Slash And Burn: 5 Changes That Have To Happen to Team GB

Last week, Tony Hand stepped down as team GB ice hockey coach.

After less than two years in charge had seen him take the GB team from where Paul Thompson left it (fast improving and on the way up with a regular place in Div I) to relegation to Div II, it was perhaps unsurprising that he saw fit to resign, particularly under the growing criticisms levelled at both his coach style, the selections, and indeed the team GB setup as a whole. People will point to the Olympic qualifying success, but GB were the top-ranked team in their pre-qualifying group…if they HADN’T made it to final qualifying, it would have been even more of a shock than them making it.

Now GB hockey stands once again at a crossroads, with IHUK advertising for a new coach, the national men’s team in disarray and leaderless, a danger of slipping back into the same “part time coach” pattern, and seemingly no real chance of any change in philosophy in the near future.

So, with that in mind, maybe it’s time for IHUK to show the commitment to improving the GB setup they’re always claiming to have, and rather than repeat the same template they have…destroy it. Slash and burn. And start a genuine new era in Team GB hockey.

Here’s how they do it, in five easy steps.

1.       GET A OUTSIDER IN AS GB COACH

When I say “outsider” I mean a foreign (preferably North American) coach who, and this is the most crucial bit, has had no contact with British hockey before. While there is always something to be said for familiarity and it can’t be denied that possible candidates Corey Neilson and Doug Christiansen are very good EIHL-level coaches, they have jobs already, coaching Nottingham and Sheffield. They also, whether they’re aware of it or not, full of preconceived ideas over who is best to play for GB right now, friendships, rivalries and habits that will affect a GB squad selection. Certainly, they should be retained on GB staff…but as the head coach? No.

2.      MAKE THAT COACH FULL TIME

This feeds into point 1 and away from it. Whilst IHUK will look at Christiansen and Neilson as the front runners for GB coach…they have a day job, which means they may struggle to actually see a wide enough sample of British players, (unless of course they’re playing for or against Nottingham or Sheffield). They have loyalties. And, most obviously, giving someone two teams to run is a hell of a lot of work, especially when you only see most of those players maybe eight times a year…and you’re not concentrating on scouting their games because you’re…um, trying to coach your players.  A full time coach can go to watch the players he wants, when he wants, wherever they are, and whatever league they’re in. And more to the point, he can CONCENTRATE ON WATCHING THEM FULLY. Which is kind of key when you’re trying to work out whether someone would fit on a national team. It’s what scouts do.

3.      NEW BLOOD, NEW RULES.

Look at GB squads over the past few years and you see the same names popping up over and over again like pit ponies being forced to work way beyond their useful life. While nobody can dispute the wonderful service given to their countries by the likes of Jonathan Weaver, it’s time to let them retire to their field in the sun…or, failing that, the knackers’ yard.

There is a lot of young British talent out there-it’s time for names like James Griffin, Josh Batch, Ben Bowns and Matty Davies to be allowed to step into the breach alongside the likes of Rob Lachowicz as part of the Young Lions. Short-term, this may cause the odd defeat. Give it a year or two of international development and all of a sudden there’ll no longer be worries about “lacking experience”.

The older generation like Weaver, Ashley Tait etc have served GB well, but their time is over.

4.      IF YOU CAN PLAY, YOU CAN PLAY

Dual-nationals. They’re a thorny topic in British hockey…you get some saying “you can’t be truly passionate about a country unless you were born there” and others who’ll claim that a team with Canadian (or European) accents in it “isn’t Great Britain”, and “it doesn’t represent our country”.

Funny-this is a problem that never seems to occur to the majority of the nations in the IIHF. Germany have John Tripp (Canadian). Italy (who, let’s not forget, have played many times at the proper World Championships and not the lower-division ones) had six non-Italian-born players on their team for the 2013 event. Even at the lower levels the dual-national is endemic…one of Korea’s top players and assistant captain, for example, is Brock Radunske, born in Kitchener, Ontario.

Dual-nationals are a fact of life in international ice hockey in all but a few of the powerhouse nations. Great Britain simply doesn’t have the talent to compete at anything approaching an elite level without them right now, and it’s time we stopped pretending that we were “defending the game”, acknowledge that a strong national team is one of the few ways that the sport might actually get noticed by the media, and use every weapon at our disposal to make it so. Even if they come with an accent more London (Ontario) than London, England. Anything else is small-minded protectionism for the sake of it.

5. LET THEM PLAY

Let’s forget the fiction that only a few leagues in Europe have an “international break”. Taking the best players in the world and giving them only one training session or (at best) a non-contact game against lower-league Brits and a few cherry-picked imports is frankly embarrassing for a team that’s supposed to be in the top 25 in the world. Get the team together to play other European countries as a curtain-raiser to the season. Hold regular training camps throughout the season-maybe in midweek if you have to. If EIHL teams complain, tough…IHUK are supposed to be the governing body, aren’t they?

But, for god’s sake, find them proper opposition.

The GB team needs rejuvenating. It needs new ideas, a new approach, new emphasis, and new blood.

Whether or not it gets it or whether we’re doomed to be having this same conversation again in a few years is once again in the power of IHUK, and their new appointment as coach.

