From pulpit to pucks - ice hockey storms back in Altrincham

View of Manchester Storm ice rink, Silver Blades, in Altrincham at start of game versus Fife Flyers
View of Manchester Storm ice rink, Silver Blades, in Altrincham at start of game versus Fife Flyers

Old time hockey rinks still rock.

The hangar-like Silver Blades in Altrincham may be a world away from the massive Nynex Arena that previously hosted the Manchester Storm, but this is more than just a relocation for this reborn EIHL hockey team. It feels like a return home.

Devonshire Road, Altrincham - former home to ice hockey teams Altrincham Aces and Trafford Metros. Now a church

Devonshire Road, Altrincham - former home to ice hockey teams Altrincham Aces and Trafford Metros. Now a church

And that is entirely down to the people at the heart of the club.

Every single club in this league could benefit from a visit to see not what they do, but how they do it.

From the announcer to the ticket sellers to the stewards, they all make a positive and welcoming impression of a place, and a club that are delighted you’ve come and hope you have a great night out regardless of the result.

Storm are embarking on the same steep learning curve Flyers undertook just five years ago, and there are clear parallels between the two in terms of not just building a team to compete on the ice, but of rebuilding the infrastructure off it. Just eight weeks in, they are doing more than okay.

It still has a ‘to do’ list of tasks and projects but there is a clear vision and, equally, a clear commitment, to really bring hockey alive again in a town where pucks have been fired since the 1960s.

It was interesting chatting to Clare Freeman, who edits the official podcast, last week about the scale of the task, and desire to see it through.

That online presence is just one of the platforms Storm are using to reconnect the town and team.
Equally, the first thing you see arriving on the train is a banner promoting the team - it’s on the back of the blue shed that is now their home.

That message is key to re-establishing Storm as a top flight hockey club. It won’t deliver overnight, but the benefits of the work put in now, as the team has to work incredibly hard to adapt to a new challenge and still post the wins necessary to feed the fan base, will become evident in seasons two and three.

Storm already have a match night which puts the emphasis on fun for all.

Everyone engages, and none more so than the announcer Jon Hammond. He is the link from the Storm of the past - he was part of the Nynex era - and the Storm of 2015. He is out of his booth and round the rink non-stop, chatting to every single section and working the crowd.

The music is upbeat and instantly recognisable - cheesy for sure but if you can turn pre-game into a sing-a-long Sedaka, Diamond, Tom Jones et al then you are , at the very least, making folk smile and making them part of ‘the show’ rather than cranking up the volume to 11 and blasting them with banging tunes which simply don’t resonate with the audience.

Add in quizzes and a Mexican wave competition and you have more fun in half an hour than some rinks manage in an entire season.

It takes a lot to impress a Fife travelling support but it’s safe to say they all departed the Silver Blades arena hugely impressed with how they were treated.

Those small touches listed above all mattered and were appreciated as was the pre-game presentation to Danny Stewart as he set a new league appearances record.

They also enjoyed the seat delivery service for beer - the guy with the backpack of bottles of Heineken did a roaring trade as he marched up and down the steps.

Last time I saw that was when Prince played the massive O2 in London ands I was four flights up, so if it can be done in the more modest 3000 seater in Altrincham then, licensing issues aside, there’s no reason why it can’t be done at every EIHL rink.

I’d certainly go back to the Altrincham rink to see Flyers play, and it was interesting to speak to a few exiles down south who talked about making the occasional trip along the M6/M56 to see Storm play- all hooked by the great selling of the club and the match night.

That evangelical approach is key to Storm’s future.

Appropriate really as the old ice rink - where their predecessors Altrincham Aces and Trafford Metros played - is now the site of the Devonshire Road Evangelical Church.

From pulpit to pucks in less than 20 minutes and two decades … amen!