It is has been a remarkable EIHL season with 2 new teams, Dundee Stars and Braehead Clan, a 22 game winning streak for the Cardiff Devils and financial problems.
So firstly the positives and my EIHL team of the season. There are a few teams that could be worth of the title. Sheffield Steelers bounced back from a poor season last year to win the title. Cardiff Devils 22 game winning streak is a unbeliveable effort that propelled them from spoilers to league title candidates. And Belfast Giants who celebrated their tenth season. But for me the team of season was the Braehead Clan. After a difficult start to their Elite League lives, in which they lost their coach before the season started, they rebounded to produce some fine efforts and beat the 2010 champion Coventry Blaze into 5th place and won a 20 – 20 tournament in the NIC. I expect better things from the Clan next year and maybe they could reach the playoff finals weekend next year.
But it looks like the 2011 could be the last one for the Newcastle Vipers, marking the end of professional ice hockey in the North East which has been a traditional hot bed of young talent in the sport. Whilst at this stage it is unclear on the status of the Vipers it does appear that the current ownership will not operating the team.
The Elite League seem to have come up with 2 options. Firstly running the team themselves. But with the high price of ice time in the metro arena, lack of ice team at Whitely Bay and the team struggling to bring in fans it is not the first choice option.
That option seems to be to give the franchise to the Fife Flyers. This could be a great option. A team with traditional, the potential to win back thousands of fans and disgruntled with their currently situation. It seems to be a match made in hockey heaven however the Kirkcaldy rink currently does not have any plexi glass and would need some modernisation as well as the fact that the Elite League do not seem to have actually spoken to the Fife Flyers.
For me it would be great to see the Fife Flyers in the Elite League but the rink would need to be modernised first to maintain the highest possible rink standards in the top flight. But losing top flight hockey in the north east is a step backwards for me. Whilst ice hockey in Newcastle has always struggled due to fierce rival between Whitley Bay and Durham in the past, expense of the arena and lack of a permanent rink, it is necessary for the talent in the north east, that has produced the likes of David Longstaff, to have a clear path forward and to the top.
What would be a better way forward would be for the Elite League to assist in building a rink in Durham to restore the Wasps and that would have a bigger fan base and make the team more sustainable.
Although this would be unlikely as it would be a longer term investment and more costly and mean that the authorities would need to try to entice another club such as Manchester, Basingstoke or Guildford into the league to even the numbers up.