Announcement from our travel partner Nickes.Com

 Nickes.com FOOTBALLEuropean Football The 2011/12 football season is coming to an end after 10 exciting months with many twists and turns .A lot of people have travelled with us to see some fantastic games this season in Spain, Italy, Germany, France, … Continue reading

Get Your Brand Seen

Blueliner Hockey and Get Real have teamed up to offer our partners and supporters the chance to get their brand seen by thousands of readers a day. Whilst many sites will only over you one page on one website by … Continue reading

Blueliner Hockey Store

The Blueliner Hockey Store has now launched. The Store sells top quality t shirts and accessoires that are hockey themed. With new styles being added all the time.

Blueliner Hockey Store

Blueliner Signs For Get Real Hockey

To all my readers if you would like to get more from me as well as other news, insight and gossip from around the world head over to a new website. It is called http://www.getrealhockey.com and will be going live at the end of the month. It will be filled with news, gossip and insight from bloggers like me on all aspects of ice hockey from the NHL to the EIHL and all inbetween. I will be adding more content on the EIHL and GB ice hockey on there so take a look.

Right Hand for the Job?

The announcement of Tony Hand as the next Great Britain coach last week as raised many questions. These have ranged from whether it is viable for an EPL coach to be national team coach? Is his record as a coach good enough? Who else is there? Is he tactically sound? And even does he have the passion for it? Added to this outspoken Sheffield Steelers’ spokesperson Dave Simms said after the news that Paul Thompson would be stepping down broke that there was no outstanding candidate for the job.

Putting aside all these questions for a moment it is great that such questions are now being asked. 10 or 15 years ago the national team wasn’t even on the radar of most fans. The Great Britain team was being coached by Chris McSorley was coaching in Switzerland and doing the job without getting paid whilst some duel internationals were being offered large sums of money to play for the side. Today the GB team has gone from this to a Division One promotion possibility and potential host of a world championship as well as rising from outside the top 30 countries to inside the top 20. Fans are also more involved with 2 international games at ‘home’ per year. No longer is the GB job a thankless task for a week a year but a high profile role taken seriously by the players and fans.

Turning to Tony Hand now. His history and experience in the sport does suggest that this is a job he was destined for. His playing career which is still going today has seen Hand score more points than any other British player or any other player in this country, a draftee of the Edmonton Oilers, played in all corners of the British game and was a member of the Great Britain team that last played in the World Championship group in 1994. Behind the bench Hand has built up 10 years worth of experience. Winning the British National League title with Dundee, the EPL title with Manchester and coaching at all ends of the financial scale in the Elite League with Edinburgh, Belfast and Manchester.

Despite this some quarters have asked questions.

Does Hand lack the passion and commitment for the job?

Some people have questioned this based on his actions as a player most based on Hand’s decision to retire from international ice hockey despite still being the most proficient British player in the league. However not only was this decision right for Hand given his age and had prolonged his career it has turned out to be right for the national side. By leaving the national programme Hand gave the powers that be at that time a shake up that was desperately needed. The mismanaged, haphazard way in which duel nationals were ‘employed’ was stifling young British talent and making a mockery of the national squad.

Does Hand have the Tactical Knowledge?

Tony Hand has been deeply criticised at times for his tactics. This has centred on his overuse of his top two lines. This is true however during his time in the Elite League with Edinburgh and Manchester Hand has lacked the depth due to tight financial constraints to roll three lines in tight games. However even during the EPL games Hand has continued this practise. This is an area that Hand will need to improve on although in his defence part of his reasoning behind the two-line system is that one of those lines has included Hand himself. It looks from the outside that in close games Hand feels he is better being on the ice himself and so uses the two-line system to put himself out there more. In international games however against strong line-ups such as the Ukraine or Kazakhstan it is much more important to keep the team fresh but of course Hand will not be icing.

Is it Viable for an EPL Coach?

On time will tell but it would appear to be difficult. Paul Thompson as an Elite League coach saw every team and every player by virtue of the fact he was behind the bench of one of the sides. This allowed Thompson to view players together and watch them play on their lines however as an opposition coach Thompson had a responsibility to beat those players and so at times was difficult for him to be abstract. Hand however does not have that problem for the majority of players. Also with more midweek games in the EIHL Hand will be able to watch games from an outsider viewpoint. It is also true that the EPL has some overlooked British players as well as Longstaff and Bowns who made the last GB squad.

