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A beginner's guide to British Hockey

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10-13-2008, 11:37 AM
  #1
Iceraider
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A beginner's guide to British Hockey

Just thought I'd post a quick guide to hockey in the UK for anyone interested in learning more about the anachronistic world of British Ice Hockey.

The History:

As those of you paying attention will know Great Britain were, in pre-WWII days, a power-house in world Ice Hockey. The national team won the Gold medal in the 1936 Winter Olympics, as well as winning the first ever IIHF European tournament.

Ice hockey in Britain continued to grow over this pre and post war period with two separate leagues; The scotish League and English league. These were eventually amalgamated in 1954 and played as a combined league until it's disbanding in 1959. This was followed by a period of turmoil within the sport with various small local leagues being formed until 1982 when the British Hockey League was formed (which expanded the year later to include the Heineken Premier League). This league ran until 1996, and was considered to be the glory days of British hockey by many followers in the UK today.

During this time the league saw many big names play alongside local home grown talent in rinks packed to the rafters. Players like Gary Ungar, Doug Smail, Patrice Lefvebre lining up alongside emerging British talent like Tony Hand. This period saw some huge local rivalries develop within the sport like Whitley bay and Durham, where fans would be sat down the steps of the rink it was so full. Fans regularly had to queue for hours around the block the day tickets were released to just to get their place at these amazing events. A list of HPL teams can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Hockey_League

1996 brought about the rise in professionalism to British Ice Hockey. All the other major team sports were turning professional around this time, with Rugby union recently following suit and bowing down to professionalism. Thus the ISL (Ice Hockey Superleage) was formed. While many fans saw the old HPL as the peak of British hockey the superleague brought with it glitz, glammer and a whole new animal: 'The Arena Team'. Hockey had traditionally been played out of small ice rinks with around 1500-3000 capacity, however professionalism brought with it a whole new audience and the amazing popularity of the sport in places like Sheffield and Manchester saw teams play in front of huge crowds in packed arenas that on occasion would rival certain NHL attendances today. A game between Manchester Storm (coached by Kurt Kleinendorst at the time) and the Sheffield Steelers packed the MEN arena with 17,245, which is only about 200 less people than watched the Ducks take on the LA kings last year in the 02 centre.

Teams loaded up on imports and the British talent started to dry up. During this time it was not unusual for teams to have starting line-ups of 18imports. There was no doubting the skills on show during this time, teams were loaded with AHL and top ECHL talent and even a few former NHLer's like Ed Courtney, Travis Brigley and many others. Just like the HPL the ISL bought with it it's own rivalries with Nottingham and Sheffield taking centre stage as they duked it out in their full arenas. One memorable meeting resulted in one of the most controversial brawls in British hockey (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ioyQi-rb1DM well worth a watch) with 100s of penatly minutes dished out and players banned left right and centre. Discipline was an issue in the ISL but the skills on show far outweighed the discipline problems.

Cracks finally started appearing in the league after the 2001 season where it emerged that a number of teams were in deep financial crises. In an attempt to bring better and better players over to Britain teams were effectively throwing money at players, Sheffield Steelers won the grand slam in the 2000/2001 season after seriously exceeding the wage-cap, a problem that has stuck with British hockey until this day. One of the first casualties of the ISL were the Cardiff Devils who folded spectacularly at the end of the 'Grand Sham' season in a whirldwind of accusations and acrimony. Fans staged a walk out the following year when then owner Bob Phillips placed a team in the up-and-coming British Nation League (BNL) when he still owed substantial monies to the previous team.

In 2003 the bubble finally burst and after the collapse of several high profile teams, such as Ayr Scottish Eagles and the London Knights (owned by LA Kings) the league finally closed it's doors and for now the dream was over. During this time a great schism had opened up in British hockey. The unified league structure of the HPL days had disappeared and in recent years relations between the ISL and BNL had soured. A new age was on the rise, the political age. This unfortunately still dominates the British hockey scene to this day. After the spectacular collapse of the ISL the remaining clubs ISL plus a selected few from the BNL (Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze and Basingstoke Bison) formed the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), a move that would prove to split British hockey even further and enforce the wide gulf between the arena teams and the smaller rink based teams. The feud between the EIHL and BNL boards drove a wedge between teams and fans. It divided the sport into those who wanted to see a return to the Heiniken Premier League days of 4 import hockey and those who wanted a return to the dizzy heights of import driven ISL. Politics became theme of the time and fans were regularly used as pawns in a power struggle for the very future of the sport. A cross-over cup was instituted in an effort to try bring the two leagues closer together, but lasted just one year and the BNL finally folded in 2005 after it turned out it had been run just as badly as the ISL before it.