Advertisements

Ten Minutes With: #51 Sean Erickson

“Ten Minutes With…” is a semi regular series which will see Chasing Dragons ask players from both the Blaze and (hopefully) the rest of the EIHL ten questions and only ten questions on themselves, their careers and hockey. Today we talk to Coventry’s newest defenceman Sean Erickson.

Q- After spending the majority of your career in the CHL, what made you decide to make the trip across the Atlantic?

A- Playing in Europe has always been something I wanted to do since turning pro and England has always been among the countries that has always caught my eye as a destination.

Q- What made you decide to play in the Elite League, and particularly with the Blaze, this season?

A- The Elite League has always been a league that I wanted to play in. From speaking to players like Jordan Fox, George Awada, and David Beauregard the last few years and how they all rave about the league, the fans, and just the overall experience I knew I needed to do it. When deciding to come to Coventry, I spoke to Gerome Giudice and he had nothing but great remarks about playing here. When speaking with both Matt and Paul, I felt welcomed right away. Coventry has a rich history in the Elite League and its a privilege to play for them.  

Q- Like your new team-mate Brian McMillin, you’re from Minnesota-one of the hotbeds of hockey in North America. He’s said he never wanted to anything but a hockey player. Growing up, did you want to be anything else?

A- I actually began my hockey roots in St.Louis before moving to Minnesota to play High School. But growing up I guess you could say it was in my blood before I even before I knew what hockey was. Both my dad and grandfather played hockey and it was something that I fell into on my own. Hockey has always been number one and being able to play at such a high level to this point in my career, has been an honor and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.

Q- How would you describe your style of play?

A- I’m a puck moving defenseman with an offensive touch, who loves jumping into the play as the second wave of attack.  

Q- What would you say is your best quality on the ice?

A- Definitely my skating.

Q- What is your favourite career moment to date?

A- Being able to score my first professional goal with my parents in attendance. Without them and all their sacrifice, I wouldn’t have any career moments. 

Q- Have you been keeping an eye on the competition in the EIHL? Which teams are you most looking forward to playing?

A- Yeah, I have been keeping an eye on the EIHL for a few years now. Teams like Sheffield, Nottingham, and Belfast have been power houses the last few years so those games I will definitely be looking forward to the most. 

Q- You’ve spent the majority of your pro career at one club in Tulsa-is it a wrench to leave?

A- Leaving Tulsa was a very difficult decision. I have met so many great people there from fans, staff member and players. Tulsa embraced me and gave me my first opportunity to prove myself and I thank the Oilers organization for that

Q- You’ve already said you spoke with former Blaze forward Gerome Giudice a lot before coming to Coventry-was his input a key in your deciding to sign here?

A- Gerome definitely had a factor in me signing. Gerome and I spent a lot of time together in Tulsa and the way he spoke about Coventry from the guys in the locker room, to the city and organization, and the fans made me feel comfortable about bringing my career overseas.

Q- There’s a lot of excitement in Coventry about your offensive ability from the blueline, but what are you most looking forward to about playing for the Blaze?

A- The Fans! The support and outreach I have already experienced from the fans have me counting down the days til our home opener.

Sean already seems excited to come to Coventry, and scouting and all information shows that he could be an excellent counterpart to Mike Schutte on the offensive blue line. Certainly, it’s not just him counting down the days to the home opener…

 

 

 

Ten Minutes With: Brian McMillin

In the run up to the new season, Chasing Dragons will catch up with as many Blaze players as possible and ask them ten questions about life and hockey. We start with the Blaze’s newest signing, forward Brian McMillin.

Brian McMillin is a guy who’s already starting to create a little excitement in Coventry. The 6’2, 203lb American forward was announced as signing only on Friday morning, but since then Blaze forums and Blaze fan Twitter have been abuzz with quiet excitement over his arrival and what role he’ll play. You can understand the excitement, though-it’s not often a team gets to sign a current champion and playoff MVP, both honours that Brian won last season.

After his signing was announced Brian kindly agreed to answer some questions about his hockey career, his move to Europe and what Blaze fans can expect from him this season for me. And here they are. Brian’s answers are in italics, anything that isn’t is my addition:

Q- What made you decide to leave North American hockey and try your luck in Europe?

It’s been a goal of mine to eventually play in Europe since college and I felt like it was good time in both my career and personal life to give it a shot. Q- What made you decide to play in the Elite League, and particularly with the Blaze, this season?

I’ve talked to quite a few guys who have played in the Elite League (Brian played with current and former Nottingham Panthers Bruce Graham and Dominic D’Amour in Allen in 2011/12, and also former Dundee Star Mark Nebus, for example) and they all seemed to think it would be a good fit for me. They all had good things to say about Coventry as well, and after talking with the team I felt comfortable enough to make the jump.

Q- You’re from Minnesota-one of the hotbeds of hockey in North America. Growing up, did you want to be anything but a hockey player?

Haha no, not really. I have post-hockey aspirations but hockey has always been number one.

Q- How would you describe your style of play?

I think I am a smart, 2-way player. I take pride in my defensive play and try to use my size to be a force around the net in the offensive zone.

