The Future is Now: A New Era of UK Hockey is Hereby Michael Oram | September 23, 2018, 2:18 PM ET
Every year the SICHL Entry Draft brings about optimism. Optimism for the future. The future of the game. The future of the young players being selected. The future of the franchises acquiring these top end talents. The future of sport.
In England this year’s Entry Draft brought about a whole new level of optimism. The future of English ice hockey looks bright and it starts with the London Monarchs.
A new era of ice hockey has arrived in England and the London Monarchs are at the front and centre. With the 2018-19 season around the corner, the 2018 Entry Draft in the books, and training camps set to open the eyes of the sporting world are once again focussed on the ice. The London based SICHL franchise has taken advantage of this attention and used the time to announce a new partnership with Ice Hockey UK.
Under the new partnership the London Monarchs and Ice Hockey UK will work together to develop British talent, expand national programs, and grow the game throughout the United Kingdom. This program and partnership will be developed over the coming years but the initial phases are in place. Opening next week for the London Monarchs training camp is a new state of the art practice facility in Milton Keynes. This facility will not only be the training grounds for the Monarchs but will become the home of the Great Britain Men’s and Women’s teams.
The facility will have three ice hockey rinks which allows for all three teams to practice at the same time and to host tournaments for youth players across the UK. There will also be a brand-new gym accessible to both Monarchs and national team players. The facility will also include all new office facilities for both Ice Hockey UK and the London Monarchs. By locating both organisations in same building cooperation and collaboration will increase.
Another important part of this collaboration was quietly revealed a couple of weeks when. The Liverpool Heirs, the GHA affiliate of the London Monarchs, announced their new head coach on August 16th. Their new coach, Pete Russell will be a familiar name to any Ice Hockey UK fan. In an extension of the partnerships of the two organizations the national team and the Liverpool Heirs now share the same Head Coach. This partnership is seen as beneficial to both organisations. From the Ice Hockey UK perspective this gives their coaching staff access to the greatest talents, minds, technology, and systems in the world. Giving these coaches this hands on experience will allow them to elevate the expectations and play of the national team during international tournaments. For the Monarchs it gives them insight into more homegrown talent. They will be able to identify and scout British talent ahead of other franchises around the SICHL. They will also be able, and willing, to give these players opportunities they may not otherwise get.
This link with English hockey isn’t new to the organization. Monarchs Head Coach Theoren Fleury played the 2005-06 season in the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League for the Belfast Giants. In his 34 games in Belfast the feisty and talented Fleury put up 74 points, including 52 assists, and 270 penalty minutes. He added an additional 13 points in seven playoff games. Unfortunately for Fleury his regular season champion Giants were eliminated in the playoffs.
At the 2018 SICHL Entry Draft this partnership was again emphasised. With the 153rd pick in the draft the London Monarchs made history. As the pick approached a nervous excitement grew amongst Monarchs management and staff. They had one pick left in the draft. They had one name on their scouting list for that pick. “We were ecstatic when it came time to make the pick” GM Oram reflected following the draft. With the pick Liam Kirk became the first British born and trained player to be drafted by an SICHL franchise. While “Captain Kirk” has a lot of work ahead of him he is quickly becoming the face of ice hockey in a country most often associated with football. There is a buzz not only in London but throughout England the UK over this player and the opportunities ahead for both him and hockey in the UK.
While this new partnership and the selection of Kirk in the Entry Draft may have taken much of the spotlight of the weekend they shouldn’t overshadow the other selections the Monarchs made in this year’s draft.
At eighth overall the team selected Oliver Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom is a natural scorer with an impressive shot. The American put up 92 points with the American National Team Development U18 Program last season and an additional nine points including seven goals at the World Under 18 tournament.
With the 37th pick the Monarchs took Canadian defenceman Jett Woo. Woo is your typical stay at home defenceman who consistently makes the safe and smart play. He was slowed by injury last season, but the team is not concerned by this and are willing to allow Woo to mature before bringing him up to the pro level.
The Monarchs then went slightly off the board at 50. This is where they took the first goalie off the board in selecting Justus Annunen. The young Finnish goaltender dominated the World Under 18 tournament playing every game and going undefeated. He is a big goaltender who remains cool under pressure. While he won’t be making waves in the SICHL in the near term, the team has high hopes for his development and will not rush him.
With the 95th pick came Jordan Harris. The American defenceman’s top assets are his skating ability and hockey IQ. At 98 the team selected Slovakian centre Milos Roman. Following this came the hard-working Czech centre Matej Pekar.
The next round saw London select centre Jacob Pivonka (124) and defenceman Xavier Bernard (127). Both are long term projects for the franchise, but they will be provided with every opportunity to succeed and make it to the SICHL.
The team’s final selection is the aforementioned Liam Kirk.
The future of the Monarchs looks bright. The future of Ice Hockey UK looks bright. The future of hockey in the United Kingdom may look the brightest it ever has.