Shortly before the announcement of the NIHL Spring Cup at the back end of Jan, the EIHL board announced that there will not be a delayed season for the 20/21 campaign. One of the factors being that the Winter Sports support package announced by the government touted as being a £4million grant to Elite Ice hockey teams, turned out to be a £4million loan (payable over 10 years) to Elite Men’s and Women’s teams with the package covering the WNIHL, NIHL (National) and Elite League hockey for English registered teams.
With this in mind and no regional plans for sports for teams registered in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the decision was made to cancel the season and look to make plans for the 21/22 season. The owners wanted to make the season work as much as the fans did, with plans for an 8-team tournament in Nottingham to start the season then to stream as many games as possible. However, with Cardiff, Belfast, Dundee, Glasgow and Fife already out and the Guildford Flames pulling out of these plans; realistically only Sheffield, Nottingham and Manchester would be playing each other.
So, with no Elite season, contracted players were free to sign elsewhere for the reminder of the 20/21 season. Devils players Ben Bowns was approached by Austrian Side Graz 99ers and Mark Richardson found himself at DEL2 side EC Bad Nauheim. Steelers duo Robert Dowd and Anthony DeLuca are tearing it up in Italy with Eppan/Appiano and Guildford’s Stevie Lee just North of them playing in the Alps Hockey league with Puestertal/ Val Pusteria. The Polish Extra Liga also saw GB’s Luke Ferrara join Cromarch Cracovia after his spell at Boxeurs de Bordeaux and Paul Swindlehurst joining Unia Oswiecim as part of their Playoff Run.
However, as the seasons were already well underway there were still a few names not having contracts including GB Captain Jono Phillips. Luckily the Spring Cup has proved to be a lifeline for Elite players looking to return to match fitness as soon as possible either in time for the Worlds and potentially the start of the 21/22 season.
However they best be quick with their teams, following Planet Ice’s decision to remove the Ice from their rinks; you suddenly have a market which is oversaturated with Talent from Netties like Sam Gospel, Jordan Lawday through to forwards like lightning’s Lewis Hook, Edgar Bebris and D-men Jordan Griffin (Leeds), teams are in a position where they can hand pick their sides from a decent pot! Here’s a quick rundown on who has gone where: Bracknell Bees As the first new name to the NIHL cup Series and quick to act on the MK and Guildford exodus, the Bees have picked up Giants forwards Lewis Hook, Ciaran Long and Flames’ Josh Waller. They have also taken on firm Bracknell favourites James Gallazzi, Vanya Antonov, Harvey Stead and brought back in their Captain Stuart Mogg.
Bees went one step further by adding Bobby Chamberlain to their ranks, despite the changes Bracknell have been careful and they have retained their team’s identity. Bees will be a bonafide threat to any team at both home and on the road – also can you imagine the mischief that Chamberlain and Gallazzi can cause the opposition? Even with the stringent rules for instigating/ fighting due to COVID Bobby still managed to get a game ban in the Autumn Series… The last time they were this close was in an EPIHL disciplinary!
London Raiders Yes you read that right – the Capital is represented by the London Raiders/ Raiders IHC/ Raiders from Romford. Another newcomer to the series Romford has secured the services of Lightning and GB forward Liam Stewart and Manchester Storm’s Zach Sullivan (pictured).
A team with very few roster changes the Raiders have known and fielded the same roster for the past couple of years, nurturing talent through their junior systems and onto the senior team. With the younger players working for the opportunity and coming up against EIHL and GB players this is a great way to gauge their skills and learn from this series.
Being led with the Captain Aaron Connolly back up by Assistants Daniels Scott and Sean Barry the raiders are well drilled outfit more than capable of causing upsets in the past, striking hard and fast they can make any team look slow! Approach Romford with Caution folks…and I’m not talking about the weather either!
