So the 2016 Championship banner will be raised into the Arena rafters on Saturday ahead of the game against Fife.
A ninth championship banner, the most of any club in the modern era, the only club to win five Elite League titles.
Russ Moyer will be back in town with Fife to witness the banner being unfurled. I think a classy move by the Steelers to wait until he was there. Rod Sarich hopefully will be present and did I see Jason Hewitt was suspended last week in Hull? A night off could see him at the Arena again too on this special night.
I remember when I started writing these articles a few years ago. We would have a game coming up against Newcastle, Edinburgh, Dundee etc. On a Wednesday as I typed I knew the result. There was no sense of build-up or anticipation for those games. We ached and begged for a more competitive league with 10 strong teams where on any given night team 1 could be upset by team 10. Be careful what you wish for people, because its arrived.
Edinburgh beat Coventry, Dundee turn over Manchester. Belfast on game 2 of the weekend take Nottingham the league leaders on away ice. That’s on top of the Steelers and the Devils splitting the weekend both with road wins.
Everyone, players, coaches, owners, fans and media have to get used to this new EIHL. Four years ago Belfast took the title with 6, yes 6 losses. This year the team winning the league might have between 16-20.
In years gone by two games against Fife, well you would think four points in the bag. Do that now and you end up with nothing, take your eye off the ball, fail in your preparation and prepare for a sore backside on Monday.
What has made this league good and proper?
I put it down to two things. Import numbers being correct and the conference system.
When it was 7, 8 or 9 imports only the big clubs could go and buy the best British players. That meant Sheffield, Nottingham, Belfast (and in those days Coventry.) With 14 imports it’s different. Edinburgh, the new Manchester, Dundee can all now be competitive without those GB stars. Those clubs moaned they couldn’t compete but now they can, with at least 14 solid professionals. To afford that though they needed to raised to finances.
Conferencing. In the beginning folk thought conferencing was about more Sheffield v Nottingham games. Nothing was further from the truth. It was about more local games for the smaller Scottish clubs so they could generate more income and have more competitive games. More Fife v Braehead, Edinburgh v Dundee etc.
It took time but that revenue trickled through, clubs could then afford more players, better players, non playing coaches.
There is a very good chance that every club in our league will have points taken off them by every other club, the odd club might clean sweep but if will be few and far between. Much criticised by those on the outside this body has been proved to have got it right. Got the product right on the ice, exciting, fast, four lines. Bigger attendances North and South. Got the finances right. Teams not going out of business every year like a decade ago.
Is the league perfect? Of course not, not close, but getting there slowly and surely.
Im typing on a Wednesday, I’m a smart guy and I can’t tell you who is winning on either Saturday and Sunday and that’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the games as much as I am – see you at the Sheffield Arena on Saturday folks, the banner raising will take place just before the game starts.