Getting Drafty: Why The New U20 UK League Means It’s Time To Change The EIHL Signing System

This time last year, I wrote a column arguing that the way forward for UK hockey was to adopt a North American system of drafts and player trades to both shake up player movement within the EIHL and allow a potential route for young British talent to make its way into the EIHL system.

Whilst it was an excellent idea in theory, there was much discussion of the obstacles in place to such a system-for example the ability of young British players to potentially move from one end of the country to another for a development place, the lack of firm wages or contracts, and the difficulty of housing players each year.

The main stumbling block, however, was the widely-fragmented and inconsistent British junior system, which rarely allowed the best young players to compete against the best, leading to tricky evaluation of youngsters actual skill. In short, there was no coherent way for teams to actually assess young talent outside their own systems.

However, as of next season, thanks to the IIHF’s intervention and insistence that without it GB will no longer be allowed to compete in the World Championships, UK hockey will have an elite U20 league, which already has 15 teams committed to icing squads next season, according to IHUK.

This would seem the ideal opportunity to introduce at least a rudimentary “draft” system. I can see it working something like this.

– Players are eligible to be “drafted” after one year in elite U20 system. or at age 19-whichever comes first. This means that young prodigies will be able to become part of a team “system” earlier than 18, but also means that there will be a pool the first year out and there’s no “upper limit” on draftees

– Each EIHL team must have at least 5 U20 players in their “system” each year. This means that, while they may not be the “first” team of the player, they will hold the EIHL rights to their services, and so if they sign with an EPL/NIHL club at any time before the age of 23, then they will considered to automatically be on a “two-way” contract, much as the two-ways work in the North American system, and can be called up/sent down to their EIHL teams as necessary, thereby eliminating any chance of EIHL teams playing “short-benched”.

The draft itself will work thusly..

It will consist of five rounds, with each EIHL team being given the opportunity to select 5 players from the U20 league whose EIHL rights they wish to obtain each season. The draft will take place in May.

Draft picks will be allocated the same way as the NHL, with the 10th team in the EIHL having the first pick in each round, and the league champion having the last.

Once a player is selected, they will be considered part of the EIHL roster but will NOT count against any roster limits or salary caps unless they are actually with the team.

Given that the draft age is 19, they’ll be eligible for at least one more year in the U20 league, for the team they currently play for, but can be also called up to the EIHL roster of a squad where necessary. The EIHL team will decide whether their “prospects” play for the U20 team or the EIHL squad. However, they cannot insist a player remains in the U20 league should an EPL/NIHL contract be offered.

Under this system, draft picks can be traded to other EIHL teams during the season for players or other draft picks contracts. They are assets just like players themselves, and are teams to do with as they wish – 

for example, let us say that Nottingham have a surplus of imports – if they wish they can offer one of them to another EIHL team for one or more of their picks the following May.

- Conversely, if an EIHL team wishes to approach and sign a roster player from another EIHL team during the season-they can do so without the player being released first…if they offer one or more draft picks as compensation and this is accepted, The team losing a player would obviously then be able to sign a replacement import if they wished…or call up one of their “pool” of prospects.

The first “draft” would take place at the end of the 2015/16 season, concurrent with the end of the first U20 league season.

Once an EIHL team “owns” a players rights, they have the ability to call an U20 player up for preseason games if they wish to evaluate them. Wages for these U20 players will be set at a “league minimum” while they are with an EIHL team, and will be on a “per-game” basis.

To reiterate…an EIHL team owning player’s rights ONLY means that they have “first call” on that player’s services should they wish to use them and the player is playing within the UK system. It does NOT mean that they can dictate where the player plays outside of the EIHL, that they can prevent them going abroad to further their game – nor which contracts they can or cannot sign. As said earlier, should an prospect sign for an EPL/NIHL team before the age of 23, he will be considered to be on a “two-way” contract with the EIHL team holding his rights. Should they sign for a team abroad, the EIHL team holding their rights will have “first call” on their services should they wish to return to the UK.

When players reach the age of 23, the EIHL club holding their rights must sign them to an “official” contract in the following offseason if they haven’t already done so, or they become unrestricted free agents, with no further link to the team that drafted them.

As soon as a player signs an “official” contract (not a two-way, but as a pro player with an EIHL team), they become that team’s asset and are treated like any other roster player with regards to pay, housing etc.

This is a slightly modified version of the North American draft system – and under this system, a young British player who gets drafted is effectively guaranteed a link with an EIHL team until the age of 23. It means that teams at the top tier of the sport suddenly have the chance to lock up the rights to far more young UK talent while also having the ability to allow it to develop before signing. If used right, it shows young Brit players a clear path to the top of the sport in the UK and offers a more concrete way for all leagues to develop young British talent.

