par with those in countries like Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Belarus, or the US. It is far lower, actually. Still, around half a million people show up in arenas yearly for hockey in England, with games averaging anywhere between two to four thousand fans. According to various research, ice hockey is the United Kingdom’s fastest-growing indoor sport.

Arnold Lewis
A hardcore Chelsea fan, who is often found playing football on the weekends. He has an exceptional voice and his rendition of old Hindi classic songs will make your heart melt. He is the man with the funky hair.

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