The 2017 Para Ice Hockey Season will go down as another season in the statistic book, and have teams looking back and either ruing their season or seeing it as a positive step forward for next year.
However, for one team, in particular, it saw a fairy-tale ending play out for for the Manchester Mayhem Para Ice Hockey Team in their maiden-year, as they won the Playoff trophy for 2017 and if history had been different, then they may well have never taken to the Ice at all.
In 2016, the then-named Manchester Phoenix Sledge Hockey team finished a creditable fourth out of fifth in the British Sledge Hockey League and played the entire season without a home to call their own.
With the announcement of their bigger brothers in the Manchester Phoenix having a fall out with their rink owners in Altrincham over ice time and other reasons, it saw the Sledge team practically fending for itself and made the conscious effort to not be drawn into the argument and play their games on the road.
Their home games were played out of Deeside in North Wales, another in Hull where they were the home side against..Hull! And their remaining two games were played in the now-defunct Fylde Ice Coast Arena, just outside Blackpool.
It was a case of trying to make the best out of a bad situation and meant that the side could continue on and see out the season as they posted three wins, with most notably the 4-0 win in Hull over the hometown Kingston Kestrels being the stand-out result of the season.
However after the season ended, it saw the Sledge side waiting on what the senior side did and with the proposed plans of a new Ice Rink to be built in Central Manchester for the Phoenix in mind, it saw hopes being nothing more than pipe dreams and had the council refusing to give the go-ahead.
That ultimately put the final nail in the coffin for the Manchester Phoenix Ice Hockey club as a whole, and that left the sledge team in a quandary over what to do. With no home, no team name with the Phoenix folding and a very bleak future indeed for the remaining members of the club, it saw the team virtually on the edge of disbanding and going their separate ways.
Head coach Peter Hagan explains what followed, “it was touch and go in one sense, we had no home rink, we hadn’t trained as a team properly for about 7-8 months etc, so it wasn’t a great outlook. After discussions with the players, it was agreed it would be easier to disband and play for other teams….at least until the new Manchester rink that was being talked about was built.
However, the players all decided we were going to continue, regardless of the difficulties, as we believed in ourselves as a group.” He continued to explain the name change too, saying “The name change happened as the Manchester Phoenix ceased operations, just 2 months before our season started.
We decided to start a fresh, be a new independent club. We had about 2 months to sort out ice time for training and games, a new name, logo and jerseys….luckily we pulled it off!”
The league itself changed too and moved to be more in keeping with the rest of the Para Hockey around the world too and saw the ‘British Sledge Hockey League‘ now becoming the ‘British Para Ice Hockey League’ for the start of the 2017 season.
With the proposed plans of the Endeavour Eagles not yet ready to take flight in the league as of yet, it saw the league being a compact four-team league with no word on if Manchester would enter a team.
Manchester then made their intentions known that they would indeed be icing again in the league, the only thing now was, they didn’t have a team name or an identity to separate themselves from their old guise of the Phoenix.
It saw a team decision on the name and colours for the jersey and where to training needing to be sorted, Pete Hagan fills in the blanks, “We had about 2 months to sort out ice time for training and games, a new name, logo, and jerseys….luckily we pulled it off!”.
“The name was one of several suggested by the players, so we had a vote and Mayhem was the clear winner. Think it really summed up the previous few months perfectly! The team came up with the name & the new jersey and voted in fan submissions for the logo. So really a team effort”.
With the ‘MAYHEM’ name now in place and the remaining players at the club all buying into the new club set up, it saw the side raring to go for the start of season, so I asked the Head Coach, what his early thoughts were for his side before the opening puck drop to the season.
He replied,“For the first time I had no real sense of what to expect. We’d only had 2 sessions together in about a year or so, we had several injuries to our already depleted squad, just a week or two before our first game, so was hard to gauge. My aim was to make the Play-Offs, which wasn’t going to be easy, with all teams getting stronger, was going to be a tough season. The main focus was survival, get through the season and still be there! Maybe modest aims to some, but after all, we had been through, not to us”.
Manchester Mayhem 3 – 8 Cardiff Huskies – Goals: Bailey, Booth 2x
Manchester started their new season off with two home matches, as they finally sorted Ice time with Altrincham and Widnes for the forthcoming season. They opened up their league programme with the visit of the Cardiff Huskies to the Altrincham Ice Rink and it was a good test to see how they fared.
It saw the Mayhem starting the season with a threadbare squad and wasn’t helped by the loss of forwards Rob Allen and Dominic Cosgrove, Cosgrove of which was ruled out effectively before the season got underway and saw a skeleton line up for the opening game against Cardiff.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts either, as the home side quickly found themselves two down in the game until a Pat Bailey strike made it 2-1 and also became the first player to score in the Mayhem’s history.