The creation of an elite U20 league is an excellent first step in development. But there needs to be a path beyond that to the top of the sport in the UK. This system is one way to give young players that path. If it’s implemented properly.

EIHL Number Crunch, 3 Weeks To Go: Falling Dominos

These girls fall like dominos, dominos”

The Big Pink: “Dominos”

Now we’re really getting into the business end of the season. Three weekends to go until the EIHL league title is awarded once and for all and the playoff quarter-finals are set, less than a week until the Challenge Cup Final, and a game on Wednesday night between Sheffield and Braehead that could, potentially, be the night the Clan put one hand firmly on the Monteith Bowl. We should also start to see things narrow down as games become do-or-die both in the title and playoff races…indeed this weekend we saw the first team officially eliminated from the EIHL playoffs as the sword of Damocles finally fell upon the Dundee Stars to put them out of their PO chase misery. So-let’s have a look at the league table right now:

LEAGUE TABLE

1. BRAEHEAD. Games Played 46, Pts 67. Games Remaining 6. Max Pts Total, 79

2. SHEFFIELD: GP 45, Pts 62. GR 7, Max Pts 76

3. CARDIFF: GP 45 Pts 62, GR 7, Max Pts 76

4, NOTTINGHAM: GP 46, Pts 56, GR 6, Max Pts 68

5. BELFAST: GP 47, Pts 55, GR 5, Max Pts 65 

6. FIFE: GP 47, Pts 44, GR 5, Max Pts 54

7. COVENTRY GP 46, Pts 44, GR 6, Max Pts 58

8. HULL GP 43, Pts 41, GR 9, Max Pts 59

9. EDINBURGH: GP 45 Pts 39, GR 7, Max Pts 53

10. DUNDEE: GP 46, Pts 28, GR 6, Max Pts 40

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Winners:

COVENTRY: Another win against Sheffield makes it 7 in their last ten..the Blaze are hitting form at just the right time as the race for the playoffs hots up. With three games against Hull and 1 against Edinburgh in their remaining 6, the Blaze are now in an excellent position to lock up PO qualification relatively easily-they can still finish as high as 5th, too, although that would require a collapse of epic proportions from Belfast.

BRAEHEAD: The Clan not only ended Nottingham’s title hopes this weekend, they also put something of a dent in Sheffield’s, although Wednesday’s tilt against the Steelers is more important still…win that and they will be 7 points clear of the Steelers with only 12 possibly available. They’ll also do Cardiff a MASSIVE service in their own title race as it’ll give the Devils an opening to overtake the South Yorkshire side. Speaking of which:

CARDIFF: The Devils benefited massively from Sheffield’s loss this weekend-they’re now neck and neck with the Steelers with only one regulation win less meaning they sit 3rd and not 2nd…a stat that could change this weekend.

Losers

HULL: The Stingrays destiny is still very much in their own hands, but those games in hand are beginning to disappear without being taken advantage of-at the moment the game on March 10th v Edinburgh, plus three games against Coventry, looms massively in their future…all of these are must-wins if they’re to hope for a PO spot-a 9-2 thumping against Sheffield won’t help things, either.

SHEFFIELD: That loss to Coventry is a stinger-it allows Cardiff to gain on them and also drops another two points on Braehead above them. The Steelers are still in the title race…but winning it just got a little harder. Lose to Braehead on Wednesday, and it’ll become a Herculean feat to overhaul the 7 point gap.

DUNDEE: The Stars have fallen. This weekend saw them officially confirmed as out of the PO race, as they’d need to win all their remaining games-even then, the highest they can finish is 9th with Hull now on 41 points in 8th. There are three weeks left but the Stars already know they won’t be playing in the postseason this year.

So, that done. What are ‘tthe positions in the race both for POs and the title? Let’s look…but first, a reminder of the definitions:

GP – Total games played

P – Current points total

GR – Games Remaining.

PtsB – Points Behind Leader

PtsA – Points ahead of 9th place (PO race)

GTE – Games To Elimination – the number of games a team has left before it is mathematically unable to overtake either the leader (title race) or team in 8th (playoff race)

GTQ – GTQ To Qualification – number of games required (assuming that they have the same result as the nearest challengers below them in all) to guarantee either a team cannot be overtaken, either at the top of the table (title race) or finish lower than 8th place (PO race).

Here we go:

THE TITLE RACE

1. Braehead: GP 46, P 67, GR 6, GTE 6, GTQ 3 (will become 2 if beat Sheffield on Weds.) 

2. Sheffield: GP 45, P 62, GR 7, PtsB 5, GTE 4, WTQ 6

3. Cardiff: GP 46, P 62, GR 6, PtsB 5, GTE 4, WTQ 6

4, Nottingham: GP 46, Pts 56, GR 6, PtsB 11, GTE 1, WTQ 6. Any point for Braehead on Weds night will mean they can no longer win the title.

