How the Storm has faired this season
From being nonexistent this time last year, to chasing the playoffs, what happened during Manchester Storm’s inaugural season?
This time last year the franchise “Manchester Storm” was just mere history to the people of Manchester, and the Ice Hockey world.
The team once held the record for the most people at an Ice Hockey game in not only the UK but in all of Europe with 17,245 spectators. The UK record taken away when the NHL visited in 2007.
After the fall of the team in 2002–03 season, after financial issues, Manchester Storm faded away from the sporting scene.
The Storm’s comeback
Come to late June, 2015, and there’s a rumbling in Manchester. The Storm are back.
The hockey season was over; the Elite Ice Hockey League was preparing for the season starting in September. Players had already been traded, signed, and teams were well into securing their whole squads for the coming season.
Manchester on the other hand, their pre-season was not so easy. The team had 6 weeks to put their team together, to gather a whole team of at least 17 players and get them ready for their first game in September.
“ most clubs spend four, five, six, months recruiting their team, we did it in 6 weeks.” — Neil Russell, General Manager.
Manchester’s first game of the season was not one of magnitude. The team lost 1–5 to the Cardiff Devils. Not a surprise for a team that had only been playing with each other for a couple of weeks.
Their second game on the other hand, was one for the fans — and there were fans — at Manchester’s first home game of the season in Altrincham. Edinburgh Capitals were beaten by Storm, 1–8.
Expectations from Russell were high in the opening stages of the season, not just for the players, but for the fans. Neil Russell commented on how he “was looking to make sure we got twelve, thirteen, fourteen hundred people on a regular basis.”
1126 people attended Manchester’s first home game. And the numbers have kept rising. A great feat for a new franchise. One GM Neil Russell is proud of.
“Without the fans you don’t have a club. It’s as simple as that. It sounds corny, sounds cheesy, but it is just the truth and we’ve been blessed already in the space of one season.” — Neil Russell
The fan’s have not been quiet about their love for Manchester Storm either, they have been vocal on social media.
Push for the Playoffs
For a new team reaching the playoffs is usually a hard task. Something they probably don’t expect of themselves. Neil Russell however, thought different: “my other expectation, or kinda want or desire, was to try and qualify for the play offs”.
The top 8 of the 10 teams get into the playoffs, it should be easy, right? Not quite.
Manchester Storm were in a battle with Coventry Blaze for that final playoff spot.
The first two weeks of February saw Storm on a 6 game win streak. Racking up the points, Manchester were closing in on that 8th spot in the standings hoping to reach the playoffs. Their streak broken by Sheffield in a 4–3 loss.
It didn’t end there. Manchester returned to their winning ways, the next three games going their way. The playoffs looking like an achievable target.
Meanwhile, Coventry weren’t doing too bad either. In the last 15 games since the end of January, Coventry won 9 out of 15 games. However, Manchester did the same.
Storm’s playoff push came down to the penultimate weekend of the regular season. They had to beat the Braehead Clan in back to back games for a chance, heading to Glasgow for the final time of the season on Saturday, then facing the Clan at home on Sunday.
Saturday was not to be for Storm; Braehead performed extremely well, scoring three goals in the opening period in a 8–3 win.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Neil Russell spoke: “Yeah, last night was disappointing in the end, but we’re looking for a big response tonight.”
And a big response was what Manchester gave. In a must win game, Manchester was first on the score board, and 2–1 up heading into the second period.
The final period saw Manchester’s playoff hopes crushed. Braehead came back, and after leveling at 3–3 in the 2nd, they scored another 3 goals in the 3rd. The game finished at 8–3 and confirmed that Storm’s dreams of reaching the playoffs would have to wait another year.
The owner of Manchester Storm, Mark Johnson, had a few words to say about Storm’s season on twitter after the game.
Looking to the future
With their season ending this weekend, Storm now have plenty of time to build their team up for next season when the fun begins again.
Russell’s aim is to improve the team, “you’ll see a different type team, we’ll maintain the core of this team”. The GM’s aim is to get the team a “bit bigger, bit more physical” in order to compete against the bigger teams in the league, like Belfast, Sheffield and Nottingham.
His aims don’t stop their, Russell wants the fan base to increase and be able to fill the stands.
“I want this place by the end of next season, for it to be a regular occurrence, where we’re close to selling out. That might be a pipe dream, it may well be, but you shoot for the stars, you never ever know where you’re gonna end up.”
Manchester Storm’s fan base is already quite large, but they aim to increase their following by reaching out to the community. The club already have an active community scheme, such as players going into schools to inspire children using Ice Hockey. The club plan to continue this activity and allow their fan base to grow.
A season to be proud of?
Manchester Storm was not a team in the EIHL this time last year, the club had 6 weeks to put themselves together and overall, despite not reaching the playoffs, their season has been quite successful.
With two games left to play in regular season before the players can take their holidays, Manchester Storm have won 20 of their 50 games, and will finish 9th in the regular season standings.
General Manager Neil Russell is happy with Storm’s season: “What we’ve done this season has been very very special … We’ve done incredibly well.”