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.