Oakford: Tigers were my first choice
Great Britain defenceman Sam Oakford says a move to Telford Tigers was his first choice, after he decided to leave Elite League giants Nottingham Panthers.
The 26-year-old arrived in Shropshire on Thursday and will be part of the Tigers squad that takes on Manchester Phoenix at Telford Ice Rink this evening (6pm).
Oakford’s decision to move to the EPL was based on his career as a trainee teacher, which restricted his availability to train with the reigning EIHL play-off champions.
And with Tigers coach Tom Watkins also assistant coach of the GB side, the former Bracknell Bees star was in immediate contact.
He said: “I have known Tommy for a while, and through GB, and we spoke during the summer. Basically when I made the decision, I wanted to come to Telford.
“I like what Tommy’s doing here and like I say, as soon as I decided I just wanted to sort it out. It fits in with my schedule and I wanted to be part of his plans. That is why I made the contact with him.
“The initial plan was to stay with Nottingham, but the deeper I got into it, the more I realised teaching would be something I wanted to go into. It was too good a chance to turn down, so I had to make a grown-up decision.”
Oakford trained with his new team-mates for the first time on Thursday evening, and was immediately impressed by the standard of the Tigers squad.
He added: “It’s been a great start for me in Telford and it was really good to meet all the boys at training. I’m really impressed by the set-up here and the practice was excellent.
“There was four lines and six defence, and we were rolling that with good pace. I really enjoyed my first training session back in the English Premier League. “
This weekend’s games against Manchester and Peterborough will be Oakford’s first meaningful role in the EPL since he left Bracknell Bees in 2014.
He won a string of honours during two full seasons with Nottingham, but is looking forward to a return to the second tier of British ice hockey.
“The standard of the league has definitely gone up since I left,” he said.
“They’ve increased the import numbers, which can be a good or a bad thing in some ways.
“From what I have seen so far of this team, and talking to the boys, the standard is going up and that is good for British ice hockey. Hopefully, it can keep improving.”