Anthony Booth scored in the second period to see the Mayhem trying to stay in touch with the Huskies after the Welsh side had extended their lead. Booth’s goal made it a one-goal game at 3-2, but Manchester’s lack of bodies and fast-breaking by their opponents, saw the home side tire and allowed the Huskies to capitalise and put five unanswered goals past the Mayhem back line, until Booth scored a late consolation for the home side and saw them eventually fall 8-3 to Cardiff.
MAYHEM 6 – 2 SHEFFIELD STEELKINGS – Goals: Booth 4x, Nicholson, Berry
The following weekend saw the first ‘War of the Roses’ meeting of the season, with the Mayhem welcoming the Sheffield Steelkings to town and also saw the start of a proper ‘rivalry’ starting ignite between the two Roses sides as well.
Sheffield had former Great Britain Para Hockey Legend Gary Farmer in their ranks for the first half of the season and having someone with his ability and experience made the Steelking a far tougher nut to crack than previously.
Both netminders in Steve Midghall of the Mayhem and Bryan Hackworth of the Steelkings were tested in the opening period of play, yet it produced a goalless first period and had both sides not wanting to give an inch to their opponent.
Sheffield led early in the second, through a Gary Farmer goal for the visitors, but that was soon cancelled out by two quick goals by the home side as Mayhem captain Karl Nicholson drew the scores level, and then Anthony Booth making it 2-1 to give the hosts the lead.
Booth grabbed his second of the game for a 3-1 scoreline before Farmer from Sheffield did the same, and he cut the deficit to one at the midway mark. Karl Nicholson made it 4-2 late in the 2nd before the hitting started to pick up on both sides, and saw signs of a rivalry starting to brew between the two youngest teams in the league.
Anthony Booth then completed his hat-trick before helping himself to a fourth goal early in the third, as the Mayhem started to pull away from their opponents and finished the Steelkings off with a late goal by Simon Berry, who was guesting from the Kingston Kestrels, to help the Mayhem record their first win as a club.
Sheffield Steelkings 10 – 2 MAYHEM – Goals: Nicholson, Booth
It also saw a healthy crowd watching on from the stands and it felt like a big game, that even the players appreciated and would see the crowds growing a bit more towards the end latter part of the season when they played down at Widnes. After recording their maiden win over Sheffield a week earlier, the sides renewed acquaintances over the hills in South Yorkshire, as the Steelkings wanted revenge for their 6-2 loss to Manchester the week before.
A packed crowd at Ice Sheffield watched on as the Steelkings who had never won a game in their history, saw them going into the second ‘War of the Roses’ match extremely pumped up and in truth, it was due to happen for them, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted the onslaught that followed, not even the Sheffield players themselves.
Manchester rotated their netminders with Doug Hankinson getting the start for the Mayhem, as Hankinson played the road games for Manchester and saw Steve Midghall playing the home games for the Mayhem. The game, however, proved to be a disaster from the opening minute and never really got any better. Firstly, Gary Farmer put the visitors to the sword and netted a first-period hat-trick or the Steelkings, as the visitors were in deep trouble early doors.
Head Coach Pete Hagan had drafted in help due to a lack of bodies for the game, with Rob Allen, Dom Cosgrove and now Dean Laham all missing from the side and so Tony King helped out from the Kingston Kestrels and also saw Elizabeth Turner making her debut for the Manchester side in the contest.
In truth though, this was no contest, this was was an all-out assault from the Sheffield Steelkings from the get-go. After two periods of hockey, it was 5-0 and when it was all said and done it was 10-2 at the end. Not even consolations goals by Karl Nicholson and Anthony Booth could paper over the cracks of what was an appalling performance and certainly a game to forget, where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
In a way, that loss proved to be a mid-season kick up the backside and turning point in the Mayhem’s season, as Manchester travelled down to Peterborough and faced a side that under their previous guise, had done terribly bad against the Phantoms down in Cambridgeshire.
However, that was then and this was now, and the Mayhem showed the home side what a small band of players could do and they put in one of their best performance to secure a huge result.
Peterborough Phantoms 3 – 6 MAYHEM – Goals: Nicholson x 5, Booth
Karl Nicholson put his side 2-0 up in the first period, after two strikes gave the Mayhem a base to build on going forward, however, the home side responded with goals by Ian Warner and Scotty Turner to make it 2-2. Darren Brown then added a third for the Phantoms to give them a 3-2 lead in the game.
Now it was the Mayhem’s turn to respond, and respond they did, as Anthony Booth levelled things up at 3-3 before Nicholson scored three unanswered goals for 6-3 and have the visiting side picking up the road win and the first one on the road of the season.
Defeat in Cardiff ended all hopes of a possible title challenge against the unbeaten Kingston Kestrels, but the priority was now to secure a Playoff spot with three teams all vying for just two slots left up for grabs.
Two of three sides fighting Manchester for one of the two playoff spots was Sheffield, who had games in hand and also had the Mayhem’s next opponents Peterborough up next.
