October 2002 Remembered: Part 4 Aftermath
In the aftermath of the loss of both the Manchester Storm and the Scottish Eagles there was much happening. The most obvious thing was that the Superleague and its era of high spending, big losses, large squads was over. It also showed that those two teams had gained a lot of dedicated and loyal fans as they tried to resurrect their clubs.
In Manchester the resurrection of professional hockey was almost immediate. The Manchester Phoenix was born and returned to action in the arena for the start of the inaugural Elite League season. It was a false start though as the arena was still too large and too expensive to host a hockey club especially with attendances suffering in the aftermath of the collapse. With the closure of the Altrincham rink though there was nowhere to go. 2 years later however they were back and in their own rink and in the Elite League.
In Scotland however it was a different story. Attempts to bring the Scottish Eagles or new club back to Ayr occurred in vain as without an ice hockey club the Centrum Arena lacked an operator. In Glasgow the big business like Barr Construction that had backed the Scottish Eagles were burned and so no club could afford to return to the Braehead Arena either. 10 years on and professional ice hockey has returned to Glasgow with the Braehead Clan but the Centrum Arena in Ayr that the had taken 10 years to build in the first place is now a supermarket and there no prospects for professional ice hockey in the south western Scottish town.
As the sport in general the shock of losing two of the most successful sides in the Superleague era has left a legacy. At the time the remaining Superleague clubs as well as members of the British National League saw a need for a new beginning. One with tighter controls on spending and this included a salary cap and a import quota. Since then and despite the EIHL losing teams in Manchester, Basingstoke, London and Newcastle the memories of the Superleague and lessons learnt seem to have faded. A lack of leadership from the EIHL has led to teams running the league themselves and as a result the salary cap that was hailed 10 years ago is now non-existent. Whilst there remains an import quota it has now risen to 11 from 10 and many of the top teams have taken to carrying â€˜spareâ€™ imports. Even though it has been 7 years since a side went of business during the season there have been occasions in Newcastle, Basingstoke, Sheffield, Hull, Cardiff, Coventry and Edinburgh that is nearly happened. Despite this those lessons from the collapse of the Superleague have seemingly not been learnt.
There is another legacy of the Superleague that has continued. There were many teams that wanted to be part of the Superleague when it was created in 1996 but were rejected. Most prominent in that list is the Guildford Flames. Guildford had the money and the rink but lacked the seating capacity and as the Spectrum would not install the seats the Flames were rejected. The memories, the disappointment and the years of being on the outside have left owners and some fans bitter and resentful of the top league. This has hindered development of the league and the sport not helped by the lack of leadership and disorganisation of the governing body.
There is however a positive development from the Superleague. The standard of ice rinks in the UK has improved massively. Whilst ice pads may not be plentiful their quality has improved. No longer are teams in the top flight playing on misshapen rinks with dangerous boards and netting instead of Plexiglas.
At times it can feel like the UK hasnâ€™t moved on from the boom and bust years of the Superleague. Teams still spend big and there is still little leadership on finance control from either the league or the governing body but from time to time there are whisperings, rumours and comments that suggest changes are possible. So perhaps in another 10 years time we will be looking back on the Superleague as a completely different world from an Elite League that has grown developed and sustained. Equally we could be back to the dark days of the amateur British ice hockey were games showed no resemblance of professionalism on or off the ice and defence and tactics were not commonly understood.