A major problem for both the Elite league and the BNL was the lack of an independent governing body, the leagues were essentially run by the team owners, who by this time had many old scored that they wished to settle with owners of other clubs, which inevitably resulted in the sport suffering as a result. After the fall of the BNL Fife and Dundee both applied to join the Elite league, their applications were rejected. Fife are one of the most stable teams in British Ice Hockey History, being established in 1938 and still playing today. This caused huge repercussions amongst fans and teams alike. This division was further deepened with the inclusion of Newcastle and Edinburgh, both teams that were deemed by many as being less stable and successful as the flyers, but politically an easier fit for some of the elite league owners.

British Hockey today:

Today British hockey still reels from the rise of professionalism. The Elite league is still the top league in the country and consists of Ten teams, the EPL is now the second level, which has an import limit of 4, then there is the ENL, where players are only paid expenses. Fife and Dundee have returned to play in the Scottish semi-pro leagues after the fall out, with the elite league not an option for political reasons the EPL was also not an option as many teams could not afford to travel this far north each week for games with the size of crowds they attract.

British hockey is in a identity crisis, there is no doubt about that. The gulf between the arena teams and smaller teams has widened, with teams constantly breaking the wage-cap each year in an attempt to boost their crowds at the expense of the smaller teams in the league. The crowds that once flocked to see their local teams are staying away in their thousands, becoming embittered with the whole experience. Teams in both the EPL and Elite league struggle with spiralling wage bills of the larger teams, forcing them to the brink of collapse. My own club the, the Cardiff Devils, have faced the possibility of dissolution at the start of each new season (up until this year, where we have got a great new owner, new to the sport and a breath of fresh air for a fanbase that has become deeply cynical over the last few years). Even the arena teams that used to play in front of sold out arenas now play to mainly empty seats as politics and rising prices have forced fans away from the sport. Many fans have forgotten to enjoy hockey for the wonderful game it is, and while many can not agree on how to move the sport forward in the country the one thing they all agree on is that British ice hockey needs an independent governing body that can actually run the entire set up, not the lame duck we currently have in IHUK that exists solely to keep corrupt owners in owner and let them waste our money settling petty scores. Until this happens hockey in the UK is doomed to flounder in the no-man's land we find it in today.

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Old
10-15-2008, 04:53 AM
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Misty eyed reading that. 3000 nutters regularly filling Hillheads. The mad trips to Solihull, Nottingham, Streatham and Ayr. Going down to the Riverside and winning in the play-offs. Dave Ross fights. Drunken Wembley weekends. And the bench clearence against the Panthers, Christmas 86 - still one of my all-time favourite hockey moments.

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10-15-2008, 03:59 PM
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11-17-2008, 04:03 AM
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Good post. The divisions in the game are so incredibly damaging. Keeping the Fife Flyers out in the cold is like trying to kick Montreal out of the NHL. Would like to see the EIHL and EPL working together more. Guildford and Bracknell are great teams.

Just dont understand why they dont put their personal agendas to one side for the good of the game.

Cardiff's new owner is very promising, hopefully more guys like him can be brought in.

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11-21-2008, 05:09 AM
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I still think we should get an hockey version of the FA cup going in the UK

Big teams battling smaller teams and vice versa, Gives everyone more games in the season and the opportunity to travel more and play at different venues and against different people etc

Just a thought

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11-21-2008, 05:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Steve View Post
I still think we should get an hockey version of the FA cup going in the UK

Big teams battling smaller teams and vice versa, Gives everyone more games in the season and the opportunity to travel more and play at different venues and against different people etc

Just a thought
We'd have to impose an import limit of two on it to make it fair to the ENL teams. Can't see EIHL teams going with that as they just don't have the depth.

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11-30-2008, 04:47 PM
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"As those of you paying attention will know Great Britain were, in pre-WWII days, a power-house in world Ice Hockey. The national team won the Gold medal in the 1936 Winter Olympics, as well as winning the first ever IIHF European tournament."

