A Puckin’ Good Time

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Andy Alston, Editor

In a land where football reigns supreme as the number one sport in the country, Scotland has seen a dramatic rise in the number of young people playing minority sport in recent years. One sport that has seen an increase in popularity is ice hockey with many keen to grab a stick and take to the ice.

Ice hockey has been traditionally perceived as a dangerous sport that has never been taken seriously by the British press and is surpassed by curling when it comes to priority rink time. Even in hockey’s golden era in the 1980s with Tony Hand at the Murrayfield Racers, hockey was never considered a mainstream sport. However, with four Scottish teams now competing in the national Elite League and attendances at an all-time high, ice hockey is riding on the crest of a wave.

One of the teams that are looking to capitalise on the success of the sport and give people an opportunity to play ice hockey is the Glasgow Grinders, formed by Spencer Pryor. The Grinders are a recreational club that was created due to the overwhelming demand for playing time thanks to the popularity of the Braehead Clan with both beginners and experienced players of all ages in their ranks.

Pryor admits that he has noticed a significant increase in the sport’s popularity, saying: “There’s certainly a lot more people interested in the sport. A lot of people have been to Braehead Clan matches and decided that they fancy having a go at it. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s just totally young people, we do get a lot of enquiries from elder people as well. Our average age is well in the low 20s. In fact, we have only got about four players who are over 35 so we are quite a young club compared to a lot of the other recreational teams.

“There’s a big demand for playing time and even now at the end of the season I’m still getting four or five enquires a week from people wanting to join and we’re just turning people away at the moment because its not fair to the current members. I could have 60 people in a training session if I wanted to.”

Ice hockey has captured the imagination of many people with a significant amount of youngsters wishing to take up the sport, however some are being prevented from doing so as Pryor explains: “We have got people on the waiting list who are 17 and as soon as they’re 18 they will start playing. The access to play is a problem with under 18s as it’s mainly an insurance issue. We’re trying to run beginners courses and, although we’ve got insurance sorted for over 18s, with juniors it’s still a problem. It’s something that we want to do and part of our remit as a club is to bring new players from all ages on board and that’s from both sexes as well.

The Grinders look set for a bright future in Scottish ice hockey

“Ice hockey is certainly on the way up as a sport. It seems to be cyclical as a few decades ago it was down in the dumps, then it rose then it went down a bit but the Elite League is starting to pick things up again. In Glasgow the Braehead Clan are certainly doing a good job. They’re getting larger crowds now than a lot of Scottish First Division football matches. When the Clan are getting a bigger home gate than Partick Thistle, something must be going right.”

Indeed, ice hockey appears to be Glasgow’s best-kept secret. It has a distinctively underground feel to it combined with an element of frustration due to the fact that its surge in popularity has not been met with a significant increase in coverage by the media. Pryor is quick to highlight hockey‘s growth in the nation, saying: “People say it’s a minority sport but it’s the third biggest attended sport in the country after football and rugby so it’s not that small. It’s a minority sport as far as players are concerned because there’s about 8,000 players in the whole of Britain. In Scotland there’s only 19 recreational hockey teams but in England there’s more than 60.

“I think a lot of our new players are finding it more difficult than what they thought it was going to be,” Pryor added. “You’ve got two areas in hockey which is skating ability and playing ability. Being a good skater does help a lot, if you’re a bad skater you’re never going to be a good hockey player but if you’re a good skater we can make you into a good hockey player.”

One of those new players, Aimee Macdonald, believes that young people are enticed to play due to the fact that it is so different. She explains: “It’s certainly harder than it looks but at the same time it is such an enjoyable game to both play and watch. I think a lot of youngsters are fed up with football and want something different and ice hockey provides just that.”

With ice hockey showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon it seems that the sport is set for a bright future as the next generation of future stars nurture their talents.

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