STEELERS’ owner Paul Ragan is determined to lead a British ice hockey revolution that will bring to an end some of the embarrassingly lopsided victories that wealthier teams have been inflicting on the rest.
In the last month, The Star has been critical of some matches which have been so uncompetitive that they have been rendered almost meaningless as a sporting spectacle.
Steelers, who won 7-0 at Dundee Stars on Sunday, have rung up scores like 18-1, 9-0, and 8-0 so far this season.
The ridiculous 18-1 win was over Edinburgh Capitals on January 15.
Since that humiliation, Scott Neil’s depleted team have lost three times, 10-0, 15-2 and 12-2.
On the disparity between clubs, Ragan told The Star: “It’s unacceptable, without a shadow of doubt. People talk about a wage cap but we need a wage-minimum cap. You have to be able to compete in this league and be prepared to get a team out there that’s above the minimum cap that ensures there is minimum quality.
“It is not fair to the fans to put teams like that on the ice.”
Ragan said owners of both bottom-placed teams, Newcastle Vipers - who lost 8-1 at Belfast Giants on Sunday - and Edinburgh, were working hard to stay afloat.
“I sympathise with Newcastle; their issue starts with their facility (Whitley Bay rink) and this is one of the issues with this minority sport, we need better arenas and facilities. We have to get it right in the Elite League. Rest assured myself and other owners have been discussing how that is going to change.” Ragan said that clubs “won’t be able to play unless they can prove financial viability. It’s that simple.” But won’t that mean teams dropping out of the 10-club division?
“I hope teams don’t drop out. I expect a couple of teams to pull together with consortia behind the scene. This is a sport where unless you are a multi milionaire, you’re not in situation where you can just run it on your own.
“I think the best is for clubs to have two, three or even four owners, the right sort of people who understand about running businesses properly. With the right corporal governance you should have enough pulling power commercially to support a club at Elite League level.””
Ragan, who said he was not interested in investing in any other UK clubs, added: “I have one priority in life over the next six months and that is getting Sheffield to the level that Cardiff Devils is at commercially.
“The nice thing is the (Sheffield) team is putting the results up, the recent Cardiff (5-1) defeat was a freak result - there is nothing between Cardiff and Shefield in playing standards. But 18-1 type results are “absolutely appalling” he said. “It’s not right, it’s all about building the brand and the credibility of the Elite League. What’s happened in the past is owners have been too focused on individual clubs which often happens in franchise businesses - not paying enough attention to the league.
“Every time something happens that damages the league it damages my brand too, in terms of Sheffield Steelers and Cardiff Devils. “We are having meetings on this to address these issues.”
Ragan is delighted with the form of his two clubs - Cardiff are in first spot with a three point lead over Sheffield. Meanwhile, Nottingham Panthers’ 6-3 loss at Braehead puts them six points behind the top three. Steelers’ next game is at Hull on Sunday.