GLASGOW – Top-flight hockey has returned to Glasgow for the first time since 2002, as the Braehead Clan attempts to establish the sport in the West of Scotland.
Scottish ice hockey got a much needed boost ahead of this season when the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) announced two newly formed teams from North of the English-Scottish border, the Braehead Clan and the Dundee Stars, to join the British top league as it increased its pool of teams from eight to ten.
“I think the league needed that, and I think Scotland needed it too as hockey had been dying up there on a professional level. Hockey has been so big in Scotland over the years, so it's fantastic now that the Edinburgh Capitals have two new rivals, Braehead and Dundee,” Paul Thompson, head coach of Team Great Britain and of the reigning champion Coventry Blaze, said about the most recent expansion.
The 4,000-seat Braehead Arena, a 15-minute drive west from the Glasgow city centre is one of the finest facilities for ice hockey in Great Britain. It was here that Braehead played its first competitive game on home ice last Friday, against the Newcastle Vipers in a tie that finished on a high note for the home team. Doubled up for both the EIHL and the Challenge Cup, the domestic cup competition, the thrilling game finished 2-2 after regulation time, before the Clan won the shootout to send the majority of the 1,969 crowd home with happy faces.
It’s a fine start on home ice for the new expansion team and for its Canadian player/coach Bruce Richardson, who is looking to continue the Clan’s successful start of the season and who tries to make a fortress of the Braehead Arena.
”I think it's important to send a message to people that if they want to come to our building it's not going to be an easy night,” he said. ”You win games with offence, but championships with defence.”
Richardson, who signed up in May after a couple of years with league rival Nottingham Panthers, has put a busy summer behind him building up a team with a strong Canadian flavour up from scratch. So far, with five league games into the new season, the Clan's story has so far been a success. With the Braehead Arena booked up and unavailable for the start of the season, they had to practice in Edinburgh and on curling ice in Irvine before heading out to begin the season on the road. The Clan beat fellow newbie Dundee Stars and traditional powerhouse Nottingham Panthers, before tasting defeat in a tightly contested game in Wales at the Cardiff Devils' narrow-sized rink.
With three trophies - the league championship, the play-offs and the Challenge Cup - up for grabs for the ten EIHL teams, Richardson has high hopes for his team for this season.
”I believe in my team and I believe that we could finish in the top four and that we could be a contender for the Challenge Cup and for the play-offs this season,” he said.
But instant success is nothing new for hockey in the West of Scotland. The Ayr Scottish Eagles, formed in 1996, quickly rose to fame by becoming top dogs in Britain 1997-1998 when winning all four major ice hockey trophies in only their second season of the now defunct Ice Hockey Superleague (ISL). Four years later the team had relocated 50 kilometres north to a larger catchment area in Greater Glasgow, before the club a few months later finally folded in November 2002 due to financial problems.
Kirsty Longmuir, who worked for the defunct Scottish Eagles, is today the Business Manager of the Braehead Clan. She is confident that the business plan of the Clan is built on a far more solid ground than that of its predecessor.
“For many years, across a lot of sports, fans have been taken for granted. Teams just expect them to show up week after week, win, lose or draw, but today's society demands more for their money and time, and the Clan intend to not only give back with a winning team, but we will do everything we can to interact with the fans and local communities. Marketing and event promotion are vital and we have many off-ice events planned for the forthcoming season such as Meet the Players, Charity Golf Days, Halloween- Christmas- and New Year parties with the players,” Longmuir said.
Longmuir is hoping to average 1,500-2,000 spectators per game at the Braehead Arena, and then hopes to improve it for year two. Player/coach Richardson believes that the potential to build up a solid hockey base in Glasgow is definitely there.
"Out of the 1.2 million or so living in this area, there are at least 10,000 people that will love hockey, but we just have to go and get these people. I think it's going to take time, and that's why I have brought some great personalities, not only great hockey players, that want to go out there and sell it," he said.
The team, which since its home debut has lost its fifth league match away to the Newcastle Vipers, is currently sitting comfortable in mid-table of the EIHL, well ahead of their Scottish rivals Edinburgh Capitals and Dundee Stars. So far the Clan players have played their part in the club's business plan for success. Now it's up to see whether the home fans will be ready to buy into it.