5. BELFAST: GP 47, Pts 55, GR 5, PtsB 12, GTE -1. BELFAST ARE ELIMINATED FROM TITLE CONTENTION 

All of the teams above have now officially qualified for the EIHL POs

Braehead are still very much in the driving seat here-there’s a huge night live on Premier Sports on Wednesday as they face the Steelers at home in a big night at Ice Sheffield…with the Steelers playing four of their remaining 7 games against their title rivals (three of them v Cardiff) this game could be make or break for their title ambitions. The Devils, meanwhile, will be watching and waiting to seize on any weakness shown by the two teams above them.

THE PLAYOFF RACE

6. Fife: GP 47, Pts 44, PtsA 5, GR 5, GTE 5, GTQ 5

7. Coventry: GP 46, Pts 44, PtsA 5, GR 6, GTE 6, GTQ 6

8. HULL GP 43, Pts 41, PtsA 2, GR 9, GTE 9, WTQ 6 

9. EDINBURGH: GP 45 Pts 39, GR 7, PtsB 2, GTE 6, WTQ 7

10. DUNDEE: GP 46, Pts 28, GR 6, Max Pts 40 – DUNDEE ARE ELIMINATED FROM POs

Right now, any one of four teams can still miss out on the playoffs, but it’s these last three weeks where we’ll see the picture change radically…we won’t start to see teams qualify for the POs until at least the penultimate weekend of the season in this group. Fife’s position is looking a little more precarious now, as all the teams below them have games in hand-they’ll need to finish strongly to avoid any last-day nerves. Hull, too, will be a little nervous. Coventry, on the other hand, have four of their last 6 games against their three PO rivals-three of them are against the Stingrays. However…lose to the Capitals at the Skydome this weekend, and the jitters just may start to come back a little.

Hull make up two of their three games in hand on their PO rivals this week, facing Nottingham on Wednesday night and Fife on Sunday (in the only league game that day thanks to the Challenge Cup Final) – Saturday sees a very big night in this race as the four teams meet each other, so we could see big changes in this picture next week.

It’s getting serious now. The amply-fed lady isn’t singing, but she has arrived at the concert hall. Potentially, next week could see not just one, but two titles awarded by the end of it.

EIHL Number Crunch: Twists, Turns And Titanic Tasks: 4 Weeks To Go

One thing this EIHL season has taught us…nothing is certain. After another week of twist and turns, the title picture and playoff races are both no clearer, with all manner of permutations still possible at both the top and bottom of the table. Before we take a look at the current state of play-a quick explanation of the abbreviations:

GP – Total games played

P – Current points total

GR – Games Remaining.

PtsB – Points Behind Leader

GTE – Games To Elimination – the number of games that a team can lose before it is mathematically unable to overtake either the leader (title race) or team in 8th (playoff race)

WTQ – Wins To Qualification – number of wins required to guarantee either a team cannot be overtaken, either at the top of the table (title race) or finish lower than 8th place (PO race). 

Done that? Good. Let’s look at the current state of play in the EIHL, shall we?

LEAGUE TABLE

1. BRAEHEAD. Games Played 44, Pts 63. Games Remaining 8. Max Pts Total, 79

2. SHEFFIELD: GP 43, Pts 60. GR 9, Max Pts 78

3. CARDIFF: GP 44 Pts 60, GR 8, Max Pts 76

4, NOTTINGHAM: GP 43, Pts 54, GR 9, Max Pts 72

5. BELFAST: GP 45, Pts 53, GR 7, Max Pts 67 

6. FIFE: GP 45, Pts 42, GR 7, Max Pts 56

7. COVENTRY GP 45, Pts 42, GR 7, Max Pts 56

8. HULL GP 40, Pts 39, GR 12, Max Pts 63

9. EDINBURGH: GP 43 Pts 39, GR 9, Max Pts 57

10. DUNDEE: GP 44, Pts 25, GR 8, Max Pts 41

Thanks to Coventry’s four point weekend against Sheffield and Nottingham and Cardiff’s continuing form to name but two, there’s been some big swings this week…

WINNERS

CARDIFF/BRAEHEAD: The weekend couldn’t have gone better for both these teams in the title race. With both grabbing a four-point weekend and all three other teams in the title race losing at least once, these two made the most gain…the Devils opening up a six-point gap in third and overhauling the gap on Sheffield above them, while Braehead maintain their three-point advantage at the top.

COVENTRY: Another four-point weekend, this time v Sheffield and Nottingham, has caused them to leapfrog up to seventh in the table and open up a three point gap on the chasing teams. With three games against Hull and one against Edinburgh still to come, the Midlanders can seal their playoff place before the final day with wins in three out of four of those games irrespective of their Erhardt results.

