edited by Naomi Prakash
photography by Oscar J Ryan
When we think of ice hockey, we think of Canada. Montreal is known as the ‘birthplace’ of ice hockey; it’s their national sport and a staple of Canadian social and pop culture. Yet the origins of field hockey are widely believed to be rooted here in England, and by the end of the 1890s the ice-based version had started ap- pearing in the UK. Soon, the Great Britain men’s team was winning in- ternational competitions, includ- ing the bronze medal at the 1924 Olympics, and gold in 1936. So al- though we can’t claim to be the orig- inal ice hockey nation, we did have a big hand to play in its foundations.
Club Hockey in the UK became pop- ular in the 1980s, and is now played in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). One of the registered teams, Manchester Storm, was founded in 1995. After finding great success,
including drawing a crowd of over 17,000 for a game against the Shef- field Steelers, they met some diffi- culties. Due to financial constraints, the team folded in 2002 to be re- placed by the Manchester Phoenix. However, in 2015 the Manchester Storm team rose from the ashes – pun intended – and re-launched.
Here at Rex Club, we’re lucky enough to work with lots of professional and amateur teams across a variety of different sports. We get to work on headwear merchandise with some amazing teams and supporters, and as a team of sports enthusiasts our- selves, getting to work so closely with sports clubs is hugely fulfill- ing. One of the teams that we work closely with is Manchester Storm. With the Planet Ice arena just a short distance from the Rex Club HQ, we’ve been able to visit them often.
During the week, we brainstorm new designs; and at the weekend, we watch the boys do battle on the ice against the best and brightest in the country. We know how thrilling it is to sit rinkside, but ice hock- ey has a hard battle to win viewership from fans of football and rug- by. We wanted to take the opportunity to go behind the scenes and spend a week with the Storm, giving our community unprecedented ac- cess to what goes into one of the most exhilarating sports in the UK.
The current Head Coach and General Manager of the team is Ryan Fin- nerty. Ryan was a professional player for over fifteen years before going into coaching, and has been with the Storm since 2017. He developed a thirst for hockey at an extremely young age: his Dad coached a local jun- ior team, so he started skating around the age of 2. In fact, Ryan told us that his earliest memory is playing on an outdoor rink in St. Paul, Al- berta, in -30 degree weather. From the age of 4, he started dreaming of playing in the National Hockey League. “Unfortunately you have a bet- ter chance winning the lottery than making the show”, Ryan told us, so he began travelling the US and Canada to play in the ECHL and CHL.
After some years traveling North America with hopes to climb the lad- der into the NHL, Ryan decided on a change of scenery. In 2006, Ryan moved to Europe to play for the Cardiff Devils in the EIHL. After success- ful stints in Sheffield and Glasgow, he moved south of the border to coach Manchester Storm. Alongside coaching, he soon became the team’s Gen- eral Manager, and is now moving towards making that a full-time role.
“Pro hockey can be very demanding and unforgiving. I was lucky enough to play for some great organisations and great coaches. The best part of moving around is the experiences and memories that you collect along the way. I still have great friends all over the world from my travels through hockey and memories that will last a lifetime. The game has prepared me for any obstacles life can throw at you, and I was able to grow and mature alongside some fantastic mentors along the way.”
The North West is an extremely competitive market with top flight football and rugby on Storm’s doorstep, yet Ryan is confident about ice hockey’s growing spectator base: “Ice hockey is the fastest team sport played and has so many aspects that keep fans entertained. Our games are family-friendly and all the aggression is taken out on the ice, not in the stands.”
The EIHL released figures last year claiming that ice hockey is the third most popular winter sport in the UK, behind football and rugby. Numbers increase every year, and with the added attention of team GB securing their spot in the World Championship A Pool, Ryan is confident that the sport will start receiving the media attention that it deserves. “The UK will become a proud ice hockey nation very soon.”
With so much happening in the ice hockey world, there’s a lot of work needed to keep up. Liam Hesketh, Storm’s Head of Sponsorship and Marketing, took us through a typical week in his life to show us just how much goes on behind the stalls.
