Following a mid-season switch from the Melbourne Mustangs, experienced Gold Coast Blue Tongues import James Sanford is hoping to have a huge impact throughout the rest of the season. Andrew McMurtry with more.
While it was a tough initiation to the team with a 5-2 loss in his first game at the club to the Melbourne Ice and the much talked about abandonment a day later, Sanford said he came to the Blue Tongues because he liked where the team was going.
“They have some older guys and they have a good game and have been playing well this year,” Sanford said. “I think that they are trying to win a championship here and that’s what I came down here to do. I think they are moving in the right direction so it was a good opportunity for me to come down to Australia and try to win a championship.”
“We had six imports there in Melbourne and a young team and they were trying to go in a bit of a different direction with their team. But it turned out to be a good opportunity to come up here to the Blue Tongues with some older guys and some friends of mine.”
After playing five games for the Mustangs, Sanford scored four points with two goals and two assists to start the season but is trying to add some greater experience to Blue Tongues team in their championship chase.
“I’ve been around for a while now and played at a pretty high level. These guys are trying to win a championship and I think that I can bring some leadership and some veteran presence on the ice and hopefully be able to help them on and off the ice with stuff,” Sanford said. “I think it’s one of the reasons that I came down here to Australia, because I want to pass on some of the stuff that I know that I don’t even think about, stuff that I’ve learnt over the years and hopefully I can help them out.”
Sanford has had a career that most players would be incredibly envious of, playing U18’s for team Canada, signing for the Montreal Canadiens feeder club as a 20 year old during the 2004-05 NHL lockout year before signing a three year entry level contract with the Canadians when he was 21.
While he was unable to crack the NHL, Sanford has played with several AHL clubs including the Hamilton Bulldogs, Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves and ECHL clubs before he decided to come out to Australia on the suggestion of some friends.
“I knew a bunch of guys who have come down here before and I’ve always said that when I was a little bit older that I wanted to come down to this league,” Sanford said. “I was talking to a few different teams and ended up signing with the Melbourne Mustangs and then the opportunity came up for me to come up here and help them out here so I took advantage of that.”
While he has now had a few weeks to settle in to the club, Sanford had a link to the team through fellow import Adam Blanchette.
“I played with Adam last year in Danbury, Connecticut and he played on my junior team, so I knew him pretty well,” Sanford said. “There were a couple of other people I knew so it was just a good opportunity for me to come to the Gold Coast and play with some friends and people I knew. I met most of the guys when they were down in Melbourne when they came a played us.”
Having played in the league for a couple of months now, Sanford said that he has been impressed by the level of players.
“Some of the imports that are pretty good and they play a very North American-style hockey,” Sanford said. “There are some pretty good Aussie players too. The only difference I’ve seen is structure-wise with the Aussies, because they don’t grow up with the same things we do in Canada. There are definitely some good players here for sure.”
The level of players and the league is something that Sanford heard before he came, and even though there isn’t very much knowledge of the AIHL in North America.
“It’s just word-of-mouth,” Sanford said. “You know the hockey world is very small. If you can have the chance to come down here and have some fun and play some hockey.”
“Everybody knows that some of the rinks aren’t the best but they always say that the hockey isn’t too bad and I don’t think I’ve heard one bad thing about they guys coming down here and not having fun or enjoying themselves in Australia. I definitely want to take advantage of that.”
Another thing that Sanford said that he wants to take advantage of is the more relaxed atmosphere on the Gold Coast as well as the golf courses.
“Melbourne’s a beautiful city, but it’s a city, and I’m a country kid and wanted to experience everything Australia had to offer,” Sanford said. “We’re moving into a place right on the beach with some guys. I come from a small town fishing community so I like the water. It’s a different atmosphere here, I like the city and it’s kind of more what I was looking for when I originally came down here. And it gives me a chance to enjoy more away from hockey.”
“I know there’s a lot of good golf courses round here in the Gold Coast, so I’m going to take advantage of those for sure. It’s nice to get to wear shorts because in Melbourne it’s so cold.”
After playing at the top level for over a decade, Sanford said he originally pulled on the skates as a four or five year old, because that’s just what you do in Canada.
“When you’re in Canada it’s kinda religion,” Sanford explained. “As soon as you can walk you put on a pair of skates. I grew up in a small town, we had an outdoor rink I lived right across the street from that.”
“Hockey’s been great to me coming from a small little town, never would’ve got to see half the stuff I’ve seen, without playing hockey. Hockey’s let me play all over the world, see some cool stuff and I’ve been really lucky with that.”
Having had such a huge career so far, Sanford said the only advice he had for young kids coming through was to “know your role on the team”.
“If you’re a power play guy be a power play guy; if you’re there to hit then hit,” Sanford said. “A bunch of little things add up to one big thing and if you try and do too much, and try and do something or be something that you’re not, then it usually doesn’t work out for you very well. Hockey people are pretty smart, if they see you doing the little things and see you have a plan then the rest of the stuff will come.”