Fans of ice hockey have hit out after the long rumoured Elite League roster size was finally made public.
Elite League chairman Tony Smith has come under fire for his explanation on why the league have opted to go with 14 imports and only five Brits on any match night – a reduction of homegrown talent in previous years.
And, just weeks after GB star Liam Kirk signed an entry level contract with NHL side Arizona Coyotes, fans have been venting their spleen on social media.
In an interview with Sheffield Star, Smith sought to explain the stance of the 10-team league, explaining clubs are having to play it cautious as they start to continue after the Covid pandemic.
“We have looked at various ways to cut costs this season while maintaining and improving standards,” he said.
“It’s a common sense thing – we don’t know if (the aftermath of ) Covid is going to bring less crowds, less sponsorship, although all the signals so far are that things are looking good.
“I think we are going to be okay but we are being a little bit cautious with how many players we have on the roster.
“But why fewer Brits overall on EIHL rosters, when younger ones are further down the pay scale?
“Yes, some of the Brits earn little, but only until they get to the point where they are starting to make a name for themselves.
“One or two are coming through like Josh Waller and Sam Jones. Young Brits are always on the radar and once we think they are going to make the grade we are very quick to snap them up. So why not 12 imports and seven Brits on EIHL line-ups, for example?
“It is down to quality. I am the first to advocate that we want quality on the ice, we were at 10 and 10 (import-Brit ratio) when I first joined the League in 2011.
“You bring me the crowds and I will bring you the Brits! But right now they don’t fill Arenas and I’d be the first to say I hope it changes, I hope the standard improves.”
His comments have caused anger among fans, who have heavily criticised the league and Smith for the new rule, with some accusing the EIHL of sending the wrong message for any up and coming players.
On Twitter, Jon Rowson said: “Absolutely shocking message to send, not only off the back of Team GBs achievements of the past four years, but how many junior players will be put off from giving pro hockey a go if this is the message?”
“Short term thinking on the EIHL’s part. What happens in 2-3 years time when many of the seasoned EIHL brits have retired? More imports and back to the superleague days?,” Chris Golley added.
Former Elite League media officer Chris Ellis, who now works with Ice Hockey UK, didn’t hold back on his criticism either, citing one top Brit as an example of the new rule.
“If you’re good enough to play against Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic in the World Championship, you are more than good enough to play in the EIHL,” he said.
“I cannot believe Matthew Myers does not have an EIHL job right now. This is down to the reduction in places for British players. I understand the EIHL has to cut its costs because of the pandemic but I would like to have seen 12 imports and seven British players.”
Andy Dixon also said: “The league have no pulse on what the fans want or what hockey needs either by the sounds of it.
“The breathtaking idiocy of this is a stretch even for the EIHL. An absolute travesty for the sport in this country. What happened to age old limiting imports because they’re expensive?”
While it’s undoubtedly a talking point, there were some who agree with the Elite League’s stance for this season, offering that top end Brits cost more than lower level imports.
“Brits cost more than imports, we have wanted a better and more professional league for decades now we have it and unfortunately people would vote with their feet and stop coming to as many games if the standard on the ice slipped,” Jack Dale said.
“Been saying this for a while and totally get the reasons behind it. The Elite League is not a development league,” Matt Bonninger added.
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