Sheffield Steeldogs: For the Bradfield Brewery Sheffield Steeldogs, their signings started back in Autumn when they secured the services of Steelers and GB international D Man Ben O’Connor, the offensive presence of Belfast Giant and GB International Ben Lake finishing off with Steelers legend Jason Hewitt. Triple threat right there - no messing about. Greg Wood’s side went onto win the Autumn Cup in style with a game in hand. With the announcement of the Spring Cup, Steeldogs announced the signings of GB and Steelers Captain Jonathan Phillips, Steelers D-Man David Phillips and NHL draft pick Liam Kirk
What makes Sheffield interesting is that the Steeldogs didn’t just field those 3 for 60 mins, they used team dynamics and working relationships to get the job done, at times it even looked like the EIHL boys were surplus to requirements with Steeldogs Academy players like Alex Graham and Brady Doxey leading the charge. At the back the experienced hands of Jonathan Kirk and Ben Morgan keep the plays in check and back stopped by nettie Dmitri Zimzodra makes the Steeldogs one of the most rounded British squads we have seen in a long time. Needless to say Steeldogs are looking for the wins and want to start 2021 the best way possible with the Spring Cup in their trophy room. Swindon Wildcats Just like Steeldogs The Swindon Wildcats additions started to come in Autumn, already building on one of the NIHL’s top rosters with established players like Toms Rutkis, Tomasz Malasinski, Neil Liddiard, Tyler Plews, Neil Liddiard and Renny Marr in the line-up, Aaron Nell bagged one of the EIHL legends in the form of Cardiff Devils’ and GB forward Matthew Myers as well as complimenting him with the signing of Devils and GB D man Josh Batch. The GB connection went even further with the Signing of Forward Ben Davies (Cheers again for knocking the French out of the IIHF Worlds Ben!). Narrowly missing out on the Virtual Autumn Silverware after close games with both Steeldogs and Milton Keynes, the Cats added Nottingham Panthers forward Jordan Kelsall as well as P’boro Phantom Net Minder Jordan Marr for the opening two games. Being led from the front by the experienced Aaron Nell and Sam Bullas there aren’t too many situations that the Cats can get out gunned on.
However as we saw with the games between the Steeldogs and Wildcats this series is all about forcing the other sides mistakes to make the plays, Swindon has the tactics and with people like Devils GM Todd Kelman tuning into their games the Wildcats players are on a great platform to show what they can do.
Rounding up on the teams in the tourney is the Telford Tigers, looking to take the NIHL streaming series to go alongside the NIHL cup from 19/20 the Shropshire outfit went on a spending spree signing 7 players in the space of a week in Feb alone!
Just like the other teams in the series they were keen not to change too much, the players that they have signed are not new to the league or their team mates but it does read like a who’s who at the moment! Joining the squad are Coventry Blaze’s duo Ross Venus and David Clements both seeing ice time with Milton Keynes in Autumn, Cole Shudra returning from Nikkorps in Sweden and Steelers Sam Jones rounding it off with Leeds Chiefs Ashley Calvert and Kieran Brown.
With Tigers having a strong core of players such as Jason Silverthorn, Rick Plant, Jonathan Weaver and Scott Mackenzie the Telford Tigers experience can be measured in Centuries not Decades! Add to this the British net minding duo of Brad day and Zack Brown mean that there isn’t a lot that the Tigers can’t handle – but with the Streaming series having the potential of only being 10 games Tigers need to be ready from the face off. Afterall Some of the players they haven’t been in a competitive game since last March.
Whichever your EIHL side there is something in the NIHL for you, each team looks to bring a wealth of experience and a great way to get a GB hockey fix. It is our bit of normal in an extraordinary time, plus with the teams 50/50s and SOHB raffles you can win a fair bit too! Why not tune into the game whilst video calling friends and a bevvy or two to make a night out, a playlist for the period breaks and shout at the refs - they still won’t hear you!
Enjoy the games and hope to see you all in the rinks in the near future, a big thank you to all those involved with organising both Autumn and Spring Series. Without you all we wouldn’t have this tournament on or our UK hockey fix, you are all brilliant!