EDINBURGH: Those games in hand are looking more and more crucial, but VITAL wins in Belfast and against PO rivals Hull could be crucial come the end of the season.

LOSERS

BELFAST: This weekend saw the Giants lose their grip on the Monteith Bowl. While they can still mathematically win it, a gap of ten points means that they can effectively only lose one more game while the teams above them have to lose all theirs. Sorry, Giants. There’ll be a new champion this year.

NOTTINGHAM: A loss to Coventry now means they’re six points back from third place-it’s points they couldn’t afford to drop. Friday’s game against Braehead may be their last chance to remain in the title race-lose that and, like Belfast, the eight-point gap may be far too much to overcome.

HULL: Those games in hand are dropping all the time and other teams around them are winning. The Stingrays are still in with a decent chance of PO qualification, but those three games against Coventry could make or break their PO chances.

So-with all that assessed, how does it affect the races in the EIHL?

THE TITLE RACE

1. BRAEHEAD: Pts 63. Games Remaining 8, QUALIFIED FOR POs

2. SHEFFIELD: Pts 60, GR 9, Pts Behind 3, GTE 8, QUALIFIED FOR PO’s

3. CARDIFF: Pts 60, GR 8, PtsB 3, GTE 8, QUALIFIED FOR PO’s

4. NOTTINGHAM: Pts 54, GR 9, PtsB 9, GTE 4, WTQ 2

5. BELFAST: Pts 52, GR7, PtsB 11, GTE 2, WTQ 3

THE PO RACE

6. FIFE:  Pts 42, GR 7, WTQ 5

7. COVENTRY: Pts 42, GR 7, WTQ 5

8. HULL: Pts 39, GR 12, WTQ 11

9. EDINBURGH: Pts 39, GR 9. GTE 9

10. DUNDEE: Pts 25, GR 8, GTE 1

Compare this to last week and we can see that Fife and Coventry have both gained a little extra breathing space in terms of cames they can “afford” to lose, while Hull have lost their space by dropping a game. At the top, Cardiff have sealed their playoff spot this week and also improved their title chances slightly, while Nottingham and Belfast are all but out of the race except in a mathematical, theoretical sense. Meanwhile the axe is hanging over Dundee…drop just one more point this weekend and they officially become the first team this season eliminated from the playoff race.

Braehead v Nottingham this weekend could also go a big way to putting the Panthers title hopes to bed if the Clan win, while Sheffield continue to fight on despite missing all three of their regular goalies through injury at the moment-can they overcome the injury bug?

Edinburgh use one of their “games in hand” on Coventry this Saturday in Fife while Hull use two as they play three times this weekend to Blaze’s one (Coventry will no doubt be watching all these results very closely indeed)-in a weekend that could see potentially the most dramatic shift in the EIHL picture yet.

CHALLENGE CUP

Before that, though, there’s the little matter of the second Challenge Cup semi final to conclude. Last night saw one of the stories of the season as Sheffield overhauled a two-goal deficit from their first leg with Nottingham to knock the Cup holders out-and they did it all with Nottingham-born-and-bred youngster Sam Gospel in net as emergency cover for the three injured Steelers goalies.

That will give heart to Coventry tonight, who travel to Cardiff having to win by at least  three goals in the BBT-a feat that only one team has managed all season, and that only once. To compound the size of the task facing them, the Blaze hav only won once by a multiple-goal margin at all, home or away since Chuck Weber took over-that was Braehead in the CC Quarter Final. Their away record v Erhardt teams this season, incidentally….3-13.

Meanwhile, the Devils are on a roll-and with Andrew Lord already saying “this is the biggest game he’s been involved in in Cardiff” there’s no question they’re up for the fight. The Blaze are travelling in hope, but this is a hell of a task for them that dwarfs even that comeback in the quarter-finals.

Game on.

Not For Everyone 2: Why the EIHL NEEDS to Wake Up To What It’s Doing

Last week, I wrote a post on inclusivity in the EIHL and how the atmosphere around the EIHL was deteriorating and ruining the experience for many. I particularly cited its stance on anti-LGBTQ and misogynistic behaviour, and how it was driving fans away. I also cited some tweets from hockey fans that showed the effect it was having. After I wrote that post, I got asked if I could post this. This is a guest post that every EIHL owner needs to read. It shows just what impression many fans get of the EIHL, and just how people are being effected by the way the EIHL is marketing itself and just how insiduous the “family friendly” lie really is. 

It is from Kerrie. She is my fiancée. Not that that should matter to anyone when you read the post, as the same thing is happening to fans all over the EIHL. Whether the “in-crowd” want to admit it or not-this is a blog that all of the EIHL needs to read.

