And if I’m being honest, the title of this blog is probably a bit of an understatement. As is all to common, the off season in British Ice Hockey brings forth all kinds of chaos and confusion. Hell, I don’t think it would be a summer without some uncertainty hanging over the game. It’s tradition, really.
Milton Keynes… oh deary me.
So, the biggest source of the annual chaos has been down in Milton Keynes. Now, I’m not going to beat around the bush here. What has come out of the woodwork regarding the tenure of the Moodys as custodians of the Milton Keynes Lightning has been, frankly, outrageous. Not paying players and staff, abandoning them without flights home, not supplying National Insurance numbers, the list goes on. It certainly isn’t a great advert for the sport, either here or abroad. However, unlike many, I’m not going to assign malicious intent on their part. I don’t believe that Graham and Monica Moody set out the screw over fans, suppliers, and players alike. Like so many owners at hockey clubs before, I believe they grossly underestimated just how difficult and expensive running a hockey club actually is. I’d say that it is reasonable to expect the running costs of an EIHL team to be around the 7-figure mark, all told. And raising enough funds to manage that has proven beyond plenty of people in the past.
And, like many before them, rather than hold their hands up and admit things were not going to plan, they doubled down on things and built up a wall around themselves. As is often the case, they obviously felt that they could right the ship, and took a step towards this by announcing that they were leaving the EIHL, and joining the fledgling NIHL National League for the 2019-2020 season. This precipitated a flood of accusations and revelations which are continuing even now.
Now, this is where it starts to get even more messy (if that seems possible). Their landlords, Planet Ice expressed surprise at their move (despite having 3 other teams that they either run or rent ice to involved in setting up the league and approving member teams), and the fans were in uproar. Almost immediately a group was set up with the sole stated intent of keeping EIHL hockey in Milton Keynes, naming itself “Lets Play Hockey” (and trading as MKIHC Ltd). As the Moodys began work on assembling their NIHL team (despite staff walking out), the LPH group began fundraising and submitted a bid to the EIHL. This was refused by the EIHL, and although no reason was officially given, many believed this was due to the remaining 10 teams being unsure the the bid was financially sound. At this point, Planet Ice became much more actively involved, issuing a veiled threat to the continued ability of the Manchester Storm and Coventry Blaze to use their rinks as EIHL members. Despite this, and a letter supposedly offering guarantees to the other 10 clubs, the EIHL held firm, and still refused the LPH/PI bid. (Now, I will say good on the EIHL here. It isn’t often I praise the EIHL, but in this case they got it spot on. The LPH bid was hastily thrown together, irrespective of the qualifications of those involved, and clearly contained too many unknowns, even with the “might” of Planet Ice behind it)
Following this, the “EIHL or Bust” LPH/PI bid turned it’s attention to the fledgling NIHL National, proclaiming that they had been given the rights to ice in the league as the Lightning. Despite this claim, the EIHA said nothing, as it hadn’t even discussed it amongst the 9 other NIHL National members. Still, the carefully timed and publicised announcement worked, and 36 hours after the claim that they were to be a NIHL team was made the EIHA and the LMC finally granted them a place in the league. Now, I don’t doubt that they would have eventually been accepted into the NIHL as a team, but the tactic of announcing they were in before the league had properly discussed it leaves a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. 24 hours prior to thi, they were still EIHL or bust. For all we know, they still are. I for one harbour doubts about how committed to the new league LPH/PI actually are. I can see them abandoning the league after 1 season for an EIHL spot, causing headaches for the other 9 teams and the EIHA. Of course, that is speculation on my part, but I know I’m not the only person with that doubt in mind.
So, what can we take from this? Well, the sport has chewed up and spat out another team owner in a somewhat less than flattering manner. And as usual, there has been what I shall call unseemly behaviour from people on all sides of the fallout. The usual social media game of assigning malicious intent and throwing abuse about began almost immediately. British Ice Hockey needs to learn lessons it seems to wish to ignore. Due diligence is important (lest anyone forget, Planet Ice supposedly did this with the Moodys, so they are not absolved of any blame for this situation, despite painting themselves as “saviours” in Milton Keynes). And unless this lesson is learned, the Moodys won’t be the last owners to go down the road they did. Also, the sport needs to tighten up on what clubs can and are spending. It is pretty clear that to stand any chance of making a club viable, you need to have some seriously deep pockets, alongside some seriously good income streams (The Moodys debts are in the region of £300k after 2 seasons). I don’t think it is incorrect to say that there will currently be at least 1 or 2 other teams in the EIHL for whom the finances are carefully balanced on a knife edge. And it likely won’t take much to tip them over the edge. Yet the clubs themselves seem reluctant to do anything to alleviate the pressures, with expenditure increasing year on year unchecked. As I said, this isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last. Sadly.
Team GB at the World Championships.
Well, it’s been a funny old tournament for Team GB. Sure, most of us expected to lose all of our games, but still… We kept it tight against Germany, got the expected battering from Canada, then got an unexpected shellacking by Denmark (a game many expected to be quite tight), before putting in an absolute blinder of a performance against the USA, running them far closer than we could have reasonably hoped. As I write, we have games against Finland, host nation SLovakia, and then France to come. The only game we have a realistic hope in is the France tie, which is looking like being a relegation decider. Lets hope the team carry the form from the USA game onwards.