Holcombe’s EDP player has revelled alongside GB Hockey pair Nick Bandurak and Phil Roper, writes Lucas Ball
“The boys are loving it,” says Holcombe’s Tom Russell. And so they should, with Holcombe finishing Phase 1 of the Men’s Premier Division in third place and blasting over 50 goals from their first 11 games.
Holcombe sit three points behind both Old Georgians and Surbiton, their only two defeats to this point coming against Old Georgians and fourth-placed Wimbledon. Barry Middleton’s side are also aiming to qualify for the Euro Hockey League for a second consecutive season, having been knocked out by hosts Real Club de Polo de Barcelona in this year’s KO8.
“Going into this year, we had some high expectations but I think we’ve definitely met those if not exceeded them slightly,” said Russell.
“There’s been a lot of times where I’ve been in the right places and all that but this year it’s just kind of clicked and I’ve been more ruthless in front of goal.
“Whether that’s come with Banders missing a few games and myself and Pendle having to step up to fill his shoes, I’m not sure but then we also saw, in the Nottingham game for example, he scores six, but then I scored two, Pendle scored, Ropes scored – we’re all chipping in.
“Having those kind of players in the team [Bandurak and Roper] is great, the feedback they can give – whether that’s in training, during games, anything like that, it’s invaluable.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good relationship with Banders, he gives me some great feedback whether he’s playing or even if he’s on the sideline watching, he’s always around in the changing room keeping us busy, giving us little pointers.
“I couldn’t have picked two better people to be around in that sense – probably one of the most in-form strikers in world hockey and one of the most skilful and experienced players there is currently in the country.”
Russell has certainly gelled with Holcombe’s attacking unit standing out. “We have a big thing about having a front-five and a back-five and the big aim for us as the front-five is just to have fun.
“The way we set ourselves up is to give ourselves space and I think we’ve got some very technically-gifted players but also some unbelievably quick players in our team so it’s about trying to exploit the space, be free-flowing and stay connected.
“We’ve enjoyed having a bigger crowd and some double-headers with the ladies team, it’s made the atmosphere around the games really enjoyable.
“Once we get past Christmas time, games are going to be a lot closer and a lot more competitive, they’re the kind of games you want to play in.”
Russell added that some of the one-way scorelines didn’t prove beneficial – despite the wealth of goals.
“It’s all well and good beating teams by double figures, scoring a load of goals but you don’t really get all that much out of it,” he said.
“It’s those close games where it’s 2-1 or 1-0 wins that you’ve had to grind out, that’s where you can learn a lot about your team and learn some lessons, even if you come out on the wrong side of them.
“I’m really looking forward to those kind of games coming around the corner.”
Russell also praised the improved social media coverage across the Premier Division this season ahead of a busy winter period for both himself and Holcombe.
He will be involved in a number of Great Britain Elite Development Programme (EDP) events either side of Christmas ahead of an indoor campaign in January, where Holcombe will be aiming to reach Finals Day – which has moved to Derby for this year – for the first time since 2020, when they were beaten in the final.
“We’re seeing clips go up on social media of every goal, on the Saturday night you’re getting all the scores in on Twitter, it makes you feel a lot more involved in everything that’s going on and a lot more connected,” he added.
“They’ve done a lot of good this year in terms of graphics, it’s been excellent.
“I’ve got a few EDP bits coming up either side of Christmas so it’s about staying in that squad and keeping myself busy with that kind of stuff.
“I’m keen to let the games at the weekend do the talking, just keep myself in the hat and let them know I’m there.”