You could hardly descibe Ballymoney as being a hot bed for ice hockey stars. With the closest ice rink over 60 miles away, the opportunity for local youngsters to hone their skills on the ice is not exactly readily available.
However, Ballymoney’s Andrew Dickson has proved that with talent and determination to succeed it is possible to make a name for yourself in this fast and furious contact sport.
As the second netminder for the Belfast Giant’s Ice Hockey team, travelling the length and breadth of the UK each week, Andrew started his career on inline skates as a member of the Ballymoney Badgers Inline skating club and now he is ‘paying it forward’ as he still helps to run the club along with his friend Iain Boyd. The club is under going a resurgence and Andrew is hoping it will eventually set another local lad on the same path as himself into the world of professional ice hockey.
“We started out playing inline hockey in Tescos carpark in Ballymoney and then we got enough to play in the Joey Dunlop Centre. There were quite a few inline teams in Belfast and I ended up playing for one of them in the league when I was 17 years old and the coach of the Belfast Giants Juniors saw me and asked me to come along. I played for them and ended up going to Scotland to play for the Edinburgh Capitals.”
Dicko returned to Belfast and was part of the Giants playoff winning team in 2009/10 training with the Giants all season long before moving to the Invicta Dynamos in Kent the following year. He returned to the Giants’ fold in the 2011/12 season where he has remained ever since.
“I have been very happy at the Giants, although as number two netminder you are limited to the amount of ice time you get, however, I am lucky to get starts and win games. Obviously I would like to start more games but the Giants look after me very well and I’m enjoying being part of a great team.
“We are coming into a very busy time for us and games are coming thick and fast over the Christmas and New Year period.”
Despite turning professional, Andrew doesn’t forget his roots and where his career began.
“The Ballymoney Badgers Inline team has recently started up again and we have had quite a few lads interested despite only running for the past five weeks. At the moment we have had to move from Ballymoney to the sports hall at Coleraine University because we couldn’t get enough hall time in the Joey Dunlop Centre. We meet every Friday at 7pm and anyone who wants to come along and join us or see what we are about is more than welcome to come along.
“We are hoping to get a Junior club up and running in the New Year. We had a junior team before and it was made up of kids who had never skated before. They went on to finish second in the league and win the cup beating lots of very experienced teams.
“One of the junior players at that time was Chris Boyd, also from Ballymoney, Chris also went into the Junior Giants as a goalie and he is now making a name for himself in Canada in the Greater Metro Ice Hockey League with the Bradford Rattlers. At the moment I am the only professional ice hockey player from Northern Ireland but maybe in a few years Chris will get a shot at it too.”
The recent news that there could be a second public ice rink built in West Belfast as part of a £40 million revamp of leisure facilities in the west of the city, has left some locals who have been campaigning for an ice rink on the north coast far from happy, and although Dicko would also like to see one on his ‘home patch’ he realises the difficulties involved.
“There’s no doubt another rink is needed, the country is crying out for one and there are still a lot of guys from the Coleraine and Ballymoney areas who still travel to Dundonald to skate. I know there has been chat about one being built at Rugby Avenue but nothing seems to have progressed with that. The main problem is the cost. It’s not only the cost of building it, the cost of running it is ludicrous, however, it would be perfect to get one at home, you just don’t know what talent could be produced if we had the facilities, you only have to look at Jenna McCorkell who started skating at the Jet Centre and became Great Britain’s top figure skater.
“In the meantime we will keep going with the Ballymoney Badgers, we have a great group of lads and with the addition of the Juniors, hopefully the club will go from strength to strength.”
To find out more about the Badgers go to: www.facebook.com/Ballymoney-Badgers-inline-hockey