Former Coventry Blaze forward Gareth O’Flaherty has agreed terms with MK Thunder head coach Lewis Clifford to re-sign with MKT for the upcoming 2018-19 NIHL South 1 season.
The centreman who featured in seven EPL seasons scored 15 points in the regular season before adding two assists in the playoffs last year after joining the red and black last summer.
“Whilst it is obvious from the signings we have already announced that we are going to be a younger team this coming season,” Clifford said. “It is also important to retain experience within the team, and bringing Flatsy back helps with that.
“He brings a level head and comes to the rink every night to work hard and give his best to the team, both in practice and games. That is important to the team as we have to be a blue-collar, hard-working team. For one of our more experienced players to turn up every night and work hard sets the tone for the rest of the players on the team.”
A graduate of the Guildford junior setup, O’Flaherty began his career in what is now the NIHL with stops in Bracknell, Haringey and Nottingham —- where he led the league in assists as the Lions lifted the 2013 NIHL 2 North title.
The British forward was then snapped up by EPL frontrunners Telford Tigers before stepping up to the Elite League with Coventry Blaze, making 38 appearances in 2014-15 as Blaze were crowned 2015 EIHL Playoffs Champions.
“I’m really excited to be returning to the Thunder this year,” O’Flaherty said. “Initially I wasn’t really sure what to expect but we had a great group of lads, held our own and managed to cause a few upsets along the way.
“It was an easy decision to return to the team. I got a lot of chances to play in different situations last year and enjoyed playing for Cliff and playing a more senior role on the team. We were tested a lot throughout the season and stuck together which reflects how close the guys were.”
The 5-foot-10, 75kg playmaker is entering his 11th season of senior hockey and thrives on playing in front of the MK hockey family and passing on his experience to the multiple Great Britain and England youth internationals on the MKT roster.
“I enjoy the roll of being one of the more senior players,” O’Flaherty said. “It adds an extra aspect to the game when you have the chance to mentor some of the younger guys like Strats, Rio and Lordo. It also holds you more accountable as you have to lead by example, so it makes you more aware of the decisions your making on and off the ice.
“We’ve got some really skilled young players and I remember guys helping me out when I was younger so it’s rewarding to pass on the experience where I can.
“We also have a brilliant fan base who I’m excited to play in front of again. Their support is great, home and away, and definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Clifford and O’Flaherty are both a year older and a year wiser after MKT’s first foray into Second Division hockey last season and both are excited to work together and continue building on the foundations laid by GM Dave Fairhurst.
“I think we can really build on the progress we made last season,” O’Flaherty said. “It was a steep learning curve at times for the players and the coaches which —- everyone responded well to. With the team cliff is putting together this year it will allow us to progress and compete on a more consistence basis. “
With the position we’re in, the league will be tough again. There’s no such thing as an easy game, but we showed last year we have the ability to compete with everyone and I think we can do that more this year.”
O’Flaherty and his teammates are working on their offseason conditioning ahead of getting back on MK ice in preparation of going better than the seventh-laced league finish and Playoffs Quarterfinals appearance made in 2017-18.
“I know he was frustrated with some of the aspects of his game last year and he is looking to improve in these areas,” Clifford said of speaking with his ninth signing for 2018-19 over the summer.
“I didn’t have to tell him too much to be honest as when I spoke to him he told me what he thought he could have done better and I didn’t disagree with any of it. Flatsy sees a lot of ice time, whether it is 5-on-5 or on special teams, so he is in the gym getting ready for next season and I’m sure he will hit the ground running in September.”
O’Flaherty’s jerseys are now available to buy in our 2018-19 Own & Loan. Prices are set at at £125 for one jersey and £200 to have your name/company featured on both Home and Away jerseys before meeting Gareth at Awards Night 2019 and being presented with your game-worn jerseys. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.