My name is Kerrie, and several years ago I swore I’d never write a hockey blog again.

I wrote a post that garnered a very negative reaction. In hindsight, I now realise that the pos may not have been very well thought out, and have since apologised personally for it to whom it may concern. However, that did not excuse the reaction. For every person criticising the post purely in hockey terms, there were five insulting my appearance, my mental health and my ability to be left unsupervised. You think of the most base, horrible language used, it was used.

But that was years ago, right? Things will have changed for the better by now, right?

No.

The Elite League has a bullying problem and a discrimination problem. It always has, and it is not going anywhere. It’s only gotten worse lately – the blog I wrote was just before the boom in social media, and that boom has exacerbated the problem.

People have opinions about their teams. People have other, differing ones. A lot of the time these can be discussed civilly and that’s that, but in a social media age it’s different. You can be dragged through the mire easier than ever before, by people who you’ve never met but who REALLY need you to know you’re mentally ill and shouldn’t be allowed outside because of your opinions on hockey.

I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that one of the most prominent mouthpieces in UK hockey uses bullying language himself. The one with the biggest reach and audience of all. He does it, so it must be fine. A man who has tweeted bigotry (“go back to Pakistan” is a racist comment, no matter how you want to dress it up), homophobia and requests for pictures of fit girls in skimpy clothes for an Ice Girls contest which may or may not have existed.

Now, you’re already aware of all this, and you’re probably thinking “who cares? Who really gets upset by that?” Well… the majority of hockey fans in the UK aren’t upset by it because they aren’t in any sort of minority. They’re perfectly happy to turn a blind eye to it, as long as nobody swears in front of a child because hockey is really big on its family sport gimmick but it’s perfectly alright to yell “FAGGOT” at an opposing player (and defend such comments on club forums, as happened on a now-deleted thread on a club forum only last week). That absolutely is not worse than swearing.

Consider, for a minute, if you’re female, queer, and indeed mentally ill (I suffer from clinical depression). I am all of these things. Queer is how I describe myself by the way, so please don’t try and tell me what I should describe myself as.

As a queer woman, I have had to listen to more players being called “gay” as an insult than I can count. I have winced until my face hurt as I listened to why a team couldn’t sign up to the You Can Play project because it “might alienate people”.

As a mentally ill woman, I have listened to a GM of the biggest team in the league make jokes on a TV broadcast about mental illness, I have heard the word “retard” thrown around like a volleyball, and I have heard “if you’re depressed, why don’t you jump off a bridge?” from a random person.

As a woman, I have been told that I can’t find a middle aged bloke asking for pictures of nubile young girls in the name of hockey cause for concern because I am too ugly to be an ice girl myself. I am told that the man behind one of the most beloved EIHL twitter accounts would rather sleep with a bag of used needles than sleep with me, even though I don’t recall sleeping with him ever being on the cards.

It goes on, and on. Using mental illness to bully. Using gay and all and sundry similies as a slur. Even down to using “woman” as an insult. Unfounded alcoholism jokes about a coach in the EIHL every week from the most popular EIHL fan humour accounts? We got those!

It doesn’t effect you, though. So why should you care? Because it might affect the person sat next to you. It might affect their kid. It might be keeping someone away who loves hockey but doesn’t feel welcome. Just because you don’t care, just because you think it’s a bit of a joke and people need to be less sensitive… doesn’t mean we all think that way.

People say “you can’t expect the real world to pander to you!” – I’m well aware of that, having lived in that real world for almost 33 years. That isn’t what I’m calling for. What I’m calling for is for people in the UK to feel safe at hockey games. The other one I hear a lot is “you can’t speak out and be noticeable if you don’t want comments!” How absurd is that – it’s on YOU, the one in the minority, to keep quiet so that people don’t abuse you, keeping the silence around it going so nothing changes, everyone continues to think they’re alone and nobody in charge has to lift a finger to help progress? No thanks. This responsibility is NOT on me.

What really gets me about inclusivity is that the EIHL has nothing whatsoever to lose by promoting it. They already promote a family friendly atmostphere, but in reality these days games are anything but. Just because you’re tough on swearing, it doesn’t mean hockey is any safer a space. If you’re going to crack down on swearing though, how difficult is it to try to stop the other kinds of abuse mentioned? You can police people swearing but you can’t police them saying “fag”? Dubious. Hard to believe.

I know what you’re thinking. All sports have problems like this! Yeah, they do – you’d have to be very naive indeed to not realise that football in particular has a massive racism problem. But I’m not writing about football, I’m writing about UK hockey. You would think a minority sport that relies so much on attendences staying decent would go out of its way to be more inclusive. You would think a minority sport wouldn’t be so dismissive of minorities.

