FILE - In this Saturday, May 11, 2019 file photo, fans of Great Britain celebrate after their team scored their first goal during the Ice Hockey World Championships group A match between Germany and Great Britain at the Steel Arena in Kosice, Slovakia. Ice hockey in Britain had been on a roll before the coronavirus. The Elite Ice Hockey League attendance was up. The national team broke into the top level of the world championship alongside the likes of Sweden, Russia and Canada. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

British hockey fears virus could put sport on thin ice

Ciaran Long found work delivering books to Northern Ireland’s libraries. Luke Ferrara caught on with a team in France before switching to a squad in Poland.

Both would prefer to be skating with their British ice hockey teams — Long for the Belfast Giants and Ferrara for the Coventry Blaze.

If the Elite Ice Hockey League is unable to squeeze in a condensed season in early 2021 after suspending its scheduled start in September, the players fear that British hockey could be set back years. Time is running out.

“Everyone would be grateful if we can get something going within the next couple of months,” said Long, a 29-year-old left wing. “For the future of the league, I think it would be great if anything happens.”

British hockey had been on a roll before the coronavirus. The league, with its feisty, physical style that relies heavily on late-career North American imports, boasts of rising attendance. The national team broke into the top level of the world championship alongside the likes of Sweden, Russia and Canada.

Liam Kirk became the first player born and trained in England to be drafted by an NHL team when the Arizona Coyotes drafted him in 2018.

Right on cue, Ferrara ended last season as the first British player to lead the EIHL in goals. The right wing scored 33 by the time the season was abandoned in March.

“People are starting to recognize British hockey more than they have in the past,” the 27-year-old Ferrara said.

With the world championship still scheduled to start in May in Belarus and Latvia, Ferrara worries his national team won’t be prepared to compete against game-ready opponents who are playing in domestic leagues across Europe.

“We can’t go into the world championships playing against Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic if we’ve had half our team not playing for over a year,” said Ferrara, who now plays for a team in Krakow. “That’s the main reason why I’ve been bouncing around teams and trying to just play wherever I can.

“There’s a line or two of our national team just not able to play. They’re probably really hoping for the UK league to start back up again.”

Unlike soccer’s Premier League, the 10-team EIHL doesn’t have lucrative TV deals to underwrite a season without fans and ticket revenue.

So when Britain’s government announced a financial rescue package, fans and players readied virtual high-fives.

Then came the details.

It turns out the 4 million pounds ($5.3 million) are earmarked for only the five English teams. Three teams are from Scotland and one each from Wales and Northern Ireland.

While the UK government maintains decision-making power in areas of foreign policy or defence, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments handle other policy decisions — often referred to as “devolved” powers — in areas including sports.

The EIHL’s current plan — subject to change like most things pandemic related — is for the five English teams to hold a condensed season beginning in late January or early February using fewer foreign players to reduce expenses.

League chairman Tony Smith told The Associated Press that the likelihood of 10 teams playing was “probably not going to happen” because of the dependencies on all four governments.

“We started a process of lobbying the devolved governments and it quickly became clear that every government has a different idea as to what’s best for the sport,” Smith said this month.

Since then, the Scottish government announced its own sports rescue package, though it may not be enough to make a difference.

Plus, not every team advocates for a return this season. Omar Pacha, general manager and coach of the Dundee Stars in Scotland, opposes a shortened season.

“As much as everyone associated with the club are thirstily anticipating a return to action, it is our belief that this approach is unfeasible, with the ongoing health and safety risks,” Pacha wrote to fans.

Government support, he said, should help teams stay afloat until the 2021-22 season begins.

Smith, however, said the English clubs can use the government funding only “if we put an Elite League-level product on the ice,” and not to simply cover losses.

“Players can’t be off the ice for 18 months and be expected to put a show on when we start again,” he said. “It could set the sport back a few years, so we need to get our players playing. Even if it’s only 12 weeks this year, we need to give them something.”

Cardiff Devils season-ticket holder Glynne Dummett said he would get his “hockey fix” if the season happens but he also worries about more stoppages.