Not so remarkable since you guyses invented the sport?
Like almost every sport enjoyed by the masses on this earth..

And what happened to English hockey? What does the future look like? Brighter, darker?

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12-02-2008, 07:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by geeeyb View Post
"As those of you paying attention will know Great Britain were, in pre-WWII days, a power-house in world Ice Hockey. The national team won the Gold medal in the 1936 Winter Olympics, as well as winning the first ever IIHF European tournament."

Not so remarkable since you guyses invented the sport?
Like almost every sport enjoyed by the masses on this earth..

And what happened to English hockey? What does the future look like? Brighter, darker?
I could post about 2000 words, but will try to keep it brief.

English hockey has, and still does, suffer from a lack of funding and facilities. The ice time available is limited and usually at inappropriate times. Compare this to other sports, like football, it can't compete. Never will.

The future is looking up as we have placed the focus on developing our home grown players. The old Superleague was a fantastic league that was great to watch, but had little benefits to the future of our development system.

We now have a minimum of 5 British players per team in our top league (Elite league) and each team has standout Brits. We need to see some youngsters get drafted and missing out on 2010 is tough, but not unexpected.

If kids want to be drafted they need to follow the likes of Thomas Vanek and move over to NA when they are 13/14 otherwise their development is to hampered.

Fingers crossed!

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12-06-2008, 12:27 PM
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Originally Posted by IslesUK View Post
If kids want to be drafted they need to follow the likes of Thomas Vanek and move over to NA when they are 13/14 otherwise their development is to hampered.
Okok, it is that bad.. On the other hand Sweden/Finland is also an alternative, just 1/2h fly-time from London.

Everything needed to form a great NHLer exists here aswell!
Europe is always Europe

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12-07-2008, 05:02 PM
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Originally Posted by geeeyb View Post
Okok, it is that bad.. On the other hand Sweden/Finland is also an alternative, just 1/2h fly-time from London.

Everything needed to form a great NHLer exists here aswell!
Europe is always Europe
Or Scandanavia! Up to the 13/14 kids our elite kids can cope with the competition but after that it hampers their development! I hope to see British players moving to Europe to develop their game in the near future!

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12-07-2008, 05:33 PM
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SthlmNYI
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Originally Posted by IslesUK View Post
Or Scandanavia! Up to the 13/14 kids our elite kids can cope with the competition but after that it hampers their development! I hope to see British players moving to Europe to develop their game in the near future!
Hah, what? Scandinavia is always Scandinavia?
Finland is not included in Scandinavia though, that would be the Nordics

You make sure brittish moms and dads send their sons here at the age of 13/14 then, and we'll have a super brit in the NHL in the near future!


Last edited by SthlmNYI: 12-08-2008 at 02:55 AM.
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12-10-2008, 06:12 PM
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British people and families have a very different attitude to those Continental Europe / Scandinavia. Its unusual to consider leaving the country and go somewhere that may not speak English. That culture holds back the sports development. In handball they set up a camp in Denmark where the best coaches and players are.

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12-10-2008, 06:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gwyddbwyll View Post
British people and families have a very different attitude to those Continental Europe / Scandinavia. Its unusual to consider leaving the country and go somewhere that may not speak English. That culture holds back the sports development. In handball they set up a camp in Denmark where the best coaches and players are.
Well.. Every swede talks an understandable english when they're 15yrs old, and there are English schools in all major cities. The same goes with Finland.

How could it hold back development, when there is no or rather a minimal development/no future? As that guy mentioned earlier on. I realize you're not leaving your country for interests in football, because you pretty much got the best over there. But a serious youngster who wants to play hockey at a high level in the future?

Then again, look at Thomas Vanek. He moved to NA from Austria in young years and is nowadays one of the best scorers in the entire NHL.

Scandinavian/Continental Europe attitude. There is a Scandinavian and a Continental Europe attitude, they shouldn't be merged.

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12-11-2008, 04:23 PM
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What I mean is that it's very common for Scandinavians and Continentals to learn other languages and cross borders easily for economic and leisure reasons. The British, partly because English is so widespread, are not so linguistically inclined and as an island, tend not to cross borders as part of everyday life. Its a big thing to do so.

