Murrayfield Racers were crowned Scottish National League champions over the weekend, and director of hockey Tony Hand hailed what he described as a “brilliant” debut season for the newly formed club.
Closest challengers Kirkcaldy Kestrels lost 5-0 at Aberdeen Lynx on Saturday, which meant Racers had the title sewn-up before the puck was dropped in tonight’s mammoth 18-0 win at struggling Solway Stingrays.
Racers, who last summer won the ice time contract at the city’s Murrayfield rink, failed in an ambitious bid to replace the now defunct Edinburgh Capitals in the professional Elite League, icing instead in the amateur ranks of the SNL, where they remain undefeated in all competitions and could still win another three trophies come the end of the season.
Hand said: “It’s been a combined effort the whole year, the players have been superb, our fans, our sponsors. For me the league is the biggest thing we play for and for the club to win it in it’s first season is brilliant.
“It would have been nice to seal it by winning a game, or in front of our fans, but we can’t control what happens in other games. It’s a great achievement for everyone involved in the club.
“What we’ve tried to do is instil a professional feel, and the players have bought into that. They’ve been focused since September, we’ve been teaching them things that the guys have taken on board, and every big game in Scotland where we’ve needed to get a result we’ve done it, I have to give the guys so much credit.”
Murrayfield Racers is a name steeped in British ice hockey history, and the original club – in which Hand starred as a player in the 80s and 90s – won six UK league titles before going bust in 1996. Hand is very aware of improvements that need to be made before today’s Racers can be considered in the same vein and, as a learning exercise, even entered his young team into the UK-wide National Ice Hockey League North Cup, where they won one of their 12 games in the early season round-robin tournament.
Asked about the future for the current set-up, and whether he could see a return to the top level of the sport, Hand said: “We’d like to build to that, it’s about improving on and off the ice, building up our fan-base, and sponsorship, which allows us to invest in the team. If we can do that we’ll be going in the right direction, but it’s important not to get too far ahead of ourselves, we’re a fledgling organisation, and what we’ve managed so far has been great and the whole thing for me has just been really enjoyable.
“To be honest I don’t think the SNL gets the credit it deserves, there are some decent teams there and our fans have loved it, but there are weaker teams there too. For me personally, I’d love to improve the level across the league, and on any given night not knowing who was going to beat who would really build this league up.
“Our fans have been fantastic, you can see this is just getting bigger every week for us. They’re even following us on the road now and we could hear them loud this weekend.
“We want to keep improving and raising our standards. For our players it’s great to test themselves as much as possible, in terms of what’s happening next year we don’t really know (in which league or leagues they will be playing), we just want to keep the level going up, that’s our focus.
“I’ve seen a huge improvement, in attitudes and fitness, everyone’s really bought into what we’re trying to do for ice hockey in Edinburgh. We know it’s going to take a few years, nothing like this comes overnight, but all the signs are good right now.”