BOTW Extra – Slough Jets leave the EPIHLPosted: 25/04/2014
Whilst the news has been predicted for a while, the confirmation came today from owners Zoran and Ghislaine Kozic that the Slough Jets have withdrawn from the English Premier Ice Hockey League in a press release today from the club.
Members of the EPL since 2002, the Jets had long been a contender under the Kozics’ ownership since they took over the team in 2006 registering 3 playoff titles in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
The reputation of the club surviving on the investment of their owners was long standing but the 2013/14 campaign saw the falling crowds and lack of extra sponsors take their toll both on and off the ice to the point where the Kozic family have decided that a Slough team in the second tier of British hockey is no longer viable.
The problems surrounding the Jets in 2013/14 can be seen by the turnover of players; 34 used in total including dressing 7 different goalies, 3 different captains of which two left the club and a drop from 5th in the table to finishing bottom and outside the playoffs.
That said a great deal of credit needs to go to Craig Moran who took over coaching duties after the departure of Slava Koulikov to Peterborough. Moran replenished the roster with what players he could get, giving many young players like Eddie Temple and Stephen Balmer their first taste of EPL hockey or a route back into the league for players like Tom Avery and Alan Lack (who might be the league’s premier agitator). The Jets didn’t get many wins but were a hard working team that was given decent netminding support by Croatian netminder Andrej Vasiljevic; a player who, had he played a full season on a top team might have been in the all star discussions.
Why the Jets find themselves in this situation is easy to speculate and point fingers about. The press release talks about falling crowds and lack of sponsors and we can sit here and wonder about such things but we’ll focus more on the ripples this causes in the EPL pond rather than why the stone fell so hard.
The effect that Slough’s departure will have on the league remains to be seen. Obviously an effort will be made to canvas for a team to step up into the gap left by the Jets to try and maintain a 10 team, 54 game season that seems to work for the majority of member clubs.
Solway Sharks, playing out of their state of the art facility that has hosted world championships are always mentioned in this conversation but a team that far north is reportedly not popular with owners in a league with 6 of the 9 remaining sides south of Birmingham.
Many then throw names of ex-EPL sides currently in the NIHL into the mix like Chelmsford, Solihull and Blackburn though none of those three are apparently in a place financially to want to make the step back into the EPL and this leaves a quandary for remaining EPL sides if a 10th club cannot be found in two major areas.
The first area is fixture structure. Teams would be faced with 3 fewer home games per season and one team per weekend has to have only 1 game. Now some clubs can absorb the lack of income for a weekend but others can’t. Season ticket prices are suddenly less value for money for fans and all the income from match night tickets, concessions and the like and that’s 3 games worth of money that’s no longer there. Is there something that could be done to make this as fair as possible?
One way I suppose to counter this would mean a drastic change in cup format meaning the potential for more midweek midweek games and 3 groups of 3 which isn’t ideal and wouldn’t be popular with management or fans.
The other side of the argument for the EPL teams is the sudden pool of players now all free agents with no team to return to. The best examples of this being Ales Padalek, Matt Towalski and one of the players people regularly say is the best defenceman in the league in former Bison, Mindy Kieras.
But what of the Jets fans? I think the thing that troubles me about some of the eulogising of the Jets today is just that; the Jets are not dead. Slough have withdrawn from the EPL, true and the focus on an NIHL 2 side will mean a drop in the quality of hockey that many are used to but the Slough Jets are still there. It may not feel like it but this could secure the near future of hockey in the town.
What’s really important for Jets fans is to get behind the club they support. Speak to fans of Chelmsford, the Isle of Wight, Solihull and the like; there is potential in the NIHL structure to thrive and grow. The Chieftains might be the best example of a team that financially had to drop to the NIHL (ENL as it was then), dropped to NIHL 2 and are now a force at that level. If the club focusses on rebuilding itself, there is potential for it to do that.
I will miss the Slough Jets in the EPL. There were some great battles against the Bison since our entry into the league and sadly that has to end. Whilst I don’t really want to dictate to other teams fanbases what they should and shouldn’t do, I will make a request; do not retire those blue, red and white jerseys. The Slough Jets are not dead. This is adaptation, this is change. I wish the organisation and the fanbase the best in this newest venture. Get out there and be a part of it.