09:00 AM EST
min - read
Sam Scouller
09:00 AM EST
min - read

It has been a tumultuous year for ice hockey in the UK but now the Elite Ice Hockey League is back into its usual groove, but just how has it made this recovery?

This season has been an unpredictable one in the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) as just four points separate third from seventh in the standings. But it’s been even more unbelievable off the ice.

Before the opening puck drop, the Sheffield Steelers’ 20-year-old forward, Alex Graham suddenly passed away after coming home from the gym in late June. 

Also, the Nottingham Panthers and Team GB legend Mike Hammond, who had signed a deal to join the Glasgow Clan for this season,  died in a car crash in Canada in July.

And, of course, in late October former NHLer, Adam Johnson tragically died on the ice in a freak accident during a Panthers-Steelers game in the Challenge Cup.

Sheffield, Nottingham and Glasgow held a pre-game memorial service at their first home game of the season for the loss of Graham and Hammond respectively. 

Glasgow also printed a purple heart on their ice with the number 21 in it in memory of Hammond as it was his number, which will remain there for the entire season.

After Johnson’s death, the Panthers withdrew from the Challenge Cup and it seemed uncertain whether or not they would return to the League at all this season.

The league also cancelled all of their games for an entire week, and when they returned each team observed a memorial before their first home puck drop since the break.

The Steelers and Panthers both extended their time away though with the Steelers not returning for another two weeks and the Panthers return at all looking uncertain.

All players in the EIHL still don the number 47 in a crest on their helmets and all staff across the league also bear the badge on their uniforms too.

After a month away from the sport, the Nottingham side returned to the ice in a memorial game for Johnson against the Manchester Storm before icing again in the league on November 26th.

The impact of Johnson’s passing has been evident though, the Panthers have played 11 games since returning and have only won two of them, leaving them in ninth place out of 10 teams.

This is even more worrying when you take into consideration the fact that the Panthers are the most decorated side in the league’s history and have only finished outside the top eight once before.

There has been an uncertain air around the league too though since the incident.

Johnson’s death has left the league with a deep cut that will scar everyone involved in the EIHL for the rest of their time in the sport.

Watching games in the EIHL can still be a nervy experience for fans and any on-ice injuries can easily send fans into a deep state of panic and worry. 

For example, in a game between the Glasgow Clan and Cardiff Devils, the Clan’s #58, Nate Kallen was knocked unconscious after a nasty hit at the boards.

The entire arena went silent and a state of panic descended over the crowd as many held their breaths awaiting a positive signal from the player.

Fortunately, Kallen was back on his feet shortly after the hit and refused a stretcher to skate off the ice himself, a gesture for the fans more than anything else no doubt.

Despite all the tragic events that have unfolded this season, the league is back into its usual schedule and fans still flock to the arenas in high numbers.

Almost every team in the EIHL recorded a sellout crowd on their boxing day fixtures, with over 40,000 fans showing up in total across the league.

It’s undoubtedly been a tough journey for everyone involved in the EIHL this season, but the resilience of the players, staff and fans has shone through and allowed the league to continue.

The phrase ‘the show must go on’ is brandished around a lot, but it feels relevant in the case of the EIHL this season as it continues to flourish and grow as one of the top-ranking leagues in Europe.

The Glasgow Clan, Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers now have additional motivation to reach new heights this year as a dedication to their lost players. 

So, don’t be surprised if you hear their names again in the very near future!

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