Q- What would you say is your best quality on the ice?

Consistency. I don’t have the high end talent of some but I keep my game at a high level by working hard and smart on a nightly basis.

Q- What’s your favourite career moment to date?

I would say finishing off our President’s Cup run in Allen this year. Winning my first championship, especially the way we did it, will always be special.

Q- You’re from a small town in Minnesota (Roseau) where high-school hockey is incredibly important-what was it like being captain of one of the best high school teams in North America and do you think it helped you as a player?

It was a great experience. Anytime your teammates make you a captain its a great honor, and when you are given that responsibility I think you have to take your game to another level. It definitely helped me grow both as a person and a player.

Q- You’ve spent much of your career being used as a defensive forward (in college and the CHL), but in Coventry you’ll probably be relied upon for scoring as you were in Allen’s championship run-are you excited by the chance to play a more offensive style?

I definitely look forward to being relied upon more in the offensive zone, but I also don’t think I will have to change my game much to get that done. Even in the playoffs this past year I played a defense first game while taking advantage of my opportunities offensively.

Q- Moving from Minnesota to Colorado and then Texas means you’ve already spent most of your hockey career far from home…are you looking forward to seeing as much of the UK as you can while over here?

Yes, absolutely. I love to travel and look forward to seeing all the UK has to offer.

Q- Have you been keeping an eye on the competition in the EIHL? Any teams you’re particularly looking forward to playing?

Yes, I know a lot of guys who have played in the EIHL so I have always kept up with the league. I’m just excited to get going and experience playing in some different places.

Brian certainly sounds excited to play here…and while it takes a lot to get me excited about a player, I am about this signing-he seems to me to be a similar type of player to Dan Carlson. And we all know how well THAT signing turned out…

My thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer the questions, and welcome to Coventry. It looks like there may be a few McMillin jerseys around the Skydome stands next season…

Feeding The Fire: #9, Brian McMillin.

Feeding the Fire is a new series welcoming the newest arrivals to the 2013 Coventry Blaze and providing your very own scouting report on all new arrivals in Coventry the day they’re signed. Today, it’s the turn of ex-Allen Americans forward Brian McMillin.

BASICS

Brian McMillin (left) in action for the Allen Americans last season.

Brian McMillin is a 6’2, 203lb forward who hails from the very centre of American hockey country…Roseau, Minnesota, USA. He’s 25 years old, shoots right, and has played mainly centre throughout his career. He joins the Blaze from the current CHL Champion Allen Americans. This is his first season in Europe.

PLAYING CAREER

Born the 26th Feb 1988 in the small (2600 population) town of Roseau, Minnesota not far from the Canadian border, the young McMillin grew up in one of the proudest hockey towns in North America. Roseau has a long tradition of excellence at high-school hockey-the high school has won more state championships than any other-Roseau is a place where high-school hockey isn’t just a sport, it’s a religion. Brian captained his school for two seasons, scoring over three points a game, before winning a scholarship to NCAA Div I’s Colorado College, where he played four seasons centering the fourth line, gaining a reputation as one of the best defensive/penalty-killing forwards in his conference and being named to the All-Academic WCHA team three times as well as majoring in Mathematics.

From his college career, McMillin signed with the East Coast Hockey League’s Kalamazoo (Michigan) Wings, playing a total of 17 games in 2009/10 and the first part of the 2010/11 season before making the long trip south to Allen, Texas and the CHL’s Allen Americans, where he played from 2010 to the present. In his three seasons in Allen McMillin scored an impressive 89 regular-season points while again mainly being used as a defensive/two-way forward on the third line, his best season coming in 2011/12 with 43 points (including 16 goals). Last season was a truly stunning year for him, though-indeed McMillin himself described it as a “dream” as he scored 15+15 in the regular season (again while being used mainly on the third line and penalty kill) before exploding in the playoffs for 12 goals and 8 assists as the Americans went on a run all the way to the CHL title. Most impressively, he scored a quarter of the Americans’ goals in their first round win and two game-winners in the Cup finals, and ended up +10 on the season to boot.

PLAYING STYLE

Brian has been used mainly as a two-way/defensive forward and penalty-killer during his career, becoming known as one of the best in that role at every team he’s played. At 6’2 and 203lbs he’s an excellent physical presence who can make a nuisance of himself in front of the net, as shown in this clip from his Colorado College days against Wisconsin (from 6:57):

But don’t think that he’s not got great touch in front of the net-McMillin’s also a hard worker prepared to create his own chances along the boards-look how he wins the puck along the half-boards before skating back into the high slot and snapping a wrist-shot away in this clip (from 0:47):

Hard work is the key to McMillin’s game-that and using his strength and skating to create problems in front of the net.

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

McMillin’s two-way game…anyone who’s consistently lauded as one of the best defensive players on his team is definitely going to be an advantage-every team needs a skilful two-way forward. McMillin reminds me very much of Jordan Fox in this regard, and we all know how good he was.

McMillin can score, too-which will a highly-touted combination, especially as he’s going to be given a lot more freedom at the Blaze than he was elsewhere…

FLIES IN THE OINTMENT

It’s a struggle to find any-but there may be the odd question over whether or not McMillin can produce at the pace expected by a 2nd-liner…however, the playoff pace shows that given the chance, he can.

