Ice hockey journalist Mark Easton regularly produces articles for the Edinburgh Capitals match programme and his own ‘Easty Catches Up With‘ website.
His latest interview features current Edinburgh Capitals SNL head coach Martin Cingel.
You grew up playing in your homeland Slovakia. What are your earliest memories of hockey? Early starts at 6.00am and I loved it. I would spend any free time at the ice rink or playing street hockey.
Tell us a little bit about life growing up in Czechoslovakia and playing hockey in junior? I was lucky enough growing up in early 80s in Czechoslovakia where ice hockey was the number one sport. During Communism everything was provided for free to us – equipment, travel, ice time, food and so on. I could concentrate on training and my parents didn’t have to pay for anything.
You played with HK Dubnica, SK Matador Puchov and MHC Martin. Who would you say in your early junior/pro career was the best player you played with or against and why? I played with or against a lot of good players in Slovakia – just to mention a few of them Richard Zednik, Lubomir Visnovsky, Pavol Demitra, Miroslav Satan and Zdeno Chara. They all made it to the show so they had to be decent players I think.
Thinking back to those early years in Slovakia and after coming over to Britain how would you compare the two levels of hockey? It was very different as ice hockey here wasn’t very popular. In Slovakia you would have at least 4-5 pages in the national paper about ice hockey every day. Here we were barely mentioned once a week in a local paper. Regarding of the level of hockey it was much more physical here, however teams in Slovakia had a depth (4-5 lines and all of them on pro contracts) and played fast and skilled hockey.
In 2002/03 you arrived here in Edinburgh to sign with the Caps – how did this come about? I sent an email to a few UK teams looking for a job. I received an offer from Dundee too, but Scott Neil was faster. We exchanged a few emails and my contract was done.
How did you find the adjustment from playing in Slovakia to Britain the first few months? I think I didn’t have any problem to adapt and everything went smoothly. I was lucky enough that I spoke English so I could settle pretty quickly.
What was your first impressions of Murrayfield Ice Rink? The ice rink itself wasn’t too bad, but the changing rooms – I would rather not mention any details!
Your first game for the club was in 2002 against Dundee Stars in Dundee. Caps lost the game 16-3. Did you ever think at the end of that game you would end up spending the next 14 years playing in Britain? I remember this game still. The local boys had mentioned Tony Hand’s name a lot and us new guys couldn’t understand why. After the game we knew why as he scored maybe eight points that night. I never thought that I would spend the next 14 years in the UK. I had a lot of offers (Sweden, France, USA or other UK teams) but stayed in Edinburgh for one or two reasons.
You iced with the Caps for 12 seasons in total. If you could go back and relive one of they seasons what one would it be and why? The 2003/04 BNL season. We had a great team and a good chemistry in the changing room. Players like Adrian Saul, Miro Droppa and Steven Kaye were brilliant and I really enjoyed that season as a player.
If you had to pick your best line of import and British players you played with at your time with the club who would they be?
Netminder – Cody Rudkowsky
Defence – Miro Droppa
Defence – Michal Dobron
Forward – Mark Hurtubise
Forward – Peter Konder
Forward – Colin Hemingway
Netminder – Stephen Murphy
Defence – Kyle Horne
Defence – Ben O’Connor
Forward – Tony Hand
Forward – Mark Garside
Forward – Ross Hay
Great players and great people as well.
Putting you on the spot here – you have to pick the best player you played with at the Caps. Who is it and why? Must be Tony Hand – it has been mentioned maybe thousand times – he would make an ordinary player look brilliant and his vision was second to none.
Other than the Caps who is the best player you have played with or against in your time in Britain and why? The best player I played against must be Theo Fleury. What a player he was even when he came here in his late years of his career. I couldn’t imagine how good a player he was when he was in his prime at Calgary Flames. He was two levels ahead of everybody else that year.
You were made captain of the club in season 2006/07. How much an honour was it to wear the ‘C’ week in, week out, for the team? It is a big honour for every player. It meant a lot to me as I wasn’t a local player. It is a big responsibility and I tried to do as much as I could for my team every week.
What was your most memorable moment as a Caps player? Winning the Christmas Cup in 2005! Seriously, I don’t have any special moment in my mind. I always loved when we won a game and people were cheering for us.
The famous ‘Cingel Bells’ song was sang in the stands of Murrayfield so many times. How much did you love that song the fans dedicated to you? I think I had a special bond with the fans and I really appreciated it. That song was great and my kids are still singing it in our house.
How much do you and have you enjoyed living in the city of Edinburgh? One of the reasons I stayed here was the city. What a place to live. I have travelled a lot during my hockey career, but never found a better place than Edinburgh. We have everything here and people should appreciate it.
You left the club in season 2011/12 to join Manchester Phoenix in the EPL. What was the reason behind your decision to leave? I think after such a long time with the Caps and the season we had I needed to find a new challenge. Manchester Phoenix coach Tony Hand had called me a few times to join the Phoenix before and I liked what I heard about the organization. I met some great people and I really did enjoy my time there.
How much of a difference was there in the level of play in the EIHL to the EPL? As most people know you were only allowed only four imports in EPL and that makes you a special player. You need to contribute week in, week out. Of course, it wasn’t as fast as Elite League and you had more time on the puck, but it was a tough league to play in.
