Hull Pirates sit out 2021-22 NIHL National over rink refurbishment delays

HULL PIRATES’ owner Shane Smith said he was left “truly saddened” after having no option but to pull his team out of competing in the forthcoming NIHL National 2021-22 season.

FUTURE PLANS: It remains to be seen where Jason Hewitt will face-off next season after Hull Pirates announced their decision to sit out the 2021-22 NIHL National campaign. Picture: Dean Woolley.
FUTURE PLANS: It remains to be seen where Jason Hewitt will face-off next season after Hull Pirates announced their decision to sit out the 2021-22 NIHL National campaign. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Delays to £1.4m worth of refurbishment work on Hull Ice Arena by the city council are to blame, with the Pirates being 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.

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Given the circumstances, owner Smith decided it was not financially sustainable to operate a team. It is understood that Hull intend to stand down for just the one season and will automatically rejoin the second tier for the 2022-23 campaign, should they be in a position to do so.

GAME OVER, FOR NOW: Hull Pirates' owner Shane Smith, pictured behind the team's bench. Picture courtesy of Tony Sargent.

The NIHL National are now preparing to stage the 2021-22 campaign with just nine teams and are expected to make an announcement on Friday on how the revised structure will work.

“Unfortunately our business model isn’t sustainable with the rink delays a situation that I personally and my volunteer team are truly saddened by,” said Smith.

The Pirates were launched by Smith in the summer of 2015, following the demise of Elite League franchise Hull Stingrays. Hewitt came on board the following summer after 10 years with Sheffield Steelers and took over as player-coach from Dominic Osman in February 2017.

After being edged out of NIHL North honours by fierce rivals Sheffield Steeldogs in 2017-18, Hewitt led the Pirates to a treble the following, a memorable campaign which culminated in a play-off triumph at Coventry’s SkyDome Arena.

Hull Pirates celebrate their playoff triumph in Coventry in 2019.

Smith, whose team haven’t iced since early March 2020 after the inaugural NIHL campaign was abruptly halted by the coronavirus pandemic, said he had reached verbal agreements with a large number of the 2019-20 roster to return for next season.

But those players will now be hoping to pick up a roster spot elsewhere and, with the bulk of the Pirates squad hailing from East Yorkshire and virtually all of them working full-time outside of their hockey commitments, the Steeldogs and Leeds Knights appear to be the most practical destination.

But that would depend largely on whether roster spots are even still available on those teams. Even if they are still to announce the majority of their signings for 2021-22. Both of the Pirates’ Yorkshire rivals will have already made great strides forward in piecing together their teams.

The availability of Pirates’ player-coach Jason Hewitt is sure to arouse great interest in the Pirates’ second-tier rivals. The 37-year-old former GB international was the league’s leading points scorer in the 2019-20 season and he excelled for the Steeldogs during the two behind-closed-doors tournaments that were staged by several NIHL National clubs last season.

“It’s very disappointing, especially as we had verbally agreed with many of the 2019-20 roster to return for the forthcoming season,” added Smith.

“We have kept the players informed of the ongoing situation and, reluctantly, have now agreed that the players need to find a roster slot elsewhere for the forthcoming season.