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Off Ice: An interview with Steve Thornton

Needing no introduction is Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey Operations and Commercial. Steve has played a big part in the Giants success story and is a major part of the off ice team!

Explain your role in three words

The most important thing that I try to do for the team is to “Eliminate all Excuses.”

What is a typical day/ game day for you?

No real typical workday (which I really like)!
On a game day, I normally try to get in a little early to get a bit of work done but most of my time pre-game is with the coaching staff, medical team and just being around the locker room area in case the players need anything.  Our operations team do a great job with our game night so there really isn’t a lot for me to do in prep for that other than welcome some of the volunteers, fans and sponsors.  When the game starts, I am usually stressing up top somewhere.  I am getting better but I am not the easiest person to watch a game with.  If things are going well, I will try to do a lap of the suites to say hi to our partners and make sure everything is running smoothly. 
I know how much emotion there is on the ice and on the bench so after the game, I try to be as much as a calming influence as I can to the staff and players (doesn’t always work!) despite the result as it is a long season and we can’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low.  Another good hockey chat with the coaching staff and then home to get some sleep (if we won!).

Press Eye – Belfast – Northern Ireland – 21st November 2017 – Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Pictured during the Colin Shields testimonial is Team Walsh’s Steve Thornton (white shirts). The Belfast Giants honoured their all-time leading scorer, Colin Shields for his years of heart, passion, and commitment to the organisation at the SSE Arena, Belfast on Tuesday night.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the Belfast Giants since founded in 2000?

I think that we are now one of the mainstream spectator sports in Northern Ireland.  Early days it was very much entertainment (and we take pride in the fact that it still is) but 20 years on, we have a generation of fans that love the sport and we are able to bring in new supporters year upon year.  Our press coverage is growing, our social media numbers are amongst the top in Europe, the interest in the suites and hospitality packages is up, our brand is recognized internationally (through the Friendship Four, Boston Bruins, WC and other International events) and our footfall is at a record level. 
On the ice, the Ulster University relationship has helped take us to another level.  Offering players, the ability to live in this great city, play in our amazing rink, experience the people, culture, landscapes of NI and get a degree at the same time. It’s a tough proposition to turn down and helps us get players that we probably shouldn’t.

What has been the Belfast Giant’s biggest achievement?

I think that our biggest achievement is the difference that we have made in the community.  We take pride in the fact that we are more than just a hockey team and we do our best to walk the walk in as many areas as we can off of the ice.  It doesn’t matter what age, gender, race, religion, social class you are, In the land of the Giants, everyone is equal, and we have created an environment at a sports event that is second to none (for everyone).
Last season was pretty good too..!

22 April 2017 – Picture by Darren Kidd / Press Eye. 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship at the SSE Arena: Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston opens the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship at the SSE Arena today. Six countries Ð Team GB, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Japan Ð will battle it out on the ice this week to be crowned champions in the major tournament, hosted by Ice Hockey UK. Belfast City Council is supporting the tournament – the first in a number of major international sporting events taking place in the city this year. Pictured are Steve Thornton and Andy French with Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston.

What’s the favorite part of your job?

Winning it always highlight of any season as it creates unforgettable memories for everyone involved, and that is why I like sport so much.  Knowing how hard the journey is to get to the top and stay at the top, it makes success even more special. 

What age were you when you started ice hockey?

For a Canadian kid, I started a little late at 8 years old.

Who inspired you as a young athlete?

I was lucky to have some great coaches over the years (from childhood hockey to the pro’s).  One coach in particular that had a major influence on me as a person and player was Jack Parker who was our head coach at Boston University.  I had 4 fantastic years playing and studying at BU.

Who is your sports hero?

I was born in Edmonton so tough not to say Wayne Gretzky who is still the best player to put on a pair of skates. 
Now, being a father of three daughters, I really like seeing the female role models who are having success in pro sports & life.  It would be hard to look past Jessica Ennis Hill on the track and the Irish Hockey team on the field who finished second at the most recent World Cup.  Great heroes to inspire my kids and they still probably don’t get the full attention, credit, coverage that they deserve.

Press Eye – Belfast – Northern Ireland – 25th November 2017 – Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey Operations presents the Clarkson Golden Knights Player of the Game award to Devin Brosseau after Saturday evenings Final of the Friendship Four 2017 tournament at the SSE Arena, Belfast.

What qualities in a teammate make a good captain?

A team first mentality, a good character, the ability to lead (through words and hard work) and people who are willing to buy into a common goal.  We try to recruit players that have won before (so they have tasted success) and guys that have worn letters on other teams.  We feel that this makes a difference when you are in a tight game on the road in a tough environment.  Good characters will empty the tank and find a way.

We have been very lucky in that we have had some great captains in Belfast..

What makes you proud to be a part of the Belfast Giants?

I love how much this team means to the community.  We may not be the biggest team in the world, but we are definitely one of the most important.

We are all very proud that we are having an impact on player progression as well.  The masters degree can help set players up for life after hockey.   We have hired some great people to work for our organisation that have played for the team and we are also now progressing players onto jobs outside of the UK that allows them to earn significantly more money.  It is fantastic for our organisation to have an impact like this on players personal and professional lives.  It would be great to keep more of our star players, but the more players we help move on, the more that will want to come…

Press Eye – Belfast – Northern Ireland – 25th November 2017 – Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey Operations presents the Providence Friars Player of the Game award to Erik Foley after Saturday evenings Final of the Friendship Four 2017 tournament at the SSE Arena, Belfast.

Do you think attitude is a factor in winning?

Attitude is everything.  You can’t win with a bad environment.  We (management team) can’t create the winning culture that we are always striving for.  Our job is to give the players a real positive environment that will allow them to continue to create a winning culture themselves.  If you have bad attitudes in the room, it can spread like a virus and destroy a season.  This is why we put such an importance on high character people.

Quote to live by

I used to think that the golden rule was ‘treat people like you want to be treated’…
It has changed to ‘treat people like they want to be treated”. 
Player management is so crucial to success in today’s game and I feel our coaching staff does a great job at understanding the differences in personalities, which will allow them to get the best out of each individual.
This applies to all areas of life…