The Elite League Years: 2003-04

Remember seeing programmes on TV where they look back on previous years? Well, this is the blog’s version of it. In this series, we will be looking back at the previous seasons of the Elite League. Time to rewind then, this first edition takes us back to 2003-04.

2003-04 was a significant year in British Hockey. The Super League had imploded with financial issues surrounding a number of clubs, causing the mass uncertainty. Three clubs remained stable, Belfast, Nottingham and Sheffield. But you can’t run a league with just them. So out of the British National League, Coventry, Cardiff and Basingstoke decided to put their names up for playing at a higher level and new clubs were formed in London and Manchester to replace the ones who had bitten the dust.
These eight clubs formed the first ever Elite League which eventually got the go ahead despite vociferous objections by IHUK who refused initially to accept it as a recognised league; it took the IIHF’s intervention to give the green light or who knows what might have happened. British hockey certainly wasn’t in the best place for sure.
Three trophies were on offer. Those being the first ever EIHL title and the Challenge Cup plus the play-offs which were in a different format to what they are now. The honour of that very first EIHL title went Sheffield’s way, the Steelers finishing the regular season with 92 points from their 56 games and 16 points clear of their nearest challenger which was the Panthers. Panthers had been in touch but Steelers kicked on with an incredible run after losing 3-2 in Cardiff and win every one of their remaining 20 or so league games.

The Challenge Cup saw the Panthers take this particular trophy for the first time, and in dramatic circumstances. After the Panthers had comprehensively seen off Belfast in their semi-final thanks to a 7-3 win in the second leg, they met the Steelers who had disposed of Cardiff with a 3-1 away win in South Wales proving decisive. Panthers held the first leg, and there was nothing to separate the sides as it ended 1-1 and all to play for at the House of Steel. It looked a certainty for the Panthers as they took a 2-0 advantage in the opening stages but Steelers fought back to level matters. The game went to overtime, and it was Finn Kim Ahlroos who proved to be the hero with his game winner timed at 60:53.

For the play-offs the new league decided that the top six would undertake a round robin type qualifying tournament with the six sides split into two groups of three. In Group A, it was the Steelers and Manchester who made the final four at the expense of Belfast whilst in Group B Cardiff and the Panthers were successful, Coventry missing out from there. As the first placed side in Group A, the Steelers were paired with the second placed one in Group B which turned out to be Cardiff; goals from Mike Peron and Marc LeFebvre proved to be enough to see off the Devils. Panthers had no problems in their semi-final, seeing off the Manchester Phoenix (as they were then known) 6-1 which set up a repeat of the Challenge Cup Final. The Steelers proved victorious this time though, scooping their second trophy of the season with a 2-1 win; with Gerad Adams and Kirk DeWaele netting those all important goals.

In the next edition we look back to 2004-05, and what a season it was for a certain team!

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