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12-27-2008, 06:57 PM
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12-27-2008, 06:58 PM
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Who is this Josh you speak of?

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03-09-2009, 05:12 PM
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Just a quick question from a Canadian who may be moving to Liverpool in the Fall.
What would be some equivalent levels of hockey between GB and Canada?
Specifically, What's the skill level like in the EPL and what would the collegiate levels be compared to?

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03-12-2009, 05:19 AM
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I'm not really up on my Canadian hockey outside the NHL / OHL. However in NA standards the Elite League (EIHL) is of a similar standard to the CHL in terms of top end talent (with a few ECHLers thrown in to the mix) but with less depth. The old ISL used to be up there with the ECHL / AHL in terms of top end talent. The falling pound has hit us hard this year in terms of attracting better players to the league and where-as a few years ago most of the top talent came from ECHL most now comes from CHL. The EPL is the 2nd league in the country, has a 4 import limit and is pretty poor standard in terms of talent and depth, with most teams playing 2 line hockey, most players play for expenses only and so I wouldn't try compare it to any NA pro league. In Liverpool your closest Elite League (EIHL) team will be Manchester, who play out of a small semi-permanent rink in Altringham, though it suffers from bad sight line problems.

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03-14-2009, 02:56 PM
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Hmm, interesting. I'm by no means a pro but by the sounds of it I could play collegiate hockey fairly easily. I wouldn't want to stop playing when I go over. So it sounds like the CHLers who can't get signed to AHL or ECHL contracts go to the EIHL. That's kind of sad to me, but I would still rather play hockey than watch some great live hockey so it's not too disheartening. Thanks for the information Iceraider.
Do you know much about college hockey? I'm looking specifically at the Liverpool Hope University club. If the high end talent in the EIHL is chl/echl players and there are three of four steps inbetween that and collegiate, I would assume that the college level would be fairly easily attainable for me. I know you can't comment because you don't know my level but have you ever seen any of the college clubs play?

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03-15-2009, 05:08 PM
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I know there are some college teams of various standards and histories. Oxford and Cambridge have one of the oldest hockey varsity game in the world and the two Sheffield universities have a decent varsity too. I haven't seen a lot of uni hockey apart from Cardiff playing a few times but I know Gb did ice a team in the recent universiad and lost heavily but were playing the likes of Canada and the Czechs. I'd imagine you'd have no problems playing on a college team as most players are beginners / rec level.

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04-07-2009, 10:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iceraider View Post
Rivalries with Nottingham and Sheffield taking centre stage as they duked it out in their full arenas. One memorable meeting resulted in one of the most controversial brawls in British hockey (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ioyQi-rb1DM well worth a watch) with 100s of penatly minutes dished out and players banned left right and centre.
What a classic fight!!

Great post by the way.


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06-12-2009, 06:10 AM
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Didn't your 1936 team consist of Canadian ex-pats?

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06-12-2009, 08:02 AM
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Didn't your 1936 team consist of Canadian ex-pats?
Well most of the team consisted of British-born players who'd moved to Canada at a very young age and learned their hockey there. There were also two Canadian born players, one British trained player who only played in one game and the captain learned to play hockey while at boarding school in Switzerland and Germany. But all the players were playing in the British league at the time.

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06-13-2009, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by daveateam View Post
Well most of the team consisted of British-born players who'd moved to Canada at a very young age and learned their hockey there. There were also two Canadian born players, one British trained player who only played in one game and the captain learned to play hockey while at boarding school in Switzerland and Germany. But all the players were playing in the British league at the time.
That 2 - 1 would have been a 12 - 1 in the other direction had Canada been able to field its best league players.

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06-13-2009, 08:25 PM
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Originally Posted by jjfrap View Post
That 2 - 1 would have been a 12 - 1 in the other direction had Canada been able to field its best league players.
Things were complety different then, Canada was represented by the Allan Cup champions at the time instead of a team made up of the best amateur players available from all teams, so you could say it was the fault of a lack of a proper national team structure.
But it was over 70 years ago and it was Britain's only major ice hockey world title and its greatest moment, so why do you have to belittle it when you've won seven gold medals for god's sake. Can't you be happy with that?

Oh, and when I was checking it turns out only one member of the team was born in Canada, not two, I must have remembered wrongly.

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