Ice hockey is not something that immediately springs to mind when considering the island’s most successful sports.
It is therefore somewhat surprising that Manxman Vince Connon has advanced to play at an elite level in the British ice hockey leagues.
Vince is currently enjoying playing as a forward for the Dundee Stars at the highest level of hockey that the UK can offer, and while he wasn’t here very long, Vince is still proud to be from the Isle of Man.
Born in Douglas in 1991, Vince quickly moved to Canada with his parents.
‘I was introduced to hockey from a young age as it’s Canada’s game and I was around three years old when I first started playing hockey.’
Vince’s grandfather, who played semi-professionally in Germany, honed Vince’s talent.
Improving and growing as a player in the minor hockey systems was an experience which he thoroughly enjoyed.
Vince got his first taste of British hockey upon moving to Scotland, where he represented the youth teams of Dundee, the Comets and the Stars (who he would later represent at senior level).
The standard of play was, perhaps understandably, below that of Canadian youth hockey and when a coach offered Vince the chance to enrol in the Ontario Hockey Academy, an institution where hockey and education combine, he grabbed it.
Vince recognised that returning to Canada would allow his talent to flourish.
Connon played in a small town called Cornwall between 2008 and 2010, making nearly 100 appearances and scoring more than 40 goals in his two seasons.
‘I played for a team called the Ontario Hockey Academy Mavericks. I got to play with guys all over Canada and the USA and some guys from places like Russia, Japan and Australia. It was quite the experience living and playing on a team with guys from all over the world.’
The British answer to the NHL was to create the Elite Ice Hockey League, formed in 2003.
The league consists of 10 teams, with representation from all four home nations – the only league in any sport to do so.
Since 2010, the league has been split into two conferences with the Scottish teams and the Hull Stingrays making up the Northern Conference, and the Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils and the other English teams battling it out in the Southern Conference.
All 10 play each other either four or eight times (depending on which conference they are playing in) and the teams with the best regular season records are entered into the British championship play-offs after the regular season has finished.
Ice hockey is growing in popularity in the UK and Vince shows that there is no reason why the Manx can’t get involved: ‘The most enjoyable thing about hockey is I get to meet many people from all over the world, and see and go to places I would have never even thought of going to.’
Vince’s talent was evident, and with his time at the academy coming to a close, he was offered the chance to play in the UK. ‘When I was playing hockey for the Academy an old coach of mine that I had in Scotland was linked up with a team called the Braehead Clan. At the time I had two junior A hockey clubs making offers for me to play for them but I had to decide what would give me the best opportunity in the long run to playing pro hockey.’
When this opportunity came up to play in the Elite League at the age of 18, Vince recognised that this was the best possible chance to ensure that he could continue play hockey at a high level.
Since returning to the UK, Vince has played for a variety of clubs, including the Braehead Clan, the Telford Tigers and is currently sporting the red, white and blue of the Dundee Stars. With more than 150 professional appearances in the EIHL, Vince is certainly seeing a lot of game time.
Vince’s methods to success can be transferred to any sport. ‘The best thing I found that always worked and goes a long way, no matter what skill level, is hard work. Working hard is noticed no matter what.’
While he hasn’t yet returned to the Isle of Man, Vince’s family have impressed on him what a wonderful place the island is. ‘I don’t have any family from the island at all but my parents lived there for four or five years and they still have a place in their hearts for the island.
‘They told me I should go visit where I was born and that I would be really proud of the place. So I think when I get the time I will travel over to the Isle of Man.’