Michael Black runs Coast to Coast which is an independent blog that is solely dedicated to the United Kingdom’s National Ice Hockey League. The NIHL is seen as a third tier stepping stone to the EPIHL and EIHL. It’s also features stars from years past on the tail end of their careers. Here’s an interesting look at the state of hockey in the NIHL and a look at the Blackburn Hawks.
March Hockey: Where are you located and how did you get into hockey?
Michael Black: I’m based in Blackburn – around 30 miles north of Manchester. I’d always been a fan of the NHL and when Blackburn Arena opened in 1991 I started watching the Hawks. There was a steady stream of quality imports back then – Fred Perlini, Oleg Sinkov, Steve Chartrand to name a few. It was impossible not to get hooked.
MH: What makes you cover a league like the NIHL instead of the pro leagues?
MB: I initially started Coast to Coast as a blog covering just the Hawks. Interest in the site from around NIHL quickly grew, so I took the decision to expand the coverage across the whole league. During the season the site also includes content from the Elite League and EPL, but the main focus is NIHL North with some NIHL South too. In just over two years the site has grown from nothing to around 10,000 hits per month. While there were plenty of people covering the bigger leagues, coverage of NIHL wasn’t great. I’d like to think Coast to Coast has gone some way to filling that gap in the market and help increase exposure of the sport at a lower level.
MH: Who’s the best player you’ve seen come out of the NIHL?
MB: The Whitley Warriors team who swept the board in 2010 and 2011 were a quality outfit. Two players who stood out were Adam Reynolds and Karl Culley. However, Canadian Dan Nadeau made a huge impact during the 2006/07 season with Flintshire Freeze – almost single-handedly getting them to the play-offs at the expense of the Hawks. He had two penalty shots in a crucial game at Blackburn Arena and gave our defence the run around all night.
MH: Who’s one player on the Blackburn Hawks who stands out and why?
MB: It’s difficult to pick out someone who stands out, as the team tends to be greater than the sum of its parts. Danny Brittle is a quality netminder who can be a match-winner when he keeps his head on the game, while Dan MacKriel was probably the difference maker when it came to winning last season’s play-offs.
MH: Is there enough support for the league?
MB: There’s a mix of teams with decent sized fan bases and some who are development teams for clubs higher up the scale. Hawks and Billingham Stars generate the biggest crowds. In terms of growing the audience I believe all the clubs should do more in terms of trying to sell the product to the younger generation. I’d like to see them adopt a “Kids for a Quid” entrance strategy to try and attract the fans of the future.
MH: How do you think Blackburn’s upcoming season will turn out?
MB: Although Hawks did well to finally win a trophy, they finished a massive 23 points behind Solway Sharks during the regular season. At the moment they’ve still to announce their completed roster, but have just secured the services of EPL forward Adam Brittle from MK Lightning. He’ll be a class act in NIHL. The club have also recently announced a major new sponsorship deal which hopefully will see them really kick on. After winning the play-offs the next step has to be the league title – hopefully they’ve got the ambition to make it happen.
If you’re a passionate hockey fan and want to feature your team or league, I want to hear from YOU! Find me on twitter, @MarchHockey or drop me a line on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/marchhockey