Ice Hockey Review 2009

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Ice Hockey Year in a Nutshell

It’s been a difficult year for the Nottingham Panthers and for UK Ice Hockey in general but Nottingham managed a strong finish to the ‘noughties’ and will look to go from strength to strength in 2010.

Nottingham Panthers and SHeffield Steelers at the NIC

 

In April 2009 losing to arch rivals Sheffield Steelers in the play off finals was the salt in the wound of a fruitless campaign and yet another without the elusive league title after what had been a solid start to the season. It was during that season finale, held at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre, when rumours of a second team dropping out of the Elite League gained momentum with Manchester eventually electing to join the English Premier League with reduced costs and increased chances of winning.

The 09/10 season began with continued financial difficulties for several of the remaining eight teams as Edinburgh were granted permission to delay the start of their season by two weeks to save money. The Newcastle Vipers then announced financial concerns of their own following a decision to move to a smaller rink to reduce costs. Even Sheffield, arguably the most successful Elite League team with two league titles and appearing in four, winning three, of the last six play off finals, have recently suffered falling attendances combined with poor results on the ice.

All this is in stark contrast to the off-ice fortunes of Nottingham Panthers. Currently keeping 12 imports on their roster (only 10 are allowed to play each game) and having the luxury of selecting a team from a burgeoning squad including a bounty of young British talent. They also continue to attract over 4,000 fans for home games setting a record attendance in a recent Sheffield derby game on Boxing Day.

While the back end of the previous campaign yielded a distinct lack of silverware, 2009 sees Nottingham poised in second place behind a very strong looking Coventry team who, with games in hand on the Panthers, will certainly take some catching. However, a stuttering November (4 losses in 9 games including a season low point 0-4 to Belfast) gave way to an improved December (7 wins out of 9) which finished with back to back victories over Sheffield and the first shut out of the season in a 5-0 home demolition of Cardiff Devils.

The improving results have coincided with fan favourite Johan Molin returning to the club for the remainder of the season. One of the very best two-way players in the league last season and finishing top scorer three years ago for Manchester with assist king Tony Hand on his line, he was, it transpired, impossible to replace.

Nottingham also have a heavyweight defence, icing two of the bigger players in the league, although they don’t perhaps drop the gloves quite as often as the bloodthirsty Panther fans would like, they do cut an imposing sight for opposition teams. The fighting responsibilities (an integral part of the sport) have been largely passed over to Kevin Bergin and Bruce Richardson. Who, despite not being the biggest in the league, wear their hearts on their sleeves and have gone up against bigger, and heavier players this season with some pretty impressive results. Weight is actually a major factor in the skirmishes as Kevin Bergin explained to us when discussing his fights against the leagues toughest combatant, Belfast’s Sean McMorrow. (A player you may have seen being run over by Jeremy Clarkson in an episode of Top Gear last year).

Nottingham Panthers Bruce Richardson fights Sheffield's Hewitt on a Boxing Day Ice Hockey game at the NIC Sheffield's Hewitt suffers the backlash of an angry Bruce Richardson at an Ice Hockey game at the NIC in Nottingham

So, while the future of the league seems perpetually in turmoil, Nottingham are in a strong position to push for their first league title in over 50 years and stand a good chance of making the Challenge Cup finals if they can dispatch Sheffield in the quarter final. If you’ve not had the pleasure of witnessing an ice hockey game first hand then we’d strongly recommend going to check out your local team. It’s fast paced, all action game with the added bonus of being able to enjoy a beer or two while you watch. Fun for all the family. Visit www.eliteleague.co.uk for information on the eight elite teams or www.eiha.co.uk to check out the lower leagues. Nottingham’s website is at www.panthers.co.uk.