Short Stars Highlight Development Problem
Dundee Stars have had a great season. They sit 3rd in the EIHL, top of the Gardiner Conference and on course for their best season since joining the Elite League.
Last night they continued their good form by despatching last years league and play-off winners Nottingham. It was a great result in a great season; but one factor disappointed me – Dundee had just 12 skaters.
It highlights an issue that all too often crops up in the EIHL; short benches.
It still astounds me that the UK’s flagship league (which it is, like it or not) can allow teams to play with less than three lines.
I’m not picking on Dundee here – they are not the first team to be in this boat, nor will they be the last.
Sheffield and Cardiff also played ‘short’ yesterday; as Aaron Murphy reeled off the list of absentees from both sides, I was left wondering why two of the countries better development systems weren’t able to provide cover for the ‘big club’.
The reality is that this is just another example of the failure of the British development system.
Stars fans reached for their pitchforks when I described icing with just 12 skaters as ’embarrassing’. But that’s what it is. It’s nothing personal against the Stars, as this is a league wide issue, but for any team to ice with less than three lines, in what bills itself as a professional league, is embarrassing for the sport.
That there was no one available to step in on the 3rd line, or bottom D pair, should be a serious worry. Whether it was due to players on two-way deals with Dundee being unavailable, or simply no one locally good enough to step up, the lack of bodies should be a serious concern.
Again, they are not the first. Edinburgh have encountered this issue on more than one occasion, and Cardiff have previously borrowed from their successful NIHL/junior set up. Lord only knows what goes on in Sheffield some days, as arguably the best junior set up in the country continues to be almost alien to the Steelers.
It all comes back to the familiar story of British development. Or the lack thereof.
Either junior systems are not producing, or EIHL clubs are not putting faith in local talent – either scenario represents a failure within the sport. And a massive one at that.
The development of domestic talent in the UK is always a hot button topic; but when elite sides are icing with such low numbers in the countries flagship competition, things come starkly in to focus.
I appreciate Dundee fans determination to defend their club, their budget, the options available to Coach Jeff Hutchins. But no amount of demonstration can distract from the fact the domestic game failed the Stars yesterday, as it has for so many clubs in the EIHL, EPL and even occasionally the NIHL. The infrastructure just doesn’t support what British hockey is trying to do.
At some point the excuses need to stop, and someone needs to act – because it really is in the best interests of the game.