(Photo from www1.skysports.com)
Since the European Trophy changed name to the Champions Hockey League (CHL) has the tournament extended the amount of contenders. Clubs not only from Finnish Liiga, Swedish SHL, German DEL, Swiss NLA, Austrian EBEL the Czech Extraliga and Slovak Extraliga are contributing, also other leagues have taken part in this growing European club-tournament with a team or two: the Norwegian Ligaen, the Danish Ligaen, the French Ligue Magnus, the Italian Serie A and the British EIHL.
Among the new joining teams in the CHL are the English and the EIHL-team Nottingham Panthers. A team that I know by name and reputation but I don’t possess any deeper knowledge about them or the EIHL. But thanks to the CHL I have become myself more curious about the British league. And I saw Nottingham’s games against Luleå Hockey from the SHL and Rauman Lukko from Finnish Liiga.
What is very exciting is that each league that is added in the CHL has its own specific background, history and circumstance, and England and United Kingdom has for sure its own particular situation and challenges that we all have to understand.
Here is a very good example of that:
Sam Skelding from Ice Nation UK, one of the most initiated British web pages about hockey over the world, wrote about the reason why London wouldn’t be able to host an EIHL-team. One of the main reasons would be that London as a city host other elite teams in other sports like football, cricket and rugby also that London is divided into several districts.
He meant also that each part in London have their own traditions, linguistic features and history like East London, and they particularly wouldn’t believe themselves as Londoners, just an East-Londoners, which is a strong reason that makes it more difficult as well to settle a hockey team in London which they could stand behind (Source: An EIHL team in London? Unlikely).
In comparison to London and England, the case in the capitals of Sweden, Finland and Czech republic, is very much different from that as they are holding teams in their domestic leagues.
Maybe it’s because those cities are much smaller and not as divided so clearly as London even if there are also districts and neighborhoods with teams in the highest domestic league: like Helsinki have Helsinki IFK and Espoo Blues, and before this season Jokerit Helsinki were also in Liiga before they joined the KHL.
A conclusion in the London case would be: If no EIHL-team there because of many and varied reasons of difficult nature, it would be then unlikely to construct a KHL-team there as well. So, in other words, the centers with potential to evolve and attract fans to British hockey are to be found elsewhere, like in Nottingham, Sheffield, and Belfast etc.
Interview with Ashley March from March Hockey
I dug deeper though into this and tried to clarify my thoughts and ideas about British hockey, EIHL and the national team.
Ashley March, the award-winning writer from Canada who has great insights about the hockey on the British Isles answered some of my questions I had in mind. Her unique view expanded my own perspectives and I’m sure that you will also be after this aware about things you weren’t before.
Me: So, what is EIHL? Is that a full pro or semi pro league?
Ashley: The Elite Ice Hockey League is a completely full professional hockey league in the United Kingdom. It started when the Super league collapsed. At the moment there are 10 teams competing out of two conferences.
Me: How’s the clubs? May the clubs be considered as pro or semi pro clubs?
Ashley: Well, there’s definitely quite a scale between the top and the low teams in the league. You can tell who has money and who doesn’t but that doesn’t stop the teams from trying to ice the best product possible. However, that’s really the case in any league.
Me: How’s the salary rate? Can players live on the sport or must they work beside the hockey?
Ashley: While I wouldn’t know off hand, players can get by without having to work but it’s hardly anything to write home about. We’re not talking anything close to North American payoffs. A lot work and do things for the club, be it charity work or other things. One nice aspect of the league that attracts players is some teams have deals with local Universities so players can study as they play. I think that’s a fantastic element and one that I would be sold on to come to the EIHL if I were a player.
Me: Are there a lot of imports? And where from?
Ashley: While there is a limit of imports obviously, most of the imports you see in the league are Canadian. There are a few who will trickle in from mainland Europe but that clubs like to recruit players with professional experience and most come from North American teams.
Me: A lot of British players as well? If look at the British players, are they from different backgrounds or quite similar? (In Fin or Swe for example most of the players are nowadays often from affluent families)
Ashley: There are quite a few Brits and they are actually a big part of the clubs lineup. If you want your club to run three or four lines deep with depth you better have yourself some talented Brits on hand. Most have an upbringing similar to Canadians really, they grow up playing the game albeit not as much as we do. They advantage they have though is their close to European tournaments to have scouts looking at you.
