Who killed top flight ice hockey in Edinburgh?

Old time derby: Mike Ware (Murrayfield Racers) fighting Rob Abel (Fife Flyers) 1993-94  (Pic: Bill Dickman)
Old time derby: Mike Ware (Murrayfield Racers) fighting Rob Abel (Fife Flyers) 1993-94 (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Fourteen days in April didn’t so much shake-up ice hockey in the capital – it left it floating like a corpse in the river that trickles past the old Murrayfield rink.

So, who killed top flight ice hockey in Edinburgh?

The class of 1985: Murrayfield Racers of 33 years ago

The class of 1985: Murrayfield Racers of 33 years ago

Edinburgh Capitals have gone.

Murrayfield Racers never got off the drawing board.

And the Elite League now has clubs actively selling season tickets based on a 12-team league which is, for the moment, down to eleven.

One word has been used over and over. Shambles.

Two ex-Racers in oposition -  Rick Fera shadowed by former line-mate, Tony Hand  (Pic: Bill Dickman/FFP)

Two ex-Racers in oposition - Rick Fera shadowed by former line-mate, Tony Hand (Pic: Bill Dickman/FFP)

Anyone who has followed ice hockey for any length of time will not be in the least bit surprised. This compelling, captivating sport has suffered so many self-inflicted shotgun injuries over the decades, it’s a wonder it has any toes left to aim at.

It’s what is not being said here that is significant. The ‘known unknowns’ hold the key to unravelling this mess.

There seems to be no way back for Edinburgh Capitals, a shoestring team that has defied gravity at times to stay in the top flight.

It lost 51 of 56 games last season, but its biggest defeat came off the ice when Capitals Hockey Limited was wound up.

Mired in a mess largely of its own making, and with a fan base whose loyalty had been stretched to breaking point starting to fragment, it was meant to launch a new management structure to begin with a new slate, and renewed heart, for season 2018-19.

It took them months – far too long – to communicate that plan, and only got over the finishing line after the rink gave another company, Cool House Marketing, a temporary contract to see out the season. With hindsight, a line in the sand moment in the relationship between the rink and its hockey tenants.

While Capital/Scott Neil held – and, presumably continue to hold – the franchise to operate an EIHL team in the capital, the club itself has nowhere to go after losing out in a head to head battle to play out of Murrayfield.

That contract was handed to Racers Leisure Limited who planned to bring back the fabled Murrayfield Racers – only to see its bid for the franchise rejected by the EIHL.

Just 14 days after publicly launching, Racers, and the city, suddenly found itself with no top flight ice hockey next season.

They didn’t even get to present their case in person. The paperwork which talked of £100k in funding, sponsors on board and plans to build a fanbase of 1000 per game, was simply emailed round clubs for comment, and the feedback led to a curt ‘’thanks, but no thanks’’ response.

If that was designed to circle the wagons round Scott Neil’s Caps, or what is left of them, in the hope they’d then step back in, it seems to have failed. Publicly, the rink has said that door is pretty much closed.

Racers appear to be pushing ahead with plans for entry at a lower level, although how viable that is outwith the EIHL remains to be seen. ‘’Senior hockey of some kind’’ is as vague as it gets as the consortium behind the team weighs up its now rather limited options.

The fan base is utterly split over the upheaval, and it’s hard to see many turning out to watch minor league hockey for an indefinite period. There is a real danger many will simply drift away from the sport they love and have worked incredibly hard to keep flickering in a city that has largely remained indifferent, even at the height of Racers’ success in the Heineken era.

If Racers walked away, however, would that re-open the door to Capitals?

Ice hockey’s history is littered with done deals falling apart, U-turns and the strangest of bedfellows cobbling together a plan on the back of a fag packet – in theory it’s possible, but in reality, the flames that engulfed the bridge that led from Caps’ dressing -room to the rink’s management office still seem to be smouldering.

And there appears to be another option.

The league needs a 12th team. The conference structure means it would ideally be one based in the north.

Cue a teasing tweet from Hull Pirates about an exciting opportunity that has come its way.

Pirates are the latest incarnation to skate out of the Hull Arena. Previous eras have seen the rise and collapse of Hull Stingrays, Hull Thunder, Kingston Hawks, Humberside Hawks and Humberside Seahawks as the sport has endured a rollercoaster ‘boom and bust’ ride.

While the fans put two and two together, it may not be that straight forward.

The EIHA has its own restructuring issues to sort out this summer – essentially pushing three tiers into two – and, in the words of one who follows the game down south, Hull may be hedging their bets.

The step up from EIHA to EIHL is big, but it can be done. Guildford Flames enjoyed a fantastic mid-table finish in their debut season, while MK Lightning impressed early on before finishing second bottom.

The geography could fit a tweaked conference schedule, but a six hour road trip to Humberside is a bigger financial outlay for Scottish teams than a quick journey over the Queensferry crossing.

It’d be interesting to hear how they voted when Racers’ application landed in their inbox – in fact it’d be intriguing to know if this was a majority or a unanimous decision.

The only people who know that are the board members of the EIHL, and they have turned mute. The PR announcing Racers’ rejection also told the media ‘’no interviews granted at this time’’ - which neatly deflected any awkward questions, as well as buying them time to sort out the mess.

But if ever there was a time to show some leadership, to front up the concerns of the fans, then it is surely now.