Don McDermott reports on the London Raiders return to Essex…
A heavy loss to the Chelmsford Chieftains in the playoffs may have ended a disappointing season for the London Raiders, but the club still have reason to look forward to the future.
For the 2018-19 season, the Raiders will be returning home to Romford after several years at the at the Lee Valley Ice Centre.
The Raiders played in Romford from their founding in 1987 up until 2013, when the Romford Rink was sold by the Havering Council to Morrisons and demolished by the supermarket chain.
Raiders CEO John Scott said the demolition of the rink hurt the club and left local fans frustrated. He added, “The junior system in particular suffered as a result. The juniors tended to spread far and wide—Chelmsford got some, Lee Valley got some and other teams around the country.”
But the Raiders adapted well to their new base at the Lee Valley Ice Centre, which they share with National League Division 2 side Lee Valley Lions, with Scott saying that “we’ve quite happily considered it home for the last three seasons.”
And the move was made easier by the continuing support of Romford natives. Scott said, “I would say about 60-70 percent of the fans here used to follow the team at Romford. We are slowly appealing to some of the locals, but it really needs media outlets to sort of get on to this and make the public generally aware that ice hockey exists.”
However, whilst they want to attract local fans, Scott and the Raiders are mainly concentrating on preparing for their eventual return to Romford.
“I think the underlying need for this team is to keep going in some semblance of order until we get back home,” Scott said. “That possibly sounds a bit ambitious, but if we can be mid-table next year and top end of the table the year after, so we’re going back to Romford in a reasonable state, I think we’ll find that some of the players that we lost from the junior system will be keen to come back. A lot of them still live in the area and it’ll be great to play for their home team, in the colours they cherished as youngsters, in a brand new building.
“I think when we get back to Romford, we’ll find some of the pretty good names that we nurtured wanting to return, which would be great.”
And Scott added that he hopes that the Lee Valley locals who have begun to support the team will get involved and keep a version of the Raiders alive in Lee Valley.
Scott said, “It would be a great local derby arrangement if the Raiders continue here in 2018-19 when we go back home, as it were. It would be an ideal situation to have a local rival under twenty miles away.”
Nuturing new talent
Aside from the ambition plan, the Raiders are just relieved that their new home in Romford is actually going to get built. Scott explained that the new building of the leisure centre, to include an ice rink, was only confirmed last season.
He added, “There’s been a lot of doubters, but a group of us have been working with the council to make sure that new arena opens, and at the moment it’s due to open in March 2018.
Until then, the Raiders will try to improve on this season’s eighth-place finish and immediate exit from the playoffs.
“I think we realized a couple of seasons ago that we’d been relying upon senior players, without nurturing and bringing on the junior players often enough,” Scott said. “And unfortunately that realization came just as we lost our junior system and we lost our rink.
“We’ve got a lot of youngsters in this team, we’ve got a young coach who’s still learning the business. Were we expecting a bit better than this this year? Yes, probably so.
“But we’re starting to talk about rosters for next year, players that we’d like to keep, players that we might like to introduce. I think with the admission of the last two d-men, Matt France and John Connolly, it would be great to have them back here next season to bolster the defence we’ve got already. Youngsters like Seb Downing and Bailey Chittock are showing a lot of promise. And if we can add two people [of high quality], we will see a very different set of results.”