Expansion has been on the minds of every hockey fan so far this summer. First of all it was the EIHL splitting the league into two conferences, then it was the opening of the National Ice Sports Arena in Dublin and even the KHL got in on the act by announcing its plan for a 64-team league to include a side in the UK.
Now Leeds is getting in on the act. Hot on the heels of the Leeds Arena, which is rapidly nearing completion has come the announcement that the Ice Rink Company has signed a deal with Leeds City Council to build a rink close to Elland Road football stadium. The rink that will be run by Silverblades will seat around 1,000 and contain a café and car park and will be available for an ice hockey team.
Leeds has been linked to an ice hockey franchise in the past but without there being a permanent ice facility in the city those links have never come to fruition. Now though it has emerged that an American group could be interested in purchasing Leeds United FC and also backing an ice hockey team under the same brand.
The Americans or any other potential investors may need to pump more money into the venture however. The rink, which is hoping to be open by Autumn 2014, whilst hoping to host an ice hockey club, may not be big enough for an EIHL franchise. The planned 1,000-seat rink would be less than half the capacity of the next smallest rink in the EIHL. However the rink could be used as training facility and development team rink for a side based at the new Leeds Arena.
The Leeds Arena, which is currently being built, would have the ability to hold around 11,000 for an ice hockey match. Once completed though the arena would not have a permanent ice plant. Despite this the management company and Leeds City Council seem to be open to the prospect stating on their website that “The Leeds Arena will have the flexibility to accommodate an ice pad.”
Even though an EIHL may not be on the cards for Leeds unless a major investor can be persuade to add an ice plant to the unique fan shaped arena, even an EPL or National League side would be a major boost for the sport in the UK. Not only would a team offer potential derby clashes with Sheffield and Hull,
Leeds is the fifth largest city in the UK and has sizeable student population. If a team is formed in the city it would be the third largest city with an ice hockey team and open the sport to large new audience.