Andy Buxton was reappointed as General Manager for Team GB this year, as changes were made after a disappointing World Championship campaign.
An original founder of the Coventry Blaze (Elite League) and their Chairman since 1997, Andy has a true passion for the game of hockey.
He very kindly gave me his time to speak about being back in the GB fold and an insight into what the job entails.
Firstly thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and welcome back the fold as General Manager of Team GB.
When did you first learn that Ice Hockey UK wanted you again and was it an easy decision to come back?
Thank you. It wasn’t really until I went to meet with IHUK that I realised quite how much they wanted me to come back. I saw that they were advertising for the role, sent an application in and was invited to go for an interview. I had everything prepared for the interview but within a minute of walking in they made it very clear they wanted me to take on the job. They had asked the players and people who had been involved before and everyone had said that I was the person they should go and get. I have to say that was pretty flattering – you kind of know yourself that you did a good job, but to hear that coming from the people you were doing the job for, was very nice. They gave me the opportunity to say all the things that I thought needed to happen and the things that I thought shouldn’t happen, they agreed with everything and said that I had pretty much full control over how things will work. Everyone knows how passionate I am about the national team so with the support and backing I was promised from IHUK and also from my family, it was a fairly easy decision to get back involved.
So for those who may not know, what does the role of General Team Manager of GB entail?
My job is to make sure that all the coaching staff and the players have to do is focus on winning hockey games. I take care of everything else. All of the organisation, the logistics, training camp organisation, communication, medical support, equipment, schedules, clothing, dealing with the tournament organisers over hotels, meals, transport, player registration and just about everything else you can think of ! But as well as the organisational side, I try very hard to create an environment for the players that feels special. Where they feel like playing for their country is the greatest honour and something that they really want to do. It’s the little things that often make the difference. Anyone can book flights – what I’ve done well in the past is create that special environment and take away every concern the players may have. They only have to worry about how to beat the opposition because they have the confidence that everything else will be taken care of.
In the near future will you sit down with new GB head coach Doug Christiansen and discuss requirements for the World Championships?
We’ve had a couple of very brief talks about it already but we are meeting up this week to start looking at the whole thing in a lot more detail. I know Doug has already got together with Corey and Peter to start talking about players and once I have a better idea of his thoughts and vision, I’ll be able to start putting a plan together for how we deliver as well as we can.
How crucial is it for you and the Head Coach to spark up a good relationship and have you worked with Doug at all before?
I’ve not worked with Doug before but we’ve spoken a lot over recent years. It is important for us to have a good relationship and I’m very confident we will do. We are very different people, but that can be a strength rather than a weakness. We both have a great deal of respect for each others areas of expertise and hopefully if we bring all those skills together it will be a relationship that will work well. At the end of the day we both want the same thing – progress for the national team.
Your day job is Chairman of the Coventry Blaze. How will the balance work between that and your role with GB?
The GB work isn’t every day. It comes in waves and it’s manageable and the main tournament is after the club season has ended. It needs a few long hours to do everything at times but I feel confident that I know what I’m doing in both roles and am experienced enough to juggle where necessary. I’m also fortunate to have a fantastic staff around me at Coventry who are able to pick up extra things when needs be as they also care about the success of the national team.
During your previous tenure from 2007 to 2011, Team GB enjoyed a fair level of success, and climbed the world rankings in the process.
Are there specific things or experiences from that time you’ll bring to the job now?
The first job is to try to recreate what we had off ice when I was last involved. If I can quickly get things back to that level then it will be a good start point. There is more I want to do going forward but there is only so much you can do at any one time and the initial focus will be to get things back on track. Having Chris Ellis involved as the media manager for IHUK is a good thing too. The media side was something I was very keen to see improve when I first took on the role and I think we took some massive strides forward in terms of media interaction and live commentaries. I’m pleased that after initially taking a step backwards in that area after I left, IHUK quickly saw the value and importance of the media side of things and it’s been really good during the last couple of trips. Chris has done a good job with that and I’m looking forward to working with him closely on that to see if we can take it on even further.
Maybe a hard question to weigh up, but does the state of GB’s National team look healthier to you now than when you first took the GB job originally?
It’s way healthier than seven years ago when I first became involved. The Elite League has played a big part in developing British players who can compete at international level and there is now a bigger pool of players of the right level to select from than there was back in 2007. There’s proper competition for places. Good players are not making the final cut. That has to be good. The important thing though is to be realistic about what we can achieve over what period. The team made great progress under Paul Thompson, but that progress was gradual over five years. It’s not an overnight thing. We just have to do all we can to be as good as we can be. If we are as good as we can be, we’ll do OK.
Were you able to watch any of the GB U20 games during the recent tournament in Lithuania, and if so what did you think of their performance?
I didn’t get to see any of those games as the tournament was at just about the busiest time of the year for an Elite League club getting the season underway but I followed the team’s progress and they had a pretty good tournament against some very strong teams. I try to keep an eye on all the GB teams whenever they are playing as, at the end of the day, I’m a GB fan.
I’m not following them from any professional view point, I’m just very proud of all our national teams.
Does it give you extra satisfaction seeing player representation from the Coventry Blaze in the GB junior teams?
Absolutely. In Coventry we don’t have the luxury of bringing in a load of the top British players – it’s impossible to compete with the likes of Sheffield, Nottingham and Belfast in the salary market for our national team players so we have to focus on trying to develop players of our own. We may lose them at some point to the Arena teams but we have to accept that and go and develop some more. The fact that players that we are developing are receiving international recognition shows that we are doing something right.
It’ll be great to see GB hosting their upcoming U20 and U18 World Championship groups in Dumfries. Is it just a watching brief for yourself or will you be involved at some level?
I won’t be involved in the organisation of the tournaments, but to be honest, IHUK has enough people now who have experience of running these events. They’ve been quite proactive in trying to bring these events to the UK and have done a good job of hosting them. Hosting a senior men’s event is more involved but hopefully if IHUK keep trying to bring one to the UK, sooner or later they will be successful. It would be great to play a senior World Championships in the UK so hopefully it will happen one day.
That truly would be something special to have a Senior World Championship in the UK.
Many thanks to Andy again for his time and I wish him all the best back in the GB fold.
His first task will be preparing GB for life back in WC Division I Group B and a trip to Vilnius, Lithuania in April 2014.