When the Edinburgh Capitals confirmed they wouldn’t be returning for the 2018/9 EIHL season, many believed the Hull Pirates were the natural successor’s for the vacant 12th spot. However, after floating the idea at EIHL board level they decided to remain apart of the NIHL, for now. The management’s deferral has afforded the Pirates more time to assess their long-term options, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the two failed ventures in British ice hockey’s top-tier. Yet, with a new ice rink reaching its completion in Leeds, time is no longer a friend for the Pirates and their EIHL bid.
For those that read my previous piece assessing the viability of the Tilburg Trappers (link below), we will follow an almost identical format, for the sake of fairness and consistency.
Where is (Kingston upon) Hull?
For those that do not know, Hull is located within the East Riding of Yorkshire and lies upon the River Hull, which has a confluence with the more widely known Humber Estuary. The cities longstanding connection with water is evidenced through its well-established, and regarded, port that offers daily connections with the European mainland (Rotterdam and Zeebrugge). Hull currently has an estimated population of 314,000, which makes it the 24th largest city in the UK, and is positioned 66 miles away from the nearest current EIHL outfit in Sheffield. Besides the port, Hull does have plenty of transport connections to offer, with the ‘interesting’ Humberside airport merely 15 miles away and direct trains to multiple UK cities, namely Manchester and Sheffield.
What does Hull have to offer EIHL fans, besides hockey?
Well if you didn’t know already, Hull was the proud recipient (some sarcasm intended) of the UK’s City of Culture award in 2017. The prize was the brainchild of Andy Burnham (now the Mayor of Manchester) and will be awarded to another city that is home to an EIHL franchise (spoiler alert its Coventry) in 2021. Although, the additional inward investment [since being named the City of Culture] of £220 million has started to have a positive impact on the city of Hull and its people. Not too dissimilar to Tilburg, Hull has ample variety of museum (if that’s your thing) and a well-kept ‘Old Town’ to explore.
Despite all the other alternatives, one of Hull’s most famous landmark remains the Humber Bridge. The £1.50 toll charge (for cars) is still in place today, for 1.38 mile long suspension bridge that will take you waters below and rather surprisingly still ranks in the world’s Top 10, in terms of length.
Is Hull a viable option for the vacant 12th spot?
If we base this decision on historical evidence, then probably not, with two failed ventures already in the backdrop. The more successful of the two (discounting all Humberside teams that were heavily influenced by the council), Hull Stingrays, debuted in the Elite League in 2006 and competed in nine campaigns before liquidating in 2015. The Stingrays eventually succumbed due to consistently sub-par performances, which saw them never finishing than 7th in the league and sporting an all-time league record of 166-267-49 (.344).
However, with plans of a new ice rink in the city (link below) and an impressive backroom staff that boasts Andre Payette and Jason Hewitt, as well as franchise owner Shane Smith involved in the day to day running, the Pirates are more definitely ‘learnt to walk before they can run’. Having split time in the EPL (now defunct) and NIHL, the Pirates have been a competitive outfit, excluding a tough inaugural campaign in the EPL.
Ultimately, the Pirates EIHL future depends almost entirely on the arrival of a new rink and this needs to happen sooner rather than later, with the city of Leeds already ready to welcome a new rink and potentially team (more on that later). The proximity of Hull, Leeds and Sheffield would obviously produce the opportunity for a fierce rivalry to develop, but it could also place a level of unsustainable strain on the game that the EIHL board will be all too aware of. After all this game remains a minority sport in the British Isles and slow organic growth should continue to take precedence in this sort of decision-making.
‘New’ Hull Ice Arena Article:
Are Hull good enough for the league?
The import domination within the EIHL is clear for all to see and would most likely transform the current Pirates roster, but do they have any players ready to make the jump?
Potential EIHL Squad Members:
Bradley Day (G): after the Steelers decided to bring in import goalie Matt Climie [now released], Day was effectively redundant with Jackson Whistle taking over his back-up spot. The young Yorkshireman was loaned out to the Pirates and has maintained an impressive .921 SV% through 10 NIHL appearances. If the Pirates were to join take the 12th spot, Day could well end up switching jerseys in an attempt to secure more game-time.
Ashley Smith (G): the son of owner Shane Smith, Ashley was signed to the Manchester Storm in 2017/8 and turned down a contract renewal this off-season, in an attempt to secure more game time in the NIHL. However, an unceremonious departure from the Nottingham Lions and slow start for the Pirates, Smith has been knocked down the pecking order. Despite a roller-coaster of a year, Smith is still young enough to improve and will most likely be apart of any EIHL franchise in Hull.
Jamie Chilcott (D): the Pirates captain and solid blueliner, Chilcott already has 129 EIHL appearances and only left the Manchester Storm for opportunities outside the game. Since returning home, Chilcott has dominated the NIHL blueline with 53 points (13G 40A) in just 50 appearances. Hull’s management will be depending on players like Chilcott joining them in the EIHL, if they wish to maintain some sort of identity from their first four years.
Kevin Phillips (D): the older brother of EIHL fan favourite David Phillips (only joking), Kevin Phillips is a vastly experienced blueliner with 429 outings in the EIHL. Phillips was signed to Guildford at the start of this season, before deciding a return to his hometown was the right decision.
Lee Bonner (F): the diminutive forward has enjoyed life in the NIHL, with 123 points (54G 69A) in just 54 matches and does have some EIHL experience with the Manchester Storm. The young Brit may already have turned the head of a few EIHL franchises and if the Pirates aren’t stepping-up soon, talented youngsters like Bonner might start looking elsewhere.
Bobby Chamberlian (F): perhaps one of, if not, the best young Brit in the NIHL, Chamberlain has a ridiculous 151 points (75G 76A) in 50 appearances and was awarded a trail with the Manchester Storm, at the start of this season, which was somewhat surprisingly unsuccessful. Although, if Chamberlian continues to outclass and outperform the NIHL standard, another EIHL lifeline must be around the corner.
Matthew Davies (F): 300 EIHL outings, 8 GB international appearances and two EIHL years as a captain, Davies has pedigree beyond the NIHL and showcased this with a stupendous 117 points (31G 86A) in just 29 appearances during 2017/8. Although, a large workload outside of hockey required Davies to give-up on his full-time commitments and return to Hull. Yet, another opportunity at representing his hometown in the ‘big league’ would surely no be passed on?
Jason Hewitt (F): one of the most popular Mancunian’s in Yorkshire, Hewitt has successfully taken up the reigns as the player-coach of Hull. In 54 games, Hewitt has 188 points (82G 106A) and sports an impressive coaching record to date, 43-7-4, in the NIHL. If the Pirates decide to join the EIHL, Hewitt will most likely reduce his playing commitments and be given the opportunity of compiling a roster with multiple foreign players., for the first time in his career.
Samuel Towner (F): another local player, with 150 EIHL appearances, Towner has been impressive in the NIHL, but would have most likely preferred the EPL to still be in existence at this point in his fledgling career. Despite his relatively young age, Towner has been given a leadership role within the Pirates system and would be an obvious choice to take into the EIHL.
Where else could the 12th spot land?
The near completion of a new rink in Leeds does harness the potential of forming a rivalry with the Sheffield Steelers, in one of the UK’s largest hockey market. North of the border, the Murrayfield Racers still hold hope of a spectacular return to the top-flight under the tutelage of hockey legend, Tony Hand. The viability of these locations and a few of the lesser known options will be assessed at a later date.
Tilburg Trappers Article:
Feature image: Lois Tomlinson/ Hull Pirates Official Website