Dousing The Flames

After a bad week on the PR front for the EIHL Jono Bullard makes a few suggestions on how things could be improved if acted upon swiftly.

“Bad news has the wings good news must dream of growing” – Jez Lowe

As weeks go, this past one hasn’t been good for the Elite Ice Hockey League after this episode on Sunday 22nd October.

Everyone knows the story. On Wednesday 25th October DOPS gave Steelers Colton Fretter a 1 match ban & Giants Spiro Goulakos 3. An outcry throughout the league from fans & players led to an unprecedented re-review by an independent panel which upgraded Fretter’s ban to six games and decreased Goulakas’ to two.

As the news of the original ruling reached North America it led to some pretty unforgiving articles. The first by Greg Wyshynski of ESPN

And also this, a much harsher worded article that appeared on Barstool Sports titled “If you’re into attempted murder then you’ll love the UK Elite Ice Hockey League” (Warning: Contains swearing).

Despite the re-review the damage had been done. Not only from those articles but also players, coaches and fans legitimately asking where was the player safety from the Department of Player Safety?

This was a PR disaster for the Elite League which undid the good news the league has been experiencing such as Cardiff & Nottingham’s CHL exploits, Guildford & Milton Keynes impressive start to life in the EIHL, rising attendances and the standard of hockey this season which is being widely regarded as the best in league history. All this had now been wiped out by what appeared, on the face of it, to be an incredibly lenient decision for Fretter’s attack on Goulakos, despite the re-review which was, on the whole, met positively by the vast majority of fans.

The findings of the new review were released on Friday 27th October as an independent panel containing former NHL linesman Lyle Seitz and members of the global Players Safety Committee (PSC). Their full and comprehensive verdict is here which lists how the committee came to their conclusions in a level of detail not seen previously. Once again this has been widely welcomed by fans from across the country, and it is believed that the committee will continue to rule on disciplinary matters for the interim.

This is the first change I would like to see the EIHL make. This review is thorough and detailed with clear explanations of how the findings of each incident were concluded. This is what should be expected from a league that wants to be portrayed as professional in all aspects of its being. Instead of Seitz and the PSC ruling on DOPS issues for the interim, why not give them the job full-time? If it’s an issue of cost then find the money because the integrity of the EIHL cannot afford to go through another incident like we saw last week and their explanations do not leave anybody in any doubt as to why a particular decision has been made.

The second change I and many others would like to see is illustrated perfectly by Coventry Blaze fan Tim Smith on Twitter

As Tim says, this needs to go hand in hand with any overhaul of DOPS and once again if it’s a question of cost, find the money! In the Fretter/Goulakos incident referee Michael Hicks was roundly criticised for not calling the original hit on Fretter by Goulakos (which was deemed a legal hit by the independent review).
While the officials to get most things spot on, they are only human and don’t have the benefit of re-watching incidents uploaded to social media, they have to make the call there and then. The speed of the game has increased and an extra referee will reduce the pressure. I’ve absolutely no doubt that they’ll still be criticised by those in the stands but once again it comes down to professionalism, especially when you consider that every top league throughout the world has a two ref, two linos system. This needs to happen, not only for the leagues professional image but also to give the officials some much needed and overdue support.

Another consequence of Fretter’s attack on Goulakos was that the Belfast defenceman suffered a concussion, an injury that is far too common, not only in hockey but many other sports such as US Football, Rugby & Lacrosse to name but a few. In 34 automatic & requested DOPS reviews so far this season, 9 have been for checking to the head (26.5%). That is far too many and players safety is being put at risk.
In light of this I would like to see a check to the head receive an automatic match penalty from the on ice officials (which would lead to an automatic DOPS review). This needs clamping down on as a matter of urgency as the future consequences for the players on the receiving end can be disastrous.

I would also like to see Dr Victoria Silverwood appointed to the EIHL/DOPS in a advisory capacity. For those that don’t know, Dr Silverwood is an expert on head injuries in hockey and was an advisor to the Ice Guardians documentary. She released this statement after the original DOPS ruling on Fretter/Goulakos:

If Dr Silverwood has offered her services voluntary and that has not been acted upon, then frankly it’s scandalous. If someone of that standing in the field of head injuries in sport offers their services then you should take that offer. Once again it comes to that word professionalism. The EIHL have to become leaders and not followers, often way behind the rest.

The playing standard of the EIHL is at its highest level since its inception in 2003. The professionalism on the ice now urgently needs to be met with a similar professionalism off it. The players, fans and especially the officials deserve that at the very least. EIHL board & owners, it’s over to you.

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