Miller Time in Scotland will leave a lasting legacy

Photo: bridgetds via photopin cc

It was arguably one of the biggest signings in the history of Scottish ice hockey when the Braehead Clan announced the signing of Drew Miller from the Detroit Red Wings in October 2012.

The Elite League had not seen a player of Miller’s quality since Theo Fleury’s joined the Belfast Giants in 2005 and when the 29-year-old reached our shores, few could have predicted just how big an impact the American forward would have on our sport.

As the tenth member of his family to play ice hockey and the fifth to make it to the NHL, Miller’s arrival at the Scottish outfit was met with a wave of delight among the Clan fans in a move that happened somewhat by chance as Braehead were the first team to make the American an offer.

Miller, who by his own admission did not know much about the Clan or British ice hockey before putting pen to paper, was one of five NHL players to feature in the Elite League during the lockout and his impact has had a profound effect on raising the profile of ice hockey as a whole in the country.

As a two-way forward, Miller is known more for his defensive positioning and interceptions than goal scoring prowess but he still managed to contribute offensively with his lightning speed and puck control, recording 30 points in 23 games.

The experience has been one that the American has savoured and he admits that it has been a worthwhile way to spend the lockout.

He said: “My time here has been awesome. I’ve really enjoyed myself. It’s been an experience that I definitely won’t forget and the guys here have made it a great experience hockey wise to give me the chance to play a different role than I would back home.

“I tried to make the most of it and I didn’t want to come in here and be one of those guys where they’re like ‘Oh I can’t believe this guy is here,’ I wanted to be part of the team and work hard.”

It was an experience that was perhaps unique to other European leagues due to the North American style of hockey played in Britain as well as the larger ice pads in comparison to the NHL. He could have been forgiven for being somewhat underwhelmed when skating out to only a few thousand fans at rinks across the country that seemed tiny in contrast to Detroit’s 20,000 capacity Joe Louis Arena, however his work rate and commitment to the Clan quickly endeared himself to the Braehead faithful.

Miller added: “It’s going to be tough to leave. Being here has been great. The fans are great here and welcomed me and gave me a nice send off and I appreciate that and my time here and with the players and the organisation.”

With  Braehead only being in their third year in existence when the American joined, the addition of Miller to their roster was seen as an even bigger coup and one that the Clan look set to reap the benefits of for years to come.

It was an experience that offered so much for both parties and one that has surpassed all expectations. Braehead had a genuine world-class talent on their roster and were able to market the club to a wider audience and establish themselves as one of the Elite League’s major teams.

As for Drew Miller, he returns to the biggest stage in hockey having captured the hearts of the Clan fans and leaves behind memories as a great ambassador for the sport and one that has helped Braehead grow into a mainstream Scottish sporting institution.

This article appeared on the STV Sport website on 7th January 2013.

My date with the Prancing Horse at Knockhill

For many petrol heads across the world, being able to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari is perhaps one of the greatest privileges that you can experience.

Posters of the famous red cars adorn the bedroom walls of children who grow up dreaming that one day they will be able to sample the beauty of motorsport’s most iconic manufacturer.

The Ferrari brand is one that will forever be associated with luxury, wealth and performance. It symbolises true racing excellence and style. Only the luckiest are able to own one of these famous Italian supercars and even being able to sit in the drivers’ seat is something that very few people will ever achieve.

Little did I know that I was about to follow in the footsteps of motorsport heroes such as Michael Schumacher and Gilles Villeneuve by getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari and joining that elusive club of drivers’ who have been able to experience the true magnificence of Maranello machinery.

The day that I would achieve a lifelong ambition was to take place at the Knockhill circuit in Fife. The track is Scotland’s national motorsport centre and home to a Ferrari 360, which I would soon get behind the wheel of.

The Ferrari is capable of reaching a top speed of 189mph reaching 0-60 in just four seconds. Its 3.6 litre V8 engine is capable of producing a staggering 400bhp and features a Formula One style gearbox. The 360 cost more than £100,000 when it was first released in 1999 and it is arguably one of the best cars in the modern era of Ferrari.

All of this was fresh in my mind as I made the trip to the track and any dreams that I had the talent of the likes of Schumacher and Villeneuve would be quickly shot down in flames when I remembered just how expensive the 360 is.

The stage was set for what was to be a defining point in my life so far. The weather was kind to us and the track was bone dry meaning that the only thing I had to worry about was not putting the car into the tyre wall.

The ferocious power of the 3.6L V8 engine is simply incredible.
The ferocious power of the 3.6L V8 engine is simply incredible.

In order to avoid destroying the beautifully crafted Pininfarina body, I was given four training laps in a 240bhp Seat Cupra under the expert guidance of the Knockhill team. The circuit is intimidating at first but it soon becomes an easy flow of medium speed corners as you begin to enjoy the experience. The Seat session helps you to find the perfect racing line and help put you at ease as you prepare for the main event; the iconic Italian stallion.

