Posted in Ice Hockey

The Puck Stops Here (part 1)

Summer has well and truly sizzled this year and the off-season has been dominated here by lazy afternoons in the garden, drinking beer and enjoying the company of good friends.

With more sunny days forecast over the coming weeks and less than a month before the hockey season begins I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on last season and have a look forward to the coming one.

Continue reading “The Puck Stops Here (part 1)”

Posted in Ice Hockey

People and hockey – the perfect combination!

My love affair with ice hockey began in the 1980s and it was Christine’s fault. Christine and I both worked on a motor trade newspaper in Sutton. She supported Streatham Redskins and quickly welcomed me into the fold at Streatham High Road as a new fan. Before long I was travelling to Scotland and the North East on double-header weekends with Christine and her best friend Jan. We watched hockey, we ate chip butties, we laughed until our sides ached and we drank far too much. We had the best times.

Continue reading “People and hockey – the perfect combination!”

Posted in Ice Hockey

Behind the scenes with …. Richard Carpenter, NIHLS League Manager

With the 2017/18 season less than a month away, fixtures almost complete, rosters (mostly) announced and updated rules in the bag it feels like a good time to catch up with League Manager for NIHLS, Richard Carpenter.

Hi Richard, first things first, most of us know you as the League Manager for NIHLS but what is your full time occupation?

I’m a Senior Member of the University of Oxford, working in the Humanities.

And when you’re not busy running the league, what do you like to do with your spare time?

During the off-season like right now, I’m typing this from next to my tent camped out in East Sussex and enjoy seeing different parts of the country and enjoying the break off from the game. During the season, I typically attend over 50 games of hockey a season, so my weekends are fully booked up from September until the end of April. On a Monday night however, I can be found playing in the Witney and District Cribbage league, myself and Nancy won the Mixed Pairs a few years ago.

Everyone seems to have a favourite NHL team – which is yours?

For reasons that are long forgotten, I support the Columbus Blue Jackets. One of these days, we might even make it to round 2 of the playoffs!

You’re married to the powerhouse behind 482days.com, how long have you and Nancy been together and do you always agree about hockey?

We often agree, but when we disagree we tend to fight our corner. We’re both individuals that are very passionate about the sport but those who sat on the committee when we were running the Oxford City Stars will tell you that we hardly agreed at all! We’ve been together for coming up to 10 years now, married for four. Unsurprisingly, we met through hockey.

Do you play piamg and do you drink your tea out of a piamg mug?!

No, I don’t play it. I don’t drink tea or coffee, so typically for me a 482days.com mug means that I’m not feeling well and drinking a lemsip out of it!

Which is your favourite rink in the UK?

So hard to pick just one. For sheer history and atmosphere, either Kirkcaldy or Whitley Bay. As a modern facility, I love ice Sheffield and it’s design, it’s always such a pleasure to go there. It wasn’t love at first sight but I’ve come to really like the new Streatham rink, although, for me, the original was such a special place. However, if I had to pick a winner overall, one that has the whole package, I think it’s hard to look past Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff Bay. Brilliant exterior, two great pads, outstanding sight lines in the main arena, it’s superb to have it in both NIHL1 and NIHL2.

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Action at the old Streatham Rink (courtesy of Rick Webb)

What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen at a game?

Plenty that I can’t say! But one that always makes me smile is at Coventry back in the 2000/01 season. Hilton Ruggles, ex-Whitley, Manchester, Cardiff and Newcastle forward, signed for Coventry in the first season after the move from Solihull and was very much a character. He took a 2+10 and went to the box for his penalty. After getting in the box, he had a quick read of the Coventry Evening Telegraph and then after a few minutes, a fan turns up and passes a packet of chips from the café through. Suffice it to say, sat in the block right behind this, it was hilarious. He was also the best ever player to be refused a contract for the Murrayfield Racers, but that’s another story.

So tell us about your first ever experience of ice hockey?

My parents took me to watch Sheffield Steelers vs Durham Wasps in the old Heineken Premier League back in the 93/94 season, and I loved it from the first moment I watched it. Because my mum and dad knew people that worked/volunteered for the club, I had the full tour as well which was great!

Have you ever played hockey and if so, who for and what position did you play?

I’ve never played. I was learning to skate once and broke my ankle on both sides. And so, can’t play, can’t skate. Can’t coach either.