And yet it is. And yet more and more people don’t feel welcome. And yet more potential new fans are put off. It starts to add up, and when you rely so much on gate receipts and sponsors to stay afloat, you really cannot afford to alienate people.

Oh, yes, that’s right – your sponsors are people too, EIHL. Your potential investors and overseas partners are people. People are diverse. People need to be respected. People, too, who regularly get insulted publicly by club officials with no comeback, as do fans and writers. You don’t have to like everyone. You don’t have to change you opinion, even. You just have to stop tolerating this sort of abuse in your rinks, by YOUR club representatives more than a few times.

If you can’t find it in your diaries or pockets to make sure your fans feel safe, then you’re gambling on the very thing that keeps your clubs afloat.

Not For Everyone: UK Hockey’s Hidden Prejudices, And Why They Should Be Challenged.

I wanted this week to write something positive about UK hockey and the EIHL-to focus on the good work being done to grow the game by passionate people in places like Cardiff and Braehead-the unity of the Cardiff Devils Red Army who invaded Coventry last night for the first leg of their Challenge Cup semi final and took the Skydome by storm with noise, colour and Welsh pride to show all that was best in hockey fandom. Or the efforts of fans to cover the sport with blogs and live-tweeting of games which has grown into a mini cottage-industry…the great work done by people like Laura Duff in Fife, the Frozen Steel MNL team in Sheffield, A View From The Bridge in Belfast or the Cats’ Whiskers team in Nottingham. Last week I wrote extensively about the support for Amy Usher across the EIHL.

All things that are showing UK hockey, and UK hockey fandom, at their best.

Then came Wednesday. A day that brought to the fore once again that despite all the good efforts being made to improve and spread the game, there is still a dark-side to UK hockey fandom-attitudes and prejudices that are seemingly still being allowed to go unchallenged and make a mockery of everything that UK hockey fandom claims about itself.

UK hockey likes to market itself as a family-friendly, inclusive sport. It likes to set itself up as “separate” to sports like football with their aggressive, tribal chanting, occasional violence in the stands and lack of inclusion for anyone who doesn’t happen to be one particular type of sports fan.

UK Hockey, we are told, is a sport where all fans are alike and tolerated equally well, and there are no prejudices. Where the fanbase is one big happy family that never leaves a member behind.

However, it appears that while the #hockeyfamilystickstogether, it doesn’t want to admit some of the members within it exist, or consider their feelings. Especially in the EIHL.

In the last year, we’ve had an EIHL team official in Sheffield claim that a former coach of their team was “mentally disturbed” live on radio, & an owner in Nottingham make fun of those with mental illness live on a TV broadcast by calling a rival “mentally ill” as an insult.

We’ve had tweets asking for “girls who look good in knee-high boots” to “send pictures” to a Sheffield team official in order to apply for a job as a matchnight volunteer which raised a storm from both sexes for being sexist, creepy and unprofessional-to the point where an official complaint was made about the person involved to the club due to the fact that it made fans uncomfortable. Nothing was ever done.

We’ve also had tweets where officials and players in the EIHL and EPL openly admit to casually being racist or making racist references, like these:

IMG_0202 IMG_0075

The one on the left is a pro player for Basingstoke Bison comparing being ginger to being black because apparently ginger is an anagram of a VERY offensive racial epithet, and the one on the right is Sheffield/EIHL representative Dave Simms (a man with a history of controversy, including all the Sheffield incidents mentioned above) admitting to telling a group of Asians to leave Britain to live in Pakistan.

Both tweets are by official representatives of UK hockey clubs, and despite complaints both went unpunished, and indeed were defended by many fans as “not really being offensive”.

Then, last night, casual homophobic jokes were added to the mix:

IMG_0203

Yup. That’s an EIHL league official calling someone “a little gay” as a derogatory term.

Again, nothing has been done about this.

Here is my friend Amy’s reaction to the tweet from Simms last night. Amy is a long time hockey fan. She is also one who, in her own words, is queer. This is how tweets like the one above, and indeed the general atmosphere around UK hockey fandom with popular fan humour accounts regularly still using “gay” as an insult, make her feel about UK hockey:

And she’s not alone. I’ve seen reactions from many of my hockey fan friends all across the gender and sexuality boundaries that say UK hockey’s attitude is actively driving away sections of hockey fandom who don’t feel welcome in the UK game due to either their sexuality, gender or race. A large reason for that is the fact that  prominent people in UK hockey can seemingly say all manner of offensive things on Twitter about race, gender and sexuality without fear of censure-things that would likely be cause for disciplinary action in some cases in any other profession.

Think about that. There are hockey fans out there who don’t feel safe or welcome at games in the UK because of their sexuality. Or gender. Or race. By not acting when offensive things are said, the league is effectively telling them “you don’t count as people. You are not like us”.

