Grimsby probably isn’t a place that immediately springs to mind when asked about ice hockey.
The Lincolnshire coastal town no longer has a senior team in the National League structure, most of its junior team’s battle away near the foot of their respective league tables, the rink itself is a two-thirds sized pad in a council owned leisure centre and threatened with closure.
Yet Grimsby is home to one of the country’s oldest teams, coached by one of the country’s oldest (and longest serving) coaches and they won’t go down without a fight.
The Grimsby Ice Hockey Club, founded in 1932 and for most of their existence nicknamed the Red Wings, played out of a rink on Ladysmith Road in the town until 1959 when that facility was closed.
With no alternative venue the club was forced into a 16 year hiatus until the current facility on Cromwell Road opened in 1975. Barring a season out in 2004/05 when the rink was threatened with closure they have played continuously ever since, offering chances for players from U9 level all the way through to U20.
From there, with no NIHL side to move up to, players fall away, some of the best may get an opportunity to have a go at Hull or Sheffield, though these tend to get picked up younger. The rest play for one of the three rec hockey teams based at Grimsby – three of the stronger rec teams in the region.
Michael (Mick) Barley has been coaching Ice Hockey for 36 years. At 73 we understand him to be the second oldest active coach under the EIHA.
A calm and collected defenseman in his day, Mick still straps his gear on teaching an adult introduction to ice hockey class on a Sunday night at the rink, as well as being the level 2 coach for the U9 and U11 players/teams on a Saturday morning.
Before he retired 8 years ago, Mick had worked for the Leisure Centre as an off ice team member/on ice coach for 28 years and is as much a part of the fabric of the place as the mortar in the wall.
In conversation Mick remains as enthusiastic about hockey as ever, reeling off all the teams and age groups he worked with over the years, commenting here and there about players he coached who went on to other things, including his son Lee who played over 200 for the Peterborough Pirates and Humberside Seahawks from the late 80s to mid 90’s (thanks Elite Prospects).
That said, Mick is excited about the young players he sees coming through at Grimsby now – the future of the club is bright, if the rink can be saved.
Grimsby Leisure Centre is home to the only permanent ice rink in the historic County of Lincolnshire. Opened in 1975 it has a reduced size surface (approx 150ft x 60ft) with limited facilities for spectators.
It may not be much, but it is well beloved by those who call it a second home. Threatened repeatedly with closure, the hockey club, figure skating club and other users have fought to keep the facility open successfully so far.
That said, the council are once again pushing to close the rink, and unless the new Ice Rink Community Group are able to put together a plan, and funding by August, then the rink will close its doors for the final time
The Community Group
Raised £5,000 through crowd funding and further cash through on-going fundraising events (publicised at the rink and on social media) to carry out work required to adapt the rink from its current state as part of a multi-use complex to a standalone venture.
Work is going on, mostly behind the scenes at the moment, to secure them the opportunity to take the rink on via a community asset transfer, and then the hard conversion work can begin.
Rink users from casual, hockey and figure skating are involved, ensuring representation for everyone’s needs across the board. One thing for sure, is that they won’t give up on it until the very end. And I for one, wish them all the very best.