MAYHEM 3 – 2 Phantoms (OT) – Goals: Wilson x2, Nicholson
The Mayhem played their first home game at the Widnes Ice Rink and had more riding on this fixture than it looked. If Manchester could beat the Phantoms, then the Mayhem would qualify for the playoffs with a game to go.
However, if they lost, then it would see their fate out of their hands and need results to go their way and may have to beat the newly crowned champions Kingston Kestrels in their final game, to make it through as the season came down to the wire.
It was a weird game that twisted and turned like a twisty-turny thing as they would say in Blackadder. Manchester was given a huge boost ahead of the contest, with Rob Allen and Dean Laham returning to the lineup for the Mayhem, as they iced their strongest side of the season, and what a time to finally have them back.
From the off, it saw the home side battering down the Phantoms goal and having Robin Gaze in the Peterborough goals producing one of, if not, the best netminding performances ever seen in the league before.
The home side took the lead with 2.20 left in the first period and came from an unlikely source, as defenceman Graham Wilson found himself free at the front of the Phantoms net and was on hand to put it in for a 1-0 lead and score his first-ever Para Hockey goal of his career.
Surely, this was a sign that the Mayhem were on their way to booking their place in the Playoffs if the man nicknamed ‘Pain Train’ was scoring, right?
Manchester continued to dominate the game and just couldn’t find the insurance marking goal by Gaze to kill the game off. In the third, it saw the home side making tired plays and losing their concentration more and always foregoing their game plan.
Peterborough who had been virtually camped in their own half for most of the game, then saw the Phantoms scoring with eight minutes remaining in the game courtesy of Matt Coleman scoring and putting the cat amongst the pigeons to tie the game.
The Phantoms had sparked into life and not what the home side wanted to have to happen. Kieran O’Meara then capitalized on a mistaking at the back for 2-1 and that looked to have stuck the dagger in the Mayhem hearts late on.
Manchester was now playing desperate hockey threw caution to the wind and their efforts and hard work finally brought them a reward, as the captain Karl Nicholson scoring with 2.53 left to go in the contest.
It saw the contest heading to an overtime period and saw chances for both sides and have the hosts ringing the post and crossbar. Somehow, Gaze was pulling off save after incredible save to keep Peterborough in the game and give them a chance to increase their chances of a playoff spot.
It seemed like the game was heading to a penalty shoot-out with the scores level and neither side able to score, as the game entered the final minute. However, the Mayhem would net the game-winner and have Graham Wilson as the hero of the moment yet again, as he slipped the puck past the Gaze for the overtime winner.
One question to be asked on the goal was, what on earth was the defenceman doing that high up was anyone’s guess, but to use a twist on a line from Gerald Sinstadt’s commentary back in the 1988 when Great Britain won the Gold Medal, “Where were the Phantoms defenders, and Quite frankly, who cares”.
The aftermath sparked wild celebrations and saw the Mayhem qualifying for their first playoffs in their first year in existence as the new club. There’s no getting away how much of a huge achievement this was for the club moving forward though.
(British Para Hockey Ice Hockey Playoffs Weekend @ Hull Ice Arena)
Kingston Kestrels 2 – 3 Manchester MAYHEM
Manchester MAYHEM 5 – 0 Cardiff Huskies
Manchester then faced the Kingston Kestrels home and away and saw the Hull-based side beating the Mayhem on both occasions, which helped set-up a third successive game against each other, but this time it came in the form of a Semi-Final meeting in the end of season play-offs in Hull.
Manchester produced a stunning weekend to scoop the Play-off trophy, as they didn’t only just beat the previously undefeated league champions the Kingston Kestrels 3-2 on their home patch, but they followed it up the next day, as they beat the Cardiff Huskies by an Incredible ‘Hawaii’ scoreline of 5-0 to see the side that nearly didn’t happen, crowned the new Play-off champions of 2017 in the Manchester Mayhem Para Ice Hockey Club.
The last word belongs to the Head Coach of the Manchester Mayhem Pete Hagan, as he rounds up the 2017 season as a whole:
“The play offs were amazing! We came in with a few injuries and missing personnel on both days, so the the title really meant a lot! All the work and effort the team put in was rewarded and I’m so proud of this group! Those were the two best games of the season….possibly of our groups existence! Everyone brought their A game and just kept calm and never got panicked. The season was tough and to be fair, completing the season was our goal, as we had so little prep time and had to get everything sorted in a hurry.
We are hoping to build on that and hope to be able to grow the sport, gain further support from local communities and businesses and push in for an even better season in 2018. Just want to thank everyone who has helped us from volunteers at match nights, our club photographer Lauren Hagan, yourself (Peter Bradbury) for all the write ups and filming, Victory Hockey UK for believing in us and sponsoring us, and the fans who turned up and helped create a brilliant atmosphere….without them, we probably don’t have a team at this point!
Lastly the players, they believed in moving forward and continuing the sport in the North West, when it seemed at times it would disappear, so a huge thank you to them all!….however, the hard work is just beginning!