I’ve already written about UK hockey’s need to partner with projects such as the You Can Play project in North America, and how homophobia in UK hockey was still a problem last October, after talk of homophobic abuse being shouted from the crowd at a game. I’ve also told how at least one other EIHL team has turned down a proposal to open up a project with YCP-with an official of that club publicly saying that the players at the club voted against doing so because they weren’t happy with it.

However, last night we got more news still-it turns out that YCP have said they’d like the EIHL to work with them. This is one of the biggest independent sports orgs on the planet. Partnership with them would give the EIHL exposure in a positive fashion across hockey and show it as a progressive, caring, inclusive league.

Trouble is, as YCP founder and one of the most powerful people in hockey Patrick Burke explains-the EIHL haven’t bothered:

Let’s get this straight, then. It appears that one of the biggest campaigning organisations for inclusivity in sport in North America has offered the EIHL the chance to form links with it and promote something that will make life better for fans and players across the UK at all levels…and they’ve not responded. What does that tell you?

Yes, this week we’ve seen the good side of UK hockey fandom in the support for Amy Usher in her fight against cancer. But we’ve also seen that when it comes to the EIHL “family”, apparently some people still face a struggle to be part of it and right now, the Elite League doesn’t send the message that it’s doing anything to make hockey the truly inclusive sport it claims it is.

Recently much has been made of British football fans proudly showing racist behaviour in Paris, and once again there’s been round condemnation and much pride from hockey fans over how UK hockey would never allow such attitudes any space in their sport.

Well, sorry, EIHL, but it’s time to get yourselves off that pedestal. While it can’t be denied the vast majority of UK hockey fans would be horrified to be associated with any sport that allowed homophobia, sexism and racism to be a part of its experience or brand image (and indeed the majority of UK hockey fans have condemned the tweets used as examples of such in this piece and are pushing for change), perhaps the fact that a hockey team and sport in the UK still allows a person who’ll publicly and repeatedly make comments encompassing all that on a regular basis to be a prominent face of their sport in the UK without any seeming attempt to prevent them/take retribution doesn’t reflect well on their commitment to inclusivity and tolerance.

It’s time to make sure EVERYONE feels welcome in the UK hockey family. Because right now, like it or not, there are many that still don’t. LGBTQ people. Those with mental illness. Many women. All these groups are seemingly allowed to be mocked without penalty even though they love the sport just as much as anyone.

And that’s tragic. It doesn’t reflect well on the sport, and can only harm it going forward.

It’s time for the EIHL and UK hockey to act. This is not a situation that can continue.

EIHL Number Crunch: Devils’ Dance Floor (5 Weeks To Go)

swing a little more, on the Devil’s dance floor”

Flogging Molly: “Devil’s Dance Floor”

We’re back again, a week nearer the end of the EIHL regular season and thus a week nearer the end of the EIHL title race. For the introduction and an explanation of how these weekly Number Crunch posts work, have a read of the first one from last week.

Done that? Good. Let’s look at the current state of play in the EIHL, shall we?

1. BRAEHEAD. Games Played 42, Pts 59. Games Remaining 10. Max Pts Total, 79

2. SHEFFIELD: GP 41, Pts 58. GR 11, Max Pts 80

3. CARDIFF: GP 42 Pts 56, GR 10, Max Pts 76

4, NOTTINGHAM: GP 41, Pts 54, GR 11, Max Pts 76

5. BELFAST: GP 43, Pts 52, GR 9, Max Pts 70

6. FIFE: GP 43, Pts 40, GR 9, Max Pts 58

7. HULL GP 38, Pts 38, GR 14, Max Pts 66

8. COVENTRY GP 43, Pts 38, GR 9, Max Pts 56

9. EDINBURGH: GP 41, Pts 35, GR 11, Max Pts 57

10. DUNDEE: GP 42, Pts 25, GR 10, Max Pts 45

As you can see, there’s been some changes in the points this time out…let’s first of all look at the big winners/losers from the last week.

WINNERS

CARDIFF: 5 from 6 points in Scotland, including a 3-0 win in Braehead on Saturday, means that they’re suddenly back in the title race with a vengeance.

COVENTRY: A four-point weekend against Belfast at the Skydome has helped them gain some serious ground on the rest of the teams in the race-their destiny is still very much in their own hands and it’s a great start to a run of fixtures against Erhardt opposition that could make or break their chances.

EDINBURGH: 3 points back from Coventry but still with two games in hand, they’ve only lost a point in the race thanks to a vital shootout win against Cardiff on Friday night.

LOSERS

BELFAST: A pointless weekend in Coventry means the Giants, barring some sort of collapse from those above them, had better pack up the Monteith Bowl and prepare it for its new home-their title challenge is all but done.

