Joey Lewis: The long road to ice hockey's world stage
Tough sports competitors will often say going the extra mile is the key to success but for Joey Lewis, it took miles and miles.
Lewis is currently part of the Great Britain squad at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Slovakia and will make his full debut as he comes in for injured Cardiff Devil Matthew Myers in Friday's encounter against Finland.
GB have lost their opening four games of the tournament and are fighting to avoid relegation from the elite division.
Lewis' journey to the event in Slovakia started in Newport and passed through Cardiff, Swindon and eight clubs in Germany after a bold decision to move abroad as a 17-year old teenager.
Now 26, he reflects on that decision without nostalgia or remorse, admitting "it was horrible".
But it was also worth the effort and the sacrifice to follow his dreams.
Born and raised in Newport, Lewis' first exposure to ice hockey was watching his brother, Nicky, play at youth level.
He says his parents thought he would go further than his brother, though they probably didn't realise how far.
Having been given a letter on Christmas Day when he was 14 inviting him to play for the Devils' youth team, Joey's journey began in Cardiff.
He later headed to Swindon in search of more minutes on the ice.
"I was top of my age group, I'd had enough... I wanted to play," he said.
Germany or bust
After a few years in Swindon, Joey received a chance to head over to Germany to try out for the Iserlohner under-18 team.
"The first two, three weeks were horrible," he recalls, "the language was tough, you're away from home, you've got to fend for yourself."
|Joey Lewis' teams in Germany|
|2009-10: Iserlohner U18|
|2010-12: EV Fussen U18|
|2012-13: Fuchse Duisburg|
|2013-14: Hammer Eisbaren|
|2014-15: EC Bad Tolz|
|2015-16: Heilbronner Falken|
|2016-17: Starbulls Rosenheim|
|2017-: ESV Kaufbeuren|
But despite those early worries he went on to play for a number of teams in Germany, including Fussen where he calls his second home, and Duisburg where he was offered a car and apartment in exchange for his signature.
"I bit their hand off!" he laughs.
After moving around a number of clubs in the third tier, Joey moved up into the DEL2 - the second tier German hockey. He joined ESV Kaufbeuren in 2017 and hasn't looked back.
He's been one of their top scorers in the past two seasons, and despite both ending with losses in the play-off semi-final, the signs for promotion look good.
Just hours after losing in the play-offs, Joey received a call from the GB squad ahead of the World Championships in Slovakia.
"It was a bit hectic because we'd just lost the semi-final, and then I had the phone call telling me to get on a flight to Coventry for trials."
Now on the world stage Lewis acknowledges how much his parents did for him in those early days.
"There's nothing you can do to repay [your parents]. I didn't see it at the time, I really didn't appreciate it. They thought I could make something of myself and they gave up so much time. It's crazy what parents do for their children.
"I never really said thank you. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today."
He also has a message for anyone striving for success.
"Whether it's ice hockey, football, tennis - it could be chess for all I care - I think dedication and sacrifice are vital. I came out of Newport, which isn't really known for massive sports stars. But all I can say is take the opportunity.
"If you think it's the right thing to do to better yourself, and to give yourself a better life, do it. I did it all while I could, and no one can ever take that away from me."
World Championship schedule
11 May: Germany 3-1 GB
12 May: GB 0-8 Canada
14 May: GB 0-9 Denmark
15 May: GB 3-6 USA
Fixtures: 17 May: GB v Finland; 18 May: GB v Slovakia; 20 May: France v GB