Something brewing under the ice of British hockey
The weather in the UK recently may already resemble that of the hockey season but there is still a few weeks to go.
No doubt the usual questions of how well their team will do next year? How much over the salary cap the Nottingham Panthers will go? and whether that eastern european with the unpronounceable name will last the season? are going round the heads of every hockey fan in the UK.However the Blueliner has been thinking bigger about british ice hockey.
At the start of the summer I was thinking that perhaps the recent financial difficulties seen at teams throughout of the country were a thing of the past as would be the Scottish problem. (That of successful teams not being able to play at higher level as there is no middle league between the national league and the elite league). The expansion of the elite league to include new side Braehead Clan based in Glasgow, the Dundee Stars being accepted, Newcastle surviving for another season and the news the Boston Bruins would play an Elite League all star team in Belfast seemed to usher in a new enlightened era in the elite league and one that may have made fans in Manchester kick themselves that they burnt their bridges with league.
However the alarm bells were ringing when Adam Calder left Braehead almost as soon as he arrived and then last weeks news that the Hull Stringrays would cease operations does seem to show British ice hockey’s ugly side is rising up under the ice.
Hull’s news is this obviously bad news for all clubs in the Elite League given the loss revenue and headache of what to do about season tickets but it is grave news for the Elite League. Hopefully this will show the powers that be that the top flight needs some hard financial thinking if it is expanded and maintain its members (something necessary for improving the image of british ice hockey and standing of the league in Europe).
It is clear that the Elite League needs at least 10 teams to be recognised as good league but where is that tenth team to come from. The obvious candidates are the top teams in the EPL but with Hull’s decision it clearly shows that the gap is bigger than originally thought and that also means it will be harder than previously thought for former teams such as the Manchester Phoenix and the Basingstoke Bison to move back up.
On the flip side who would invest in a hockey team in the top flight that is as unstable as the Elite League appears to be. Meaning a new market team is looking unlikely.
But is it all bad? The arrival of the Bruins in Belfast in October will do wonders for the league’s standing and the rebirth of the Northern League with a tournament in Newcastle to start the season will be a boost for the traditionalists. And not to forget there are two new teams in the top flight.
Looking at the whole situation this will be a make or break season for the Elite League. If Newcastle’s financial problems stay away, if Braehead survive the season and if Dundee have some success things could bode well but if they don’t it could be the end of the Elite League and big time ice hockey in the UK.
In 2003 UK ice hockey came back from the brink but I doubt that would be possible again.