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 at 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 three separate locations, Deeside in North Wales, Hull, where they were the home side against…Hull! And their remaining two games were played out of 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 was able to see the season out and even posted three wins on the year, with their most notable result being a 4-0 win in Hull over the hometown Kingston Kestrels, as the stand-out result of the season.
However, after the season ended, it saw the sledge side waiting for the outcome of their senior side in the Phoenix, and their proposed plans of a new Ice Rink to be built in Central Manchester with the Phoenix in mind. As it was, it saw those hopes being nothing more than pipe dreams and saw 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 also left the sledge team in a quandary over what to do. With no home, no team name with the Phoenix folding, it saw a very bleak future indeed for the remaining members of the club and 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, with it getting a name change and keeping up with the rest of the world too and so 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, 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, what they would be called and needed 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, it saw the remaining players at the club all buying into the new club set up and having the side raring to go for the start of the season. I asked the Head Coach, what his early thoughts were for his side before the opening puck-drop on the year and his reply was;
“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 after they had finally sorted Ice time with both Altrincham and Widnes for the forthcoming season – and so their league opener was 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 much by the loss of forwards Rob Allen and Dominic Cosgrove. Cosgrove had been ruled out effectively before the season had even got underway and seen a skeleton line up that was one made up of one-line and a spare.
- Mayhem’s Pat Bailey the meat in a Cardiff sandwich – Pic: 98 Yetiiis Photography
Playing wise, 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 brought them within one at 2-1, as he became the first player to score in the Mayhem’s history.
Anthony Booth then 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. However, Manchester’s lack of bodies and fast-breaking opponents saw the home side tiring and allowed the Huskies to capitalise and put five unanswered goals past the Mayhem. Another goal by Booth was merely a consolation goal and saw them falling 8-3 to Cardiff.
MAYHEM 6 – 2 SHEFFIELD STEELKINGS – Goals: Booth 4x, Nicholson, Berry
The following weekend saw the first of the ‘War of the Roses’ meeting of the season, as the Mayhem welcomed the Sheffield Steelkings to town and also saw the start of a proper ‘rivalry’ starting to ignite between the two Roses rivals as well.
Sheffield was boosted with the signing of former Great Britain Para Hockey Legend Gary Farmer in their ranks for the first half of the season, as they had someone in the lineup with a constant threat and his experience made the Steelkings a far tougher nut to crack than previous.
- Mayhem’s Karl Nicholson coming under pressure by Sheffield’s Gary Farmer – Pic: 98 Yetiiis Photography
Both netminders in Steve Midghall and Bryan Hackworth of the Steelkings were tested equally in the opening period of play, as both produced a stunning display to see a scoreless first period, as both sides didn’t give an inch to their opponent.
Sheffield then took an 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, with Mayhem captain Karl Nicholson drawing the scores level and then Anthony Booth giving the hosts a 2-1 lead.
- Steve Midghall of Manchester keeps his eye on the puck – pic: All Sports Photography
Booth grabbed his second of the game for a 3-1 scoreline before Farmer pulled a goal back for Sheffield, to cut the deficit to one at the midway point. Karl Nicholson made it 4-2 late on in the 2nd, before the hard-hitting started to pick up on both sides, and see signs of a rivalry starting to brew between the two youngest teams in the league.
Anthony Booth 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 guest player Simon Berry, who was drafted in from the Kingston Kestrels as the Mayhem recorded their first-ever win.
Sheffield Steelkings 10 – 2 MAYHEM – Goals: Nicholson, Booth
After recording their maiden win over Sheffield a week earlier, the sides renewed acquaintances over the hills in South Yorkshire as the Steelkings extracted revenge and then some following their 6-2 loss in Altrincham.
A packed crowd at Ice Sheffield saw the Steelkings – who had never won a game in their history prior to this meeting – going into the second ‘War of the Roses’ match extremely pumped up. They were due to a win in truth, 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 ahead of Steve Midghall for the Mayhem, as Hankinson played the road games for Manchester and saw Steve Midghall playing the home games.
The game, however, proved to be a disaster from the opening minute and never really got any better for Manchester in all honesty. Firstly, Gary Farmer put the visitors to the sword and netted himself a first-period hat-trick for the Steelkings, with the visitors in deep, deep trouble early doors.
