NIHL: History Repeats As League Stays Silent

The following commentary is for entertainment purposes only. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual speakers, and do not represent the views and opinions of any of its affiliates.

Last month, we reported on the NIHL North Promotion Playoff between Deeside Dragons and Coventry Blaze. We highlighted an ineligible player and received scorn from Coventry players on twitter for misinterpreting the leagues rules. (Ironically, the players and fans who shouted the loudest had no idea where to even find the rulebook. Don’t believe me? Check our twitter feed…) Within days we had received a statement from the Dragons which quoted League Chairman Ken Taggart. Mr Taggart, to the chagrin of the vocal twitter minority, confirmed that Yankin’ Off was correct in its assumption that Matt Selby was ineligible to play for the NIHL Coventry Blaze.

In the weeks that followed, both Deeside and our reporters have been referred to by some as ‘bitter’ and ‘desperate’. The cynical view was that an ineligible player would void Coventry’s first win, giving the result (and the promotion) to Deeside. How very fiendish of Deeside and their media partners to hatch such a dastardly plot. Of course, things are not as simple as that. As our podcast highlights week-in, week-out, minority sports such as ice hockey need your support. And when a bullshit call costs a team, the ramifications can be very serious.

Earlier today, Dragons GM Ian Foster forwarded us his correspondence to date with the EIHA with regards the Dragons’ ongoing complaint. For the record, lest I again be referred to as “wrong” and “biased”, a league meeting took place a week following the playoff. Fourteen teams out of fifteen publicly acknowledged their support for Deeside Dragons in an AGM meeting chaired by Charles Dacres of the English Ice Hockey Association. We have requested the minutes from this meeting from Charles, for those who would question our journalistic integrity. He has yet to respond or provide comment.

Since the AGM, at which the EIHA acknowledged that incorrect advice had been given to Coventry Blaze and that Matt Selby was, in fact, ineligible to play, Deeside has sought recompense from the EIHA and has been blocked at every turn.

Deeside Dragons are operated by Flintshire County Council. Under the instructions of the Council, Ian Foster has been instructed to seek recompense from the EIHA for the costs incurred over the course of the playoff weekend. Peak ice time was given up to the game at Deeside Leisure Centre following lengthy negotiations and transport to Coventry was understandably costly. Nottingham Lions certainly understand the cost of team travel – a factor highlighted in their recent decision to remain in North 2 following their promotion.

Of course, such expenditure cannot be justified indefinitely for the Council. The EIHA admitted a mistake, from Chairman Ken Taggart; “There is no blame to Coventry as they did consult and it was verified they could ice the 17 year old player as he was a Junior. This was against the Rules of Competition and I accept complete responsibility.” Whilst this was not the only factor in Deeside’s loss it was certainly a factor and played some part in the ejection and ban of several players from both sides.

Despite the best efforts of GM, Ian Foster, the EIHA has yet to respond further. And the longer that the EIHA procrastinates, the more it threatens hockey in the region. The Council are understandably questioning their expenditure on a playoff weekend which the EIHA failed to officiate correctly and now key sponsors of the Dragons are talking of their withdrawal from the team. Add to this, the loss of vital players, most of whom seek to play Division 1 level hockey, and Deeside’s tricky situation is evident.

Ian Foster’s latest email to the EIHA stated; “After not receiving a reply from the league we feel we are left with no other choice than to seek legal advice. The club has this week possibly lost a major sponsor which could threaten the existence of the Dragons. This has been caused solely by the wrong advice given by the league to Coventry regarding the eligibility of a player who played a major part in the play-off weekend.

“The Dragons and officials have been left feeling at fault and as bad losers and the club name brought into disrepute due to your actions.

“I would very much like a reply from our governing body.”

This would be a very harsh lesson for the EIHA to learn, had it not happened before. In 2009, the Cardiff Devils appealed to Ken Taggart, after Invicta Dynamo iced an ineligible player during a playoff game.

Sound familiar?

Here’s the quote from Jackie Mason, Invicta’s Director, when he found out that Taggart had allowed his team to ice an ineligible player incorrectly;

“Milan played against Cardiff on Saturday, but I then received an e-mail the next morning stating a previous decision had been reversed,” said Mason.“The e-mail said Milan had to sit out another game. If we had known this, we would not have played Milan against Cardiff. We, as a club, are extremely disappointed and angry. We believe that we went through all the correct procedures and now feel that we have been even more penalised for an obvious lack of communication within the governing body.

“I believed, wrongly, that having an e-mail in our possession from the league chairman was good enough.”

Four years later, here we are again.

I love the NIHL. Only last night whilst recording the podcast I salivated at the possibilities in North 2 this coming year. But I get increasingly frustrated by a League that is unavailable for comment to what little Press there is and refuses to even contact their own GMs when they’ve left them in the lurch – fighting angry sponsors and operators. It is unfair and amateurish and hurts the sport.

So I call on the EIHA to put this right.

Fourteen of fifteen teams stood behind Deeside. Let’s all see the minutes from that meeting and see how the EIHA responded to their concerns.

Put out a public statement, following up from the admission of guilt forwarded to Deeside. Exonerate both Coventry and Deeside from any further personal attacks from embittered fans and players and take responsibility publicly for your actions.

And most of all, for the good of those who invest in this minority sport of ours, put things right before the reputation of ice hockey is irrevocably damaged with the sponsors. There are too few who help ice the teams we love to support. Don’t turn them away forever. Show that with strong leadership at league level they are investing in a professional quality product.

© David Griffiths 2013

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