Don McDermott speaks to Liam Chong about ice hockey, physiotherapy and the injury that has sidelined the Raiders’ assistant captain.
The London Raiders were trying to end 2015 on a high note. After a sluggish start to the season, they had just won four out of six matches. But then, having boosted their league record to 8-1-9, disaster struck.
Assistant captain Liam Chong injured his hand blocking a shot and, still waiting for his return, the East London outfit have rarely looked the same since.
Although he initially expected to be fit to play within six weeks, Chong’s injury has proved complicated and he is still out injured.
Currently eighth in the National League, the Raiders have struggled without their experienced defenseman. They previously endured 14 matches without a win before finally forcing a change in their fortune with an 8-2 victory against Milton Keynes.
For Chong, sitting on the side-lines has been frustrating.
“I’ve been to watch quite a few of the games,” he said. “We’ve made some very astute signings recently, but we are still not quite where I think we’d like to be at the moment. I’m eager to get back but I’m just waiting for the all-go from the therapists that it’s fine for me to play again.
“I guess with the youngsters on our team, I’m one of the more senior players. I’m an assistant captain for the team, so I find it very frustrating to see [the team struggle].”
Chong isn’t yet 24 years old, but he’s an ice hockey veteran already. He began playing ice hockey in the Chelmsford youth system when he was eight and then worked his way up to the main team, before playing one season for the Raiders, who were based in Romford at the time.
Chong’s travels weren’t over, though. He moved to Lake Placid, New York, and went to school there. But when it came time to attend university, Chong moved back home.
Chong recalled, “I decided to come back here and played for the Invicta Dynamos in the English National League, and then I moved up to the professional leagues and played for the Basingstoke Bison and the Manchester Phoenix for a few years.”
With injuries having briefly derailed his career, Chong decided to continue his involvement with ice hockey in the semi-professional leagues and returned to play for the Raiders, who, by this point, had moved from Romford to the Lee Valley Ice Centre. Chong said that the move down the leagues has been a pleasant experience.
“I really enjoy it, I’m playing with a bunch of guys that I’ve played with from a young age,” Chong said. “It’s really convenient because it’s really close to where I go to university. [Playing for the Raiders] is not such a big commitment as when I was playing professionally. I really love playing sport and I’ve been able to combine my studies with it, so it’s been fantastic.”
After leaving the professional league, Chong enrolled in the University of East London to study physiotherapy, which has taken up a great deal of the time he used to devote to high-level ice hockey training.
“[Physiotherapy is] hard work, very hard work,” Chong said. “So playing for a semi-professional team such as the London Raiders is a lot more doable for me. It’s difficult to try to play and work at the same time, but I’m managing to do it at the moment.”
Chong is close to completing the second year of his degree, and this summer will be heading to Canada for work experience. When he returns, his main goal is to become the best physiotherapist that he can be.
Where ice hockey fits in is less clear. But Chong is certain about one thing: he wants to keep playing.
“I have to prioritize what I do in terms of ice hockey and work, so we’ll see how that goes,” Chong said. “But it should be another year back with the Raiders next season, hopefully with some more signings.
“I’d love to go back up and play in the English Premier League or the Elite League if I could fit it in, because I’m still so young. I’ve got a lot of playing time left in me, but we’ll see.”
In the meantime, Chong will continue working hard towards completing his degree and healing from his latest injury.
The London Raiders, struggling near the bottom of the table, will be anxiously awaiting his return.