NOTTINGHAM: A loss to Sheffield not only costs them the chance to gain vital ground on Braehead thanks to the Clan’s loss to Cardiff that same night, but also lets the Steelers and Cardiff jump above them in the table.

So-with all that assessed, how does it affect the races in the EIHL?

THE TITLE RACE

1. BRAEHEAD: Pts 59. Games Remaining 10, QUALIFIED FOR POs

2. SHEFFIELD: Pts 58, GR 10, Pts Behind 1, GTE 9 (games to elimination), QUALIFIED FOR PO’s

3. CARDIFF: Pts 56, GR 10, PtsB 3, GTE 8, GTQ 1

4. NOTTINGHAM: Pts 54, GR10, PtsB 5, GTE 7, GTQ 2

5. BELFAST: Pts 52, GR9, PtsB 7, GTE 5, GTQ 2

(games until elimination or GTE for the title race teams means the number of games remaining until the team can no longer catch the one at the top of the table, assuming the results between that team and the one at the top of the table are the same. GTQ (games until Qualification) will track when they can no longer finish lower than 8th and are thus PO bound)

THE PO RACE

6. FIFE:  Pts 40, GR 9 WTQ 8

7 HULL: Pts 38, GR 14, WTQ 8

8. COVENTRY: Pts 38, GR 9, WTQ 9

9. EDINBURGH: Pts 35, GR 11. GTE 9

10. DUNDEE: GP 42, Pts 25, GR 10, GTE 3

You’ll notice at this end of the table, while all have Wins TQ numbers, only the bottom two teams have “games until elimination”. That’s because we’re measuring the amount of games remaining until they can no longer catch the team currently in 8th place, the lowest PO spot, assuming results for them and the team currently sitting in 8th place are identical for the rest of the season. The GTQ is number of games remaining until they can no longer finish above ninth.

So-in summary, this week has meant that Sheffield have now locked up a PO spot, and Dundee and Belfast are already teetering on the brink of elimination from their respective races. Apart from that, though? it’s anyone’s guess, just the same as it was last week.

The focus moves to Challenge Cup for the semi finals tonight and tomorrow, but league action resumes on Friday. How will it affect the races?

Find out, same time next week.

#ForAmy: Hockey in the UK (And Beyond) Unites Behind One Of Its Own

It may be cold outside, but here’s something that’ll warm the most frozen hockey fan’s heart.

On Friday we told you how one young girl with an incurable cancer had brought out the good side of hockey fandom, as hockey fans across the UK had used social media to send support and good wishes to Sheffield fan Amy Usher in her battle with throat cancer.

However, even her most fervent supports probably couldn’t have imagined just how quickly not just a hockey nation, but the hockey world would take up the fight.

There was a plan for Sheffield fans to chant Amy’s name in the 21st minute of their Saturday night match-a big local derby away in Nottingham (think British hockey’s version of Detroit-Colorado during the heyday of Draper v Lemieux and you’ll have an idea of the passions aroused.) It quickly spread to involve the Nottingham fans too, and…well.

That’s 7,000 people in the biggest arena in Britain chanting Amy’s name. In a frenetic derby between two teams chasing for the league title (the league is considered the premier competition in the UK) Sheffield won by a late goal which took them above their rivals, and the fans left no doubt about who this particular win was dedicated to:

However, it wasn’t just in Sheffield where Amy was given tangible evidence of the support from UK hockey. Down in Coventry, where the Blaze were playing Belfast, both sets of fans showed their support for a fellow hockey fan most of them only knew by name with a minute’s applause:

And in Glasgow, where Braehead were playing Cardiff in another table-topping clash, too, Amy was there in spirit, too:

@braeheadclan #hockeyfamily #hockeyfamilystickstogether #sheffieldsteelers #purplearmy

A video posted by Lyndsey Campbell (@lyndseycampbell) on

In short, the UK hockey family was backing one of its own.

Since then, though, the support has spread worldwide. Former NY Islander and Sheffield Steeler Pascal Morency(probably best known to NHL fans for this preseason fight with Dion Phaneuf), decided that the support needed to go worldwide. So he created a video for Amy featuring hockey fans and teams all over North America and the world, from Zagreb in Croatia to Vancouver and Algeria to Angers. It’s one hell of a piece of work:

 
The Fun Fund set up by another EIHL player and former Steeler, Chris Blight, has now passed £3000 (around $4000) in just four days and is still climbing, too.
All continuing proof that, while the hockey community is often a fractious and argumentative place and (in the online community in particular) there are still all manner of issues to sort out-when it comes together, it can be a real force for good and achieve far more than many in it expect.
Keep fighting, Amy. It would seem that not just the UK, but the whole hockey world, is now with you.