ICE HOCKEY: Cats coach tips Stratford for the top
RYAN Aldridge believes Michael Stratford is destined for ‘bigger things than Swindon’ after handing the teenager his Wildcats debut on Sunday.
The forward, who only turned 16 just over a fortnight ago, featured for his home town club in the 5-4 penalty shots defeat at EPL champions Guildford.
League rules prevent those aged 15 and under playing in the EPL and head coach Aldridge was keen to give the 6ft 1in Stratford his first taste of the British second tier.
“We’ve been looking to fit him into the line-up to see how he does,” said Aldridge.
“He skated with us last year, a little bit less this year because he’s been in the academy (Okanagan Hockey Academy), but he’s still been a part of the team.
“We decided to throw him in at the deep end and see how he reacted. Towards the end of the game we couldn’t get him out that much, but I think when he was out there he played really good.
“He needs to fill out a bit but he’s a big kid and I’m sure he’s going to mature into a good player.
“He’s a year away from being a regular line guy but he’ll definitely be there one day and he’ll move on to bigger and better things than us too.”
Stratford has put up superb numbers for Okanagan this year with 30 goals and 10 assists in just 10 games, while he is also a reserve for Great Britain Under 18s.
The junior player, permitted to ‘play up’ to EPL standard as he is registered with the Wildcats, enjoyed his debut and revealed that he had fulfilled a long-time ambition.
“It was good, the boys were really positive and it made me feel really confident,” he said.
“It was nice to find out I was in the line-up and I only found out in the morning, which was quite late.
“I was nervous but also very happy, it’s a plus playing for the team you have always wanted to play for.”
On the praise he received from Aldridge, Stratford added: “It’s a good feeling, but I need to keep working hard and not get big-headed about it.
“I just need to play the game I love, work hard every shift and do the little things right.”