SO WHERE WILL HE FIT IN?

One of the key things with McMillin is his versatility-as previously stated he’s been used mainly as a defensive forward and penalty killer, and you can expect him to be used as one of the main penalty killers on the Blaze too. But he’s proved that he can score, too-so he’ll likely fit in beautifully as the second line centre on this Blaze team-possibly as the balance to the all-guns-blazing offence of Ryan Ginand, assuming Ginand doesn’t get paired with the Henrich brothers.

With McMillin’s strength and two-way game he’s a perfect fit anywhere in the top-six…expect him and Mike Henrich to be the top two centres, depending on the last two import signings.

MISC FACTS

– Brian usually wears #9, but will likely be wearing a different number this season given that that’s taken by Ross Venus already.

– Brian’s wife Wendy is a Minnesota girl who met him while also playing junior hockey, and also played high-school and then college hockey…for Bemidji, one of Colorado College’s biggest rivals.

– Brian has been very active in the community in his time in Allen…

– He has only 0.5 points a game in regular season play, but this rises to just under a point a game in the playoffs throughout his career. He’s currently +26 through his career.

Tait Escape: Why the Blaze Signing Ashley Tait Was Their Choice, Not Bullying

If you follow British ice hockey, you’ll have noticed over the past few weeks that Sheffield’s Dave Simms and I are not the best of friends when it comes to UK punditry. We tend to disagree on things quite often. Given that we’re both fairly vocal people who tend to stick to our guns, this recently led to a Twitter discussion on Sheffield’s budget in which I was dismissed abrasively as “merely a speculator” by Dave.

This is fine with me-I’ve been told I’m wrong quite often in my time covering UK hockey-variety is the spice of life in hockey opinions, just as much as anywhere else. But Simmsey’s Sky Sports blog today is certainly an interesting one, not least because I disagree with almost everything in it-not least the headline assertion that Blaze’s recent signing of Ashley Tait was done as the Blaze were “bullied into it” and “it’s not a direction they wanted to go in”, while simultaneously discussing Nottingham.

Leaving aside the fairly obvious fact that the chance to sign a premier British forward such as Tait, even at the age of 38, is a chance that most Elite League teams (including Simms’ own Sheffield) would doubtless kill to have (indeed, it’s been explicitly hinted in the Sheffield Star that the only reason Tait has left Sheffield is due to his wages being required for the big money signing of Rob Dowd).

So…let’s have a look at this blog, shall we? Italics are quotes from it, followed by my thoughts.

Some (teams) stick to their guns and some have to change tack a little. One of those teams that have had to make a change is the Coventry Blaze, while the one that is the hardest to read is the Nottingham Panthers.

The Cardiff Devils normally do their bullying in season. That small rink in Wales has been the home to some of the biggest bullies the EIHL has ever seen. This off-season, the Coventry Blaze have been bullied by Gerard Adams and Cardiff. Former Sheffield forward Ashley Tait has been the biggest benefactor in this process, signing a new two-year contract with the Blaze, a side he previously captained to a Grand Slam.

So, the first argument is that Cardiff, despite not doing anything explicit to Coventry (at this moment) were the main contributors in Coventry re-signing one of the premier British forwards in this country? If so, I fail to see how giving the team the impetus to sign one of the best players of his kind in the country is “bullying”. But let’s go on with this, shall we?

I thought Tait would move to Nottingham. I still can’t quite understand why he didn’t. Nottingham lost Matthew Myers and there simply isn’t another British forward who can play on a top nine of any top team available.

Maybe it’s to do with the widely-discussed problems that Tait had when leaving Nottingham after ten years back in 2002/03, when he decided his career would go the other way. Maybe it was the chance to go back to the club where he won an EIHL treble and had some of his most successful years. Maybe it was the chance to take on a player/assistant-coach role in Coventry just as he’d done in Sheffield, that perhaps wouldn’t be available in Nottingham. All of which are compelling reasons. As for that “no other British player who can play top nine of any top team available” comment…remember that, we’ll come back to it later.

The Coventry Blaze in recent years have offloaded their experienced and expensive home grown talent such as Jonathan Weaver, Greg Owen and Robert Farmer. The Blaze view was that they were overpaying for non-difference makers, so Coventry threw their money into their 11 import signings, guys who their then head coach Paul Thompson felt were the go-to-guys who would put the points on the board and win matches. This worked for them last season and I honestly believe was their policy again this summer.

Interesting you use the words “offloaded” and “homegrown talent”. Firstly, none of the three players you mention are Coventry locals-in fact, Rob Farmer developed mainly in Sheffield with the EPL Scimitars/Steeldogs and…oh, yes, the Sheffield Steelers, too, along with a brief burst with the Manchester Phoenix. Weaver was adjudged to be expendable in the new team last season due to wages (much like the Steelers did with Tait) and Greg Owen? Ah, Greg Owen. The decision to leave the Blaze was his, due to work commitments and looking towards a life after hockey at the end of last season. He spent his final season close to home in Basingstoke. Not “offloaded” at all-in fact it was Owen’s decision solely, with the player himself announcing he was leaving the Blaze to sign closer to his home town in Reading. Rob Farmer, meanwhile, had agreed a contract with Coventry for 2012/13 before Braehead came in with a “big money” offer.

