Back to the future Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

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Back to the future Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

Post by JRW11Evea on Fri 16 Nov 2012, 8:34 pm

Back to the future
Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

There’s no doubt that, compared to our cousins across the pond, and friends over in the continent, Ice Hockey in the UK is very much a minority sport. The GB national team has enjoyed limited success over the years, with its one great triumph coming in a year when Adolf Hitler was still in power, winning Gold at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It was during the war that Canadian airmen based in Middleton St George, travelled to nearby Durham Ice Rink to play Hockey,(I’m told that when the Wasps first started carpet felt and old newspapers were used for padding ) setting the wheel in motion for the formation of one the biggest names in British Ice Hockey, Durham Wasps.

It was during Britain’s ‘Golden Era’ of the 80s and 90s that Durham Wasps enjoyed their domination of the British league. Its testament to how big they were, that I’ve been made more than aware of their success, despite how much of it happened before I was born. In a period when Ice Hockey attracted a big money sponsorship from Heineken, the league largely comprised of British players and the BBC showed highlights of all the league games, Durham Wasps epitomised this golden era, winning the Heineken Championship four times, the league championship six times, the Norwich Cup three times in a 10 year period between 1882 and 1992. Sadly, from the mid-nineties British Ice Hockey saw a dip in popularity, a dip which coincided with the decline of the Durham Wasps, as they were relocated by local businessman, John Hall, to Newcastle. This move was unpopular with Wasps fans as they had lost one the few successful local clubs they had, and the newly formed Durham City Wasps never really took off.

One of the largest criticisms of the modern Elite League is that it’s too expensive for clubs to stay afloat, with Basingstoke, Manchester and Newcastle all folding from the league within the last ten years, with the latter going to into liquidation. This is largely due to the number of foreign imports compared to the British second tier which has a Limit of 4 non British players to be dressed (in the match day squad) for any particular game, whereas, the Elite League allows 10. The fact that the make-up of the league is constantly changing and players rarely stay at a club for longer than a year creates an inconsistency that deters a lot of passionate fans, something that wasn’t lacking in the days of Rick Brebant at Durham Wasps.
However 76 years on from GBs Winter Olympic success, and Ice Hockey is seeing somewhat of resurgence. The GB men are through to the final Olympic qualifiers, after a 2 – 1 win over Japan, and despite being the lowest ranked team in their qualifying group, GB stand a real chance of making Sochi 2014. Whilst that achievement may pale into insignificance compared to the Gold of 1936, given the competitive standard of international Ice Hockey at the moment, qualifying for the winter Olympics should not be underestimated. It would be truly incredible and would surely raise the profile of the game over here. Whilst the NHL lockout is a real loss for Hockey fans globally, the silver lining is that the Elite League can benefit from, top players looking for pastures new (even if only for a year) in Europe. This is already apparent with NHL stars such as Bissonnette, Beleskey and Sestito name a few already becoming influential for their respective new Elite League homes so early on in the season. Greater news still is that the maximum number of foreign imports, whilst higher than the second tier, has been reduced this year from 12 to 10, and is likely to reduce further still, with the average age of British players being 24.5 (based on data available to me) meaning there is a large pool of young British talent playing good Hockey, with great resources available to them, who can learn from top foreign talent with bags of experience. The league looks to increase ever still with a return for the London Racers and Manchester Phoenix being mooted by many, it’s certainly a promising time to be an up and coming British Ice Hockey talent.

So often in my articles I ask a question about the big picture of a particular sport, and so rarely do I answer this, so ill finish by saying the following;

‘Can we win gold again’?
Not to sound morbid, but I’ll likely be cold in my grave when the answer to this question is yes as, sadly, I think that particular feat mightn’t be repeated for another 76 years.

But ask me, ‘Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s’?
All signs point to yes.
Hey, it’s not entirely out of the realms of possibility that in 2014 we have a national side in the winter Olympics, and the Elite League, EPIHL and BNIHL are enjoying a new ‘Golden Era’ of Ice Hockey.

JRW11Evea

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Re: Back to the future Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

Post by Guest on Wed 12 Dec 2012, 4:11 pm

It's possible, but it needs three things:

1. Success on the international stage
2. A team based in London (ie the Knights)
3. TV coverage, to make it 'cool' again

Another Mighty Ducks film might not hurt either!

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Re: Back to the future Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

Post by GSC on Wed 12 Dec 2012, 6:52 pm

Not really.

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Re: Back to the future Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

Post by JRW11Evea on Wed 12 Dec 2012, 9:48 pm

GSC is your post in response to the OP or to the other response

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Re: Back to the future Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

Post by Guest on Wed 02 Jan 2013, 3:10 pm

Probably to the premise, "can it?", knowing GSC as I do. Of my three points, I don't think any of them are likely to happen, so I'd probably side with GSC as well.

I was a regular at the Solihull Blaze before Coventry stole the Blaze. British hockey was great then. I really can't get into it now, partly due to geographical reasons (no teams near me), and partly because it's not as good in terms of entertainment / quality. If they improved the playing stock, and put teams in good locations, I'd be interested again.

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Re: Back to the future Can British Ice Hockey once again enjoy the popularity it did in the 80s?

Post by WhiteCamry on Mon 07 Jan 2013, 6:20 pm

The Wiki on GB '36.

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