Though many NHL players are seeking teams in European countries like Switzerland, Finland, Sweden and Russia to wait out the NHL lockout, another European destination looks like it’s becoming an ideal place for players to go–plus, there’s no language barrier.
It’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which boasts a 10-team Elite Ice Hockey League that has at least one team in all four countries considered part of the UK (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales). Wales and Northern Ireland each have one team in their capital cities, while England and Scotland have four each.
There have been a lot of additions and subtractions to the league over the years, but right now there are 10 teams and the oldest of them, the Scottish Fife Flyers, dates to 1938.
The current league champions are the Belfast Giants, a team the Boston Bruins played in exhibition games during their 2010 Premiere trip before heading over to the Czech Republic to officially open the season. The Giants and their arena are also featured in a segment of the wildly popular British car show Top Gear, in which host Jeremy Clarkson tries out the ability of a small Renault car to perform in icy conditions:
The EIHL relies on import players who usually played in North America’s minor leagues before thinking about a change of scenery, though the league says that only 10 imports can dress for each game. The style of hockey played is much like North American style because of this influence.
Another one could potentially be on his way in the coming weeks. Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton, who is of Irish heritage and took his mother to Belfast during the 2010 trip to explore her roots because she was born in the city, has said he is considering trying to go play for the Giants. He previously thought about playing in the EIHL during the earlier time in his NHL career when he wasn’t really playing for the big clubs, but just in the AHL. That was before he signed with Boston in 2007.
The Giants provide livestreams of games on their websites.
Though the EIHL is not considered one of Europe’s most elite leagues, it may become an attractive destination for more locked-out NHL players, especially if they want to avoid a language barrier–although, having been to Northern Ireland myself, I can confirm that the locals do have a very unique accent of their own.