Then of course there’s the “throwing money into import signings working” and it “being policy of the Blaze this summer too”. Firstly, I question that the tactic “worked” when Blaze barely managed to finish 4th in the EIHL, needed a miracle to make the PO weekend and relied upon two less OT losses finish ahead of the Devils and 19 points behind Sheffield, but we must have different definitions.

Interesting that in my conversations with Blaze officials the lack of depth among British players compared to the “top” teams has been widely lamented as contributing to Blaze’s problems last year, particularly with import injuries being what they were. They must be saying different things to different people if you genuinely thought the Blaze weren’t going to learn from their mistakes and perhaps try a policy of more depth in an attempt to close that 19 point gap. Apart from anything else that hardly gives Paul Thompson and Matty Soderstrom credit, does it?

That was until Cardiff signed Myers. The Blaze, already chasing Belfast, Nottingham and Sheffield saw Cardiff as their par club, a team they could compete with for fourth place in the EIHL standings. Cardiff laid down their intent for the year ahead with the Myers signing and they also beat the Blaze to the signature of goalie Frank Doyle.

This is the first statement in the blog you might be right with-including the Frank Doyle part.

For Coventry to compete they simply had to add another British player, adding the depth but also the ability of a guy like Tait. They got bullied into the Tait deal. Sure it benefits them; they are, in my opinion, a better club with Ashley but this wasn’t the direction the Blaze were in or wanted to go down a month ago.

So, so far your argument is that the Blaze had to compete, wanted to, but weren’t willing to follow a template that worked until Cardiff managed to get back Matt Myers? Methinks you’re giving the Myers signing far too much credit, especially given that negotiations with Ashley Tait were ongoing almost as soon as he was released by Sheffield.

Coventry had to make a statement that they were still a club that could compete. Their supporters needed to hear that as well as they feared a 5th place conference finish and a possible 6th place league ending if the Braehead Clan had their anticipated success in the Gardiner Conference. They love their Grand Slam Captain of 2005 in Coventry. Tait will always be a hero there but the Blaze got bullied into signing him back.

So, in summary, Coventry needed to make a statement all offseason, but got bullied into actually making that statement? Is that not a blatant contradiction? How can you get bullied into something you need to do anyway?

Right. Let’s move on to your thoughts on Nottingham’s need to replace Matthew Myers (a top-six forward for the Panthers last season, notably. It’s going to be tricky with there being, as you say “no other British forwards available who can play top-nine for a “top” team…

Of course the Panthers preferred choice is Robert Farmer, the former Sheffield, Coventry and Braehead forward. Many of us thought he would succumb and sign in Nottingham, but he has a desire to play in the East Coast Hockey League (United States) and my understanding is that dream is close to becoming a reality with an ECHL side agreeing terms with Farmer and the move now more than likely taking place.

So, having previously argued that there is no other British forward who can play top-nine, you now focus on Rob Farmer and claim that an ECHL team are close to signing him? Not that I doubt your information but how on earth can you dismiss Farmer as an option for Nottingham behind Ashley Tait then point this out-especially as the move hasn’t yet taken place beyond “your understanding” which is a fancy word for “speculation”. 

Anyway-moving on a little:

So is the signing of young Norton is an indication that Neilson might go with just three import defensemen and throw that additional import up front as the Myers replacement?

It’s a risk. Many thought Nottingham could have won the Elite League title a few years before they did and one of the reasons they failed was down to playing just three import D when the eventual winners went with a more solid four.

Interestingly, the last time Nottingham went with three import D was 2006/07…under Mike Ellis. That’s a long reach back considering that every year since then, they’ve had some combination of four imports and also Danny Meyers (arguably easily as good as an import) throughout the season. However, interestingly the 2009/10 league champion Coventry Blaze only had 3 imports on their blueline for the majority of their season (Brian Lee, Jason Robinson and Matty Soderstrom) with Chris Allen, the other import, only playing ten games. Nottingham…had four. Kind of struggles with your “Nottingham didn’t win because only three D imports is a big reason for losing the league title” argument, doesn’t it?

Last season the title-winning Panthers went with four, including Neilson himself, though he soon moved to behind the bench and Nottingham asked forward and captain Jordan Fox to drop down onto the blue line alongside Guy Lepine, Eric Werner and Jason Beckett. Any thoughts he could do so again disappeared this week with the news that Fox was to return home to North America and a player assistant coaching job in the CHL.

Again, a little off. Granted, Jordan Fox was asked to step down onto the blue-line but in terms of import D Nottingham again spent the majority of the season with three-Stevie Lee and Jonathan Weaver both received a lot of ice-time with Fox rotating in to give one of them a break in between the odd forward shift. Fox saw a lot of his time alongside Lee, in fact, with the Panthers using 6 D at all times including regularly pairing Lee and Weaver…a masterstroke both for depth and in continuing the development of Lee to the point where he could legitimately fill a number 4 D role this season.

