The Braehead Clan early this week departed company with their coach Drew Bannister or rather Bannister ditched the Glasgow outfit at the alter. Rather interestingly aside from the question over the future of star forward Jade Galbraith it has raised 2 important questions around British ice hockey.
Firstly is the on going issue around contracts in ice hockey. Players and now coaches seem all to ready to sign a contract at the beginning of the season only to walk out on it when a better offer arrives. Bannister had already signed a contract with the Clan to be the player – coach next season. He had even made several signings to club including stars of last season’s campaign Canadians Jordan Krestanovich and Brock McPherson. However Bannister ditched the Clan once an offer from OHL side Owen Sound Attack arrived. Bannister is not of the course only player to have done this and the issue continues but whilst the EIHL and British ice hockey is not a pinnacle of the sport it will always be a problem.
The second question that has been raised is regarding the state of British coaching. At present the EIHL features only 1 British born coach. It is a question that was raised in December when Thompson stepped down as the national team coach. Back then he was replaced by Tony Hand of the EPL side the Manchester Phoenix.
However the EPL may not be a source of British talent in the coaching department. Whilst the top two in the EPL last season were coached by British coaches the Sheffield Steeldogs who finished third were coached by a Canadian and fourth placed finishers Slough have announced that Ukrainian Slavia Koulikov will be the head coach next season.
There could though be options further down the EPL with the vastly experienced Peter Russell’s name being suggested as a possibility for the Clan. However Russell has never held a coaching post in the top flight but has tasted success; most recently as the head coach of the Slough Jets but also the Great Britain junior set up.
Whilst Russell’s credentials suggest it could be time for him to be given a chance in the top flight he is unlikely to be at the top of the Clan’s or any other Elite League sides wish list. The problem is that there is a tendency towards hiring player coaches. The general thinking is that teams can save money by having a player coach. This is a trend that does not stop at the top of the sport but continues into the EPL. Despite this trend the most successful sides have all featured a non-playing head coach.
However it has also led to something of a void. British coaches are not getting the opportunity to work within organisations at the top of the sport in UK. In Sweden for example coaches move through their national team development programme so they can develop alongside their players. Whilst something needs to be done to help promote British coaches it is unlikely to happen soon.
The investment need to advance British coaches beyond the junior levels can be put into youth and facility development where it can be put to better use. The increased use of imports as well will not help either. British coaches such as Tony Hand, Ryan Aldridge and Paul Dixon have made good coaches because they had good ice time during their careers.
In the meantime it appears that sides and fans will have to get used to teams promoting their veteran players to become coaches and it is mostly likely that they will not be British born.