Professional ice hockey will not be played in Edinburgh next season after the Elite League rejected an application from Racers Leisure Ltd to participate in 2018/19 campaign.
The group spearheaded by David Hand – current chairman of the Scottish Ice Hockey Association and brother of decorated Capital player Tony Hand – and fellow company director Willie Dunn, secured the contract for ice-time at Murrayfield Ice Rink earlier this month and were keen to take the place of current city side Edinburgh Capitals in the league.
However, after a board meeting, the Elite League have voted against welcoming the Racers into the current 12-team league.
Murrayfield Ice Rink bosses, meantime, were quick to shut down any suggestion of handing the ice-time back to the Edinburgh Capitals organisation which would allow them to continue to participate in a league they had been a member of for the past ten years.
In a statement, the Elite League said: “The Elite Ice Hockey League can confirm it has rejected the bid by Racers Leisure Ltd to join the league.
“After careful consideration of the proposal put to the board of directors, it has been decided, following a vote taken, that they will not participate in the league going forward.
“We thank them for their application and wish them well for the future.
“Regarding the vacant 12th slot, we are continuing to examine all options going forward and will announce an outcome in due course.”
On the day a host of Edinburgh Capitals fans volunteered to help remove the club property from the rink, the decision now raises serious questions over the long-term future of ice hockey in the city.
The Caps, who finished bottom of the league last term and have struggled on and off the ice for many years, were beaten to rink rights at Murrayfield by the Racers and currently do not have an arena to play at. They appear resigned to ending their 20-year association with the highest echelons of the sport in this country.
Racers Leisure Ltd director Dunn said: “We’re quite surprised by the outcome. We got an email thanking us for our business plan that was circulated amongst the other 11 teams and they were asked to do a free vote (on whether to accept Racers Leisure) yes or no. The votes have been counted and our application has been rejected.
“This is a huge surprise to us as we were fully expecting to be able to meet the league, pitch our proposal and talk through the financial figures and, if there were any issues, we could work round them but we never got there.
“We submitted our plan more than ten days ago and have had no correspondence since, apart from the email telling us we’ve not been accepted, but they’ve not told us why so we’re kind of speechless at the moment.”
Edinburgh Capitals, the first Scottish team to join the Elite League, paving the way for Dundee Stars, Braehead Clan and Fife Flyers to follow suit, had their holding company Capitals Hockey Limited forced into liquidation last year. However, they submitted a bid under new company Cool House Marketing to continue playing at Murrayfield but lost out to Racers Leisure.
Asked whether Murrayfield rink bosses effectively having the power to choose who would represent Edinburgh in the Elite League had anything to do with the league rejecting Racers Leisure’s proposal, Dunn continued: “That would be correct if that was the situation, but it’s not. Capitals hockey went into liquidation last November. A temporary rink agreement and licence to run a hockey team was put in place with Cool House Marketing to allow the team to continue until the end of the season, those licences are now up and that is the only reason we got involved in this.
“It’s quite clear the rink were not happy with what was going on - not just last season but for many seasons before that and also there was rumblings in the Elite League as well.
“We were trying to preserve the sport in Edinburgh. The model that was there was not sustainable.
“Our business plan wasn’t rocket science. There was £100,000 capital in the bank and we also had a couple of major sponsors lined up and ready to go.
“Our main focus was marketing this as a new product to the people of Edinburgh and really raising the profile of the sport in the city. Our business model in year one was based on just 1000 fans which is very low and achievable, even when Edinburgh Capitals were really struggling they were still averaging around 700. It was a very realistic proposal that importantly had the capital investment up front.
“We’ve had a lot of messages of support and we want to thank people for that and we’ll continue to work hard to bring top-level hockey to Edinburgh. That’s all we ever wanted.
“We were focused on the Elite League but there are a couple of other leagues we can apply for now that avenue appears to have been closed off to us.”
It is now expected Murrayfield Racers will submit a proposal to join the second division of the National Ice Hockey League, a semi-professional league consisting of 43 clubs and governed by the English Ice Hockey Association,
Dunn added: There’s no reason we shouldn’t be playing Elite League hockey and we’ll be discussing (the next step) amongst ourselves in full tomorrow to try and achieve ice hockey at Murrayfield next season.”
Murrayfield ice rink managing director Richard Stirling also expressed his dismay at the Elite League’s decision and said: “We’re very disappointed. We believe Racers Leisure had put forward a viable plan for the future of hockey at Murrayfield and the league in their wisdom have chosen to turn it down
“Racers Leisure are still up and running and, from the rink’s point of view, I believe that they’re now going to look to enter into a national league so there will be senior hockey of some kind at Murrayfield.”
Asked whether the door remained open for Edinburgh Capitals to re-apply for the ice-time they lost to Racers Leisure, Stirling continued: “I don’t believe so. The hockey at Murrayfield had reached an unviable level, proved by Capitals Hockey Limited going into liquidation in November. For the benefit of the league and to save it falling apart mid-season, Cool House Marketing were granted a contract by us to run through to the end of the season.”