Ice-hockey: Devils' bubble burst by Ayr

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The Independent Online
American fat cats sniffing around British ice hockey last night may have scented a financial killing. Ayr Scottish Eagles doggedly overcame Cardiff Devils 2-1 in an all-celtic Benson & Hedges Cup final which may herald the end to the sport's fringe status.

Ice hockey has always been on the cusp of better fortune, but three US consortiums are considering buying three franchises - all in London - to operate teams in the UK's Superleague.

Formed only 18 months ago, Superleague has effectively privatised ice hockey. Eight franchises were sold and the owners have all spent heavily on better players. Their reward has been loyal attendances, though none of the teams is yet in profit.

Cardiff are among the more powerful teams in search of a stadium large enough to accommodate their ambition; Ayr have been an example of investment- led sporting success.

It had taken 30 minutes for fast, muscular skating to create a clear shooting opportunity. Cardiff's Doug McEwan pounced on a square pass to beat Rob Dopson and lower the pom-poms of Ayr's pubescent cheer leaders.

Dopson, 30, is in his first season outside North America, and he had spent much of the first period demonstrating why net-minding is the possession in which standards have improved most markedly. The former Pittsburgh Penguin appears ideally equipped by evolution for his role, a low anatomy presenting a formidable barrier.

Like most imported players, Dobson probably earns pounds 1,000 a week after tax. The typical oversees star will also enjoy a sponsored car to carry him home to a rent-free club house.

The better British players can also earn up to pounds 1,000 a week - few, if any, will take home less than pounds 250. Most Superleague teams have about 15 players on four-figure weekly wages, but the potential for teams playing at large-capacity arenas is obvious. It will cost those considering bringing the sport to London about pounds 5m to build one ice stadium with a capacity to match Sheffield's 9,000 seats.

In addition, they will have to buy land in accessible areas of the capital. But Manchester and Newcastle teams have discovered the commercial arrangements to take them into the arena league, and plans are advanced for Nottingham, Belfast, Birmingham and Leeds to follow.

Cardiff had seemed the sharper, more inventive side, threatened more by their indiscipline than Ayr's ponderous forwards.

A succession of infringements, none of which incapacitated opponents, beat a path to the sin bin. It inevitably increased pressure around their net, and turned the game. A five-minute power-play had almost elapsed when Mark Woolf sped along Ayr's right flank. When he pulled the puck back across goal, fellow Canadian Sam Groleau equalised in the 52nd minute.

Six minutes later, Ayr's winner was fired home from 10 yards by Jeff Hoad, the 24-year-old Canadian who was a cup winner last year with Nottingham Panthers.

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