How long have you been League Manager and in a nutshell what does this entail?

I joined the NIHL LMC as NIHL Assistant League Manager (South) in August 2015 and became NIHL League Manager in August 2016 and we’ve just appointed another NIHL League Manager to cover the Northern Conference as of this May.

Each of us League Managers does two things, we are responsible for the day-to-day running of the league, answering queries from clubs, approving matters under the rules where required. We do not do fixtures or registrations, nor do we suspend players. A typical week for me is about handling any club correspondence. On a gameday, we stay available to help resolve any issues that may occur across the country

Each League Manager also has a specialism and mine is rule-writing/NIHL Governance, hence why I write the Rules of Competition and bore people about them on twitter.

What’s the best thing and the worst about being League Manager?

Personally, I do this role to try and make a difference for ice hockey in the UK, hence why I volunteer my time for it. I honestly believe that the governance we’ve built over the past few years is starting to pay off in the game and that’s the most pleasing thing about it.

The worst thing simply is having to clamp down, when we have to do this. An example is what happened at the start of last season in NIHL1 South, when the league was nearly out of control with huge numbers of brawls in the first month of the season. The EIHA and myself prefer a more passive approach to league management, but if we have to get more involved, then we will. It’s still not something that anyone particularly enjoys though.

What do you love about hockey in the UK.

For me, the best thing about it is seeing the away support, people travelling from their own rinks, making lots of noise and supporting their team. I’d really encourage people that are just home game only fans to give it a try, travelling away from home, you’ll find it’s a totally different experience, and probably a better one from an atmosphere point of view.

If you could wave a magic wand and change three things in hockey at NIHL level what would they be?

There’s no doubt that this has been an eventful summer already. I certainly didn’t expect that we’d be in this position, with the EPIHL folded and the NIHL now the remaining EIHA Senior League. However, it’s a great opportunity to build something new as well. In terms of change, I think we’ve had enough of that already thanks!

Out of all the games you’ve watched over the years which NIHL game has been the most memorable and why?

As a fan: Feb 2010, Chelmsford Chieftains 2 – 3 Oxford City Stars. Stars go three up, Chiefs hit back to 3-2 then hit the crossbar, bounces on the line and out. Referee awards no goal, Oxford fans go crazy and seal the victory. Hockey at it’s passionate and controversial best.

As club secretary: April 2013, Oxford City Stars 4 – 3 Slough Jets. Stars trail three times but Joe Oliver scores the winner to win the league for the Stars. First time Oxford had been sold out in years and years, great to see.

Since becoming League Manager: April 2016, Streatham 4 – 4 Chelmsford Chieftains. Streatham, it’s fair to say annihilated in the Cup Final a few weeks before, edged past Oxford in 1st round playoffs, but produced a stunning performance. Redskins edged ahead but Chelmsford leveled it up late at 4. Outstanding game of hockey.

What would your stand out moment of last season be in NIHLS1? And NIHLS2?

Probably the playoff finals, 2nd legs for both. Both had a Chelmsford team, well behind after the first leg, making an incredible start to the game and everyone thinking, “surely, they can’t actually do this”. It ended up with two superb finals and I really enjoyed them both.

Of the players that you know who would you say are the most talented young players in the new NIHL currently?

I think that at the moment, it’s difficult to start answering questions on this because of all of the changes that have taken place already with this season. I think it’s fair to say, it’s going to take some time for this league to settle down and then we’ll be in a better question to think about such things.

What are you looking forward to most next season?

Without a doubt the playoffs. Sixteen team, joined up playoffs is a dream come true, it really is and I personally can’t wait for it.

And finally, I have to ask, who’s going to win the league?

As you didn’t define the league, I’ll pluck for the mighty Columbus Blue Jackets to lift the Stanley Cup.

Very sneaky of Mr Carpenter there to elegantly side-step the final question but there you have it, a brief insight into the man behind the scenes managing NIHLS. Thanks to Richard for taking time out to answer some questions whilst enjoying the great outdoors in what little we have left of summer. Don’t forget to give him a wave when you spot him next season if he happens to be at your rink.

