Jake Oakley: “Hockey’s well and truly in my blood.”

Jake Oakley with the Sheffield Steelkings

From watching kids ice hockey with his dad at the old Queen’s Road rink to running his own Para Ice Hockey team, it’s been a journey for Jake Oakley.

His fascination with the sport started at a young age watching the Sheffield Steelers play with hand out tickets.

When their season ended Oakley and his father would move down to the lower leagues who played for longer.

This began his relationship with the sport, which has helped him achieve his dream of running his own team.

“I’ve been an ice hockey fan for about as long as I can remember really, I was always aware of para ice hockey and it wasn’t until 2005 I actually got knocked off my motorbike, so I ended up with a few different injuries.

“I’ve always wanted to play ice hockey as a kid, but we could never really afford it and to be honest I always used to want to play but I hated the hockey boots,” he quipped.

“So further down the line I found out that Sheffield were going to try and setup a para ice hockey team, like I said I was already aware of it from the Paralympics, so when I found out Sheffield we’re trying to set a team up I wanted to lend a hand and see if I could help out.”

He continued: “Like I say I’ve always wanted to be a hockey player, but my accident it hurt me for quite a long-time, so running sports we’re always a bit off the cards for me.

“So, from there, almost from day one I got in and gave it a go and they instantly wanted me to get involved on the committee.”

The Steelkings

This was the beginnings of Sheffield Steelkings, founded in September of 2014 they have been building ever since.

In 2015 Oakley took over as Chairman of the club and his side have gone from strength to strength since.

He spoke on the organisation of the team, saying: “It’s been a long, drawn-out thing, nothing happens quickly, basically when I realised playing was never going to be an option the other pipe dream is ‘it’d be great to run or own a team wouldn’t it!’.

“As you can tell hockey is well and truly in my blood and my mind as well, it’s been great really to be honest,” he said.

“I won’t lie it’s been hard work; I often say the Steelkings are the fulltime job that I don’t get paid for, it takes up that much of my time.”

Despite this Oakley is committed to building the club and their reputation, speaking on this he said: “We want to push the sport further forward and we want to get more people involved, I’ve never seen the Steelkings as a rec (Recreational) team, I see us as being one of the most professional teams as I can possibly make us.”

This is an ethos he tries to push onto his players as well trying to help them have the same mentality about the team.

“I like the players to portray themselves the same as well, ‘you are going to set the tone for the club’, wear the shirts with pride and everyone buys into it because they can see what we’re trying to do.”

With this mentality in place across the side they have started to progress further, Oakley spoke on this saying: “It has been a lot of hard work, we’ve struggled over the years, but with the years comes more playing experience and now we’re at this point where actually we’re starting to see some success come in as well.

“It’s great that we can start to put some trophies on the shelf kind of thing, of course it’s always about that, but it isn’t really about that for me, because it’s about growing the sport and trying to get more people involved.”

Silverware

The side had started as five players and now has over 30 players and staff, with volunteers to help the side too.

With this increase in players they have been able to compete for trophies in better leagues.

One such league is the recent inaugural Northwest Europe Para Ice Hockey League, which Oakley’s side won.

Speaking on this he said: “We wanted to introduce our own tournament where we could get teams from far flung places to come over to Sheffield.

“We’re only a small team in the grand scheme of things, but we try to have lofty ambitions, so we organised our own competition called the Kings Cup and just before Covid we’d invited all these teams over.”

He continued: “Only Rouen (Dragons) made it over as it was too expensive for the other teams at the time, so off the back of that some of them wanted to do something similar.

“So, we used to Kings Cup format for this event, and I said: ‘this is how I did it’ and they said lets see if we can make something work.”

Oakley worked with the other sides to organise the event and his side travelled across a couple of weeks ago to play.

The plan Oakley says is to continue the competition on over the years, saying: “It’s not just for us, it’s for them, our mission isn’t just about growing Sheffield, it’s about growing the sport as far and wide as we can.”

This is something Oakley is very passionate about, building the sport through inclusivity and diversity.

The Steelkings will be launching a range of pride jerseys soon to raise money for a local charity and encourage everyone to get involved in the sport.

Future Aspirations

Following on from their recent European excursion the side are trying to plan for a successful 2023.

A major part of this will be the British Para Ice Hockey League (BPIHL) which the Steelkings will compete in.

This resumes in May after delays due to Covid, Oakley’s side are the defending league and play-off champions from 2019.

Speaking on this he said: “Other teams just aren’t as big as us that’s the fact of the matter and Covid obviously has hit the whole world hard, but we are looking to make a return now and from May-time we’ll be playing the 2022 British league season.”

Building the Future

Another hope of Oakley’s is to nurture talent and hopefully build up a pool of talent for Team GB.

This is something he wants to focus on over time by adding a youth setup and utilising the development team.

This team are also going to be entered into the league system as the sides numbers have grown significantly.

“It seemed only fair that we’d try to have a development team, so our top team the Steelkings will also be joined by our B team which we lovingly named the Steelstings.”

Oakley’s aim is for these players to make up the gaps left by departing players from the first team.

On top of this he also wants to add a youth team to the mix, this is to build the sport even more and breed talent.

He says it’s hard to build players when they’re a little bit older so having a good youth system in place can produce better players.

A product of this is contributing to the player pool Team GB can pick from, speaking on this Oakley said: “We have lofty ambitions as a sport generally, we want to see the British team back in the Paralympics and we want to be playing at the top level of the world, but it’s going to be tough because we need the youth in and we need the funding.”

Oakley also wanted to reinforce his previous messages that this sport is for everyone.

“If people can get into sledges and they’ve got the ability to want to play the sport—it’s not for everybody but it also can be for everybody if you’ve got the right attitude to give it your all and go for it.”

Finally, he wanted to mention all the other people who have contributed to the Steelkings, saying: “I couldn’t do it all myself, the club wouldn’t be where it was today without the other committee members and volunteers who give up their time to make the Steelkings the growing success it is.”

If you want to be involved, contact the Sheffield Steelkings on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

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