Steelers-come-lately corner volatile market

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The Independent Online
The most remarkable fact about Sheffield Steelers' 7-2 victory over Edinburgh's Murrayfield Racers in the final of the British ice hockey championships at Wembley is the progress they have made since starting from scratch three years ago.

They came bursting out of nowhere, this season's twin success in the league and championship play-offs a triumph of relentless marketing. No sports team in Yorkshire, never mind Sheffield, represents the white rose more convincingly.

Otherwise there is nothing remarkable to report. Overshadowed by a thrilling encounter between the Steelers and Cardiff Devils on Saturday, the final fell considerably short of expectations.

There are two ways of playing ice hockey - you can take the puck off the player or you can take the player off the puck. In order to compensate for technical shortcomings, Murrayfield settled for the latter course. Frequently, they took a direct route to the puck and arrived in ill humour. As a result there was a procession to the sin bin. Twenty-four penalties against Murrayfield, 20 against Sheffield. For nearly 20 of the 60 minutes played both teams were a man short.

Put a mix on the ice of 10 people carrying sticks, most with hair-trigger tempers, crashing into each other at speeds of 40mph and you are not suprised if there are two complete sets of teeth in the whole league. You could get killed playing hockey. People have.

In the National Hockey League of North America, a game without fights, high sticking, slashing and tripping is considered to be like a meal without wine, a cruise without moonlight. If you want to see ice skating, go see Holiday on Ice. Get a video of Torvill and Deane. The preference over there is for maniacs on skates passing out skull fractures. Hockey players aren't guys who can perform a double axel. They're guys who bounce opponents into a corner and mug them for the puck. It's a game where you take your teeth out to play. There's more to the helmets than decoration.

According to some of the sport's veteran observers, British hockey was like that in the boom years following World War II when Canadian mercenaries arrived in a flood. The authorities took violence out of the game and just about finished it.

Violence remains off the agenda. What the present administrators are seeking to promote is family entertainment. Bring the kids, your grandmother. But it's hard to prevent teams playing like they came home and found their opponents hiding in the wardrobe.

Maybe there was too much at stake in the final but you were not about to reach a glowing conclusion. Last year Sheffield were trounced 12-1 by Cardiff in the semi-finals. Yesterday, they never looked like losers. They had more accomplished skaters, better stick handlers.

It wasn't long before Rob Wilson and Tommy Plommer gave the Steelers a two-goal lead. The Yorkshire contingent were warming up for a celebration until Murrayfield's captain, Tony Hand, and Chris Palmer brought the scores level. By the end of the second quarter the Racers were ahead on niggles but they were losing an untidy game. They were down 4-2 (Tim Cranston and Ken Priestly) and wilting. You would not have put a handful of ice on their chances. Further goals from Les Millie, Steve Nemeth and Wilson completed the rout.

The Steelers had come a long way in a short time. They are the product of initiative and local inspiration. By the time their original benefactor pulled out they were off and skating to 8,000 crowds at a custom-built stadium. It wasn't much of a match, but nobody from Sheffield was complaining.

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