New Sheffield Steelers star not put off European adventure by racist abuse in Slovakia - Bob Westerdale

There is nothing more sickening in sport, or general life, than the rants of a racist.

Friday, 29th July 2022, 11:51 am

You see it infrequently these days in British sport, thankfully.

And in 30 years of covering ice hockey, I cannot remember coming across it at a UK ice rink, even once.

So players of colour over here should not have to worry about a repeat of the experience suffered by Sheffield Steelers' new signing Matt Petgrave, last season.

New Sheffield Steelers signing Matt Petgrave. Picture courtesy of Sheffield Steelers

In his maiden campaign in Europe, the defenceman, now aged 30, was on the receiving end of a cowardly, vocal attack in Slovakia.

Yet Petgrave has a refreshingly candid take on the issue.

"You hear rumours that stuff like that can happen in eastern Europe but I'm not going to let that ruin my whole experience there.

"I had a lovely time in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, (with HC Dynamo Pardubice,) the fans treated me brilliantly, it was just like a couple of bad apples but I think that was just everywhere really and that is unfortunate.

"Other than that previously in my career there have been maybe one or two incidents, nothing too crazy.

"It is unfortunate but it doesn't stop me from playing the game!"

He said the most recent incident did not play any part in him leaving Slovakia.

"Not at all, I can't say enough good things about the league and the organisation, their GM was awesome, and fans were great even when we had Covid (lockdown) they would stay outside the rink to show their support.

"It was an awesome first experience in Europe."

He said he was relieved to hear there was no history of racism in British hockey.

Canada-born Petgrave says he has a rich and varied heritage.

"Where do I start? I am quite the mix.

"Congolese, Senegal, my mum is from the States, my Dad is Jamaican.

"Also on my Dad's side I have Scottish, German, French - there is a little bit of Austrian in there!

"I did one of those '23andMe' things (DNA testing for ancestry breakdown) and was pretty shocked I had such a long list, I thought it was pretty funny."

Petgrave, who started his hockey off with Toronto Titans U18 AAA in 2008, will bring an intelligent game to Sheffield.

"People describe me as a defensive-minded Dman but I like to think of myself as a pretty solid two-way," he said.

"I can skate really well, a good stick, good first pass, can carry the puck I have got a good shot."

That shot led to nine goals in Slovakia, last term, quite a contribution to the team's offence.

"Maybe I should shoot a little bit more. Despite those goals I had last year in Slovakia the GM said I should shoot more.

"Hopefully I can carry that through to the British League."

Petgrave is looking forward to playing on the same blue line as Kevin Schulze, who starred for Sheffield last season and has recently re-signed.

"I briefly played against him and went to camp with him, but I have not seen him for four or five years" he said.