Most coaches you can second guess. Corey Neilson isn’t one of them. My view is that Farmer is their preferred option even if that means waiting to see if the North American exercise works out and being there to sign him mid-season if it doesn’t. The fact that the experienced Levers hasn’t yet been signed up tells me that Corey has a plan; just that he isn’t sharing it with any of us at the moment.

Fairly sure that’s what’s known as “stating the obvious”. It’s interesting, though, that you don’t consider the basic pitfall of this though-which is that you’ve gone from saying Farmer isn’t good enough to play top-nine for a top EIHL team to saying he’s off to the ECHL, then the Panthers preferred option in the space of a column-nor do you consider the likes of Josh Ward stepping into the third line after several seasons of encouraging development . Then of course there’s the assertion that Nottingham are the “hardest to read” at the beginning being replaced by “oh, they’re going to sign the best British player remaining” at the end.

But the tip-top top of the icing and the biggest hole in the many in the blog is that “bullying” assertion regarding Tait-especially after saying on the same day in the Sheffield Star that Coventry is an “ideal fit” for Tait in a story that also points out he’s going to be on half the wage he was at Sheffield.

Frankly, if Dave Simms’ definition of “being bullied” means “being forced to take on one of the best players of his kind in the league for half the salary he could expect from another club”…then bully away, EIHL. We in Coventry will take all that type of bullying we can get.

 

The UK Hockey League: New Info Emerges…And It’s Highly Intriguing

After my post on the UK Hockey League on Thursday, the reaction towards it was fairly predictable, with the UK hockey establishment piling on to agree with my initial assessment that it seemed a little “implausible” in many areas. I wrote the post and thought that was pretty much the end of it.

However, yesterday there was a new development as I was contacted by Stephen Brown, the person named in the article, offering to put the UKHL’s side of the story-a chance that I of course jumped at. As a result I had an email conversation with him to obtain his contact details and spoke to him on the phone yesterday evening. During our 20-minute conversation I was allowed to ask any question I liked…and so I did. Mr. Brown was very open with me during our conversation, answering every one and explaining in full the reasons why he couldn’t give full details in certain areas-indeed, he continually apologised for being guarded, emphasising that there were legal agreements in place that meant he couldn’t reveal all that he wanted to at this time but that everything he could, he has. I’m presenting my questions below with summaries of the answers…along with my thoughts on the information at the end. Italics are quotes from the conversation with Mr. Brown, non-italics are my additions.

1. Who is Stephen Brown?

Stephen Brown tells me he is a media/entertainment producer who has worked mainly on projects in Canada. Doing some research on the name, I was pointed to this link: http://t.co/Cc2Iew19Vd. Pay particular attention to the last two paragraphs-quoted below:

“Mr Brown lived in Harrogate until the age of 16 when he and his parents left for Canada. He later founded Vidnet, a company that became one of the world’s leading entertainment sites, streaming more than 4.5 million videos monthly and providing content to such companies as Microsoft, Disney, Lycos and Alta Vista.

It was at Vidnet that he built industry alliances with entertainment giants Sony Music, Warner Bros and EMI Capital. The company went public on the NASDAQ, reaching a market cap of more than $400 million.”

That, guys, would mean there’s some SERIOUS muscle behind the UKHL.

2. How did the UKHL idea come about?

I saw my first UK hockey game a few months ago when I went to one of the finals. (the timing and the reference to a “crowd of 7,000” would lead me to believe the game concerned is either one of the legs of the Challenge Cup Final, likely the leg in Sheffield as Mr. Brown is based in Harrogate, or the playoff finals). Watching the sport and seeing the crowd made me think that ice hockey could be a much bigger sport in the UK were the organising bodies not in disarray. I’m part of a group of people who think the creation of a new league in the UK along the lines of the NHL would be an ideal template to help the game grow in this country, and we’re working on doing that.

3. Have any teams in the UK been approached?

I have had initial conversations with two Elite League teams. Their reception to us was positive, but this plan is in its early stages. The reason more teams have not yet been approached is that we are preparing a full bid and will be approaching the rest of the Elite League and possibly the EPL in due course.

4. What backing is in place for the bid?

We have significant financial backing in place, from several areas, including several large European financial institutions as well as companies in the arena of sports marketing and media partners, including, as we mention on the Twitter account, a plan for FASTHockey to be involved in covering games.

5. Looking at the mission statement, it seems that the UKHL is built very much on the NHL template, with strong central management acting for the league in most cases when it comes to media coverage, central media contracts and other off-ice organisational matters, rather than teams acting for themselves as currently in the EIHL-is this a fair assessment?

Definitely. The NHL system is proven to work as it’s the biggest league in the world. Our plan is to have a league that will be run to the benefit of all teams in the UKHL-with revenue sharing schemes ensuring that a “level playing field” is more likely. What we’re looking at here eventually is a league that will be a smaller-scale version of the NHL model in organisation.

6. There is talk of NHL players and alumni being involved in this league-which seems a little ambitious at first glance…can you explain what this is?

