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Receiving a helping Hand to grow

THe battering into submission of Russia's Big Red Machine by the USA and Finland ahead of Canada's gold medal win over Sweden in Sunday's final was a reminder it is the most macho of sports but ice hockey in Scotland needs more female involvement according to the man in charge.

Sweden's goaltender Henrik Lundqvist makes a save against eventual winners Canada in the gold medal match in Sochi. Picture: Martin Rose/ Getty Images
Sweden's goaltender Henrik Lundqvist makes a save against eventual winners Canada in the gold medal match in Sochi. Picture: Martin Rose/ Getty Images

David Hand, the chairman of Scottish Ice Hockey (SIH), bears the most famous surname in the British game and knows better than anyone what it takes to succeed at the highest level, his older brother Tony being the only born and bred Scot ever to be drafted into America's National Hockey League.

Another brother, Paul, also enjoyed a fine career and while Hand admits his own career never scaled the same heights, his passion for the sport the family were introduced to by their cousin Scott Neil, now the Edinburgh Capitals owner, runs as deep.

"I didn't make the level my brothers did," he acknowledges. "I don't want to blow his trumpet but Tony has built hockey in Britain over the last 20 years. He is the name in the British game.

"I played a little bit of professional hockey down south but over the years I found that wasn't for me, so I played recreationally in Edinburgh for many, many years. Other than that I've kept involved in the SIH and Ice Hockey UK (IHUK) for the last 12 years. I love ice hockey. It's in my blood."

Hand's mission is to try to encourage many more in Scotland to feel the same way about the sport. He knows the extensive television coverage of the Winter Olympics helped, but he also knows ice hockey has to do more to help itself.

Hand has been instrumental in bringing about the incorporation of SIH - along with the Elite Hockey League (EHL) and the English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA), one of three organisations running competitive ice hockey in the UK - into IHUK, the governing body with best potential access to government funding.

He hopes the EHL and EIHA can be persuaded to do likewise since the British game is unique in world terms in having so many organisations running the sport under different rules and regulations.

Meanwhile, where many in minority sports blame broadcasters and the press for a lack of attention compared with mainstream rivals, Hand is also commendably quick to accept ice hockey should be looking at its own failings in that regard. "I think the clubs under-cover it. I don't think they send a message out to help you guys. I'm not going to blame the media," he says.

Another issue, shared with skating and curling, is the demand for facilities which limits ice time to the extent he does not believe the achievements of his brother Tony, who trained daily, could be replicated today.

However, along with all the problems facing the sport, Hand sees opportunities if they can learn to pull together, in particular through the versions - the women's game and sledge hockey which will feature in the forthcoming Winter Paralympics - that are only now beginning to come into focus.

"The Olympic qualifying bid was a good thing for the sport because the recognition we got for getting past the pre-qualifiers to get to a potential Olympic position was great," Hand said. "Ice Hockey UK received good funding out of that, just for getting there. We're a long way away from being an Olympic ice hockey nation, though. The women probably have a better chance than the men of getting to the next Games. I have a general meeting with the clubs shortly where I'll be trying to encourage them to start women's hockey. It might take five or 10 years to get the system up and going but it's something we need to look at.

"We're also looking at sledge hockey, which is more popular down south. It's more to do with disability hockey but is not only for disabled players. They get quite good funding, I believe, from UK Sport. We need to give everyone the chance to play."

Meantime, it is worth noting that with Scotland disproportionately represented in the Elite League - Braehead Clan, Dundee Stars, Fife Flyers and Edinburgh Capitals comprising 40% of the 10-team pan-British competition - some three to four thousand spectators attend professional matches in Scotland every week. "It's a family sport," says Hand. "You can sit beside each other and have a laugh."

A sport for all on and off the ice is the proposition and it is made by one who knows few will fight for it more vigorously than he. "I'd like to think Scottish ice hockey's in good hands," he says.

The pun was intentional.

Q&A

What is your organisation's annual budget?

£90K

How many staff do you employ?

None, all are volunteers

What are the playing numbers in the sport, broken down into senior and junior, male and female?

Around 1800

How long have you been chairman?

Three months

What have been the biggest successes/highlights/achievements, on and off the ice?

I have just started up a massive learn to play programme in Scotland, in conjunction with IHUK [the governing body]

What have been the biggest disappointments/setbacks during your time as chairman?

None. Too short a time

What are your ambitions for your sport in Scotland in the next five years?

We will be looking to set up women's and sledge teams, which we lack in Scotland

What are the biggest challenges you see facing your sport in Scotland during the next five years?

Funding

What involvement does your organisation have in disability sport?

None, but as previously said we are looking to start up sledge hockey

What are your plans to capitalise on the attention attracted to your sport by the Winter Olympics?

All we can do is try to ride on the back of the success the Olympics brings to us all

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