While we all watch the NHL and keep track of various North American leagues, the same cannot be often said for the opposite. Its rare that you find an American, or a Canadian who takes an interest in UK hockey. Enter Ashley March. As part of her March Hockey blog, she writes about a lot of the lesser known leagues around the world, ours included. In this first part of our conversation, we spoke on length about her hockey affliction.
Good evening/afternoon Ashley, how are you today?
Afternoon here! About 1pm. I'm doing okay I guess. Can't complain, nobody will listen ha!
Haha, I know those feels. Basic starter then, for those who don't know, how did you get into hockey, and how did you end up following the Elite League?
Well it goes without saying that Canadians start studying the game of hockey when as soon as they come out of the womb. I've been following hockey for as long as I can remember. I was 4 when I went to my first game. As for the Elite league, Jeff Legue hails from the city I'm from. He's a bit of a local celebrity so I've followed his career on and off since he first signed with Sheffield. However, it was only this year that I started following it closely.
You chose a good year for it too, Giants domination aside it's probably been the best season for a few years.
I was pretty impressed with the calibre of play to be honest. Thought it would be a little more rusty but I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed how close the standings managed to get near the end.
Yeah, we often get called a beer league, and unless there's a lockout we don't tend to see truly superb players, but I'm still very entertained by what we manage to serve up.
It's far more than a beer league and anybody who says that is clearly not a true hockey fan.
That's good to hear. I don't see much outside of the NHL and EIHL so to be honest I don't know what sort of quality is about, but yeah I'm happy with what I've got. So you're following Leggy's career, but you're seen as a fan of the Blaze. Why's that?
I started my blog as a way to pass the time recovering from surgery. I had no idea my thoughts would blow up as big as it did and that people would actually care about what I had to say. At one point last summer I was interviewing fans on their various favourite teams throughout the world. I ended up chatting with Craig Summerton and then Paul Wheeler and Ed Kimberley. Kimberley made me check out a webcast or two and that's how I became a Blaze fan. They play gritty and rough hockey. They play the body rather than focusing on being flashy with the stick and to me, that's Canadian hockey. Just reminded me of some of my local teams and I was hooked. That and Ryan Ginand's not a bad player either hahaha!
Haha yeah there is that. The Blaze teams that I watched when I first got into the game over here were exactly that - physical, in your face, but predominantly winners. Don't think this year's team holds a candle to them to be honest, but the philosophy is still there.
That's what I saw, the philosophy. You can tell what kind style they wanted to play even though the players wouldn't show up for Soderstrom. However with Lefebvre behind the bench now and with him being able to select his roster, the chance is there to put the philosophy into motion even more. We just have to wait and see who gets selected.
True. He was supposedly behind a lot of the Steelers recruitment last summer and that didn't turn out too badly in the end. Proof of the importance of the player/coach relationship I guess.
Exactly. If there's one thing I've learned in hockey, or in life really is: never burn your bridges.
Oh, I don't know, there's some people I've learnt that its best to torch the bridge as soon as you've crossed it haha. big question, in two parts, that there's no easy answers for. Why isn't ice hockey a big deal over here, and what can we do about it?
Oh god, that's a huge question. A lot of it has to do with sports that have already been established for years and years like soccer (sorry, football, my bad) and rugby and whatnot. Both sports have a long and storied history that will forever be attached to the UK. Brits and their football is like Canadians to their hockey; it's just the way it is.
However, the weather and the geographical makeup of the country might have a bit to do with it as well. Canadians have been playing on frozen lakes/ponds/rivers for decades. It's cold enough for us to make our own rinks in our backyards and they'll stay put for a couple months. I don't think that resonates in Britain very well.
So just based on that and the lack of rinks/venues, you're limited to how you can develop the sports players and fan base. I actually wrote a whole article on developing the sport in the UK a few weeks ago. It talks about implementing a shorter import limit and a tiered drafting/junior system in order to get homegrown players going. Change has to start at the top though and I feel there's a few that fear change.
Oh, so much that. Without going too far into it, I think there's an old boys club at the top of UK ice hockey and they're scared of losing grip. Although from where I stand, there's a big argument between development and success. Teams are predominantly a business here, and are teams going to be a success more by developing the future of British Ice Hockey, or are they going to be a success by winning trophies and getting people through the door? Investors and owners want to see a return on their investment after all, so I suppose it depends on what their eventual goal is.
I can understand that but if the sport doesn't grow, it's just going to die out.
All hockey teams are businesses first and foremost, that's an unchangable fact. You can easily do both though. (I'd keep explaining but I should just link you my article on it lol)
That post can be found HERE
Haha I will do, don't worry. That's sort of answered my question about how to improve the quality of the UK players, so I'll adapt. Why do you think more GB players don't go overseas? Other nationalities seem to jump at the opportunity to enjoy new experiences and different countries, so why not Brits?
In all honesty, the Brits aren't quite up at the level yet. Sure, there's a few that put a twinkle in some scouts eyes and why sign a Brit when you can sign a high level playing Russian or Swede for the same amount of money? You're looking out for what's the best for your team remember. That being said, there are plenty of leagues in that kind of level that would sign them. France and Spain are a couple that come to mind.
The other thing is, how many British hockey agents are there to deal with contracts? Pretty sure there's not too many so the players would have to work out all the legal stuff themselves. It would be easier to just play at home amongst friends and family and for that reason I can't blame them, I'd stay too.
Very good point actually, the one or two I'm aware of are involved with clubs too. Lots of conflicted interest. Is there much interest over there in the Elite League, or UK hockey in general? There's a link to the EIHL website on NHL.com so I'd certainly hope so, but you're one of the few people I know who is actually Canadian/American and follows it.
Nope, nobody knows a damn thing about it. Canada is so immersed with our own and high level hockey to watch anything else. I might get slack for this but a lot of people here are hockey snobs asin nothing compares to the NHL. The only other league they'd hold a candle to is the KHL. I still get asked why I even bothered following the EIHL as it's 5 hours away. (I follow Australia and New Zealand leagues in the summer, try that on for size.)
That being said, you don't need fans like that. The true hockey fans know good hockey when they say it and aren't afraid of it. Fans who follow leagues like the LNAH and the Central league know more about the EIHL as players seem to flow back and forth between those leagues.
Very good point. I've sort-of been following the Brampton Beast this season after Tylor Michel joined them, wouldn't have dreamed about it otherwise. It can be the same in football though, fans of the top Premier League teams can be really snobby about teams in the lower leagues even in our own country. Right, finally from my end, who's your pick for the Stanley Cup (yup, just focussing on the big league :P)
Oh god, it's anyones right now. That's the beauty of the playoffs though, you never know how it's going to turn out. There's not one team that stands out to me though. That being said, St. Louis is scary.
The job they've done on the Blackhawks so far has been eerie. Never expected it. Its quite fun to look on at this time of year as a Flame because you can just sit back and enjoy it.
That's part one done. Come back in the next few days for part two, where Ashley asks the questions and I respond as best I can.
Big thanks to Ashley for taking the time out to talk to me and answer my questions. Everyone should read her stuff, it is truly excellent.