What does the future hold for British ice hockey?

GB relegated France in 2019, but will have to wait find out where they're going this year (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Ice hockey is most popular in North America and Scandinavia, but there is a sense that the sport is reaching a point of renaissance in the United Kingdom. The sport is one of the quickest in the world and intrigues all sports fans once they sit down and watch a match.

However, the success of horse racing, football and rugby means that it is almost overlooked in the UK as a possible sport to watch since there are too many sports on the calendar. The renaissance could finally come, however, due to the increased performance levels that the world saw in the most recent World Cup.

World Cup Success

Back in 1908, the British national side was one of the founding members of the International Ice Hockey Federation, and Team GB enjoyed great success. They won the first-ever IIHF European Championships in 1910 and won bronze and gold in the 1924 and 1936 Olympics respectively. However, since that early success, the country pulled funding and was never seen as a contender on the global stage again.

That changed somewhat in 2018 when Team GB reached the pinnacle and were able to compete in the Ice Hockey World Championships. Their 2019 appearance was the first time that Team GB have competed in the competition since 1994. But, the grassroots success also shows that this could be a change that could become a formality. The U18 and U20 teams have both enjoyed success, with the U18 side gaining promotion to Group B on Division I in 2018. The U20 team also came third in their respective World Championships. The female game is also growing steadily, with more than 889 players no registered in 2019, which was double the number of players in 2011. It will still be baby steps to reach the same level as the USA and Canada, but the early signs are promising for those fans that love ice hockey.

Media Representation

The Premier League dominates the landscape in terms of sport on television in the United Kingdom, and in comparison, there isn’t a great deal of attention for ice hockey. However, the sport’s leading division in the UK- EIHL, was picked up by FreeSports last season and all games are now televised for fans that want to watch. However, not many fans tune into the action, with the lion share of dedicated fans actually attending games.

Local media are different from their national counterparts and do give their local sides the coverage that they deserve. BBC Coventry, BBC Nottingham and BBC Sheffield all provide comprehensive coverage to their sides and will include their results on the news bulletin. Meanwhile, the latter of which also has a weekly programme which takes listeners inside the club and allows fans to gain a greater understanding of their training regimes and what they have planned for their upcoming fixtures. These local stations report on their hockey sides in the same way as they would for their local football teams, and that ensures that the sport is brilliant for families and offers a real community feel.

Betting on Ice Hockey

The sport is one of the best available for punters, and popular betting exchanges such as William Hill allow their customers to bet on all the fixtures in the EIHL, as well as GB fixtures in the World Cup. All the main betting options are available to punters, with each individual match allowing punters to bet on the winning team in the fixture (source here). The outright markets are also incredibly popular, as punters can bet on which team will win the upcoming EIHL.

This will only encourage the sport to grow further and will entice fans of the NHL in the UK to look into British hockey as a potential way to see games. These players on show may one day move into the NHL and could achieve extended success with the GB side if they continue to develop in the manner that they have shown on the global stage recently. It could be a golden period for fans of British hockey, and that will only ensure that the sport is able to flourish.

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