Former Great Britain netminder Nathan Craze says his decision to stop playing hockey at the age of 25 was the toughest he’s had to make – but it’s one he doesn’t regret.
After progressing through the Cardiff junior system, Craze sprung to prominence during the 2003/04 season when he won a World Championship (Division 2B) gold medal with the GB U18 team.
He was nominated as the tournament’s best netminder and went onto repeat the feat in Division 2A with the U20 team in 2005/06.
Domestically, Craze won the Elite League title alongside NHL superstar Theo Fleury at Belfast Giants before enjoying success in the EPL with Bracknell Bees.
He switched to Swindon Wildcats in 2007, before heading back to the top flight with the Giants and then finally Edinburgh Capitals in 2011/12.
“I was lucky enough to play on some great teams both for club and country. Winning the EIHL title with Belfast and EPL double with Bracknell are definitely up there,” said Craze.
“However, winning my first World Championship gold medal with GB U18 and having my jersey put up in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto after the tournament is definitely my career highlight.
“I learned something from every goalie I worked with, but really enjoyed playing with Stephen Murphy in Belfast and for GB.
“We played two totally different styles but I was always impressed with his demeanour. He was so relaxed when he played and it just seemed nothing would bother him.
“I was too intense and too focused at a younger age, but watching Murph allowed me to take a more relaxed approach that benefited my game.”
The 2005/06 title-winning season with the Giants was particularly memorable for Craze as it gave him the opportunity to play alongside Fleury.
The ex-Calgary Flames star played the final year of his career in Belfast and Craze admits it was an amazing experience.
“He wasn’t just a great hockey player, but also a great guy and I was lucky enough to sit next to him in our practice rink,” Craze added.
“I could have listened to him talk for hours about all his stories from playing in the NHL to winning Olympic gold with Team Canada.
“He always had time for everyone and even though a lot of us were starstruck to have him on the team, he was just one of the guys and didn’t want to be treated any different.”
After ending his playing career, Craze set up his own goaltending academy and is currently part of the coaching staff with the EPL’s Hull Pirates.
Craze has also worked with a variety of GB’s teams as he looks to develop the next generation of home-grown goalies and says he’s delighted with how his career has progressed.
“Stopping playing was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I’ve always had a passion for coaching so that was the next step for me,” Craze said.
“The academy has been even better than I could ever have imagined it to be. I’ve had well over fifty goalies from all over the UK attend, some travelling from as far as Scotland and Kent to get goalie specific training.
“To call it a day on a sport you’ve loved playing for most of your life isn’t easy, but I tried to look at the bigger picture and I’m glad I did.”