OWNERS of Leeds’ new ice rink see the provision of a junior ice hockey development programme as a key ingredient at the new facility.
Talks are expected to begin later this week between rink operators Planet Ice and the various different parties who recently expressed an interest in running a senior ice hockey franchise at the Elland Road site.
As reported in the YEP last week, any new Leeds team that is launched could potentially find itself playing in the UK’s top-flight in time for the 2019-20 season after Elite League chairman Tony Smith confirmed any application would be given serious consideration.
Another option would be to field a team in the second-tier National Ice Hockey League, which caters for teams on much lower budgets and only allows teams to field two imports.
But, as well as housing a senior team in Leeds, Planet Ice director Mark Johnson said there was a desire to also introduce a junior ice hockey programme, giving youngsers in the area the chance to go on and emulate their on-ice heroes.
At the moment, the nearest club that provides such a junior programme is at Bradford Bulldogs, which provides youngsters aged from seven-years-old upwards the chance to play.
One of the things that we will be pushing is the junior development side of things so that there is a full programme from top to bottom from seniors to juniorsPlanet Ice’s Mark Johnson
In the last two years, under the guidance of coach Andy Brown, it has helped enable two youngsters from its ranks – Kieran Brown and Jordan Griffin – to sign apprenticeship deals with five-time Elite League winners Sheffield Steelers.
Johnson said there were a number of options currently on the table for the implementation of a junior programme in Leeds.
“One of the things that we will be pushing is the junior development side of things so that there is a full programme from top to bottom from seniors to juniors,” explained Johnson, who last week said the rink would still hopefully be opening in early 2019.
“The junior side of things could be done completely separately from the senior side, but whoever goes in there, both parties will have to work together. You want to try and find some progression and provide an opportunity for that local kid who can go right the way through to play for the senior team.”