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The former Rivington and Blackrod pupil flew out to the USA last week with the promise of a contract with Indy Fuel waiting for him.

They play in the East Coast Hockey League – the third tier of the sport in America – but the 21-year-old defender was invited to attend training camps with Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs before hooking up with his new team-mates in Indianapolis.

“My first stop off when I get there will be at a rookie training camp with Chicago, who play in the NHL, before joining a camp with Rockford, who play in the American Hockey League – the second tier.

“Both Rockford and Indy Fuel are affiliated to Chicago, so they are effectively their feeder clubs in what they refer to as the farm system. So a good performance at the camps and I could see myself earn a place further up the leagues.”

This is an opportunity Swindlehurst is only too aware does not come around often.

Only one other British ice hockey player has ever been invited to play in the American leagues, and he failed to break into the top tier.

The Blackrod-born youngster earned the chance after impressing GB coach Doug Christiansen while making his international debut for the GB squad at a World Championship tournament in Lithuania.

That followed an impressive debut season for Dundee Stars in the British Elite Ice Hockey League – the premier competition in the UK – in which he helped them to the North Conference title.

After being taken on by Christiansen’s agent, Swindlehurst secured a try-out with Rockford coach Mark Bernard.

“Doug sat me down after my GB debut and explained that he felt I was good enough to give this a shot, but he said I had to go over to America straight away or it would be too late in my career,” he said.

“We didn’t hear anything back for ages and I was quite shocked when the offer eventually came through. My agent described it as a one-in-a-thousand chance.

“But the hard work starts here. It’s not as if I can expect to walk straight into the NHL.

“That is my ambition, to be the first Brit to do that, but my game will have to mature a lot to reach that level.

“The only aim I can have in the short term is to work as hard as I can and make sure I continue to learn and develop every single day I am out there.

“Whatever happens, I have a contract to play with Indy Fuel until April, but after that it will be up to me.”

Swindlehurst was introduced to the sport, inadvertently, by his grandfather, aged three, when he bought him a pair of roller skates.

“I think about a year later I attended a roller hockey class at Westhoughton Leisure Centre and it just snowballed from there,” he said.

“When I was five I went to Altrincham ice rink and played there for the next nine years, until they closed it down.

“I then played for Sheffield, Nottingham and Manchester until I finished school, then went over to Canada for two years to play high school hockey in Ontario.

“I came back when I was 18 and moved to Swindon for a couple of years to play in the English Premier – the league below the EIHL – before Dundee snapped me up.

“So it has been a long journey, and I know I will have to wait a few years before I am ready for the NHL, but the chance I have been given is the perfect stepping stone and I intend to grab it with both hands.”

His dad, David Swindlehurst, certainly believes Paul has the right attitude for the challenge ahead.

“I am very proud of him because of his astonishing effort that he puts into everything,” he said.

“There seems to be nothing too hard for him.”
Paul Swindlehurst
Paul Swindlehurst has the chance to become
the first Brit ever to play at the highest level of
North American ice hockey.

 

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Growing up in Canada I was a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't until the 1972 summit series and the 1976 Canada Cup that I became a big fan of international hockey. The best players in world all playing on a sheet of ice. 
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