MK Lightning on the road to recovery

MKIHC Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Raine (PHOTO: Jonathan Raine)

There’s light at the end of the tunnel but there’s plenty of work to do as Milton Keynes Ice Hockey Club, the new embodiment behind Milton Keynes Lightning start their preparations for the new season.

In a week where they were granted the ice time at their Planet Ice rink at the expense of the deeply unpopular Moodys, the owners who fans feel have led their club into ruin, there’s a new purpose and positivity on the back of their announcement.

‘Let’s Play Hockey’, the group who started to try and keep Elite League ice hockey in MK are now getting ready to embrace life in the NIHL’s National League and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Raine is already hard at work.

“We’ve got a lot to do to get us ready and into a competitive position in the new division,” he said. “Our focus is also making sure we reward the supporters with a good product on the ice and off it and everything associated with the team.

“Getting the ice time wasn’t the biggest hurdle in this process, but it’s certainly one of the more sizeable ingredients.  It’s an exciting time.”

Raine is one of the people, along with CEO Claire Eason-Bassett, that have worked to reclaim their club back after Lightning dropped out of the Elite League following two turbulent years against the backdrop of financial issues, which have come to light through players making claims of non payment of wages and other expenses.

The Moodys have never responded to any of these claims, creating a dark and unsavoury mood around the club as they toiled at the bottom end of the Elite League.  When the decision to drop into the NIHL was taken, it was a decision that didn’t sit well.

Jonathan said: “Going back seven or eight weeks ago, a group of people all came forward to rescue Elite League ice hockey in Milton Keynes.  There’s been a lot of disquiet with how things have been run over the last couple of years.

“We were looking to save Elite hockey, or rather literally save hockey in Milton Keynes to an extent.  We obviously have other teams there, like MK Thunder, the recce teams and the women’s teams.  But from a top team perspective, there was a concern about things not going the way they wanted them to go.

“So we created Milton Keynes Ice Hockey Club limited and that’s become a vehicle for a bid for Elite League status.

“Leaving the Elite League and the decision itself is an interesting one and you can get a different viewpoint depending on who you talk to.  There’s been a question of viability and sustainability for an Elite League club and this was based on the previous owners.”

The bid to join the top flight was halted at the recent EIHL board meeting, which meant Milton Keynes had to turn to the NIHL in attempt to restore the Lightning name under more positive circumstances and removing the two people they felt were at the heart of the issues.

As they launched their own bid and started number crunching, they realised operating an Elite League team was feasible and certainly sustainable.

He added: “There were rumblings and rumour for a while about what was going on and things weren’t quite adding up.  It came to a head when it was announced that MK were leaving the EIHL in March and it was further exacerbated at a fans forum shortly afterwards where the owners spoke to the fans, answering the questions, but those weren’t what the fans were looking for.

“When we came together, put the numbers up and looked at it, we found it was sustainable based in the current arena in MK.  We understand it’s a difficult business to run, it’s cost heavy, but it is workable.

Milton Keynes Lightning bowed out of the Elite League after two seasons, but a new franchise there has been rejected (PHOTO: Tony Sargent)

“We can understand the model in different in the NIHL as we go through the numbers and the business plan, which we’re refining as we go and we can see both plans are very different.

“Last week, we held a forum with our fans so we hired a conference room and spoke of what we wanted to do and that had a crazy amount of interest, especially online.

“To the fans, it highlighted where we were with that and we’ve had a number of supporters and shareholders that have paid money to support our endeavours.  It was about telling them that, okay, we don’t have Elite League, but most importantly, it was about being honest and open with our plans.”

So, was there an olive branch to Graham and Monica Moody in attempt to come together and try and resolve the issues?

“We have met with the Moodys, but they showed no interest in working with us to move forward and made it quite clear we were going to go our separate ways,” Jonathan confirmed.

He also discussed Planet Ice’s involvement as they confirmed their backing to the ‘Let’s Play Hockey’ group, revealing they’ve been a constant pillar of support as they tried to get things off the ground, which led to the decision to award MKIHC the ice time at the expense of the Moodys.

But he spoke of the recent bid to join the Elite League and while, in his opinion, there wasn’t anything that would have caused any reason for alarm, he reckons the EIHL were perhaps wary of external factors.

Lewis Clifford was appointed the new coach of MK Lightning under the Moodys and is in talks with MKIHC to continue in the role (PHOTO: MK Thunder)

He said: “The EIHL bid itself is an interesting one.  I wouldn’t say there was a standout element of the proposal we put to them that didn’t work.  I think there were a number of things, but the overwhelming piece that was difficult for the Elite League to overcome was the bad publicity and press that was surrounding MK hockey right now.

“Part of the bid for Elite League status depended on us having the ice time contract in place.  So, they came on board early on so when things started to look like our EIHL bid was going to fail, we engaged them about what we wanted to do going forward and they’ve been very supportive in helping us get to the stage we’re at with the NIHL.”

Raine also confirmed they have start discussions with Lewis Clifford, who was appointed the head coach of Lightning by the Moodys at the conclusion of the Elite League campaign.

He also insists assurances have been given by the EIHA they will play in the NIHL season instead of the Moodys’ Lightning, despite their statement that said they will make “a full statement when matters are concluded.” It should be pointed that since the interview, the EIHA have confirmed Lightning, under MKIHC, will compete.

“We’ve began preparations for next season and we’re already in talks with Lewis plus we’ve had assurances from the EIHA and the NIHL that we can play in the National League,” he said.

“What is clear from all this is we are Milton Keynes Lightning.  It’s like if someone came in and took over at Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal.  Their name would remain unchanged so our does too.

“MK Lightning is our team name.  We’ve been around since 2002 and we’re the latest guardians of that name.”

As if there can be any doubt, Milton Keynes Lightning are indeed coming back.

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