It’s not often that you grow up with a national sports team that you really admire right on your doorstep, let alone go on to play for said sports team. But that’s exactly what 21-year-old Ben Eyre has done. Ben grew up in Morzine and started playing ice hockey for local youth teams when he was just four years old. Now, after playing in Austria, the US and the south of France, he’s back with the Penguins, our local professional ice hockey squad. We caught up with him to find out how it feels represent your home team.
How did you get into hockey?
Morzine is a very active town filled with youth sport teams, so it give me the opportunity to try lots of activities from a young age. Pretty much all my friends and classmates were part of some form of sports team. My parents signed me up for lots of different sports here in Morzine, including hockey, and I’ve been playing it ever since.
And when did it go from being something you did for fun to a serious career option?
I started taking hockey a lot more seriously in my last year here in Morzine. Me and a couple of my teammates felt like we had a decent shot of making a career out of it so we’d push each other to try and get to the next level, which for me was in Austria when I was fourteen. It was there that things got a lot more serious. The level suddenly elevated and I was playing and competing for roster spots against guys from some of the biggest powerhouse countries in hockey, like Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
How does it feel to be playing for your home team?
It’s a pretty surreal feeling, to be honest! When you’re younger you see all the pro players hanging around the rink, watch them practice and watch all their games. It’s very cool being able to represent the same team all your idols played for when you were young. Also being at the games and seeing your closest family and friends watching on is just awesome. You can feel how important hockey is to the community and what it means to so many of the locals and residents who have invested time or money into the club. It’s a great feeling to be a part of it.
You’ve played for teams all over the world, how do you find all the travelling that comes with playing professionally?
It was definitely a little tougher the first couple years, being away from home, but every one of your teammates is in the same boat, so you learn to enjoy it pretty fast. In the Austrian league we got to play in six different countries and away games were always a great time, whether it was a Saturday night game in Budapest or a midweek game in the middle of nowhere in Croatia. And obviously getting to discover the east coast of the USA was a great experience, as well!
You were a good friend of Ellie Soutter, did losing her have an impact on how you view your job and your lifestyle as a young athlete?
Losing Ellie was a tough part of everyone’s life in this community. When you lose someone that special, it hits you very hard and it was a very tough time trying to rebound from it. But seeing how amazing and positive everyone in the community was provided a source of motivation to succeed for her. It was amazing to see how many people she affected positively, and how many more people she’s helping and impacting now thanks to The Ellie Soutter Foundation, even after she’s gone. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to lose someone so close so young but I’m sure she’s looking down proudly at the effort by her family and friends to keep her legacy going.
How did you find growing up as a Brit in France and playing on French and international teams?
Back when I went to school here I was one of four other Brits in the whole school, so we never really viewed ourselves as French or British, we were just Morzinois. I guess I got a few looks up and down during the French team try-outs when I came in with my ginger hair and fresh red sunburn but it didn’t really matter where you were from. Once you’re part of a team you’re all pushing for the same thing, and that’s what’s so great about Morzine. It’s so diverse and everyone pulls their weight to help the community.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get into ice hockey, young or old?
What’s great about hockey is that there are no age restrictions. I started at four and my dad started at 46, now at 53 he’s buzzing around the ice every week for the Morzine ‘beer league’ team. There’s no better place to start hockey really than with the Penguins. They really take care of the kids, they have great coaches, and there’s a now women’s hockey team for all ages which is really great for the club. Also, it’s just a great sport to play. It teaches you a lot about respect, controlling your aggression, team spirit, and many other things. The best moments of my life have been on ice, whether it’s skating up on a frozen Lake Montriond with my best friends, or competing in a final with my teammates. Hockey has helped me through life and I couldn’t be happier now because of it.
To find out more about the Penguins and visit hockey-mozine.com or follow the team on Facebook. Big thanks to Yoann Coppel for the photographs, you can see more at @copo74_photographie in Instagram.