During my work I’ve become friends with a number of NHL personnel, both players, former players and executives. We’re talking right now about getting them involved with the league and getting closer links between UK hockey and the NHL. I can’t reveal anything right now as there are some details yet to be finalised, but I can tell you that these are big names…when the press-releases start coming (and they will) they’ll make UK hockey fans go “wow”.

6. This sounds very impressive-but as I said in my blog post, it’s all extremely ambitious for a league that’s “coming in 2013”-when would the UKHL begin play?

Our plan is for the UKHL’s first season of play to be the 2014/15 season.

7. Looking at the initial efforts of the Twitter feed/fb page, alarm bells will no doubt be ringing because it all seems a little rushed and amateur…plus there’s been no mention of this in the UK press…

(laughs) I agree. Looking at the Twitter feed we probably got overexcited and started putting things out a little early…looking back I probably wouldn’t have done it that way. But I can tell you that soon the press releases will start happening, the media releases will start happening and things will become much clearer.

8. Many will ask if there’s a timescale for the releases/PR-when can we expect to start hearing about this?

I’d say between 30-60 days from now (so, around two months). And those announcements will be substantial-we’re sure that they’ll be the kind of things that will make every fan in British hockey sit up and take notice. This is not just false promises-the UKHL is going to be something much bigger than the UK has seen before. We want all the EIHL teams on board with this and in the future we also want to bring teams/bring teams back to places like London and Manchester. That’s our aim. But if we get a few teams that don’t want to be involved then that’s their choice…this is going to happen and teams can either get on board or be left behind.

 

This was the last question in the interview…I thanked Mr. Brown for his time, and since the interview, Mr. Brown has also offered to speak to Jake Proctor in Belfast, who covers the Giants for several newspapers over there-he’s also said that I can pass on his information to other hockey bloggers in the UK, who he has said will he’ll be happy to talk to. He also said he’ll remain in contact with me, so hopefully there will be more conversations about the UKHL as time goes on-a timescale of around 30 days before the next conversation was mentioned.

My impressions on this? Certainly, the UKHL talks a good game. I came away from the interview still with a dose of cynicism (after all, how many promises have British hockey fans received over the years that never came to fruition)-but after speaking with Mr. Brown and hearing his outlining of the UKHL I’m considerably less dismissive than I was before-if this does happen as the UKHL group say it will then make no mistake-it will be the most exciting thing to ever hit British hockey.

There could be immensely exciting times ahead-my feeling is that right now, maybe I was wrong to dismiss the UKHL so quickly. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this, as I’m sure the rest of British hockey will. Only time will tell if this is a genuine revolution-in-the-making for UK hockey or simply more promises. But, unlike many of the other bids-at least now we have a deadline which we can judge by.

Let’s see what happens.

 

 

 

New Dawn Or False Hope: The Mysterious “UK Hockey League” Assessed

*note-I have EXTREMELY limited knowledge of company law-all the following is presented without any “legal” comments, and is based on my research and my conversations with my contacts in UK hockey. 
In April this year, a mysterious new Twitter account appeared around the edges of the UK hockey Twittersphere. Scarcely noticed, @UKHockeyLeague boasts in its bio: “Coming soon, the only league that counts!”. In the two months since its formation, whoever runs the account has tweeted only 38 times, mostly general hockey-related tweets. However, in amongst those tweets is a link to a website, which claims to be a holding page for the “United Kingdom Hockey League”. Dig through the tweets on the account is a further link to what purports to be the new league’s facebook page…a page containing general hockey pictures and a few cryptic messages  like a picture of a circle of hockey sticks with the caption “SOMEONE DROP THE PUCK!”.
However, potentially the most interesting thing on that page is the mission statement, which was posted on the page on May 3rd and is reproduced below:
UKHL Mission Statement

Founded in 2013, the UK Hockey League (UKHL) is an organization developing marketing and promoting the sport of ice hockey in the United Kingdom.

The objectives of the UKHL are:
To govern, develop and promote ice hockey throughout the United Kingdom
To develop and control ice hockey in the United Kingdom
To operate in an organized manner for the benefit of the sport
The UKHL will take all necessary measures to attain the following:
Conduct the affairs according to its Statutes, Bylaws and Regulations
Arrange sponsorships, media coverage, license rights, advertising and merchandising in connection with all UKHL teams
Uniform all regulations and official playing rules
Aid in the development of young players
Aid in the development of coaches and game officials
Organize all events of the UKHL
Oversee the acquisition of players
Develop a strong relationship with the NHL and the NHL alumni

