The excitement is building as the Belfast Giants prepare to return to action with 2 pre-season battles against Manitoba Bison. As part of the build up, David Welsh discusses his thoughts from the long off season and issues a rally cry to the returning fans.
Can you feel it? I certainly can, after the long 5 month off season, Hockey is coming back to Belfast.
Thanks to KotG for the opportunity to share with you guys a few thoughts.
It may seem strange but I’m going to start in March with the highs and lows of that month and how I feel it’s influenced this season.
Cardiff 03/03/18, by now everyone knows what happened in the CC final and the amazing scenes from that day. Even before the game, the stories emerging of the lengths fans had gone-to to make it to Cardiff for a game no one was sure was going to go ahead. I myself got diverted to Manchester and that made for an interesting road trip.
The interaction with the fans on social media from the Giants was outstanding and I think it played a massive part in the success. As a player it must have been special knowing so many were trying so hard to make it to watch you play and must have meant something to them because the way they stepped up that day was brilliant to witness.
Quick mention to the Cardiff fans also offering to pick up stranded fans, offering sofas to crash on, the hospitality shown was outstanding. I could go on all day about the highs that day but I thought I’d start with an unsung hero not on the ice but on the bench. Not many would’ve noticed big Jim Vandermeer standing in between Keefer and Rob Stewart with his note pad. Many would’ve forgotten by now that the Challenge Cup final was not plain sailing as the final score suggested. Having big Jim there with all his experience. Knowing when to have a quiet word in some players ears when things were getting heated. I can only imagine the influence that must have had on the guys. Yes, we’d rather of had him on the ice but unfortunately we don’t always get what we want and on that day in that moment big Jim contributed as much as anyone.
This is why I think Jim Vandermeer is a massive resigning for the Giants this term. Hopefully he’ll forgive me for pointing out that he’s in the twilight of his career but no one can ever underestimate what he offers off the ice and I think this is a key point to what Keefer is trying to build this season. There’s a noticeable turn to youth under Keefer which is brilliant but what’s also just as important is how the youth is developed and influenced and in bringing back guys like Jimbo, Ferly and Sheds and adding the massively experienced Dwyer, Keefer has given himself a massive opportunity to challenge for everything this season.
Is this what Keefer was trying to build last season? I think there was an element of this plan last season, we know now that he tried to bring in Dwyer last term unsuccessfully, so yes I think this was a long term plan but wasn’t able to be fully implemented 12 months ago. Last season he took a risk on a few players, players whose talent wasn’t under dispute but who were considered hot heads, when things were going our way we were unstoppable, but we saw the cracks appear when things weren’t going our way, we saw discipline issues, we saw a lot of penalty mins racked up but that can all be forgiven because for some, being on the edge is what makes them great players.
What I find hard to forgive is the ones who all but disappeared in March after the double header with Cardiff when the league was lost, it was disappointing enough as a fan but I can’t imagine how disappointing it was for the coaches. Although things picked up when Sheds and Jimbo returned from injury it was a black mark on a massively positive first season for Keefer and one I’ve no doubt influenced his choices for the roster this season.
During this off season we’ve seen some positive changes in the league but there was one disappointing story early on. The demise of the Edinburgh Capitals and the calamity surrounding the Racers getting awarded an ice time contract before securing a league place. Given the temporary measures put in place this season to accommodate the loss of the Caps I’d imagine that a deal has been or is being worked on in the background to revive the Caps for next season. Perhaps wishful thinking on my part but all being well a more financially sustainable Caps will return and fans in Edinburgh get hockey back in 2019.
There are a couple of big things that have happened recently for the league. A few weeks ago a title sponsor with a worldwide car rental company Avis was announced for the EIHL. Having companies with a worldwide presence having interest in our league is great. The money from this deal can only bring positive things to the league, personally I’d like to see money invested in raising the standards of officiating but remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and it could take a couple of years to see results from the extra cash.
Last week the news we all wanted to hear was announced. An EIHL TV deal with Freesports. A cautious toe dipped in the water from both the league and a national broadcaster. Some of the reaction I’ve seen to the deal is frankly ridiculous. People have to remember we’re not the Premier League here and for a long time now we’ve had teams refusing to offer streams of games because they believed it’d effect ticket sales. A large proportion of clubs income has been coming from ticket sales and merchandise sales on game days so teams understandably don’t want that to drop. This needed to be considered when arrangements were drawn up for the games being shown. With 17 games across the season and weekly highlights it’s relatively low risk for both the league and Freesports. It’s a start and a step in the right direction for the league, not the be all and end all. If it pays off for both parties expect bigger things in the future and that can only be a positive for UK ice hockey.
So while we’re talking about positive things in the league, reaching a wider audience of fans and showing the sport in a positive light to new and existing fans there’s an elephant in the room. I don’t think there’s an EIHL fan out there that’s not heard of David Simms and his use of Sheffield Steelers official social media platforms. Now I’m far from an angel on social media but then again I’m not representing a club with tens of thousands of online followers. Do young girls need to see that Steelers Official Instagram likes pictures of half naked women doing pouty underwear poses, doubtful. Does anyone need to see the clubs official account arguing with fans for having an opinion. What most teams have mastered is using social media to promote positive points about the club, the thing an official account should be used for. They avoid interaction when fans vent anger as there’s no up side and nobody wins.
When posting things they should proof read it to make sure it’s spelt correctly as it’s the most basic of professional things to do. Unfortunately this seems to be lost on Sheffield. The fact that so many tweets get quickly deleted tells me that the Steelers are aware of the many issues which is concerning. When the league is making strides forward to promote the game in UK and teams make such an effort to engage with fans both existing and new. In an age where the message that is being delivered is “Hockey is for everyone”, having an official account blocking people left right and centre for having an opinion, putting opinions of an individual on club accounts or arguing with people using the clubs official accounts gives the impression that, in Sheffield at least, hockey is for those who agree with Mr Simms. Of course it’s my personal opinion but it is echoed by others. One of the biggest teams in the league should have a more positive online influence. You absolutely can have rivalry without nastiness. You do not need to goad or berate to build up a rivalry between teams. I’m sure the upper management in Sheffield know this which makes that elephant in the room a lot bigger than initially thought. It’s not good enough when the league is trying to build a professional image and something needs done about it.
In the spirit of Jerry Springer it’s “Final Thoughts” time. And this one goes to the Teal Army!
We know we’re a proud bunch, We love our team because they’ve done so much for us. What the Giants achieved in Belfast is special. We expect a lot from our team and over the years they’ve given us enough to be proud of. However I saw something last year that I’d not seen for a few years and that was belief.
What Keefer did was bring exciting hockey back to Belfast. It wasn’t perfect but we could see what he was trying to implement. We saw that when the Teal Army got behind him and believed in his philosophy he could inspire his team to win trophies.
He believes he has built a team this season to challenge for all 4 trophies and I for one believe that too! The responsibility now passes to the Teal Army. We saw so many times last season that we can make a difference. When our arena gets going the atmosphere is fantastic and the lift to the players is evident. I believe this team can do more than last season, I believe in Keefer but most of all I believe in the Teal Army. Bring your noisy heads this season for it’s going to be an exciting one!
Dave got in touch with us to share his thoughts by e-mailing the website. If you’d like to get involved, please just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org . We want to be your platform for Belfast Giants and Hockey opinions.
A site by the fans for the fans.
(Title Pic: PressEye)