Plan to restore the Newcastle Vipers' bite
AFTER three years away, Paddy O’Connor is back as chairman of Newcastle Vipers determined to cure British ice hockey’s ills. STUART RAYNER hears his radical plan.
IT would normally be described as a “warm-up” for the new season, but when Newcastle Vipers return to the ice for Saturday’s visit of Edinburgh Capitals it will be more of a getting-to-know-you exercise.
Fans watching any of this week’s three exhibition games ahead of the September 18 trip to Sheffield Steelers could be forgiven for wondering if they have stumbled across the wrong match. Only youngster Jamie Tinsley survived new player-coach Danny Stewart’s cull.
For those yearning familiarity, there will at least be one comforting reminder of the glory days. Paddy O’Connor, chairman when the Vipers ended their debut Elite League season as play-off champions, has returned after three years to find it is not just his local franchise in a far less healthy state.
Predictably, then, the former Durham Wasp and Great Britain international brings a manifesto for change.
This was the summer Hull Stingrays went bust, the fourth team to leave the league since O’Connor’s first spell began five years ago. Phoenix-like they rose from the ashes after a 13th-hour intervention by the owners of Coventry Blaze.
Nevertheless, it was a warning to the whole league, and one O’Connor is in no mood to ignore.
This year’s roster has been stripped of experience and star quality – GB internationals David Longstaff, Ben Campbell and Jez Lundin leaving for better offers with Guildford Flames of the supposedly-inferior English Premier League.
“Changes are required,” says O’Connor. “There’s a fair amount of people around the boardroom table in the Elite League that need to see changes and will be pushing for that.
“History repeats itself in sport, it always has, and we’re starting to get a little bit close to the old Super League days, where things got into trouble and folded.”