ANY slim hopes Hull Stingrays’ long-suffering fans had of their beloved club being saved were quickly extinguished yesterday after a reformed Manchester Storm were brought in to replace them in the Elite League.
Spiralling costs and the loss of the club’s main sponsor forced Stingrays’ owner Bobby McEwan to place the East Yorkshire club into liquidation after three years at the helm, ironically on the back of the most successful on-ice season in the club’s history.
But, within hours of McEwan announcing his decision yesterday morning, the Elite League announced it had found a ready and willing replacement, with a reborn Storm - Superleague winners in 1999 before folding in 2002 – ensuring the UK’s top-flight remained at 10 teams.
Storm will play out of the Silverblades Rink in Altrincham, recently vacated by English Premier League team Manchester Phoenix, who are planning to play in a new,temporary rink closer to the city centre.
Whether the Manchester area can sustain two senior hockey clubs remains to be seen, but what is increasingly certain is that there will be no hockey club in Hull for the first time in 27 years.
News emerged yesterday of some fans launching a campaign to save the club and attempt to continue life in the EPL, but that possibility seems remote.
McEwan had devoted the last three years of his life to the club and it will undoubtedly be a bitter pill for him to swallow. He was unavailable for further comment last night and it remains unclear what will now happen to the club’s players, with most of next season’s roster having already been signed up.
Hull-born GB international defenceman David Phillips had only recently signed up on a two-year deal to return the club for the 2015-16 season and found out about the news on social media yesterday morning.
While that left him somewhat aggrieved, his first concern was for the club’s loyal band of supporters who followed the club to the Final Four Play-off Weekend in Nottingham at the end of last season under rookie coach Omar Pacha, who was also unavailable for comment last night.
“It’s devastating really,” said Phillips. “It’s not just about the team I was coming back to play for next season, this is the team I’ve supported since I was about eight-years-old.
“Even though I’ve not been playing for them for the last few years, I’ve still supported them. I’m just gutted for all the fans and the fact that there is not going to be an ice hockey team in Hull is devastating for them.
“The club has done well on the ice in recent years, it’s just off the ice that they’ve always struggled.
“I would love someone to come in and take over the club or do something - there’s just too much history involved and the club is too big for it to just finish like this. The fans have been through a lot over the years and deserve a team in Hull.
“People have often said that a team can’t work in Hull, but a team has worked in Hull, one way or another, for over 20 years.”
The demise of Hull produced plenty of sympathy on various social media platforms throughout the day, although the Elite League itself chose to ignore the fact one of their teams had gone into liquidation until it had signed the deal with Manchester Storm later in the day.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, Elite League chairman Tony Smith - also owner of Sheffield Steelers - said: “The name Manchester Storm is steeped in hockey tradition and it is great that it will once again be in the top flight of the sport.
“On behalf of the league I would like to place on record the important contribution made by the Hull Stingrays, both on and off the ice, to the growth and development of the EIHL.
“Owner Bobby McEwan has worked so hard for the Stingrays and has been very passionate about the organisation. We are sad to see them go.”