Finnerty: Elite League better than top leagues in Europe

(PHOTO: Scott Wiggins)

Manchester Storm coach Ryan Finnerty believes the Elite League is far better than some of the other leagues around Europe.

The 38-year-old Canadian has been around the UK scene for around 12 years as a player, coach and as the General Manager at Storm and reckons it’s time the improvement should be embraced by everyone involved.

And he added that the UK doesn’t get enough respect around the rest of the continent despite recent successes in the continental competitions and internationally.

“For me in my situation as an outsider looking in, I love that the top teams are moving up a level or two and I know the ownership is so solid that we’re not the Super League,” he said.  “They are more sustainable organisations that are operating within their means.

“It’s at a point where our league, by far, eclipses Denmark, Norway, France and the DEL2.  They’re so far in our rear-view mirrors now.

“Don’t get me wrong, they have some excellent programmes and great organisations within those leagues, but from top to bottom, they don’t come close to what the UK provides.

“If the Elite League was operating in somewhere like Denmark, there would be endless talk about the resurrection of the Danish league.  Because we’re outside of that bubble, we don’t get a lot promotion from within the EU.

“I’m not saying it to be disrespectful, but it’s the truth and we operate at a much higher level and the next step is the Austrian League.

GB pair Corey Neilson and Pete Russell (left and centre respectively) are both coaching in Germany’s DEL2 this season – a league Finnerty feels is inferior to the EIHL (PHOTO: Scott Wiggins)

“Now, I know there’s people in Europe that may laugh at that, but the truth is, it is what it is.  We’re better than Denmark and way deeper than Norway, France, the second league in Germany and we’ve got better run organisations.

“If I’d said that three or four years ago, I’d have been tricking myself, but now I’m not.  That’s the reality.  Look at what we’re doing at the teams, from top to bottom.  It’s a well drilled league.”

Finnerty was speaking in response to the comments made and subsequent reaction from our exclusive interview with Cardiff Devils co-owner Steve King last week about teams spending for the new season.

The Storm boss is of the opinion that instead of focussing on what teams are spending, there should be a wider pride in how far the league have come in the last few years.

And he dismissed the ‘chequebook hockey’ phrase that seemed to rise to prominence on the back of King’s comments, but admits the negativity from the interview has driven the competition.

He added: “When you go back to Steve’s comments, I played in Cardiff and those guys have put their money where their mouths are and with great management, it’s a complete 180 since my time there.

“It’s the same with Tony Smith at Sheffield and I was his first coach there.  From where they were then to where they are now is incredible.  It’s hard work and it didn’t happen overnight, but it’s been a great job to get there.

Ryan Finnerty coached former Braehead Clan in the Champions Hockey League in 2015, a tournament that’s helped improve the standing of British teams in ice hockey (PHOTO: Champions Hockey League)

“Everybody’s looking at who’s spending more money.  Who cares? The league is so good now and we should all be proud of that as a UK base of where the Elite League’s gone.

“When I read those comments, it’s almost sad because we need to be cocky and proud of the players we’re bringing in and not talking about AHL, ECHL guys because that’s the norm now.

“The negativity drives competition.  In the same fashion that the lower end teams talk about budgets.  If you have a coach talking about that and how they can’t compete, they set themselves apart.  It lays out the potential loss.

“I saw Dave Simms weigh in on the comments last week and naturally, he’s going to defend Sheffield.  But you don’t mess with Alberta boys, like Steve and I.  Kidding aside though, it’s up to them to defend them and I get that.

“I think all ten teams are healthy well run and well drilled and financially viable because of strong ownership and no-one is outside of their means so when I saw that “chequebook hockey” nonsense, it was rubbish because we’re dealing with serious business people now who know how to run programmes that will still be going in years to come.

“No-one is bankrolling a team to win for one year.  It just doesn’t happen and I think the UK and the fans are so competitive, the reality is we need to be a little cocky at how good our league is because we’ll never get the respect from mainland Europe.”

Finnerty also believes the drive by all clubs to bring fans into their respective buildings is something that makes the difference compared to their European counterparts.

Ryan Finnerty played for Cardiff Devils and Sheffield Steelers after arriving in the UK in the 2006/07 season (PHOTO: Simon Cooper)

And he also admits he’s stopped trying to sell the Elite League to potential signings and others, as the great qualities it has speaks for itself now.

He said: “The adaptation of the ownership has improved while I’ve been here and we work harder to promote our teams to get fans into the building.  We don’t just rely on sponsorship, which is what they do in mainland Europe.

“There isn’t a whole lot of detail in how to attract fans, whereas we’ve mastered how to get the bums on seats and now, we’re getting the benefit of sponsorship.

“We’re not European and we’re so different from the rest of the continent and it’s hard for them to understand our programme.  Our next step is to overtake Austria.

“No matter how many Champions Hockey League games we win, we need to be proud of that.  I’m one of the most competitive guys, but I’m also looking at a league I’ve been a part of for over ten years grow and grow and I’m done trying to convince people how god the UK is.  It simply is.

“I don’t feel I need to convince anybody.  We’re a serious league with serious competition with some great players.  We provide schooling programmes, great healthcare, English speaking, our partners can come here and work.  There are so many advantages to coming here.

“Trust me, in a country where you don’t speak English, and it can be an issue for partners or kids and school, believe me when I say it makes a huge difference coming here.  The sense of freedom you have here is incredible and it’s time our fan base and our clubs embraced just how far we’ve come.”

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