Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hockey's alright in Wight

This excellent piece from Garth Woolsey of the Toronto Star is today's read of the day:
They love their Wightlink Raiders in Ryde, the main city on the island in the English Channel, despite their franchise in the 12-team English Premier League having won only three of 43 league games this season. Plus, they play in a 1,200-seat arena with one of the smallest ice surfaces in pro hockey, or anywhere for that matter.
I honestly didn't know there was professional hockey being played in England below the Elite league, but this "quarter-pro" brand of hockey sounds like a lot of fun. This is a look at just where the Isle of Wight is.

Here's the official site for the Raiders, and a good Wikipedia entry on the team.


At 12:55 a.m., March 21, 2007, Anonymous Darren said...

When I lived in Dublin, I traveled north to Belfast to watch the Belfast Giants (they're in a higher devision) play a couple of games. It was definitely minor hockey by Canadian standards.

And Canadian standards ought to be applied, as nearly every player on the team was Canadian born.

The Giants play in a very new, great looking 7000 arena. There's also an interesting angle on Northern Irish sectarianism. From Wikipedia:

"A number of policies were subsequently introduced to try and ensure this. Particular clothing (such as football shirts) which might have displayed a person's political or religious affiliation were banned, flags were not permitted to be brought into the arena. The national anthem of the United Kingdom, traditionally played before games at other arenas around the country, is not played before Giants games.

These policies have been successful and the Giants have quickly built a large and enthusiastic fanbase who did not have to fear the sectarianism that marred some other sports in the province."

At 6:31 a.m., March 21, 2007, Blogger Luke said...

I'll second the "minor hockey by Canadian standards" comment. I live in Nottingham, and during the lockout year I went a game between Nottingham and Coventry (they both play in the EIHL with Belfast). Wade Belak was playing for Coventry ("sent to Coventry"?) and was masquerading as an offensive defenceman. "Why not?" I thought -- his offensive skills appeared to be head and tails above everyone else playing in the game. Yes, this is the same Wade Belak who has 28 career points 395 NHL games.

At 8:13 a.m., March 21, 2007, Blogger John Richardson said...

If you like this sort of story--hockey in remote and offbeat places--I'd highly recommend Dave Bidini's book "The Tropic of Hockey"

At 11:32 a.m., March 21, 2007, Blogger Hawerchuk said...

I went to see the London Racers play during the lockout. Eric Cairns and Scott Nichol played for the Racers, though Nichol had been given a week off (it was the end of the season) to visit his family.

Cairns, he of the 29 goals at all levels of hockey since he was 17, was also masquerading as an offensive defenseman. But he (unlike Belak???) couldn't quite pull it off.

It was an interesting experience to say the least. The rink sat maybe 500 people. The opposing team only brought two lines - either guys had days off of that's just what you do for an away game.

London's leading scorer was 44-year-old Steve Moria, who some may remember from the 1979-80 Richmond Sockeyes of the BCJHL.

At 7:34 p.m., March 21, 2007, Anonymous Aefibird said...

Hockey on IMW is great fun. Wightlink used to have "glory days", hopefully for them they will return soon, especially with ownership and sponsor changes.

My team play in the EPL (same league as Wightlink Raiders) and I love visits to the Island. Their rink is certainly "interesting" and definately worth a visit for anyone who comes over to the UK when the hockey season is on.

To the person who saw the Giants game when it was basically a fully Canadian team, pro UK hockey has moved on from those days. Yes, Elite League may only be equal to low level ECHL or lower at its best, but the UK Elite League is certainly an improvement on the fully-import Ice Hockey Superleague (ISL) that was in place before.

UK hockey is nowhere near as popular or as big or as good a standard as in US and Canada (or even other parts of Europe). However, the development of British-trained players is continuing all the time and hopefully the development of Pro and Semi pro (or even Quarter Pro!) hockey will continue.

Any hockey fans from overseas should try to catch a game in the UK some time. Standards may be poor even in comparison with the minorest of minor leagues but fans are passionate and ice hockey is the best supported of the UK "minor" sports - no mean feat in a country totally dominated by soccer.

At 7:57 a.m., March 22, 2007, Anonymous A Paul Maurice clone on the Isle of Wight said...

For anyone who would like to see the legendary, world renowned Wightlink Raiders in action at their crummy arena, there is a clip on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmaEbpRIAHE
Marvel at the rink size and Toronto's own Dave Williams in fine fighting form. AWESOME!!!


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