Netminder returns to Belfast aiming to boost call-up hopes

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NATHAN CRAZE goes back to his old stomping ground at Belfast tomorrow aiming to show Giants what they are missing.

The 24-year-old Welshman was a stand-out as Edinburgh Capitals lost 5-1 at home to Nottingham Panthers last Sunday.

And Craze knows that he’ll have to continue that good form if he wants to claim the starting netminder’s jersey for the Great Britain ice hockey side.

That’s one of the major reasons he quit Northern Ireland, despite having a Belfast-based wife, to take the No. 1 job in Edinburgh.

He spent three years as understudy at Giants, shadowing Dundee-born Stephen Murphy, a former Capitals man. And Craze will almost certainly have Murphy as opposition at international level this time around.

It’s a huge challenge for the 6ft 1in netminder, who stood for only 15 minutes as Britain took bronze in last season’s World Championships.

But Craze is made of real grit. He hails from Merthyr Tydfil, in 2006 voted the third worst place to live in Great Britain, after two areas in London. The death of the coal, steel and iron industries has meant long-term unemployment is the order of the day for a significant section of the 30,000 population.

Craze has fought his way up the ratings since starting to skate as a six-year-old. He was a fan of a local TV show which featured ice hockey and his dad, a former policemen, took him to see Devils for a birthday present. He was hooked.

That meant a regular 50-mile round trip to Cardiff to skate and the rest is history.

The affable Welshman is relishing being in the firing line and he spent the summer working on his core strength, conditioning and reflexes. His five-star performance against the Panthers was watched by new wife Kerry and his dad Dave.

On that match, Craze said: “It was tough. The boys worked hard and I did what I had to do to keep us in the game.

“It was a busy night and it’s tough on the quads, hips and muscles going up and down and from side to side across the crease.

“It’s up to me to keep this going. You must stay focused and mentally fit and you must concentrate fully on the game.”

He added: “We always knew it would be tough in our first game against Nottingham who are one of Britain’s best clubs.

“They have a lot of quality players, including internationals, and, considering we only had a few days together before the game I felt we did ourselves proud.”

Craze does have one problem. Several of Capitals new boys don’t speak English, so catch phrases have to suffice.

He revealed: “We’re shouting ‘man on’ or ‘back door’ but, hopefully, they’ll learn quickly.”

The trip to Belfast, who sit in second place in the ten-strong table, having won their last two games, a 5-3 victory at home to Hull Stingrays and a 4-3 shootout success at Cardiff Devils, will test Capitals to the full.

Then Nottingham return to Murrayfield on Sunday (6pm) and Craze said: “It’s pretty much a new-look side but I know some of the players there.

“They are going well but Belfast are always contenders and it will be a tough weekend.

“Nottingham came here on Sunday with four or five games under the belt and that’s allowed them to gel. We’ve got a full week to prepare and, if we get more bodies in to make us stronger, then we’ll hopefully give them both a game.”

He added: “All you can do is go out there and do your best. I have to make sure I’m mentally right for the weekend and hopefully we’ll get a good performance from the guys.

“Personally, I’ve had a chat with Paul Thompson, the GB coach. He said I had to be playing regularly to make the GB team and to challenge Stephen Murphy and Stevie Lyle for the starting slot and that’s something I really want to do.

“I had 15 minutes of action last season against Estonia and I want more but it is up to me to prove that I am good enough.”