Hockey: Grange youngsters get chance to shine on European stage in Spain
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The Capital club will take on Belgian title challengers Waterloo Ducks in their opener tomorrow evening and then London club side Hampstead & Westminster or German cracks Mannheimer HC on Saturday. The final game on Monday will be against either Post SV (Austria), Rotterdam (Netherlands), Three Rock Rovers (Ireland) or Club Egara (Spain).
The tournament takes place in Terrassa, a 40-minute coach journey from Barcelona. Grange will train this afternoon and their opening game against the Ducks at 6.45pm on Friday evening.
Grange have not played in Europe since 2019 due to Covid. Team manager Martin Shepherdson is expecting it to be a very tough test for his younger players in particular, but hopes they can learn form the experience.
Outlining the scale of the step-up from domestic hockey, he explained: "Waterloo are virtually a full-time side. The pace will be really high, but our guys are fit and also have individuals with pace.
"However, it will be a real team effort to try to match them as much as we possibly can. We know it is unlikely we will beat Waterloo, but we will use that game and the others in the event as a means of building experience and getting us a level of games which we think will be good for all of the players.
“We know that is the level of competition we are going into and, for us, it is about playing as well as we can and enjoying the experience, learning from it but playing to the best our our ability."
There are no injury worries for the trip, with Scotland international Gordon Amour fit again, and the travelling party is a blend of youth and experience. The European adventure is a real opportunity for rising star Fraser Heigh to shine. The 21-year-old striker has 40 goals in the Premiership this season.
Shepherdson said: "Fraser has been playing well and scoring a heap of goals at this level and, if he can score at European level, people will take notice.
"He is doing really well with his Great Britain development squad training and he has progressed hugely as a player this season. He has always had individual ability but he now is becoming, we think, a much more rounded team player. That is credit to him and the way he has fitted into our squad.
"It is a great opportunity for somebody like him to play at the level we will be playing at this week. Fraser has got everything. It is pace with the ball which is especially impressive, so we are looking to see how he goes.
“It is about experience for these guys. We have two 16-year-olds in the squad, forward Murray Banks, second goalkeeper Tom Shanks. And two 18-year-olds, Peter Caughey and Jamie Croll.
"We have a good balance between young and some of the older players. Playing in Europe is a great experience and you try to bring that back into the domestic game.”
Grange face Premiership pace-setters Western on their return as they play catch-up on a five-point deficit, and Shepherdson said: "We believe the European experience will be good preparation. We will keep trying and do what we can to qualify for Europe again next year."