The main sticking point however will be the EPL playoff finals. This playoff weekend comes a weekend before the World Championships start and has seen the Great Britain team play warm up games that weekend. With Manchester a favourite to make the weekend for the third successive year there is an obvious conflict of interest. There are of course rumours about Manchester moving back into the EIHL that would solve this problem for the final 3 years of Hands international contract but that is a matter for a whole other blog.

It is worth noting that Hand will have a team of assistant coaches to help him but it is not reasonable to expect an assistant to take charge of the warm up games and then for Hand to charge for the World Championships.

Is Hand’s Coaching Record Good Enough?

Following in the footsteps of a 4 time Elite League winning British coach is always going to make Hand’s coaching record look poor. However Hand has won 2 championships in the BNL and the EPL. It is also worth noting that Hand didn’t really have the resource to win the Elite League in Manchester or Edinburgh but did get them to the playoffs. Belfast was a different matter but Hand did only spend a season in charge there.

So that puts the jury out on Hand’s credentials to be Great Britain coach. So perhaps the deciding factor is who else is there?

The truth is there are not that many candidates. If you are looking for British born coach then there is only Hand who has a record remotely near that of Paul Thompson. Other duel national candidates are available such as Corey Neilsen from Nottingham. However Neilsen is yet to coach a league winning side and would mean losing a defenseman from the pool of players to pick from. There is also Rob Wilson but Wilson is currently coaching in Italy.

There are of course non-British candidates. Gerard Adams of the Cardiff Devils and Doug Christiansen of the Belfast Giants have both coached in this country for several years but neither have been involved in the international set up before and after a successful couple of years now is not to the time to start changing that.

At the end of day Dave Simms is right. There aren’t a great number of candidates for the job and no one perhaps is as suited to the role as Paul Thompson was. In Tony Hand though there is at least someone with a great hockey sense. All the rest of us can do is cheer him and the boys on.

2011 Hockey Tour Day One

It is around about 15 years to the day that I first watched ice hockey. It was a 5-5 tie between the Manchester Storm and the Ayr Scottish Eagles. So returning again to see a successful Manchester was an exciting event. The Altrincham Ice Dome may not be the Manchester Evening News Arena but the fans, noise and sport are still there. Even if there aren’t as many fans.

The game itself is not great. Manchester had started the season with injury problems and it showed as they struggled to get into any flow. Passes seemingly to a someone who they thought would be there and had gone a different way.

Manchester’s opposition tonight was another team I remember fondly from my early hockey days, Basingstoke. The reason I remember them so fondly is for one save in a play off tie. Manchester Storm had pulled goalie Grant Sjevern when Basingstoke broke away. With a seemingly empty net the shot was taken only for Grant Sjevern to have sprinted from the bench to make the a diving save.

Tonight however they also seemed to be content to wait for their chances and taken them and that they did. 2 break away goals shorthand and redirect on the powerplay and they win the game 3-0.

As for us it is onwards to the airport and the flight to Stockholm. Next game is a struggling Djurgarden side against Elitserien high flyers Frolunda at the Royal Court, Hovet.

EIHA Mishap over Fylde Flyers home opener

Saturday night was meant to see the Fylde Flyers play their first ever home game. However due to a problem with the netting not being in place at the new Sub Zero ice rink in Cleveleys just north of Blackpool the game was postponed. Their home opener is now scheduled for 12th November.
What was disappointing was not the I was looking forward to seeing this new team play their first home game but that the organisation was let down by the EIHA. On arriving at the rink I was surprised to see that a public session was still going on some 15 minutes before the face off was due to happen. Naturally you ask a few questions at which point I discovered that the Fylde Flyers had asked the EIHA to postpone and reschedule the game due to the problem with the netting some weeks previously. However the EIHA had failed to update its website.
This is a real embarrassment. The club and the rink were obviously keen to make a good impression and entice people back to see them however due to the EIHA in ability to update their own website. The club and rink were left red faced. Worse still is that it will not be the EIHA that feels any backlash but the club themselves.
I think this simply should not happen. The EIHA has an obligation to promote teams and assist anyway it can the teams that belong to its association but on this occasion it has let those teams, the fans, and the public down. Disgraceful.
On the plus side the rink does appear to be very nice. It is very small that will ultimately hold the team back from having ambitions beyond the ENL but it is clean tidy with amble parking and a nice cafe with views over the rink. I am looking forward to being able to go back their to catch up on the progress of the Uk’s newest team.

