Revisiting the age old topic: development of hockey in the UK

index2THE BRITISH ARE COMING, THE BRITISH ARE COMING!

…..or not. The powers that be of the Elite Ice Hockey League came out of a meeting that will input some rule changes starting in the upcoming season. In a nut shell, here they are:

“As from the upcoming season (2014-15), the number of non British-trained players will rise from 11 to 12, but the amount of work-permit players will remain at 11.

The number of non British-trained players will rise to 13 in season 2015-16 and 14 in season 2016-17, with the amount of work-permit players again remaining at 11.

Elite League chairman, Tony Smith, said: “The league agreed that there is a shortage of top-level British players, which keeps the Elite League from being outstanding across the 10 teams.With the demand of the indigenous British player higher than ever in all leagues, and with the potential for EU/dual-national players to develop into national-team players, it was felt this gradual increase would be beneficial to all.”

Oh boy.

There’s two sides to every story and every decision. Let’s try and decipher the other side of the coin before I go into what we already know.

Hockey when you strip off everything until its very first layer is a business. First and foremost above anything else it’s a business. Hockey turned professional back in the early 1900s in order to capitalize revenue on a growing spectator sport and to attempt to control the act of paying star players under the table. Two leagues, the Federal Amateur Hockey League and the Canadian Amateur Hockey League amalgamated in 1905 for this very reason. It was the very beginnings of the National Hockey League that we all know and love today. What does this have to do with the EIHL you ask?

(Photo: Scott Wiggins. www.scottwiggins.co.uk)
(Photo: Scott Wiggins. http://www.scottwiggins.co.uk)

Simple. Imported players are more talented than your British ones, it’s no secret. Talent on the ice means people in the seats; people in the seats means money in the pockets. Before you jump on the greedy owners campaign (which you’re right for the most part), more money allows the EIHL to continue on as a league. The EIHL is not near anywhere stable enough to get by on British talent alone no matter how many players you ice. This rule change gives the league a bit of a safety net for the next couple years in order for you to enjoy the game and the league.

I know about the owners and how deep some of their pockets are. I realize some don’t work in the best interests of the players but years from now if the league is still thriving, this rule change will just be a blimp on the radar. Now, there’s a separation between the English teams and the Scottish teams but that’s a whole separate topic altogether that I will visit in the upcoming weeks.

Photo: Richard Crothers
Photo: Richard Crothers

Now, on the flip side, this spells trouble for young Brits wanting to play and excel at our favourite game. We all know the downsides of icing more imported players then Brits, that much is clear. What needs to be implanted in some kind of way (god knows how), is a junior developmental league.

Keep your EIHL as the top national league like it already is. Get the EPIHL to act as a farm team to the Elite league. Lower that import limit a bit and start developing your Brits. Use the NIHL as a feeder system to the EPIHL. The NIHL is mostly all Brits if not all to begin with, it’s absolutely perfect and makes sense to see this tier system in place on paper.

On paper right? Implemented in theory is another story. Here’s where we get into the battle of ice time, less rinks, not enough equipment and well, not enough money. Hockey is just not a big enough sport in the UK to have these things viable. You know how that’s going to change? With more awareness.

How do you get more awareness? More people to get involved in your most watched league, the EIHL. Yes, I know, it’s sad to say but it’s absolutely true. In the long scheme of things this rule change may do a heck of a lot of good for the league. When you actually take the time to step back and look at the wider picture it somehow makes sense.

McPherson v Swindon 180212Now developing your players for the national team can work in the same way. Develop them in the EPIHL. The EPIHL has a huge opportunity here to become a CHL (Canadian Hockey League) if you will and be used as a huge commodity and buffer of young British players. The players are there and the support is on its way, people just need to made more aware of this sport and that’s up to the fans.

The Braehead Clan are doing something similar on their own. They’re creating a farm/junior system  to develop the future British stars of the Clan. Brilliant move and it can’t be applauded enough. If every owner and team did this, I wouldn’t be writing this damn article.

The biggest problem I see with everybody’s comments on social media is that everybody wants Team GB to be superstars and win gold medal RIGHT NOW. Yes, I realize you’re impatient but put on the brakes. Icing a competitive team to win gold doesn’t happen over night.

20 years from now this rule change might be a huge catalyst into how it shapes the culture and future in the sport of hockey in the UK. The sport is at its first major crossroads. However, it might not. Only time can tell that tale.

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