No matter what profession you work in, the opportunity to travel the world and get paid for it is one that we all share. For many professional ice hockey players, the EIHL in the United Kingdom provides this opportunity.
Photo by Michael Cooper.
The league itself features a more North American style type of hockey as opposed to a European style, and is predominantly filled with American and Canadian players, as well as homegrown British players and guys from around Europe. It’s easy to see the attraction: you can travel to the other side of the world, experience different lifestyles and cultures while playing the game that you love and picking up a wage. It all sounds like a worthwhile career venture for ice hockey players across the globe, and for the last while, it has been. There’s plenty to do and see in the UK, the league itself features some of the best fans and atmospheres across the world, and the player/fan interaction is second to none. Guys who played for North American teams to simply make up the numbers come over here and are idolized. It sounds rather good, doesn’t it? At least it did until the dreaded ‘Department of Player Safety’ came into play.
Now when the idea was first proposed, many fans believed it would be similar to the NHL’s player safety department which is fronted by Brendan Shanahan, and these high expectations were completely justified. The department would be there to review any plays that were deemed to be in breach of the rules, and an appropriate punishment would be given out. The EIHL is a professional league and the expectation is that these professional standards are maintained both on and off the ice. Sadly, the Elite League’s ‘DOPS’ lacks consistency and is leaving fans, players and coaches irate at the baffling decisions that they make. I say ‘they’ as the idea of it is that there is an ‘expert panel’ which is anonymous to all… or at least it’s meant to be. When certain Brummy estate agents know the outcomes of player reviews before the general public, it certainly leads to speculation and conspiracy theories about just how fair and anonymous this ‘DOPS’ system really is.
In order to demonstrate the lack of consistency shown by the ‘DOPS’, I’m going to look at a few incidents which were reviewed by the panel, and allow you to make your own mind up on whether or not you believe the system in place is consistent. First up is an incident which involved Braehead Clan’s Zack Fitzgerald high sticking Cardiff Devils forward Andrew Lord, and Belfast Giant’s Cody Brookwell spearing Nottingham Panthers Colby Cohen (twice!) who then retaliated with a kick.
Now I’m not going to argue about the incidents being penalized as they both deserve to be, without a doubt. What I am unhappy about is the length of bans given in comparison to each other. Zack Fitzgerald received a 3 game ban for his high stick, whereas Cody Brookwell received a one-game suspension for spearing Colby Cohen TWICE. Cohen, who kicked out at Brookwell and also received a one-game suspension. Comparing the Fitzgerald high-stick and the Brookwell spear, both are reckless plays with the stick to make. Some may argue that Fitzgerald’s play was deliberate, and others may say it was accidental. Brookwell’s play however was completely intentional, so how does that warrant a lesser suspension than Fitzgerald?
Onto Colby Cohen’s one-game ban for kicking, what happened to the previous Elite League ruling on kicking an opponent? Tomas Hiadlovsky received a five-game suspension:
“This penalty carries an automatic five-match ban. After the review by the disciplinary committee, it has been decided that the five-match ban will stand.”
The next incident I’m going to compare involved the Fife Flyer’s enforcer Matt Nickerson, who was on the bench, punching the Braehead Clan’s Jeff Smith, and the Cardiff Devils Trevor Hendrix throwing a punch at the Sheffield Steelers fan favourite Cullen Eddy.
Nickerson received a three-match ban for his haymaker, whereas Hendrix received a one-match ban for his bench punch, as well as fighting an ‘unwilling combatant’ on the same play (a play which saw Braehead Clan’s Zack Fitzgerald pick up a two match ban for fighting an ‘unwilling combatant.’)
Now, in my opinion, punching someone while you are still on the bench warrants a ban, but in what way is Nickerson more at fault (three times more!) than Hendrix, who has also fought an ‘unwilling combatant’ on the same play? Again, there is no consistency, and appears to be a case of making up the rules as they go.
The last incident I’m going to compare involves the Edinburgh Capital’s Riley Emmerson boarding the Braehead Clan’s Matt Haywood, and the Cardiff Devil’s Tyson Marsh boarding the Belfast Giant’s Darryl Lloyd.
‘Emmo’ as he is often known as picked up a four-match ban for his dangerous play which left Matt Haywood injured, whereas Marsh was given a one-match ban for his dangerous play which left Darryl Lloyd motionless on the ice.
Both of these incidents are dangerous and are boarding calls as they connect and send the player crashing into the boards. Both of these incidents left a player hurt. Yet one of these incidents is penalized heavier than the other. But for what reason? Who knows.
Once again, the consistency shown from the EIHL Department of Player Safety is appalling. Now I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it should be noted that there have been double the amount of bans handed out to Gardiner Conference teams as opposed to Erhardt conference teams in the 14/15 EIHL season so far. Looking back at the videos above, I’m sure you’ll be able to work out which team’s players play in which conference
So there you have it. If you’re an ice hockey player and are looking for a new career opportunity across the globe, the Elite League in the UK is not the place to be. There may be some nice sights to see, and the most amazing fans to play infront of, but from a hockey standpoint, it appears to be nothing more than a beer league that’s run by amateurs. It’s definitely a shame for the fans of the EIHL who spend their hard earned money following and supporting their teams across the country, but when a season’s work can be wiped out in a second due to a group of anonymous, inconsistent idiots, is it really worth it? Perhaps mainland Europe is a better option.
On the contrary, if you do come over here, just remember one thing: do not throw any water bottles. The Hull Stingrays player/coach picked up a two-match ban for throwing a bottle onto the ice. If someone annoys you, be sure to kick them as hard as you can. You’ll probably get away with a lesser punishment for that one.