“Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas)
There is a mystery taking place in the Elite League at the moment. A curious case of a star player (and British at that) no team really seems to want. A player released by his current team reportedly in favour of a younger model, who may now be standing on the edge of the abyss of retirement despite still being one of the best British players in the Elite League.
I’m talking, of course, about Ashley Tait. The end of this season marked the 23rd season as a player for the 37-year-old Toronto-born forward, but right now only he knows whether we’ll have the pleasure of seeing him perform for a 24th in a career which has seen all but one season spent in Britain (the lone exception was 2009/10, which was spent in Italy’s Serie A).
In those 22 British seasons, only three have been spent outside the top level of British hockey (all in the BNL, first with Kingston Hawks for two seasons in the late 90s and then captaining the Coventry Blaze to a league and playoff double triumph in 2002/3). He’s also led the Blaze to a Elite League Triple Crown in 04/05, won the Elite League title four times (two with Coventry and two with Sheffield), scored over 1000 points in his career (nearly half of which have been in the EIHL), played 78 times for his country and is acknowledged as one of the best British players of the modern era.
Yet, this off-season, he finds himself without a club after being released by the Sheffield Steelers despite a season in which he scored over 50 points (including 20 goals) from the Steelers’ 3rd line-considered expendable and a victim of Sheffield’s big-money signing of Rob Dowd. Despite the financial muscle much trumpeted by the Steelers, it seems there’s just not enough money in the pot for Tait to remain.
So the question is now-where does he go?And why on earth has he not already got another Elite League club?
Certainly, I’d imagine there will be no shortage of offers being left in Tait’s email or voicemail inbox. Jono Bullard of The Cat’s Whiskers makes the case here for a return to Nottingham, the club where Tait made his name. Perhaps it is revealing that Jono puts Rob Farmer above him in the “British ranking” now-Tait’s advancing years will not play well against Farmer’s youth in a straight comparison-but there’s no question that Tait would be a fine addition to a Nottingham Brit pack which has been weakened by the loss of Matt Myers this off-season. However, with rumours in Nottingham that Tait’s departure to Coventry in 2002 was not the most amicable, has that ship already sailed?
Belfast, too, are a team who would no doubt love to take Tait on board, especially with Craig Peacock trying his luck abroad this season. Paul Adey has coached and played with Tait before in his Nottingham days, and there can be no doubt that a chance to put one over on his former employers may at least be in the back of the player’s mind.
Coventry-another of Tait’s former stamping grounds-would seem to be a logical destination. The Blaze need British strength after having a “load up on strong imports” strategy cruelly exposed by injuries last season, and their former captain would be welcomed back with open arms by the Blaze fans.
Braehead are emerging as a somewhat left-field link-Ryan Finnerty knows Tait well having coached and played with him, and with Rob Farmer reportedly looking for a job in North America for next season, they need a British scorer.
A far left-field option is Hull-Ashley has played with Stingrays coach Sylvain Cloutier in Coventry, and the Stingrays would be overjoyed to take on an elite British forward both to be a key player on their squad and to mentor the up-and-coming stars Matty Davies and Bobby Chamberlain…especially as Tait has played there before and would probably be travelling only slightly further to train/play with the Stingrays than he does with Sheffield.
Obviously-these are not the only options for Tait right now…a move to the EPL is doubtless something that he may be considering along with the dreaded R word, “retirement”. However, I’m amazed, as are a lot of EIHL fans, that there seems to be so little talk/buzz around one of the best British players of the modern era being available, even if he’s much nearer the end of his career than the beginning. His performances for Sheffield last season show that he can still do an excellent job at EIHL level and would likely be a key contributor to any team, either as a top-line forward on one of the lower-budget squads or the same third-line role he took on in Sheffield.
But right now, he’s in limbo, and it would be very sad indeed if the 2012/13 season ends up being the last time we get to see the man in the #21 jersey work his magic in the EIHL.
There must be a place out there for Tait somewhere, even if not in Sheffield. We shall hopefully see where that place is over the coming weeks.