Head Coach Pete Hagan had been forced into drafting in some help due to a lack of bodies, with Rob Allen, Dom Cosgrove and now Dean Laham all missing from the side, 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 and a massacre.
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 for those wearing the Purple shirts, as everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
In a way though, the loss proved to be a mid-season kick up the backside for the Mayhem and turning point in the Mayhem’s season.
Peterborough Phantoms 3 – 6 MAYHEM – Goals: Nicholson x 5, Booth
Manchester then travelled down to Peterborough to face a side that under their previous guise, had done terribly against the Phantoms – however, that was then and this is now. The Mayhem showed the home side what a small band of players could do and turned in one of their best performance of the season to secure a huge result.
Karl Nicholson got the opener in the game, as he struck twice to have the Manchester side 2-0 up in the first-period before goals by Ian Warner and Scotty Turner, saw the home side hit back to make it 2-2.
Darren Brown then added a third for the Phantoms, as they led 3-2. 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 a 6-3 scoreline and have the visiting side picking up a rare road win and their first one of the season.
Defeat in Cardiff ended all hopes of a possible title challenge against the unbeaten Kingston Kestrels for this year, but the priority was now to secure a Playoff berth with three teams all vying for one of the two slots still up for grabs.
MAYHEM 3 – 2 Phantoms (OT) – Goals: Wilson x2, Nicholson
The Mayhem played their first home game at the Widnes Ice Rink and had a chance to book their play-off place with a victory.
In 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 clash against Peterborough, with Rob Allen and Dean Laham returning to the lineup for the Mayhem for the first time this season and was able to ice their strongest side possible.
From the off, it saw the home side battering down the Phantoms goal and having Robin Gaze in the Peterborough goals needing to be alert and also produced one of, if not, the best netminding performance of the year.
The hosts took the lead with 2.20 left in the opening period, and it came from an unlikely source in defenceman Graham Wilson as the d-man has found himself free at the front of the crease and was on hand to steer it home for a 1-0 lead and score the maiden 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?
- Graham Wilson and Mayhem coach Pete Hagan celebrate a goal
Manchester would continue to dominate the game but just couldn’t add a second to kill the game off. In the third, it saw the home side making tired plays and losing their concentration more and more and was foregoing their game plan.
Peterborough who had been virtually camped in their own half of the ice for the majority of the game, then saw the Phantoms hitting them with a sucker punch eight minutes from time, courtesy of Matt Coleman netting and putting the cat amongst the pigeons to tie the game.
That goal had sparked the Phantoms into life and was not what the home side wanted to happen. Kieran O’Meara then capitalised on a mistaking at the back by the home side and saw his shot going past Midghall for a 2-1 lead and it looked to have stuck the dagger in the Mayhem hearts late on.
Manchester was now playing desperate hockey and threw caution to the wind and saw their efforts finally bringing them a reward, as captain Karl Nicholson tied the game with 2.53 left to go in the contest and see a tie after three periods of hockey.
It saw the contest heading to overtime and saw chances for both sides with the hosts ringing the post and crossbar and also seeing Gaze pulling off some incredible saves to keep Peterborough in the game.
With the game seemingly heading to a penalty shoot-out in the final minute of overtime, it saw Manchester grabbing a game-winner and had Graham Wilson as the hero of the moment yet again, as he managed to slip the puck past the despairing Gaze for an overtime winner and book their place into the playoffs.
The aftermath sparked wild celebrations amongst the Mayhem contingent on the ice and on the bench, as they qualified for the playoffs in their first ever year in existence and there was no getting away with how much of a huge achievement this was for the club moving forward.
(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 and set up a third-successive game against each other, but this time it came in the Semi-Finals at playoffs weekend in Hull.
- Manchester Mayhem Playoff Champions 2017 – Pic: 98 Yetiiis Photography
Manchester produced a stunning weekend to scoop the Play-off trophy, as they didn’t only just beat the previously undefeated league champions in Kingston 3-2 on their home patch, but they followed it up the next day against Cardiff with a 5-0 shutout. It capped an incredible ending to the season for a side that really, shouldn’t have been playing and now were crowned play-off champions for 2017.
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!