A new organisation aiming to reunite and celebrate the British ice hockey stars of yesteryear is delighted to announce its launch.
In my work as an agent I get the unique opportunity to go to places I would never visit unless there was Ice Hockey team there. Two weeks ago I ventured back to The Netherlands for the third time to pay a visit to some of my clients and contacts who play for the Smoke Eaters Geleen and Tilburg Trappers. I’d previously been over twice during the 2008/09 and 2009/10 season’s to catch up with some of my contacts there as well as speak to a number of my clients – I feel it’s an important part of the service I provide.
I set off on the Friday and had taken the decision to fly from Durham Tees Valley Airport rather than Newcastle, due to the fact it was considerably cheaper and the flight times worked around my timetable a lot better. For those that haven’t flown out of ‘Teesside’ in recent times, it’s pretty eye opening when compared with other UK airports – dilapidated is an understatement. They seem to have a lost a lot of business, especially from the low cost airlines. The day we flew out, there were only three flights, two to Aberdeen and our flight to Amsterdam Schipol. From what I could see the next day again there was only three flights, again to Aberdeen and Amsterdam! Durham Tees Valley is a good little airport, but it needs a lot of investment and asking passengers to pay an ‘airport service charge’ on departure was definitely something I wasn’t expecting.
For those that haven’t visited The Netherlands and in particular Amsterdam I would highly recommend, it’s a great city and there is a lot more to it than what it’s reputation suggests. The first game we were off to see saw the Amsterdam Capitals take on Tilburg in the Beker Cup which is pretty similar to the Challenge Cup in the UK. The Jaap Edenhal in Amsterdam is about 3 miles out to the east of the city and is not ideally situated. Ice Hockey in Amsterdam has a pretty turbulent history, enjoying a bankrolled spell of success in the early 2000’s to having to withdraw from the Eredivise two years ago when their financial backer pulled out. Amsterdam returned to the top level of Dutch hockey this year as the Capitals which is backed by Holland’s ‘Tony Hand’ in Ron Bertling.
The rink in Amsterdam has a capacity of around 4,000 and the particular night we were there was a decent circa 600 crowd which was swelled by a good following from Tilburg. The game was a non entity, it is apparent that right now without any imports, Amsterdam are going to struggle all season. They are currently bottom of the Beker Cup table and are being beaten by the three Belgium team’s who were the whipping boys of the Eredivise last season. The final result was 0-18 to Tilburg and pretty eye opening, former Cardiff Devil, Dundee Stars and 9HM client Jay Latulippe picked up 2+4 and rarely had to break into a sweat. I have a lot of time for what the people in Amsterdam are trying to achieve, i.e. build from the bottom with a sound financial plan but they’re probably doing more damage than good right now, in my mind if they can’t afford two or three imports they would have been better off staying in the Erste Division (2nd level in Holland and comparable to ENL).
After a day and a half in Amsterdam, we travelled down to Tilburg which is roughly one hundred miles south of Amsterdam and about thirty miles west of Eindhoven. For those that know a little bit about Dutch hockey, you’ve more than likely heard of Tilburg. The home town Trappers are probably the most well know Dutch Ice Hockey team and you can see why. Tilburg, like Ayr, Durham, Kirkcaldy, Nottingham lives and breathes hockey. The IJssportcentrum in Tilburg is a superb facility and certainly something I am very envious of after years of living in hope of a new rink in Gateshead. Everytime I have been to Tilburg the rink has been near on full and it was no different this time. Tilburg were playing Geleen with the two teams being joint top of the Beker Cup table.
Geleen are coached by former Humberside Hawks and Swindon Ice Lords forward Chris Eimers and another little plug, boast 9HM client Shawn Collymore. On paper Geleen are looking very strong this year and will likely be battling with Tilburg and HYS Den Haag for the Eredivise title. People always ask me what sort of level the Eredivise is and what it is comparable to in the UK, I would say it terms of quality it’s probably half way between the Elite League and EPL. It was starting to become a good league in recent years but like a lot of European leagues it has been hit hard by the economic downturn. This season the NIJB (Dutch Ice Hockey Federation) have brought in a new points system limiting imports and trying to drive further development of Dutch players which in the short term has weakened the Eredivise but will hopefully stop the boom and bust mentality the Dutch hockey has had over the past decade.
The game was a great spectacle for Dutch hockey, end to end, with a great atmosphere from the 2,500 strong crowd. Everytime I have been to Tilburg I have seen quite a comprehensive Trappers victory so it was a surprise to see them lose this one 0-3. Geleen played a superb road game and certainly look like they will be strong contenders for any silverware on offer this season. One player that really stood out was Ian MacDonald who has a stint with the Nottingham Panthers last season, he scored a very nice goal and looks to have settled into live in The Netherlands very well. Overall a very worthwhile trip from a business perspective, I always enjoy getting away and watching hockey in different countries and it allows me to network with my clients and contacts. If you haven’t had a chance to catch any hockey in The Netherlands I would highly recommend it for a mini break abroad.
