Notts ice hockey club’s youth policy paying dividends

Sutton Sting's 2018 NIHL Division One championship winning team. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.
Sutton Sting's 2018 NIHL Division One championship winning team. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

A community-based ice hockey club is beginning to see the fruits of its labour.

Formed in 2007, Sutton Sting, was set up to give children the opportunity to play ice hockey without having to travel to Nottingham or Sheffield.

Junior Sutton Sting players at Monday night practice. Pics taken by Bob Saunders.

Junior Sutton Sting players at Monday night practice. Pics taken by Bob Saunders.

It now boasts close to 100 registered juniors from the age of four upwards playing for a range of academy sides at its Lammas Leisure Centre base.

As well as junior teams, the club has a senior side competing in the National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) North 1 Moralee.

It is one league below the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), which features professional clubs Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers.

Sting’s success is in no small part down to its academy, which has helped to supplement their senior side.

Junior Sutton Sting players at Monday night practice. Pics taken by Bob Saunders.

Junior Sutton Sting players at Monday night practice. Pics taken by Bob Saunders.

Technical director Bob Saunders said the club is keen to ‘let the kids play’.

“We’re playing at a semi-professional standard but can’t pay the players, so it’s quite difficult,” he said.

“But we have recruited some really good players who have played at a really good level and come back down.

“We have a good setup.

Junior Sutton Sting players at Monday night practice. Pics taken by Bob Saunders.

Junior Sutton Sting players at Monday night practice. Pics taken by Bob Saunders.

“We have a lot of homegrown players, then we also have guys who still want to play but don’t want the commitment of playing at the top level.

“It’s Saturday and Sunday every weekend.

“We can’t really make a commercial go of it because we haven’t got the rink to build a fan-base in. I don’t think that will ever change.

“All we can ever be is a development for kids. That’s our sole reason for having a senior setup - to bring the players through from the academy.

Home grown player Nick Winters. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

Home grown player Nick Winters. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

“If they’re good enough then they can go on to somewhere else.”

Sting’s senior side play their home games in Sheffield due to ring size regulations.

Saunders, who played for the Steelers in his younger days, said the club’s ethos is to promote youth.

“Ideally we’d like to have a first team of Sutton trained players but that’s never the case at the level we’re trying to play at,” he said.

“The plan is to get more and more of our own players into our senior teams.

“We also have a recreational team for adults on a Sunday evening for people to get involved.

Home grown player Charlie Saunders. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

Home grown player Charlie Saunders. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

“When you add all these teams up and the players involved then we’ve got quite a substantial club.”

A second generation of youngsters are being introduced to the sport - and the club - by older players bringing their own children.

“There is a core of volunteers who keep the club running,” said Saunders.

“We’ve got senior players who are bringing their own kids to the junior sessions, at the other end of things, hopefully the club is self-perpetuating itself.

“We run a starter session for the kids on a Monday evening, which is fantastic.

“We get the kits on the them and let them go out and enjoy themselves. It’s very popular and we’re over-subscribed at the moment.

“We’ve got loads of kids coming in at the bottom end of the club, which is a good sign for us.”

Some of its players have gone on to enjoy national success.

Most recently Hannah Ware, Lizzie Saunders and Chloe Riley helped Great Britain to bronze at U18s Women’s World Championship Division 1 Group B.

“We’ve had kids play at Conference (regional), for England and also for GB,” said Saunders. “Particularly the girls, who have done brilliantly this year.

“The future’s bright in that sense.

“The only thing that holds us back is the size of the rink at Sutton. We can’t do anything about that. We work with what we have.

“If we had a decent-sized ice rink then we would be able to put on senior ice-hockey matches on a Saturday night in Sutton.”

And added: “We always think of ourselves as a community club in Sutton and we are a club for Sutton.

“We want that to continue and to develop and give the kids an opportunity to play.

“Whether that be an inspiration to play in the national leagues or more locally at the Lammas on a Saturday afternoon.

“The sport has got to develop at local level.

“For us, we want to give the kids a chance to play and that’s what we’ll continue to do. It’s been fantastic.”

Home grown player Cameron Glasby. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

Home grown player Cameron Glasby. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

Home grown player Brady Doxey. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.

Home grown player Brady Doxey. Pic credit: Christopher Rastall Photography.