Is it me or does the off-season seem never ending? As we all wait anxiously for fixtures news and for September to arrive, my next three blog posts reflect, together with three long-term NIHL supporters on the changes to the league, newly announced rosters and the future of the NIHL.
Having selected someone from each of the three top teams from last season’s NIHLS1, I’ll be chatting with three avid supporters of Chelmsford Chieftains, Invicta Dynamos and Streatham IHC.
As I promised faithfully not to name them so they could be completely honest in their responses each contributor will be referred to as CCF (Chelmsford), IDF (Invicta) and SRF (Streatham).
In this first post CCF (Chelmsford Chieftains Fan) gives an insight into his view of the Chieftains. I hope he will forgive me for summarizing some of his very thorough answers to fit today’s blog.
So, CCF has been following Chieftains religiously for three years, and sporadically for a couple of years prior to that. Before then he was a fan of the original Manchester Storm for many years and still follows the fortunes of the new Storm in the Elite league now.
CCF tells me he watched his first ice hockey game twenty years ago. In fact he remembers it well as it was the sad day that Princess Diana died. It was such an emotional time but after listening to hours of TV and radio coverage he decided to take a break. On this particular day, pretty much the only event in Greater Manchester that wasn’t cancelled was Manchester Storm’s pre season game against bitter rivals, Sheffield Steelers.
The atmosphere in the arena was electric, the music was pumping and people danced in the aisles during the breaks. Sheffield scored and the away block went nuts. Manchester scored and the roof got lifted clean off the arena! That was it CCF was hooked on hockey.
As is the case with many fans he’s not sure what to make of the new league set up. The established NIHLS teams consider it to be an enforced promotion to EPL, while the former EPL clubs are seeing it as an enforced relegation. Whichever way you look at it, there’s going to be a big gap in NIHL1 between the ex EPL teams with the bigger budgets and the teams already in NIHL1.
Unfortunately, CCF acknowledges, there will be an equally big gap in NIHL2 between the teams already there and the ones who dropped down from NIHL1 including Chelmsford.
CCF feels that perhaps league management should have capped the number of imports in the EPL to two and then enforced compulsory promotion to the EPL for the league champions from each NIHL region, thus bumping the EPL back up to nine teams for 2018/19. An overall NIHL champion from the 2018/19 season could then have been promoted to the EPL taking it back to ten teams.
As for this coming season our avid Chelmsford fan is happy with the team that Chieftains are putting together and has every confidence in Ben Clements who is building a roster with a good mix of youth and experience. With room for one or two further players in the team he’s hoping hard hitting playmaker Bailey Chittock might make a return.
With a new coaching set up at Chelmsford this season CCF feels that although Ben may not have the experience leading the team, his history with the club, his understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in the team and his experience in coaching the junior goalies will prove invaluable.
Reflecting on Chelmsford’s 16/17 season, the stand out club moment for CCF was the team emphatically winning the league and cup double after a shaky start.
On a more personal note that many hockey fans will identify with he also made many new friends in both fans and players last season and was especially flattered to be asked to photograph Danny Hughes at Riverside. Another special moment being when legend David Carr tapped him on the shoulder at Streatham just to say hello leaving him slightly star struck.
The strength in this season’s team, CCF believes, will come in the shape of the Bartlett twins up front who have proved that they are among the best players in the league. In defence, Matt France and Ethan Boolkah will be the ‘go to’ guys with Sonny Phillips building on last season’s success in goal.
As so many Chieftains players moved on CCF found it difficult to single out players who will be missed although imports Huska and Zatopek deserve a mention because of their huge influence on how the team played last season. Some of the younger players from the Warriors set up will also be missed along with Jake Sylvester, who CCF feels is perhaps the biggest loss to the team.
CCF admits that whilst respecting the financial issues the owners faced with staying in NIHLS1, he’s disappointed that the Chieftains won’t be in the race to defend their title against the EPL teams this season. He does think though that dropping down a league and rebuilding should work and the team will come back stronger.
People say that winning all the time gets boring. It doesn’t. Winning by a huge margin gets boring. So, for CCF, he’ll be looking forward to the games that are close, where every battle for the puck and every face off is crucial, where there’s a goal or two in it and it’s worth pulling the goalie in the last couple of minutes to try and tie the scores. We all love watching those nail biting, heart stopping, edge of your seat games don’t we?
As far as challenges go for the club CCF thinks it’s going to be about keeping the fans that were only there because the team was successful in a higher league. If the team is going to return to NIHLS1, it will need the fans to pay the entrance fees to enhance the budget.
Bearing this in mind, CCF would love to see the club do more on social media for supporters like some of their counterparts do. He’d also like to see more fan engagement on match nights such as competitions with signed sticks as prizes, signed shirts or tickets to future games which might help to keep the casual supporters more engaged with the club.
With Chelmsford Chieftains taking their place in NIHLS2 this season CCF singles out Bracknell Hornets as their greatest rivals. Danny Hughes has been building a strong team during the summer and CCF considers they’re going to be hard to beat. He does however remain optimistic, confident even, that Chelmsford will achieve league champion status again.
A great big thank you to CCF for taking the time to chat who has proved that the fan view can be just as interesting as the player or club view.
All that remains for me to say is good luck to Chelmsford Chieftains this season in the new look NIHLS2 and keep those fans happy with plenty of great hockey.
Look out for part two in this series where I chat with one of south London’s long serving Streatham RedHawks fans.
photo credit: Ice Cold Photography