Next I am off to Italy to catch some Serie A1 and A2 games so no doubt I’ll be blogging again when I get back.
Follow Gareth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/garethchalmers.
Special thanks to Fintan Planting for the photo: www.9pm.nl.
This coming weekend will see the Fife Flyers take on the Dundee Stars in their inaugural Elite League game. It will be the Flyers first ‘pro hockey’ game since the collapse of the British National League in 2005, while I am genuinely delighted for the Flyers organisation and their fans, there is also some disappointment hiding in the background. While in theory it wasn’t a planned replacement, the Flyers have taken the place of the Newcastle Vipers in the Elite League. It was a personal disappointment seeing the Vipers fold last season but the right decision for the club, the credibility of the sport in the North East as well as the Elite League as a whole. Personally I think adding the Flyers is huge for the Elite League, like North America, British Ice Hockey has hockey markets and Kirkcaldy is certainly one of those. I believe the Flyers in time will become a very strong Elite League organisation.
Back to the North East, a number of people have recently asked me what my thoughts are on the future, not only if the Vipers will have one but what it holds for Ice Hockey in the North East. Right now I do believe we are at a crossroads for the sport in the area, a fundamental mistake was made back in 1995 when the Newcastle Sporting Club decided to purchase the Durham Wasps and since then hockey in the area has been on a downward spiral. A lot of decisions made going back to the mid nineties has seen the area slip from it’s hotbed status it had then to currently boasting only two third division but proud teams in the Whitley Warriors and Billingham Stars. Credit must go to the Warriors and junior clubs who have continued to fly the flag for the North East despite the changing environment around them.
Looking towards the future, I do think the Warriors and the Stars need to be supported. These two organisations are the future of Ice Hockey in the North East as things currently stand. While I appreciate that English National League hockey is not to everyone’s taste, maybe the only sustainable level in the North East going forward is ENL. I don’t foresee Elite League hockey returning to the area anytime soon, it has been shown that without a new facility it just isn’t viable in it’s present format. English Premier League hockey isn’t an option either in it’s current form, due to it’s geographical proximity to the south. The Vipers investigated the possibility of going EPL in the summer of 2009, however it just wasn’t an option for the EIHA standpoint, or viable financially viable for the Vipers or the other EPL members clubs.
For the Vipers the future is very much open right now. People have suggested to me that if Ice Hockey were to return in Newcastle it should return under a new image, that’s something I strongly disagree with. Even through the ups and downs of the Vipers throughout the nine year history, one aspect was that the name became the most recognisable link associated with Ice Hockey in Newcastle going back to the opening of the Newcastle Arena in 1995. To the general public, potential sponsors and the local media there is nothing more damaging to the credibility of a strange North American sport than constantly changing names. In Newcastle, there has been four team names in a period of fifteen years, taking into account the Vipers we’re in existence for nine of these. We worked hard to build a recognisable image for the Vipers, the club has history which no other Newcastle based club could previously boast and that is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Upon deciding to remove the Vipers out of the Elite League in April, the possibility of ENL hockey was investigated and this could well be an option for the near future. In hindsight it’s something maybe that should have been attempted for this season so those that wanted to support it could, while appreciating there would be a number of people who wouldn’t want to watch ENL. In the short to medium term with Elite League or EPL hockey not really being a viable option, I do think the North East’s interest must be invested in the local ENL teams. Obviously we now know there was an attempt to put professional hockey into Whitley through Derek Campbell which unfortunately failed to materialise and I know of a consortium who investigated putting Elite League hockey back into the Metro Radio Arena, but to produce a competitive product worthy of the high rental costs, projections were a £250k loss in year one! Taking into consideration the economic downturn, that just isn’t feasible for anyone at the present time.
Something that has been mentioned time after time is the fact that the North East is screaming out for a new ice facility and it’s something I believe will happen. There is currently a working group of people who’ve been involved in different aspects of hockey in the area trying to press ahead with regards to assisting and driving forward possible projects. In addition to the dormant Gateshead project, I am aware of another ice rink project in the pipeline but with the majority of current facilities losing money all major outlay on such buildings are currently pending.
While it’s probably the lowest point for North East Ice Hockey in fifty years, I do believe there will be some benefit comes out of the current situation. Hockey in the area has always been built on the people and the rivalries; it isn’t a cash rich region in terms of disposable income so whatever happens in the future an affordable and entertaining product must be put on the ice and if that is in the ENL or in a new Northern Premier League so be it!
Follow me on Twitter: @garethchalmers
The launch of a new logo is the first phase of an exciting new look that BIH is currently undergoing behind the scenes.
Williams F1 is one of the world’s leading Formula One teams – and the Williams name has been synonymous with top-level motor racing since the 1960s.
After running teams on the sport’s nursery slopes, patron Frank Williams entered the F1 arena in 1969 and soon earned a reputation as one of the industry’s most determined individuals. Having sold his controlling interest in the original team, Frank founded Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1977 and built his first eponymous car the following year.