You returned to the Caps the following season for another two years, before signing with Dundee Stars in 2014/15. How much did you enjoy your season in Dundee both on and off the ice? I joined Dundee as an injury cover just for the start of the season, but I was signed on a permanent contract later on. Dundee is a good club and I had a nice time there.
Season 2015/16 you stepped down to play in the NIHL with Solway Sharks. How much did you enjoy your time there? I was thinking about joining the Sharks a few years ago, but I was offered a contract by Dundee Stars so I stayed for one more year in the EIHL. Later in the season it became very difficult to combine a full-time job with family and Elite League – especially travelling.
I had to make a decision as I couldn’t manage it all and I heard that Solway had a great organisation. I spoke with Martin Grubb and manager Rab Murray and liked what I heard from them and that was the main factor in why I signed there. I enjoyed the season over there a lot. However, I broke my collarbone in December and was out for almost eight weeks. On a positive side I learned a lot during my injury from Martin regarding coaching and I appreciated it.
Season 2016/17 you again returned to the Caps. This time you signed as injury cover and also were appointed as Head Coach of the Caps’ SNL team. Had you considered playing another season that year with another team I wasn’t sure if I was going to play again. I spoke with Scott and we agreed I can play as injury cover. At that time I was coaching SNL and juniors as well and had just too many things on my shoulders, so I made a decision that it would be my last season in the EIHL.
You ended up icing for the Caps four times last season. How can we forget that weekend in September? A very rare win in Kirkcaldy after overtime, then a win here the following night against Manchester Storm after penalties. You then took centre stage and the fans sang your song. How special a moment was that after all the years you had been in Edinburgh knowing that that season was going to be your last? It was a great feeling to win the games for Caps again and then sing the song with the fans, but I knew my time was up and it was time to move on.
Do you miss playing at the top level these days? I do miss the Caps fans, but I am not getting any younger and with my other commitments I think it was the right time to step down.
You scored well over 200 goals for the club. Is there one or even a couple that really stick out in your memory as your favourites? Tough question – an overtime winner against Basingstoke or a short-handed goal against Belfast and they lost the title – I don’t know the years, sorry.
You wore #29 in your time in Edinburgh – why was this? No reason at all. I had different numbers during my early pro career – 66, 21, 23. I had a good season with 29 when I was I think 22-years-old, so I stayed with that number for the rest of my career.
You also worked as a player agent for Eastern Europeans for a number of years. Who would you say was the best player you got over to these shores to play? It would be Jan Krajicek or Roman Gavalier (Belfast Giants). Both were very good players.
What is going on in the life of Martin Cingel these days away from hockey? I have a full-time job now (working for H&M in payments), helping to coach a kids hockey at Murrayfield and with my young family I am very busy these days.
Away from hockey you are a big football fan. Tell us what made you choose the maroon half of Edinburgh and is it correct that you are really good friends with former Hearts player Rudi Skacel? I chose Hearts because they are the best team in the world! When I moved to Edinburgh I stayed right next to Tynecastle, so it was an obvious choice to follow the Jambos. When a certain Rudi Skacel turned up at Murrayfield in 2005 and introduced himself to me all was done and dusted to support Hearts.
I went to see Rudi a few to times in Prague and still keep in touch with him now. I didn’t know he used to play ice hockey until he was 15-years-old, but he had to make a choice and chose football. During his spells with Hearts he used to come to train with us sometimes and he was a decent reccy player. If he chose ice hockey when he was young I believe he would have played pro hockey.
How much have you enjoyed coaching the SNL guys? I’m really enjoying coaching SNL and I’m trying my best to pass my experience and knowledge on to the players.
You also pulled on the skates for one game this season in the SNL – how did that go? That was a one-off! We played Moray away and for whatever reason a lot of the boys were injured, working or holidays. I finished the game and knew I didn’t want to play again!
Do you still come to support the Caps when possible? Of course, anytime I can watch the Caps I am there supporting them.
If you could go back and relive one season as a Cap, what one would it be and why? It would be season 2010/11. We started so well, but everything fell apart by Christmas – from the imports just me and Jeff Hutchins stayed and it was really difficult for us. I hated the feeling that we were going to lose the game before we even started. We were not competitive at all and I left the next year to play in Manchester.
You played over 500 games with the Caps and are the club’s top scorer of all-time. You are a Caps legend in the eyes of the fans – what would it mean to you if one day the club was to retire the #29 jersey in your honour? It would be a huge honour to join Tony Hand and Chris Kelland. They were Murrayfield legends and it would mean a lot to me.
Do you have any regrets during your time with the club? Just one – that during my Caps time we didn’t win any major trophy for our fans. They deserve it.
Would you one day hope to be head coach of the Capitals’ EIHL side? You should never say never, but with my full-time job it would be very difficult.
Just how good is the atmosphere at Murrayfield from a players perspective on the ice when the fans are in full voice right behind the team? It is a great feeling to hear the fans supporting you. As a player you appreciate it and it is the best feeling ever when you can see fans celebrating and enjoying themselves.
Do you have a message for the Caps fans? I would like to say thanks to all of them for the fantastic support not just for me, but for the team too. I had a great time playing for the Caps and I made a lot of friends here. Thanks!
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