Expectations were high when our mighty Penguins took to the ice for the first time last season. Newly promoted into France’s D1 national hockey league after an exceptional 21/22 season, surely the superb performances would continue? Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be; the team experienced some significant losses and their first season in the D1 league concluded with disappointment all round.
But it’s all change for the 23/24 season at the Morzine-Avoriaz Hockey Club, beginning with the arrival of British national team player Matthew Myers. Joining the Penguins from the Nottingham Panthers, Matthew has also played for top British teams including the Cardiff Devils and the Sheffield Steelers, in addition to time served in the American Hockey League. The club have also appointed a new head coach in Anthony Mortas, who joins the Penguins from Ligue Magnus team Amiens with hopes of catapulting Morzine-Avoriaz into France’s premier ice hockey league in due course. But for now, let’s meet Matthew.
Welcome to Morzine! What are your first impressions of our village?
“I love it! I came here maybe 15 or 16 years ago with my Nottingham Panthers club and we played some exhibition games here – I loved it then and I love it now. I was only here for a week or two, so I didn’t really get to explore as I’m getting the opportunity to do now. But since I arrived last week with my wife, we’ve already been to Lac de Montriond several times, Avoriaz, Thonon. There are so many different places to explore from Morzine, it’s amazing. Plus, our apartment looks over the town, with the ski lifts in one direction and the mountains in the other. My wife and I both work online – she owns an online tutoring business for children and I run a Cardiff-based building company with my dad and brother – and we both get to do these jobs from the Alps. It’s great!
Everyone we’ve met in the village since we arrived has been super friendly. I spent time learning to speak French before we arrived and I’m sure my progress will continue as the team comes together. The team at the club have also been really great at helping us get set up (with the internet for example!)before we arrived. My first impression is that everyone here at the hockey club is super passionate about playing and the forthcoming season.”
How did you make the transfer from Nottingham to Morzine?
“My wife and I had the idea to move to France during COVID. We were on the verge of buying a house we’d never even seen in the Dordogne. It looked amazing and we were really excited, but then we realised… that’s a crazy thing to do. Still, having holidayed a few times in France over the years, the idea stayed with us. So I asked my agent to find me a team somewhere in France – ideally in the mountains if possible. I’d played for 18 or 19 years in the UK and I felt it was time to experience somewhere different. From there the deal was made and coming to Morzine was a no-brainer for me. We’d been here for one week and my wife was already saying ‘we need to find a way to stay here!”
“coming to Morzine was a no-brainer for me”
Are you excited to get started with the team?
“Our training camp is already underway and the pre-season exhibition games are coming up. As much as I love hockey and practise and training with the team, the games are what I’m here for. It’s the same for all the guys and this is what people come to watch at the end of the day. The crowd often don’t realise that we get a lot of energy from the noise in an ice rink. Those who gather to support us can really help determine the results of a match, especially if you’re behind in the scores.”
“we get alot of energy from the noise in an ice rink”
How did your career as an ice hockey player begin?
“I’d always wanted to be a rugby player actually, but at the age of 14 or 15 I ndidn’t make one of the district teams. I got pissed off and stopped playing. Twelve months later I signed for the Cardiff Devils and I’ve never looked back! I love that the Morzine-Avoriaz team has a strong junior and youth team too. My advice to any kids starting their ice hockey career is to listen to your coaches and work hard – both on and off the rink. Make sure you get your education, because even if you become a professional ice hockey player, or a professional in a different sport, it’s a very short career. You’ll need something else to do afterwards. Don’t just live for your sport.”
What’s your daily routine?
“My wife and I get up at 6am, we’ll read for 20 minutes or so and do a bit of yoga before starting work. We like to get a bit ahead of the UK work-wise so we can enjoy our days the mountains and get out there to explore. Practise times at the club vary; sometimes they’re at 8am, sometimes later in the day and often in the evening and usually last for an hour or so with 40 minutes in the gym after each session. It’s nice to mix things up and get the most from each day.”
In your view, why should people come to watch an ice hockey match?
“Whether you’re into hockey or not, it’s a really good night out. The game is always fast, physical, it’s exciting and different. Everyone likes to do something different during their holiday and we’ve got a wicked team of players here. The venue at the Skoda Arena is quite small, so the atmosphere is loud and fantastic. It’s a really enjoyable evening, especially when we win! We’re trying to play high tempo, energetic ice hockey here this year so this will be something fun to do especially after a day on the slopes and a bite to eat. Come and watch the hockey for a couple of hours, it’s a really fun way to round off the day.”
“My advice to any kids is to listen to your coaches and work hard ”
What are the team’s objectives for this season?
“We’re setting out our goals right now, but I know from talking to the coach over the summer, that this team had a bit of a difficult season last year. They stayed in the D1, which is good, but this year we have Anthony, he’s come from Amiens, which is in the Magnus League, France’s top division. Anthony brings some additional professionalism and top-flight experience to the team. His initial goal is to start off by winning some games, to get out of the bottom part of the table early season, with a view to realistically – and we’re not saying we’ll win the league this year – but we need to be out of the play downs and head to 1-8 spot for the play offs. The stadium and facilities here are typical of a team in the Magnus League so I’m sure we can do it.”
What are you most looking forward to this season? On and off the rink.
“I’m really looking forward to enjoying the new experience of living in France, learning French and living a French lifestyle. We’re also enjoying meeting new people and making new friends in a different place. In terms of activities, neither of us have skied since we met 20 years ago! And while I know it’s part of the local lifestyle, I won’t ski this winter in case I get injured. From a hockey perspective, I want to play well, enjoy the games and hopefully help the team improve on last year. Our first target is to start winning games.”
Fourteen teams will play in the French D1 national league this winter, with the season running from 7th October 2023 until 9th March 2024. The top eight teams in the league then take their place in a series of playoff matches. Home games are hosted inside the Skoda Arena, which you’ll find directly below the Super Morzine bridge in the centre of Morzine. You’ll find a seasonal match schedule on our website and also at hockey-morzine.com where you can also buy your tickets in advance.