By Craig Simpson
Talismanic GB forward Robert Dowd will play in Italy this season having agreed a contract with Eppan Pirates of the Italian Hockey League.
The Billingham-born 32-year-old signed an extension with Sheffield Steelers before making the trip to northern Italy for the remainder of this season.
And there’s an interesting link to Dowd’s home-town team standing behind the bench in the Tyrol in Patrice Lefebvre.
The 53-year-old played for the Billingham Bombers for only one season, 1992-93, but that was enough to earn him legend status on Teesside.
Dowd has scored Great Britain’s opening goal in their last three World Championship last day deciders – in Belfast against Japan (2017), in Budapest against Hungary (2018) and in Kosice against France (2019). Currently, Dowd has 24 goals and 22 assists in the red white and blue since he made his senior debut in 2008.
Talking about the move abroad, Dowd said: “When it looked likely that the Elite League was not going to start, I began looking in Europe for a spot.
“I had a couple of offers in Sweden, but then one night Marco Vallerand called, said he was signing in Eppan and they were looking for another guy and he recommended me. To live and play with a guy I know was a no brainer, so I’m excited to get started with the Pirates.”
His new coach iced for Billingham in the Heineken League days, playing on a line with Richard Laplante and Anthony Payne. The 5’6” dynamo wowed the fans with 56+109=165 in just 36 games.
Lefebvre added nine points in three Autumn Cup games and 5+13=18 in the six-game post-season campaign. All told that year he also added over 100 penalty minutes. Fair to say he gave the fans value for money. For the record, Laplante tallied 166 points and Payne 108. That was quite a line!
Perhaps even more remarkable is what happened after his year at Billingham. These days we are used to imports coming to the UK after their career peaked in North America.
Lefebvre spent seven seasons in the IHL with Las Vegas before making three appearances in the NHL for Washington Capitals in 1998-99. Billingham – Vegas – Washington DC. That’s quite a journey.
The Montreal native has been coaching in Europe since 2010 and this season with Eppan is his second spell, having previously stood behind the bench in 2014-15 when one of his players was Marc-Olivier Vallerand.
On signing Robert Dowd, Lefebvre said: “He came to us through Marc-Olivier who played for me before and told me great things about him.
“It’s always better playing alongside someone you know, so we talked and Dowdy sounded very motivated so we went through with the offer. Everything I’ve heard about him is positive and now we have got two very good players and good people in Dowd and Vallerand.
“The connection to Billingham didn’t really have any impact but the fact I played beside Dowdy’s older brother is kind of funny.
“I have really fond memories of my time in Billingham, it was great on and off the ice and I met some great people.
“I keep in contact with some people there and I’m looking forward to making it back one day to see a game and catch up with old friends.”
Billingham’s current team, now named the Stars, are currently waiting for their league action to get the green light to resume from government.
“To the Billingham fans I hope everything gets back to normal,” says Lefebvre. “And you can go and cheer on your favourite team again.”
On his new coach, Dowd said simply: “I never really seen him play for the Bombers but I’ve had some great stories passed down about his year there, and I look forward to talking about those days with him.”
Dowd’s first game for the Eppan Pirates will be this Saturday, 17th October as they host Valdifiemme HC. Eppan’s website is www.hceppan.it.
Pictured above (top of the page): Patrice Lefebvre and Robert Dowd.
Pictured above (middle): Robert Dowd scores for Great Britain against France in the 2019 World Championship in Slovakia. Photo credit: Dean Woolley.