What we’re seeing here, then, purports to be a new central organisation for hockey in the UK-an attempt to set up a new centrally-administrated league that, if even a few of its objectives are implemented, has the potential to revolutionise the game in this country. More importantly, the UKHL Twitter makes references to a “former NHL alumnus” as Commissioner of the new league, hints at media coverage through-indeed, possible live streaming of highlights or every game through FASThockey, one of the top (non-pirate) live hockey streaming sites on the Internet.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Instantly, though, the questions start. Where did this come from? Who’s involved in it? Who’s running it? And if the league is going to start in 2013, then where are the teams? And most importantly, with UK hockey being the small, rumour-ridden world it is, why has there been no whisper of it whatsoever amongst fans of the sport?
I started looking into this, researching the Twitter accounts, putting feelers out amongst my contacts and links around UK hockey, both in Coventry and around the EIHL. I also used the freely-available information on Companies House and similar websites to see if I could find out more about the UKHL, the company claiming to be involved in launching it-Go Sports Partners Ltd, or the directors of the company. Here’s what I’ve found so far. And it’s full of…well…problems:
1. Where are the teams?
So far, sources in Coventry, Belfast and Braehead have said “nope, the team owners/GMs know nothing about this”. So-that’s three out of the top ten teams in the UK that the UKHL organisers, seemingly haven’t approached yet. Are the UKHL leaving out three of the three top ten teams of the country in the new league, then? Seems suicidal to me.
2. Appearances are deceptive. Especially on Twitter.
Look at that UKHL profile linked earlier, and you see that they’re following all the teams you’d expect an account of a new UK hockey league with ambitions of international reach to follow. Follower-wise, it seems they’ve managed to gain nearly 4200 followers since April. Impressive, right?
Not if you dig slightly deeper. Sure, the UKHL account follows all the hockey clubs, leagues and organisations you’d expect, but it also follows a bluegrass band from Australia, a 2011 X-Factor finalist, several US country music singers and…um…Gary Barlow. Seems a bit weird for a hockey league to be following a whole bunch of musicians, doesn’t it?
Let’s look at those 4,000+ followers, too. If you’ve been around Twitter for a while you can usually spot the “real” profiles from the “fake”, created either as spambots or as fodder to be bought in lots of a 1000 to artificially increase a “Twitter follower” count and give your outfit the look of having more reach than it actually does. And if you’re involved in social media like I am, it’s an instant sign that something’s up-you look for patterns in the follower counts, types, anomalies in Twitter or “real” names, and repeated Tweets. The UKHL followers seem to have those types in abundance-Here’s a typical one of those 4,000+ followers-does that Twitter profile look a little off to you? It should. Like many of the others, it’s a classic computer-generated “ghost follower”.
There ARE some genuine UK hockey fans following the account-but they’re all at the top of the feed. I’d estimate the real number of followers on this account is probably around 10 people.
3. Web Of Intrigue.
You’d think a “new league” on the verge of launching would have a logo, a possible website design and some sort of web presence out there, wouldn’t you? The UKHL AND GO SP Ltd have….Godaddy.com web holding pages (known as registration blanks) that simply hold a domain name. Nothing else. Where’s the information, the web presence, the prospective league logo, even the Mission Statement, for god’s sake…any of it?! Nowhere, it appears.
4. In Bad Company
Using the Companies House website, I did some digging into GO Sports Partners Ltd, the company claiming to be “launching” the UKHL (which, don’t forget, has no teams yet and hasn’t approached some of the biggest in Britain to be involved, as far as we know). GO SP Ltd was founded on 30 April this year, and has one director, a Mr. Stephen Brown, who also serves as company secretary. Mr. Brown previously served as director of Harrogate Media Ltd-both HML and GO SP have a registered address at a “virtual office” in London (the same one, interestingly).
During his time at Harrogate Media Brown was in partnership with a Mr. Paul Ubsdell until 3rd June this year. A simple Google search will bring up accusations of scamming by Ubsdell in connection with another of his companies-Provartis AG. Hm. Not the nicest of bedfellows, is it?
Mr Brown has held no directorships before Harrogate Media as far as can be seen through Companies House…and Harrogate Media itself was set up only 6 months ago.
Summary: A Sorry-Looking Mess
So, what we have here is a company run by one person who has six months experience of company directorship, coming out of nowhere claiming to be setting up a new top ice hockey league in the UK, without approaching the already-established teams within it and with seemingly dubious business associates. On top of that, this “league” has produced no announcements, no press PR yet, has no planned logo or website or any evidence of being close to having one for its supposed launch with the new hockey season only three months away, and appears to be artificially boosting its Twitter follower count in an attempt to seem legitimate, while making claims of plans to affiliate with the biggest league in the world and set up a centrally-run UK league without the involvement of at least several of the current top clubs in the UK, at least.
Aye, Alright then.
At the very, very best this is a horrendous way to start an attempt to reform British ice hockey. At the worst (and far more plausibly), it’s an empty promise that’s not worth the paper its written on.
I’ve been critical of British ice hockey’s organisation before but somehow, even based on this relatively brief research,I can see that once you dig even slightly below the superficial promises this is an amateurish, poorly-put together chimera of a thing. If it is a serious bid, it would be ripped apart by anyone-it’s a house of cards that falls apart under even the slightest pressure.
The weirdest thing about this bid is quite simple…where’s it come from? A bid/attempt so paper-thin and held up with vague promises of partnerships with the NHL and media coverage surely must fail under even the slightest scrutiny by any UK team-no team in the sport will want to become involved right now on face value.
So what is this, and what’s the point of it? Frankly, UK hockey fandom, right now your guess is as good as mine. But it doesn’t look like it’s worth the UK hockey hierarchy paying any serious attention to, at least not right now.
And as for that “mission statement”? Frankly, getting anyone to believe this is a serious attempt to achieve it based on the current efforts will be Mission Impossible.