“I’d rather watch whatever they can put together than watch nothing, but I’m not sure for 10 weeks or 12 weeks if it’s really worth it,” said Dummett, who was at the team’s first game in 1986.

Any reduction of imported players would create more roster spots for Long and other homegrown players.

“For Brits, it could be good,” said Long, who previously played for the Manchester Storm.

“I’m missing it massively. Everything about it, the feeling you get stepping out on the ice, the boys in the room, everything.”

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Ken Maguire, The Associated Press

Just Posted

(Advocate file photo)
Man charged following police chases last summer is sentenced

Alexander Michael Talbot sentenced to 22 months in prison

COVID-19 test kit. (Black Press Media file photo)
Red Deer businesses can order COVID testing kits from the Chamber

Kits are being provided through a partnership with the Alberta government

(Advocate file photo)
Pastor, candidate under restraining order arrested for allegedly breaking COVID laws

CALGARY — A Calgary mayoral candidate who is under a restraining order… Continue reading

Pro-Palestinian protesters run from police following a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Tensions flare at Israel-Palestinian demonstrations in Montreal, Toronto

Tensions ran high at competing demonstrations over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, then-vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. An expert in military affairs says the sudden departure of the  general in charge of Canada's vaccine rollout is unlikely to have any impact on the high-profile program. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canada to get 4.5M vaccine doses as questions swirl around immunization effort

OTTAWA — Canada is set to receive a large infusion of COVID-19… Continue reading

Mayor Rick Bonnett. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Ponoka council calls on gov’t to support rural small businesses

Ponoka council is calling on the provincial government to increase funding to… Continue reading

A woman attends a vigil in front of the hospital where Joyce Echaquan died in Joliette, Que., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Hospital staff testify today at Quebec coroner’s inquiry into death of Joyce Echaquan

TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Que. — Medical staff from a Quebec hospital where Joyce Echaquan… Continue reading

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on February 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ottawa looking for 2,000 new energy auditors to get home retrofit program going

OTTAWA — The federal government is looking to train 2,000 more people… Continue reading

A person waits outside a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Sunday, May 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Ontario opens shots to 18+, Quebec opens drive-thru, as COVID vaccine efforts expand

Quebec is opening a drive-thru vaccine clinic at its busiest airport and… Continue reading

Calgary Flames players celebrate the team's overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks during an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Lindholm OT winner gives Flames 6-5 win over Canucks despite blowing four-goal lead

VANCOUVER — In a game with little to play for besides pride,… Continue reading

In this photo taken on May 13, 2021, Russia's performer, Manizha, smiles during an interview after rehearsing at the Eurovision Song Contest at Ahoy arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands. For many, the stage and global television audience of millions is a chance to express messages of inclusion, strength and positivity. Manizha has a message of strength for women in her song whose lyrics include the lines: "Every Russian Woman. Needs to know. You're strong enough to bounce against the wall." (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Eurovision Song Contest returns despite coronavirus pandemic

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Pounding beats? Check. Uplifting lyrics? Check. Huge, backlit… Continue reading

Serena Williams of the United States returns the ball to Italy's Lisa Pigato during their match at the Emilia Romagna Open tennis tournament, in Parma, Monday, May 17, 2021. Serena Williams earned her first victory in more than three months by beating 17-year-old qualifier Lisa Pigato 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the Emilia-Romagna Open. Williams accepted a wild-card invitation for the Parma tournament after losing her opening match at the Italian Open last week. (AP Photo/Marco Vasini)
Serena Williams posts 1st victory in more than 3 months

PARMA, Italy (AP) — Serena Williams earned her first victory in more… Continue reading

In this Oct. 21, 2014 file photo, people pass an AT&T store in New York's Times Square. AT&T will combine its media operations that include CNN HBO, TNT and TBS in a $43 billion deal with Discovery, the owner of lifestyle networks including the Food Network and HGTV. The deal announced Monday, May 17, 2021, would create a separate media company as households increasingly abandon cable and satellite TV, looking instead at Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
AT&T, Discovery join media brands as cord-cutting encroaches

NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T will combine its massive media operations that… Continue reading

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Most Read