"Where are they now?" - George Awada

Wednesday, 16th February 2005
It would be impossible to do a series of player interviews without including one of the undoubted stars of the Manchester Phoenix squad last season:  “Forward of the Year”, the top points and goal scorer, and one of my personal favourite players - the Phoenix Captain, “Super” George Awada. 
On a recent visit to Belfast, I was lucky enough to meet up with George.  As you might expect, he is still very popular with the fans and the demands on him are many.  So, in-between signing autographs and having his photo taken, he took time out to answer some questions.
Diane Daley - Belfast seem to be having a pretty good season so far. How do you rate the Giants' chances of winning some silverware this season?
George Awada - I think our chances are pretty good.  We have had two long breaks during the season that have helped us with fatigue and injuries.  Travel takes a toll on us and the breaks are welcome. Tony Hand has put together a well-balanced team and a goaltender second to none.  The top three teams all have the potential to win the title and for how well the three teams are playing, it will come down to the final weeks of the season.  The majority of our remaining games are here at home, so our chances of winning rest in our hands.
DD - What impact do you think the influx of NHLers has had on the standard of play in the Elite League?
GA - I don't think they have much of an influence on the standard of play.  The league is much better over all from last year, and that was before they came over.  It is nice that the league has been noticed by the NHL and it has helped to put the Elite League on the map.  One thing that is puzzling is how some teams are able to afford more players from the NHL and some teams aren't.  I hope this doesn't affect the league and the financial status of teams.  There are players over here that left North America to play in a league made for players not able to play in the NHL.  It doesn't seem right that teams bring in players that don't plan on staying.  It's not the players’ fault, it's the teams and the league that should protect the players who have been here from the beginning and the ones who plan to stay.
DD - How have you been coping with the inevitable long road trips from Belfast to the mainland?
GA - The travel is quite a change from last year.  I have had worse road trips back in the States.  One year, the closest team to us was eight hours by bus, you factor that into a 72 game season and half of which are on the road, it makes for a long season.  We have had a good schedule this year with a couple of long breaks, so we have had time to rest up.  With a few days off after travelling has helped our team recover for the upcoming weekend games.
DD - From a fans perspective, the crossover games with the BNL clubs have proved to be popular.  Do you think this has been beneficial to UK hockey?
GA - I hope it has.  There are some good teams in the BNL and if it will help the league and its security for the future that's great.  I know hockey isn't the most popular sport in the UK, but if we can spread out a good product, that should help the sport’s popularity.
DD - What are your responsibilities as Alternate Captain?
GA - This team has more veteran players than we had last year so there are a lot of different styles of leadership in the locker room.  Having Tony Hand as a player-coach, he has the last say on things so the Captain’s responsibilities are to keep the boys in line and out of trouble and playing hard for each other.  I usually like to do my talking on the ice and showing up every night and playing my hardest and leading the team in that regard.  It has been an honour being appointed Captain last year and an even more of a surprise this year.
DD - For those fans who haven't so far visited Belfast, what's it like? Do you enjoy living there and have you found a Starbucks yet?
GA - From a hockey perspective, I think it is the best rink in the league and even better than most of the rinks I played in back at home.  Just having the whole complex there with bars and restaurants just a few steps away makes it an easy night for fans.  The city itself is very nice.  It is certainly not as big as Manchester but has plenty of things to see and do.  I enjoyed walking around Manchester everyday and hunting for new pubs and coffee shops.  I do the same here but it takes half the time.  I live in the city centre so it's very easy to get around.  There are plenty of nice places to eat in town as well.  We have two new Starbucks in town now, but I need to give Clements coffee shops a plug because our GM doesn't like the "S" word!
DD - Are you still playing your guitar and have you had the chance to play for the Giants fans?
GA - I have found myself playing the guitar more than last year.  I haven't played for the fans because they had a guy on the team the last few years that played in bars here and made a CD and those shoes are a little too big to fill!  I have jammed for some of the boys at our flat and that's where I am going to leave it.
DD - What's a typical week like for you, in terms of training, games, and leisure time?
GA - Because of the travel, our week doesn't start till Wednesday on the ice.  We train on the ice the rest of the week until we leave for a road game.  The guys usually assemble at the gym on Monday and Tuesday to ride the bike and loosen up.  When we travel, it is usually an early morning flight or ferry.  We will play a couple of games and head back early the following day.  On my down time, I walk about town or go for a ride and check out the countryside and the small port towns up and down the coast.  I like to check out the live music in town as well and any big name acts that come to the big O.
DD - Not trying to put you on the spot......but how do you feel when you score a goal against Sheffield?
GA - I love it!  Last year was such an intense rivalry and they had a solid team, scoring on them was sweet.   With Platter over there now, it's nothing personal but I still enjoy it.  I have played with most of the goalies in the league and they always love stopping me from scoring and I do what I can to get the puck past them.
DD - Finally, what message do you have for the Manchester Phoenix fans?
GA - I just want to thank all the folks that travel to see all the guys that played on the team last year.  I know it has been tough having a team and then not having a team to support.  My team-mates always razz me when they see the Phoenix jerseys in the stands, they say it's my own personal fan club. They're all just jealous!  I have been keeping tabs on the progress of the team for next year and wish you all the best.  Manchester is too good of a city not to have a team.  As for my future, I can't really say.  As a player, we can't sit around and wait too long for teams, we have to pursue opportunities for our security and future.  It is nothing personal, it is just how professional sports work, and it doesn't seem fair for the players and the fans.  Since the league has opened up to the NHL jobs may be harder to get.  Last year was a blast and the people were great and that's what was most important and that's what made our team have success.  Thanks again and I look forward to seeing you all in Nottingham!
My heart-felt thanks go to George for doing this interview.  As the season winds down and the Play-Offs approach, I hope that Belfast Giants continue to have the success they have so far had and they make it to the final four weekend in Nottingham.  I for one will be giving them (and George) my support!
By Diane Daley