MATTY BARLOW says he is determined to make the most of a “great opportunity” when he steps out for England Under-23s this week.
The 23-year-old Bradford Bulldogs forward will be part of the recently-formed England team taking on their counterparts from Denmark in two games, firstly at Widnes on Thursday night (face-off 7pm) and then at Ice Sheffield on Friday (face-off 7.30pm) as a curtain raiser for the Junior Showcase event which will be held over the Bank Holiday Weekend.
Matty, who first came to Bradford in 2014 aged 15, got the nod after taking part in a recent training camp staged at Ice Sheffield at which around 60 players attended, the roster for both games being made up largely of players who have played at NIHL One and NIHL Two level during the 2021-22 season, with some players also having some NIHL National ice time over the past months.
The venue for the first game will be all-too-familiar for Matty as he has spent part of the season playing up for Widnes Wild as part of a two-way deal agreed with the Bulldogs.
Over the 2021-22 campaign, Matty has posted 10 goals and eight assists in just 14 appearances for the Bulldogs, while also impressing for the Wild with 11 goals and 10 assists in 26 games.
“I am really pleased to get picked,” said Matty, who played alongside the likes of Kieran Brown, Jordan Griffin and Lewis Baldwin coming up through the Bulldogs’ junior system.
“There were a lot of lads there at the training camp, so I was quite surprised to get picked, especially for both games.
“I did the England Under-19s a few years ago but this is great, especially after the last year or so with not playing over Covid – to come back and get picked again is nice.
“The standard was really good and, understandably, a lot of people really stepped it up because it’s a great opportunity – you don’t know who is watching on Thursday and Friday, who is going to be there ready for next season and I think that is what everyone is playing for, too, to see what opportunities might come about from it.”
Having missed the 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Matty came back determined to make up for lost time, leading to him seeking the two-way deal with the Wild, something which Bulldogs head coach Andy Brown was only too happy to agree to.
Coupled with the development he has gained at Bradford under Andy an, previously the likes of Glenn Baldwin, he believes the 2021-22 campaign has seen him produce some of his best hockey, helping him make the Under-23s roster this week.
“It was the same when I went from Manchester to Bradford as a youngster, I wanted to push myself again,” he explained. “We didn’t have many games scheduled for Bradford this year and, over the summer after Covid, I was trying to get fit again and I felt like I was in the best shape of my life, fitness-wise.
“And then I felt like I was playing some good hockey when I came back in September too and so I spoke to Widnes and it has really helped me playing in Division One, especially with the Under-23s thing as most of the other lads picked are playing at Div One level and so I was able to compete with them.
“So it’s been a good opportunity but I still managed to play a lot of games with Bradford this season. I spoke to Andy at first because I did want to prioritise Bradford but I think with the opportunity I had at Widnes with the ice time I was getting I couldn’t really turn it down because of how I felt I was progressing and Andy for years has always wanted to push players through.
“Andy has always had to develop players and he let me do that and I owe him a lot for letting me do that – he’s never been somebody who is going to hold any player back from reaching their potential – he’s been doing that for years.
“And with playing for Widnes too, I was getting two training sessions per week and sometimes two games a week, so I was on the ice at least four times a week and I felt like I was improving every week and I was getting in the gym as well, getting fitter, so it has all helped this year.
“I think this year is probably one of the best seasons I’ve had for a long time.”
On the two games against Denmark Under-23s, Matty expects it will be one of his toughest tests yet as a player.
“It’s a top-ten nation after all, so I know it’s going to be one of the toughest games I’ll have been a part of,” he added.
“But, having been at the camp last Monday there was a lot of talent there and everyone was working hard so, hopefully we can get the result we want.
“It’s an exciting time – it’s a good opportunity with Widnes just being around the corner, it’s probably just a 20-minute, half-hour drive for most of my family.
“And It’s nice because Widnes fans will be there, too – they’ll want to watch some hockey and I’ve got to know most of them throughout the season and it will be nice to see some of them there, too.”