Since then, Williams has won 16 FIA Formula One World Championships (nine for constructors, in partnership with Cosworth, Honda and Renault, and seven for drivers, with Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve). Williams employs about 500 personnel at its technology campus in Grove, Oxfordshire, where it designs and manufactures Formula One racing cars that compete in every grand prix (19 races in 2010). The team’s endeavours have earned Frank Williams a knighthood as well as the French equivalent, the Légion d’honneur.
9gc and subsidiary company 9 Hockey Management, have teamed up with Morzine-Avoriaz Ice Hockey Club as their international sponsorship consultancy.
It’s been a hectic couple of weeks so this is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to write a blog. Three weeks ago I was out in Italy visiting Rob Wilson who’s had a very successful first season with Neumarkt Egna in A2 (the second tier of Italian Ice Hockey). Rob’s been interested in heading to Europe for about three years now and personally I felt he should have left sooner than he did, he turned down an offer from Fassa two years which really he should have taken looking back. However, Rob started a project in Newcastle with Paul Ferone and Paddy O’Connor which they felt they could make work but due to the delay in the Gateshead rink being built they financed it longer than they should have done, and lost a considerable amount of money along the way.
Back to Italy, Rob has taken a Neumarkt Egna team who finished bottom in the Italian A2 last season to second spot this season. They really shouldn’t have done that as Gardena and Vipiteno who finished first and third respectively spend big big money. So testament to Rob he coached Neumarkt who are low to mid table budget team to one of their most successful season’s in their history. Neumart have just moved into a brand new 1,500 capacity rink which is absolutely superb, it’s very frustrating seeing a village of 3,000 people with a new rink costing 5 million euros when the Vipers have been trying to move into our own facility for six years now in a catchment area of 2.5 million people. Furthermore Neumarkt have two big A2 rivals in Eppan (where Mike Ellis has been coaching) and Kaltern who are both within a twenty minute drive which is surreal to be honest and in addition Bolzano one of Italy’s biggest clubs are only fifteen minutes up the road.
It became apparent to me when I was in Neumarkt the difference between hockey in the UK and on the continent. In the past I hadn’t really taken notice of hockey in Europe but through my agency work I’ve had to. I arrived into Neumarkt on the Friday evening after a twelve hour journey which took me from Newcastle to Stansted a connecting flight onto Venice, I caught a train to Verona a quick change and then onto Ora. I arrived two hours before Neumarkt’s third game of their quarter final playoff series against Kaltern – their fierce local rivals. I arrived at the rink, very impressive building mostly a pine structure but with superb sightlines. Like most European rinks there are no seats and everyone stands down one side with a wall of sponsors on the other side. One thing I noticed straight away was the amount glass and natural light that they’d designed the building to allow, certainly different to most UK facilities and something I much more preferred than some of the dull and dark rinks we have.
Rob came and met me before the game and first thing he said to me: “This isn’t like Whitley Bay is it?” – an understatement if there was ever one. We sat for about half an hour talking about how he’d done there, the Italian game, what was happening in the UK and obviously the on going Vipers struggles. The game even in the second tier in Italy is faster and more technical than the Elite League. The physical aspect of the game isn’t anywhere near the UK but with it being such a big game against their local rivals, both teams certainly threw their weight around. One of the subjects we discussed was enforcers, even in A1 in Italy teams wouldn’t ever consider signing a player solely to fight and in theory they don’t have to as teams go out and try to beat each be playing hockey. There are no intimidation tactics and even the supporters frown upon any sign of fight breaking out.
Neumarkt beat Kaltern that night 3-2 in a typical scrappy playoff game, I then went to the game in Kaltern on Sunday which Neumarkt unfortunately lost 6-4. The rink in Kaltern I’d heard about before heading to Italy. Like a lot of the older rinks in Italy, it was outside but in recent times they’d put a timber roof over the top but still fifty percent of the rink is open to the elements which made it very interesting and very cold! Neumarkt never recovered from the loss in Kaltern and due to serious injuries to Rob’s best two players, one being my client Jussi Heikkinen, they just had too few bodies and ended up losing the series 4-2. Rob has enjoyed his first season in Italy and it’s been the best move for him, he lost a six figure sum trying to make the Vipers work which I find crazy but understand why and what they were trying to do. I have a lot of respect for Rob, he was a player I always admired in Sheffield. There are those people that don’t like him or have time for him but that’s life, one thing I will say about Rob is he is very passionate about his hockey – he lives and breaths it.
All in all a very enjoyable trip, Neumarkt is in Northern Italy where all the hockey is played there. It’s in the Bozen area which is not fair from the Austrian border and a beautiful area of the southern Alpes. The four days I spent there made me realise what a long way we’ve got to go in the UK. The likes of Nottingham and Coventry are superb businesses but the rest struggle from season to season. In Newcastle this season our guys have had five sticks to last them all season, in Neumarkt their star player has seventy sticks – that says it all!
Follow Gareth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/garethchalmers
9gc are delighted to announce that we have acquired a shareholder stake in Nolimit Sport AB who hold Reebok Hockey distribution rights in South East Asia.