Delays to £1.4m worth of refurbishment works to Hull Ice Arena have led to the decision by owner Shane Smith, although it is expected the Pirates will resume its rightful place in the UK’s second tier in time for the 2022-23 campaign.
The rink has not been open since the pandemic began in March last year and while rinks elsewhere have opened their doors to the public that has not been the case in Hull.
Smith said the club were told they would not be able to use the facility until the end of October at the earliest, almost two months after the season is scheduled to start.
With the additional expenses that would be incurred by playing on the road for that length of time and the drop in income through having to cram in more midweek games at home later in the season, Smith decided it was not financially sustainable to take part.
For Hewitt it will bring an end to a four-year association with the team, first joining as a player in the summer of 2016 before taking over as player-coach the following season.
He led the team to a memorable treble when they were in the North One division in 2018-19 and was the top scorer in the NIHL National’s inaugural season the following year when posting 101 points, including 44 goals, in 43 games.
The 37-year-old former GB international said he intends to carry on playing and will spend the next few days discussing his future with his family.
“Frustrated is the best word to describe it,” said Hewitt. “Mainly because it’s been 16 months, maybe more, that the rink has been shut and nothing has been done.
“And it’s not just the Pirates, it’s hockey in Hull as a whole that is suffering.
“I had a lengthy chat with Shane about the potential different outcomes, if it was delayed and how this and that would look. But it became pretty obvious that it was out of his control.
“There was nothing he could have done and I feel for him, I really do. He’s put a lot of time, money and effort into Hull and we built something pretty good over the last few years and it’s such a shame that it has come to an end this way really.”
Verbal agreements had been made with most of the 2019-20 Pirates’ roster to return to play next season, the league having been cancelled for the 2020-21 campaign because of the pandemic.
But those players will now have to try and secure a roster spot elsewhere, something which might prove difficult given many NIHL National teams are already well advanced in putting their line-ups together.
“We can be rightly proud of what we achieved in Hull and that is what makes this latest development hurt that bit more,” added Hewitt.
“We’ve had that success and now we’re not able to keep that going. All of the guys that have played there should be proud and the fans that have played their part too, because they were great.”
In terms of his own future, Hewitt doesn’t know what will happen. He should not be short of options, not only for his attacking potency during that first NIHL National season, but also for his displays when with Sheffield Steeldogs and old club the Steelers during the behind-closed-doors tournaments that were able to take place last season.
Living in Sheffield, returning to the Steeldogs would be an obvious move, although it should not be surprising were Leeds Knights coach Dave Whistle to show an interest, given the two worked together at the Steelers for a few months back in 2005-06.
“I fully intend on playing,” said Hewitt. “I feel good and I’m still loving the game. Ultimately, I’ve got to have a discussion with my family and see what is best for us.”