Me: How’s is the youth sections?
Ashley: The youth section is on the rise. Team GB is trying it’s hardest to raise up in the IIHF ranks and I think they’ll be able to do that in the next couple years. Young players in Scotland are one’s that I’d keep my eye on however, they’re developing players like there’s no tomorrow.
Me: Are new players coming steady from youth as in junior teams to take place in EIHL?
Ashley: Well, there’s a sort of farm league, the English Premier Ice Hockey League. I say sort of because they’re not used and wasn’t made as a feeder to the EIHL although clubs can pick up players from there. It’s almost like a tier 2 EIHL. Below that is what I would call the “junior” ranks of the UK, the NIHL. So they do have quite a bit of homegrown hockey then most people would think.
Me: Any player who we should look closer and put in mind?
Ashley: Keep an eye on the whole Coventry Blaze team this season. Seriously!
Me: Any player in EIHL who might have a chance to reach the NHL or KHL?
Ashley: Actually, there’s a Brit, Paul Swindlehurst who has earned himself a try out with the Chicago Blackhawks this year! Most players that play in the EIHL, their shot at the NHL has pretty much passed or they’ve played a couple games in the show but remained in the minors. That’s no disrespect to them though. The AHL, ECHL and Central league is still some very competitive hockey.
Me: Who watches hockey in UK? Same fans that appear on rugby, football and the cricket games or are the hockey fans in UK own happy family?
Ashley: It’s the same fans really but the UK hockey family is really tight. However, they’re opening to new fans and are some of the best people, well I can call friends now I’ve ever met.
Me: What are your thoughts about Nottingham Panther’s appearance in the CHL?
Ashley: I think it’s great. Not only for the team itself because the only way you can get better is to play against better teams but for the league itself. The Champions league will give the EIHL some of the exposure it deserves.
Me: Any thoughts about EIHL future? What’s needed to make it evolve to a league that will make people outside UK talk about it like the other leagues as liiga, SHL, DEL, NLA, Czech and Slovak extra liga?
Ashley: A whole overhaul of the people who are in charge of the league needs to happen. I feel like they are afraid of change and just settle. However, money is a major factor and you can’t blame them for that. What I’ve seen though, it just has to put more bums in the seats that will help majorly.
Me: May we see Great Britain in the world championship or/and Olympics within a near or distant future? What must they do to reach those tournaments?
Ashley: No, not anytime soon sadly. They need to be more a focus in developing the youth and the UK needs to implement a farm type system with its league. Until that happens, I don’t really see them jumping that high up until them. A lot of the youth come over to Canada and train at our hockey academies: which is great, but it’s only a handful. If they had that type of training at home, they’d be laughing.
Me: If wish to watch EIHL games, what channel should we look for when it comes to broadcast? Any greater news coverage from the daily newspapers?
Ashley: Premier Sports TV in the UK is your home from hockey. They show a game a week. If you’re anywhere else you can pick up very good streams. I watch streams from here in Canada and it’s great. Each team runs their own webcast for fans to purchase, which is a great way to raise money and support your team. There’s not much coverage from newspapers but I do see that’s changing slowly.
Me: What’s a perfect EIHL evening for a supporter? Is it like in football? Go for a few pints, fish n chips and then go to the hockey game? Are there any fan clubs? Do they chant during the game? How much for a ticket? Is it always full house on the games?
Ashley: Well, first it depends where you are! The fans are rowdy at every game (even if the building isn’t full) and I have yet to hear a chant but that might be because I’m across the pond, haha! Other then that, it’s like seeing any other sporting event live. Have a beer, have some greasy food and scream your head off!
Me: Thank you very much Ashley for contributing to this interview! Much appreciated that you gave us, me and the readers valuable insights about the British ice hockey.
*More about Ashley March you can find through the provided link, there are very initiated hockey articles of various and exciting topics that you wouldn’t like to miss: http://marchhockey.com
*The link to EIHL: http://www.eliteleague.co.uk
*More and other great contents about British hockey and hockey from all over the world you may find at http://icenationuk.com/