LONDON, UK – As the sun sets on a dramatic 2012, the hockey community in London can be cautiously optimistic for once regarding the future of the sport in the capital.
The festive season is always a popular time for ice skating as magical outdoor rinks pop up beside historic landmarks and city skyscrapers across the city. These part time pads of ice are immensely popular with residents and tourists alike and innovations like the skate path at Canary Wharf Ice Rink, where skaters can leave the rink and skate through a set of illuminated tree’s, get people interested in ice related activities.
This popularity of skating outdoors in the winter is nothing new, however in contrast to recent years the full time ice facilities, and more importantly the state of the hockey teams within them are also looking upwards rather than downwards.
Inside the M25 there are currently three permanent ice rinks capable of hosting league ice hockey at Romford, Alexandra Palace and Lee Valley with one temporary rink in Brixton.
Whilst the Rom Valley Way home of current NIHL champions Romford Raiders is due to close at some point in the new year, there is at least a new permanent rink on the way, and for rivals Streatham Redskins this dream is only months away as work progresses on the new Streatham rink in earnest.
The 1000 seat ice rink is already under construction with the frames in place and the opening still scheduled for November 2013.
It marks an exciting chapter for ice hockey in South London and the end of a long running saga that at one point stoked fears that London’s oldest hockey club would be lost in the same way in which Richmond disappeared following the closure of their beautiful old rink by the River Thames.
Streatham are not exactly slumming it at present in their temporary home in Brixton funded by supermarket giant Tesco and built in conjunction with Lambeth Council. This shiny facility with full size ice pad and better facilities than some permanent rinks in the south of England is rumoured to be deconstructed after use and shipped to Sweden to be set up there.
What would delight all ice users in London would be to have it kept in Brixton in addition to the lovely new rink in Streatham.
In North London the wonderfully iconic Alexandra Palace has already benefitted from a multi million pound refurbishment in 2011 and will welcome back league ice hockey in the 2013/14 season. Another club with strong historical roots, even if they are attached to a rink no longer in existence are the Haringey Racers.
With junior teams’ competing out of the Palace continuously since the refurbishment, the rink has been without a senior team since the 2009/10 season and the unlikely figure of former player David Richards’ Junior is leading the charge to bring the Racers back with a proposal to join NIHL South Division 2.
The Palace now has a quality ice pad, new boards and most noticeably excellent lighting which is only a small change but makes such a difference to both players and spectators alike.
In the East the Lee Valley Lions continue to maintain their sustainable model of hockey with long term guardian and former player Eddie Joseph continuing to steer the ship.
Competing in NIHL South Division 2 the Lions are coached by former Haringey and Invicta forward Gary Dodds and appear to have a secure future thanks to their relationship with the local authority run Lee Valley Ice Centre.
Indeed, there were rumours that the Olympics would impact the rink in 2012 but thankfully the legacy of the games did not include a demolished ice facility by the time they were done and dusted.
Despite being deemed unsafe for competitive ice hockey when the Elite League London Racers folded back in November 2005, Lee Valley is a well kept smart rink with decent ice, enough seating and a pleasant atmosphere.
So with league rinks well oiled and in action for 2013 at Alexandra Palace, Lee Valley and Streatham confirmed, what of the London Borough of Havering’s efforts to replace the rink at Rom Valley Way?
The good news is that as part of the proposals supermarket giant (spotting a trend here) Morrison’s will move onto the current site at Rom Valley Way with a new leisure centre and ice rink opening at the same time in 2015.
The bad news of course is that current NIHL South League champions Romford Raiders and the many junior teams that play out of the rink could be left homeless in the interim. The Raiders and their junior teams face the choice of mothballing whilst the proposed new rink is built or come to some sharing agreement with another rink in London with Alexandra Palace or Lee Valley likely options.
The good thing is that there are actually options rather than no options and in a city where ice hockey falls way below most sporting activities in terms of funding and participation; that is a fact not to be sniffed at.
For the next few weeks the glittering showpiece outdoor rinks will continue to pull in the tourists and romantics but in the permanent rinks the hockey teams will resume their seasons hoping for better things ahead.
London may still miss it’s arena in the Docklands and the lack of top flight hockey, but beneath the surface the hockey community in the capital are still kicking.
Hopes of a return to hockey at Wembley Arena are dead and buried and the rumoured transformation of an Olympic venue into a full time hockey arena unfulfilled but who knows what the future might bring.
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