Image: Dean Woolley
Image: Dean Woolley

Ice Hockey: Coventry Blaze start EIHL season 3-1-1, Murrayfield Racers-Dundee Comets row erupts

There’s never a quiet day in British ice hockey. Since I last worked on a piece for The Boar, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) re-started, there was a major dispute between two governing bodies, and now a new battle has begun north of the border.

Coventry Blaze Watch

I’ll start with matters closest to home. Let’s talk about the Coventry Blaze, who have opened the season with a string of Jekyll and Hyde results.

In the Challenge Cup, the Blaze are 1-5 through six games and need to improve if they are to qualify for the quarter-finals. In the league, though, things look good for Danny Stewart’s side. Coventry are third in the EIHL after five games with a 3-1-1 record.

Although it is still early, the Blaze’s position in the league standings is encouraging. Their points percentage (PTS%) is tied for third in the competition, behind only the Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers.

In terms of on-ice performances, there is plenty to be impressed by.

C.J. Motte is still (one of?) the best goalies in the EIHL. He boasts 1.98 goals against average (GAA) and ranks fourth for save percentage (92.86%) to start the season. Johnny Curran has impressed, too. The Canadian forward has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 11 league and cup appearances. Luke Ferrara is also producing at a point-per-game rate.

Of Coventry’s new arrivals, I’ve found myself drawn to duel-national defenceman Nathanael Halbert. The 26-year-old, who was born in Nottingham but plays under the Canadian flag, looks comfortable with the puck on his stick and reads the game well. His +/- rating is currently underwater (-1), although I expect it to improve as the season progresses.

At worst, this version of the Blaze is a play-off team. At best, Coventry could be the dark horse challenger for the regular-season title.

Why? Because the roster is gelling and the organisation has hit on its signings.

Dane Gibson didn’t play a game in 2020-21. A year earlier, he put up three points in USports – the Canadian equivalent of the NCAA. Signing a player with no professional experience is always a gamble – but it has paid off for Coventry. Gibson has excelled under Stewart.

On Wednesday, a David Clements, David Broll, and Jordan Hedley-less squad travelled to Sheffield and won 4-3. While short-benched. Against one of the best teams in the country.

The Blaze are going to be more than fine.

Scottish Ice Hockey U-Turn

So, it’s been a busy month for in-fighting.

On October 19, in a statement published on its website, Scottish Ice Hockey (SIH) said: “SIH is stunned and dismayed at recent comments made via email by Ice Hockey UK chair Clifton Wrottesley that he does not and, by suggestion, IHUK does not recognise SIH.”

Within hours of SIH’s statement going live, it was taken down. Moreover, SIH did not publish the comments it referred to in its announcement.

I approached IHUK for comment on SIH’s allegations before they were deleted. By the time a spokesperson replied (which was within hours of my email), the post had vanished, leaving the national governing body with “nothing to say on the issue.”

In the days since, the return of junior and senior hockey in Scotland was announced… in a joint-statement issued by SIH and IHUK.

The plot thickens.

Murrayfield Racers Withdraw From Scottish National League

Yesterday evening, the Murrayfield Racers released a club statement. Here are the highlights:

  • “Murrayfield Racers are disappointed to inform our loyal fans and sponsors that we have withdrawn from this year’s Scottish National League (SNL).”
  • “As you will be aware, several Racers players agreed to join Dundee Comets this summer for NIHL North Cup games only.”
  • “We were made aware last Thursday evening that some players were called into a meeting at Dundee, and extreme pressure was placed on them not to return to the Racers.”
  • “We fully intend to take this further with Dundee Council as we believe we have been the victim of a concerted effort by the Comets to undermine our position in the SNL to enable them to sign our players.”

These are explosive allegations.

The bottom line is that the Racers are accusing a rival, the Dundee Comets, of undermining their ability to participate in the 2021-22 season.

The Comets’ response is equally punchy. Here are the highlights:

  • “During the off-season, Dundee Comets management had discussions with many players… and six players, most recently registered with Murrayfield… expressed an interest in competing in the North Cup… with the Comets.”
  • “The Scottish Ice Hockey Chairman had a conversation later with Rab Brown in which he instructed him that the Racers would take over the Comets’ spot in the North Cup. [GM] Brown declined this as he had a team ready that he had been building in preparation for this challenge. This was not well received.”
  • “As the players had indicated that they were happy to remain at Dundee, indeed logistically it was a no-brainer for some of them – Brown replied he would transfer the players once the players themselves had confirmed their wishes.”
  • “Of the players involved, only one submitted a transfer request and a permission to guest letter was immediately given to allow the player to play for Murrayfield until the transfer could be completed once all equipment and goods were returned.”
  • “After checking with the registration database however, it was discovered that the Chairman of SIH had gone onto the online system and registered two of the players in question without any authority or release/transfer from Dundee Comets.”**
  • “Comets Management were completely confused by this and were of the impression that this should not have happened.”

In short, the Comets reject the claims made by the Racers, and have returned fire at Murrayfield at SIH.

As I said, there’s never a quiet day in British ice hockey.


**UPDATE: It is my understanding that the SIH’s chair, David Hand Sr, is not involved in the registration process. Further public statements from the parties involved could follow.

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