Now, let the hockey commence …

 

Featured image from Chelmsford v Invicta playoff final courtesy of Ice Cold Photography 

 

Posted in Ice Hockey, Uncategorized

EPL vs NIHL or Fruitcake vs Chocolate Fudge Cake

 

Firstly, let me clarify … this is an original ‘off on a tangent’ alternative, lighthearted view.

In the last couple of weeks, the NIHL (3rd tier ice hockey for the uninitiated), which is currently a stable and nicely competitive league has been rocked by the shock announcement by the Chairman of the English Ice Hockey Association that the 7 remaining EPL teams (2nd tier hockey which is financially ‘in a bit of a pickle’) have been advised to apply to the NIHL for next season.

Just like that. No clear plan or structure as to how it might work just a cheeky shove in a downward direction for the existing EPL teams. Annoyingly for NIHL followers the statement from the EIHA casually pointed the finger at the NIHL where teams have stood firm of late in refusing to meander carelessly upwards into a precarious premier league and potential financial ruin.

So I thought I’d write about it. Everyone else seems to be. From each team’s fan base on Twitter to the endless hijacked threads on The Hockey Forum – we all have an opinion and this, such as it is, is mine.

So let’s digest what has been suggested. The cunning plan so far is to take something that doesn’t work and isn’t financially sound and dump it unceremoniously into a league that is perfectly fine thank you. Terrific idea, well done and worthy of a slow hand clap and an eye roll.

On the one hand we have the premier league. A league above the NIHL and rightly so. The crowds are bigger (both home and away support), the entry price is higher, the numbers of imports are greater, the standard of hockey is superior with quality players and higher wages … there are numerous sponsors and therefore substantially more money is involved. And it hasn’t worked. The league is crumbling for a myriad of reasons.

And then on the other hand we have the NIHL. A league split into two divisions complete with a North/South divide that actually seems to work. It’s not perfect but it’s sustainable, has teams striving to join the first division from the second and it’s completely different to the premier league. Fewer imports, less sponsors, lower prices, less training sessions but competitive hockey pitched at the right level and it works. It isn’t crumbling.

So here’s where the cake analogy comes in. Bear with me – it will sort of make sense in the end. Possibly.

Imagine the EPL is a fruitcake competition. Each fruitcake is made up of slightly different ingredients or combinations of ingredients. In order to win the competition you have to have the best fruitcake. You work with your ingredients, tweaking it as you go to ensure that your fruitcake outshines the rest and beats the others when judged. Each fruitcake is the same but different. Each has the same constituent parts but they look different and taste different and so it is with EPL teams. To all intents and purposes they are different fruitcakes in a fruitcake only competition each vying to be the best.

And then let’s say the NIHL is a chocolate fudge cake competition. For chocolate fudge cake fans it is the only cake and the fruitcake competition is irrelevant. Again, within the chocolate fudge cake competition each cake is made up of similar ingredients although each competitor makes it slightly differently in order to reign supreme and so it is with the NIHL. The teams are all structurally similar, some have slightly altered ingredients but the recipe is fundamentally the same.

So each year there’s a fruitcake competition and a chocolate cake competition. They are separate. They are meant to be separate. They are both cakes but they are different cakes and can’t be judged against each other.

So if you have guessed where I’m going with this or have managed to stay with me to this point without glazed over eyes you’ll guess what’s coming next.

Where we’re at with the EPL vs NIHL debacle is this. A crazy person has suggested putting the fruitcakes into the chocolate fudge cake competition. Yikes! Along the way, they’re keeping their fingers crossed that the cakes will somehow gel; they will come together and miraculously create a hybrid that works for everyone. A ‘frocolate cake’. How mad is that? As separate entities, each looks different; each performs differently and is made up of different things. Surely combining them can never work?

In order for such a bizarre plan to come even close to working one will have to compromise so much that it no longer looks like it did before. EPL and NIHL hockey are two different things. Ultimately yes, it is all hockey but each one is too different to be slung carelessly together with little regard for the consequences.

For many of us we simply support our local team, we are in it for the loyalty factor. We love the team because it’s OUR team and most of us are probably not thinking about the future sustainability of hockey in the UK we just want to see our own team flourish and cheer the lads on to winning and that is why we all have an opinion. They are our soldiers in a valiant battle to win OUR league. So please, let common sense prevail for simple souls like me. Remedy the EPL separately. Find a solution for the 7. Leave the NIHL be and don’t fix what isn’t broken.