Credit Where Credit Is Due: BBC Commentating & A British Ref!

Well done on the BBC’s coverage of the ice hockey at the Winter Olympics in Sochi – despite the odd occasion where it disappeared from the medium I was watching to be mysteriously continued somewhere else.

I particularly enjoyed being able to see the women’s and men’s finals in full, although I have to say that overall, I found the Women’s tournament more exciting than the men’s…

It was also great to see a Brit in the women’s final – in the shape of match referee Joy Johnstone. At least our officials got the chance to participate on the world’s biggest stage even if the national teams didn’t manage to get there. She did very well too – with no contentious issues arising. An excellent ambassador for the British game.

Another good thing was that,  throughout the tournament, the BBC commentator Seth Bennett made regular mention of the fact that ice hockey IS, in fact, played in this country and encouraged people to go and check out their local team.

He also mentioned that Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock used to play for the Whitley Warriors – a great mention of an NIHL team during the Olympic final. But then – to my mind at least – he blotted his copybook slightly by making some throwaway comment about it being a “different era” back then. Oddly enough, it was a different era but not how I think he probably meant it…

As it happens, Babcock played for the Whitley Warriors in that rather exciting 1987/88 season where he made up a dazzling import trio with Luc Chabot and Scott Morrison that helped take the Warriors to a hitherto unheard of 2nd place in the Heineken League Premier Division. They also made the Heineken Championship play offs at Wembley that year for the first time.

Now, I don’t like to put words into other people’s mouths and although I have asked him, he hasn’t replied. But, as Mr Bennett hails from Sheffield and covers the Sheffield Steelers games for BBC local radio, I have a sneaking suspicion of where he was probably coming from.

The inference for me was that it was back before the dawn of the big arenas and the Superleague and the Elite League and was, therefore, a sort of “dark ages” for British ice hockey. He may not have meant it that way at all, but it is hard to see what else he might have been getting at.

Certainly for the fans of Whitley Warriors it was a different era back in the 1980s. They were playing in the country’s top division, had a flourishing youth programme that provided numerous GB internationals over the years and had fierce local rivalries in that North east hotbed of hockey.

It was a different era for Durham Wasps too – and Southampton Vikings – and Bournemouth Stags – and Richmond Flyers – and Crowtree Chiefs – and Glasgow Dynamos – and Ayr Bruins – none of whom even have a team anymore. And what about Streatham Redskins? Top team in England for many years, first rink in the country to have plexi-glass and home of the first British Championship play-off weekend in 1982? Admittedly, they are doing a fantastic job, still flying the flag for hockey in South London in their new rink, albeit in NIHL South Division One. But ask any Streatham fan over a particular age and I’m sure they’d have their 80s hockey back like a shot. Ditto Solihull Barons, ditto Blackpool Seagulls, ditto Peterborough Pirates, ditto Cleveland Bombers / Billingham Stars, ditto Whitley Warriors….

So – based on the above rant, you might arrive at the conclusion that I think that the time when Mike Babcock played for the Warriors was a much BETTER period for British ice hockey than what we have now. And you’d be right.

When the British League started in 1982, the BIHA took the rather brave step of cutting the number of imports allowed from the previous 6 down to just 3. This meant that there were a lot more opportunities for the locally trained British players to get first line ice time and they flourished as a result.

Just look at all the British players who came through during that period. The Hands at Murrayfield, the Coopers, the Johnsons and the Smiths at Durham,  The Grahams and the Ords at Whitley…  To be honest, there are simply far too many to mention but you get the idea. There are an awful lot of British talents that were nurtured during that time who might not have come through had teams been allowed to ice more foreign players. That is exactly what DID happen after the BIHA caved in and allowed an unlimited number of imports to be signed. We then ended up with Superleague teams packed with Canadians and just the odd token Brit if we were lucky.

So, different era it may have been – but different for people in different ways!

But – to be completely fair to all concerned, as I already said earlier (hedge, hedge) – he may NOT have meant that at all, in which case, please ignore the previous 8 or 9 paragraphs…!

Anyway, despite all that, I still commend Seth Bennett – and Brent Pope – on the excellent commentary throughout the Winter Olympics ice hockey tournament and “well done him” for giving much appreciated airtime to both the GB teams and the British domestic game on terrestrial television!

You may also like...