As we returned to the pit lane I could not take my eyes away from the blood red beauty that stood before me. I had waited all my life for this moment and I was about to cross off a huge box on the bucket list as an ever-growing crowd looked on.

As soon as I got behind the wheel I felt a huge adrenalin rush surge through my body on a scale that I have never experienced before. As I turned the key and the V8 engine roared into life, the hairs on my neck stood up almost simultaneously. I sensed that my instructor was looking forward to the experience as much as I was. The onlookers shared the huge grin on my face as I revved the Ferrari once more and all eyes were on me as I took to the track.

I exit the pit lane and the sheer amount of power between my fingertips quickly becomes clear as I put my foot through the floor and head towards the first corner. The 360 hits the apex perfectly and does exactly what I ask of it. It is surprisingly easy to drive as it thunders along the circuit and up the hill towards the blind chicane and the back straight.

Eager to showcase the Ferrari’s true power to the expectant audience, the roar of the Ferrari can be heard from anywhere on the circuit as we head towards the final hairpin. The car turns with such accuracy and easiness that after just over a mile it feels more like a go kart than a bulky supercar.

I watch the speedometer rise as we accelerate past the pit wall at more than 120mph but the main straight is not long enough to unleash the true power of the Ferrari. I quickly run out of road and slam on the brakes as I clip the apex into the first corner.

From a distance you expect the Ferrari to be heavy and difficult to control but it the steering is so light and accurate that it becomes surprisingly easy to drive. There is no need for a radio in this car, the V8 engine is my soundtrack as I make my way around the track once more with the 360 encouraging me to go just that little bit faster.

The Ferrari is everything that you expect it to be and more. It lives up to your childhood dreams as it flows through the circuit with ease. You truly feel that you have joined the ranks of an elite club as you experience this incredible machine. It is not a car but instead it is a living, breathing piece of beauty that talks to you as you make your way through the track, responding to your every request with such elegance and perfection.

As I head into the pit lane for the final time I do so knowing that this has truly been a breath taking experience. I have achieved something that I never thought I would be able to do and is an achievement that will stay with me for as long as I shall live.

They say that you should never meet your heroes, you will only be disappointed. I say that nothing could be further from the truth.

This article appeared on the Impulse Magazine website in April 2013.

Will Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari be a success?

Kimi Raikkonnen’s return to Ferrari for the 2014 is an interesting signal of intent from Maranello as they look to fight back against Red Bull’s dominance in recent years.

Raikkonen was the last man to win the driver’s championship for the Scuderia and six seasons without success on that front have clearly hurt this once dominant team, who are now saying to the grid that they are no longer a team that focuses on one driver.

With Red Bull signing Daniel Ricciardo for this season they now have a weakness as the Australian adjusts to life battling with Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari have clearly signed Raikkonen to also help them push for success on the constructor’s front.

It is the first time in decades that Ferrari have signed two of the top drivers on the grid together and fans are relishing the prospect of watching two of the sport’s biggest drivers battle it out on the circuit.

However, Raikkonen left Ferrari one-year earlier than expected at the end of a disappointing 2009 season and was often criticised by Luci di Montezemolo, leaving many fans to speculate over whether or not his return to Italy will be a success.

History has proven that the sport’s biggest stars often fail to work in harmony in the same team and Fernando Alonso is now being asked to share his status within the team, something that he did not respond well to during Lewis Hamilton’s rise to prominence in 2007.

Alonso’s current relationship with Ferrari does not appear to be overly positive and he has made it well-known that he would have preferred to have had Felipe Massa alongside him in 2014. The Spaniard clearly sees Raikkonen as a threat both on and off the track and this could have a big impact on the atmosphere within the team.

When Raikkonen returned to the sport with Lotus in 2012 he enjoyed the luxury of having more freedom within a top team compared to previous years and he appeared to be a better driver for it. A return to Ferrari means a return to a life of constant focus in the media, a subject that Raikkonen is known to despise.

What is also interesting is the fact that Ferrari have hired Raikkonen on a two-year contract despite his advancing years. Now aged 34, he will be the oldest driver on the grid in 2014 and appears to be a stop-gap signing while Jules Bianchi gets more race experience under his belt. Time is no longer on his side and the expectation on him at Ferrari will be far greater than what he was used to at Lotus.

When Ferrari tore up Raikkonen’s contract in 2009 nobody would have expected to see him back behind the wheel for the same team five years later. The stage is set for what will be a fascinating season at Ferrari and time will tell whether or not the enigmatic Finn will be able to have the desired impact.

Featured image: f1photos.org via photopin cc

Scottish Journalist based in Glasgow