A Week In The Eye Of The Storm with Liam Hesketh
Head of Sponsorship and Marketing
Monday: Monday is the most important day of the week, and the busiest one for me! It’s usually an early start, around 7am. I’ll begin by checking the ticket sales for the following home fixtures and look at a few different things, such as how many group bookings we have, which commu- nity groups we have coming to the game, and how many natural ticket sales we’ve made, basically to pin-point what we need to work on throughout the week. We use the week leading up to the fixture as a huge push for ticket sales. I’ll also take care of any housekeeping on the official Manchester Storm website – this usually means mak- ing sure that our home match report is on- line, the league table is updated, and that our next home game is being promoted.
By this point in the season, we already have the blueprint for what our social media is going to look like for the week, but I’ll go over this once I’ve put a plan in place with regards to ticket sales. So- cial media is very organic in sport, so we use what we can, when we can. If we won the previous fixture, then people are go- ing to know about it! We may also change things slightly if there’s a special game next, such as our Pride fixture or our Star Wars night. We try to keep things fresh on social media, but we’ll certainly use it as much as possible to help push ticket sales.
Tuesday: Tuesday morning means a video session and then on-ice practice for the play- ers. I’ll head down to training to get some social media content while the players are on the ice, then catch up with Ryan Finner- ty afterwards and go over the plans for the week. At the start of the season, many of the players who are new to Manchester and the UK have lots of questions and need help with getting settled here, so I’ll pick up and help where I can. This aspect settles down after the first couple of months into the season.
Sponsorship is key to the running of the club, so I’ll usually catch up with sponsors early in the week. If any at- tended the previous match, I’ll make sure they had a good time. If we have a specific sponsor coming to the up- coming match, I’ll call them and give them a quick rundown of events, like what happens when they go onto the ice to present the Man Of The Match awards at the end of the game.
Wednesday: Wednesday means a quick catch up with netminder Adam Long, who also helps run the community scheme here in Manchester. We’ll be vis- iting a school or community group on Thursday so we’ll discuss that, and I’ll give Adam an allocation of tickets for the community group so they can come to the weekend’s Elite League fixture. We’ll also reach out to schools and community groups across Greater Manchester to discuss visits from our
players, and work on getting commu- nity groups to games as we continue to grow the sport here in Manchester.
I’ll also catch up with any media out- lets and make sure they got the in- vite to our practice session on Thurs- day morning earlier. We may also hold a Twitter Q&A with one of our squad on a Wednesday evening, so I’ll make sure this runs smoothly. I’ll have checked ticket sales around 100 times by the end of play Wednesday!
Thursday: We’re approaching the weekend fast now and it’s all systems go here at the club. I’ll head down to on-ice practice early and grab a coffee. We always invite any media outlets to join us on Thursday to interview Ryan or any of our squad once practice is over. Chris from That’s Manchester TV arrivesontimeevery Thursday to cover us – thanks, Chris! There’s always a
quick catch-up with the Planet Ice Box Office staff to reserve group book- ings and sort through last-min- ute community group tickets. Then Adam Long and the players head off to their community visit to discuss all things ice hockey, healthy eating and living, anti-bullying and more.
Friday: Friday is an important day, it’s one final ticket push and it’s also important to make sure all group booking tickets are taken care of,
along with any community groups and tickets for sponsors who may be attending. I’ll also catch up with the match night crew to make sure they are ready to go for the upcoming match. I’ll also get any sponsor mate- rial ready for our fixture as each week we have a different ‘match sponsor’, so we’ll make sure we have all the graph- ics ready for in-house screens. I’ll do final checks of the ticket sales and to- do list, then I’ll report back to Jamie and Ryan for any last minute requests,
We’d like to thank Ryan and Liam for taking the time to talk to us about their favourite sport. With the season officially over and no clear start date for the 2020-21 season, the EIHL clubs and players are working slightly in limbo. While bigger, established sports clubs should be able to survive the pandemic, smaller clubs are more at risk. We’d like to take this opportunity to encourage our readers to support their local teams and experience sports outside of rugby and football, there really is room for them all. We hope that once life is more normal, you’ll visit your local rink, particularly if you’re in Manchester. We promise, the atmosphere is second to none!