David Simms Sheffield Steelers’ ice hockey column: Young players are being let down

Whilst we eagerly await news from Aaron Fox on new Steelers signings the rest of us look overseas to the World Championships where Team GB are involved in an almighty dog fight with the globe’s best teams.

Wednesday, 15th May 2019, 4:37 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th May 2019, 6:06 pm
Jordan Griffin

It was always going to be tough facing the likes of Canada, USA, Germany, Finland and alike.

One victory might be enough to keep us in this world group, that will have to come on Monday against France if GB are to play against the elite nations this time next year.

Defeats in the first three games against Germany, Canada and Denmark and another tough afternoon ahead of us today against USA have dampened spirits it seems.

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The reality was that this tournament was always going to come down to the GB v France game. Yes there was an outside chance of a result against Denmark but it was that, an outside chance. We had to be at our best and them have an off night. We were poor, they were great and we left with tails between our legs.

Was too much emphasis put on the Canada game? It was of course the romantic fixture, maybe due to the number of Canadians that play in our league.

Again, the reality was that this fixture was a nothing game. Everything should have been and still should be focussed on the Denmark / France games.

It obviously didn’t go to plan on Tuesday. It simply has to on Monday against the French. Tuesday was maybe a lesson learned for the coaches, who too are experiencing this quality of competition for the first time.

There was the first signs of criticism last night I read of the squad, the team and the decisions. Firstly remember this, we aren’t there. We aren’t in the huddle and we have to respect those that are and the decisions they make.

The other knock that has been made in the last day or so is that it’s all the Elite League’s fault. Too many imports. Now in fairness the only people making this criticism are the uneducated and ill advised, but there are a fair few of them so it’s a question that has to be answered.

Firstly, the Elite League is the reason why we are in Pool A. The quality of those British lads have improved the standard of the GB programme because they are playing against better opposition week in and week out.

The EIHL gave those guys the opportunity to become full time professional hockey players. The semi pro days of the past would have still had us languishing in the 2nd or 3rd tier. When the import levels were at 10 we took players to GB who simply weren’t of the standard. Now this isn’t a knock on them, so don’t get all defensive and hurt feelings on me but I can remember sides with Warren Tait, Graeme Walton, Luke Boothroyd, James Pease and Gary Clarke in them.

All fine people and good men, all, also not good enough.

Now we are leaving players back on our shores like Messrs Long, Batch and Craig Peacock. So don’t tell me the progression of the indigenous Brit hasn’t improved, it has and by a long way and that is down to the EIHL and no one else.

If you want to get into the British player debate look below, look at the junior programmes. You work from the bottom up and not the top down. You don’t get better on a couple of hours ice time a week. You don’t get better by playing against opposition not of the same standard because of the structure of the leagues (30-0 blow outs don’t improve a single player on either side).

You don’t get better without having proper hockey people being involved in those junior decisions. Not me, not others from the suit and tie brigade, proper hockey people who have been there and done it.

Those who can pick those elite kids and treat them differently to the rest, give them the special training, the additional ice time and off ice conditioning. Yes, not treat everyone the same, Yes, not give everyone the same opportunity. This sport for all is great for some but doesn’t help us produce elite players and athletes with the facilities and structure we have here.

Once those kids do then start to come through the professional clubs will take them, as we did with Messrs Kirk, Shudra, Brown, Griffin and now Alex Graham.

If you want to get better at the top end then you have to be selective at the bottom end. The simple plain truth is that once you get to an age the best have to play against the best players in your age category or above.

I’ve been criticised for saying it before but the fat kids, those who want to just “have a go” should be cut loose and focus be on the best kids. The others should go play recreation hockey at midnight at their local rink. That’s if you really want progression, it only comes by kicking doors down and doing unpopular things.

I give credit to those British lads playing for Team GB, I know most of them and they have devoted everything into trying to be better, faster, stronger. Despite the system below them they have fought through. I give each of them every ounce of support, they are doing their best and giving their all. I applaud them.

The kids of today are the ones now being let down by the Governing bodies and Associations. Don’t blame the Elite League, thank it.