Overshadowed by the NHL and even some of the more popular leagues in Eastern and Northern Europe, ice hockey isn’t the first sport many think about when looking at UK sport more broadly. That being said, the teams that compete in the Elite League, British hockey’s premier competition, have fanatical and passionate fan-bases. Ask any fan of British ice hockey, and Tony Hand is the name most likely on their lips. Nicknamed two-point Tony, he amassed over 4,000 career points and was the first British player drafted in the NHL. But in addition to Tony Hand, we take a look at four other men who are widely regarded as the biggest names in British ice hockey and what they’ve done to achieve their spot at the pinnacle of the sport.
Head Coach, Belfast Giants
Adam Keefe is the head coach of Belfast Giants, the current Elite League champions. He was appointed head coach in 2017 after a successful couple of seasons as a player/coach. But Keefe has been synonymous with the Giants’ success over the course of the past decade, as he was a tireless captain who helped his team achieve great results on the rink. He captained the Giants from 2012 – 2017, helping the Giants to two titles during that time. During his playing career in the Elite League, he amassed an impressive 352 games, scored 52 goals, and recorded 78 assists. He’s a popular character within British ice hockey, and when the 2021 season gets underway, he will be hoping to guide his Giants team to back-to-back titles, and they are certainly favoured by the bookies as the most likely wo win the crown.
Captain, Team GB
A record-breaker and history maker, Jonathan Phillips represented the Sheffield Steelers for fourteen successful seasons. In 2017, he became the most-capped Sheffield Steelers player in the club’s history, and had it not been for the coronavirus, he would have still been representing the Steelers. He elected to sign for German Oberliga team EHF Passau Black Hawks so that he could play in 2020, and it remains to be seen if we’ll see him back on British ice next season. As Team GB captain, he helped the squad achieve their highest IIHF world ranking of 19 in 2020 and is a popular dressing room figure. Steelers fans will surely hope that he returns to the Elite League for at least one final season before he retires. If Phillips does return to the Steelers, we may see Sheffield become one of the favourites to challenge for the title next season.
Former Head Coach, Team GB
Paul Thompson led Team GB from 2006 to 2011 and is widely regarded as one of the most successful coaches ever to have worked in the Elite League. He has received nine coach of the year awards in his career and has led his teams to two Challenge Cups, two British Knockout Cups, and he is the first coach to have won five Elite League titles. He also completed the British ice hockey Grand Slam in 2005, writing his name into the history books. After spending nineteen years coaching Coventry Blaze, Thompson has managed across the European continent, coaching in Germany and Italy most recently. Thompson is widely respected as the best British ice hockey coach of all time, and in 2008, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by Coventry University in recognition of his contribution to the development of his team during his time as Head Coach of Coventry Blaze.
All-time leading point scorer in EIHL
Colin Shields played the vast majority of his professional career in the Elite League and retired as the all-time leading point scorer in the competition. The Glaswegian represented Belfast Giants, Newcastle Vipers, and Sheffield Steelers and played professionally in France. He ends his impressive sixteen-year career as Team GB’s all-time leading goal scorer with 42 strikes. His best performances domestically came in a Belfast Giants shirt, and he is their record appearance holder after playing 611 games. Shields is also only one of three GB players ever to have been drafted in the NHL when he was taken in sixth by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000. A consistent goal-scorer, Shields ended his career in 2019, with two Elite League winners’ medals and two Challenge Cup winners’ medals. A legend of the British ice hockey game, Shields is widely considered as one of the best players to play in the Elite League.