Sheffield Steelers veteran Mark Thomas has given a lukewarm welcome to plans to up the number of foreign-born players in the Elite League.
In the coming season, the number of non British-trained players will rise from 11 to 12. That will rise to 13 in season 2015-16 and 14 in season 2016-17, although work-permit spots will remain at 11.
Thomas, in his testimonial year at Sheffield, says that shift in the balance threatens job security- although on a personal level he’s delighted to see dual-national Rod Sarich back in the team, next season.
“Potentially, it means British players at the 10 clubs could lose their jobs - over the three years we could be taking about 30 guys, potentially” said Thomas, 30, who embarks on his 10th season at Sheffield in September. “That would be disappointing. But if they set up an U21 league, like they are talking about, that would help.
“As far as Roddy is concerned, he’s done his time here. He even dresses as though he is British, with his tight jeans and comb-over!”
Team-mate Danny Meyers has dropped down to the English Premier League and Thomas admits that kind of move might become more often, given the rule changes.
The politics of increasing non British-trained quotas are contentious - two Steeler team-mates Rob Dowd (British) and Chris Blight (Canadian) had a relationship-testing ‘debate’ about it, on twitter, recently.
Blight considered that the change “will help attract more dual-nationals...and consequently improve the national team.” He added: “You can argue either side of the import rule but it has little affect on developing Brits. Biggest factor will be coaching in minor hockey.” Later he conceded: “To be clear the new import rule is bad for Brits. I was referring to younger dual-nats.”
Some do fear that the Great Britain programme will be undermined, by more non British-trained. But Elite League chairman, Tony Smith, who owns Steelers says there is “a shortage of top-level British players”
Smith said: “With the demand of the indigenous British player higher than ever in all leagues, and with the potential for EU/dual-national players to develop into national-team players, it was felt this gradual increase would be beneficial to all.
“As with all things, the Elite League will monitor its development as we look forward to another successful season.”