Does Pre Season Mean Anything?

With the ice hockey season now well under way the leagues seem to be forming the challengers, play off contenders and the try again next year sides. But what happened to the teams promising much before the season started.

In the EPL, Manchester Phoenix started pre season as a side to beat but a draw at Sheffield and a win on home against the Steeldogs was less than convincing yet find themselves at joint top of table. Swindon on the other hand played 4 pre season games winning 2 against Telford (a side that they were expected to beat) but then lost 2 against the Slough Jets. But they find themselves with 4-4-1 record, continuing that pre season trend. In the EIHL however the Hull Stringrays had a promising preseason which included winning the P&O Cup and yet have only 1 win so far from 12 games. At the opposite end of table the Belfast Giants were 1 – 1- 0 in pre season but top the table.

So pre season results doesn’t convert into any sort of form guide for how a team will fair in the league but is it useful as a tool for trying out lines and getting the team going. This too is to not conclusive as both Manchester and Belfast only played 2 pre season games and both top their leagues early on.

So why bother? The traditional thinking was that it allowed players to get into shape but that is less of a case now as players are able to and do use good gyms all year round. But in hockey money talks and pre season allows clubs to have extra games and get extra revenue from ticket sales without the leagues taking a cut. And that is the answer. Pre season does mean something for the clubs. Money.

Flying High

British Ice Hockey welcomed back two teams this week. At the Elite League meeting earlier this week British Ice Hockey welcomed back the Fife Flyers to the top flight. The scottish outfit is the oldest club in Britain and have been excluded from the top flight due to the condition of the Kirkcaldy ice rink. But following on from their acceptance to the EIHL a face off that included new penalty boxes and plexi glass was announced and means the a massive injustice in British ice hockey comes to end.

Another injustice ended in British ice hockey as well this week and went largely unnoticed but for a couple of tweets from the Peterborough Islanders and CB Sport. The Fylde Coast has regained its ice hockey club after an absence of 20 years. The Fylde Flyers will play in the English National League North second division playing out of the brand new Cleveleys Sub Zero ice rink. Their return is in thanks to help from former players of the Fylde coasts former side, the Blackpool Seagulls play off champions in 1981. I wish them every success. With hard work, community spirit and support this could be a team that goes places.

With Billingham also making a come back following their rinks refurbishment the disappointment of losing the Vipers earlier this closed season is a little easier to swallow if not overcome.

Britain Back On The Radar

It is not normally on the front page of hockey news but the World Championship Division 1 sent shock waves through the British ice hockey community. Few people would have imagined in that just over a week Team GB would go from medal hopefuls to promotion challengers.

The 5 -2 beating of the hosts the Ukraine followed by a narrow one goal defeat to Kazakhstan meant that those three countries went into the final round of games with a chance of playing in the top division next year against the likes of Canada, USA, Russia and Sweden.

With the Ukraine leading by a goal in the third it was Team GB who looked on course to make the leap up to the top division but ultimately it was the Kazakhs who equalising sending the game to overtime and giving them the point they needed to secure promotion.

GB coach Paul Thompson was disappointed after that result but it was still a great achievement for a team that is assembled every year on a fraction of the budget of the likes of the Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Surely now is the time for the authorities to sit down and come up with a cohesive national team strategy. It is not going to be easy and would need the full cooperation of the clubs but the aim of getting Great Britain promoted to the World Championship group would be achievable. After all a team can only get so far on its talent. The types of ideas that IHUK should be looking at is getting a training squad together at various points throughout the season, playing against other nations more and making themselves more visible to rally up support and interest. This could all be done on a small budget and with only a little more organisation that happens now.

I can not help but think what would have happened had the GB squad been together for a month before the championship like their Ukrainian counterparts.

But perhaps I am becoming too negative. It was a fantastic effort and one that has lifted the GB team from mid – division 1 team to knocking on the door of the top division. It is also worth noting that 6000 people listened to final round games via the BBCi website. If this isn’t the start of something for the GB national team I don’t know what is. So look out because Team GB is back on the world radar… just ask current Ukraine and ex Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis.

Links

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-1380010/Great-Britains-Ice-Hockey-team-win-World-Championship-silver.html

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/sports/ice-hockey-news/2011/04/20/phillips-hurting-after-britain-s-world-championship-loss-to-the-ukraine-91466-28549708/

http://www.thefifthline.co.uk/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=108:historic-gb-win-stuns-hosts&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=18