New ‘History of Ice Hockey NI’ - can you help?

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There are many readers from Coleraine, Ballymoney and Moyle areas who will recall the days of ice-skating at the King’s Hall, Balmoral.

You might be surprised to learn that a pair of sixty year old ice-hockey skates that once glided across the King’s Hall are still working the ice at Dundonald International Ice-bowl on a regular basis. They are worn by one of the well-known group of octogenarians who meet once weekly at the Ice-bowl. The group includes former ice-hockey players and speed skaters from the 1950’s era when there was an ice-rink at the King’s Hall, Balmoral. That was the time you could have taken a tram to Balmoral from the city centre. The stories generated from the people who lived during that era and frequented the ice-rink are fascinating. The low barriers around the rink were the perfect place for a seat and eyeing up members of the opposite sex. There are memories of the elderly lady who sat in the booth and put on the 78 records, providing the musical backdrop to the speed skaters or indeed the ice dancers. The Post Horn Gallop was a favourite when the speed skaters hit the ice. A favourite for the participants and spectators was the milk bar. The ice-hockey players trained on Sundays when the rink was closed to the public. It wasn’t until 1947 that it was compulsory for the players to wear helmets. There were crowds flocking to the venue to watch the hockey and the local teams battle it out on the ice.

A new social media site – “History of Ice Hockey Northern Ireland” has been created on Facebook to chart the history of the game in Northern Ireland, from its inception in 1939 and a plethora of photographs and memorabilia continues to surface. The Belfast Ice Rink opened to the public on the 4th October, 1939 and it was an overnight success. The local press reported that one thousand skaters “besieged the building.” The first ice hockey match took place in early December of that year between the Wembley Colts and Wembley Terriers. This exhibition match was the first time that many Ulster folk had experienced the game, described by the local press as “the fastest game in the world.” In February 1940 it was reported that the first local teams took to the ice when the Short & Harland’s Raiders took on the Balmoral Tigers. The Harlandic Wolves, formed in January 1940, played in the second game against the Wasps. The game both fluctuated and flourished during different periods over the next number of decades until the closure of the King’s Hall Ice Rink in 1969.

It would be seventeen years again before many of the former players would find their feet on the ice again when Dundonald International Ice Bowl opened. Some of them returned once again to the game and the ensuing years saw the formation and disbanding of many ice hockey teams in Dundonald. The teams included -Castlereagh Knights, Flames, Goldwings, Hawks, Kestrels, Falcons, Spartans, Panthers, Racers, Lions and teams from Coleraine and Bangor. Many former players are now sharing their memories, photographs and memorabilia online at History of Ice Hockey Northern Ireland and the next generation of ice-hockey players are taking note.

The younger generation of ice hockey players on the ice at Dundonald have been amazed to discover that skating ‘tricks’ weren’t unique to their generation and have been around much longer than they have. Last year one of our local up-and-coming junior players was amazed to watch one of the “octogenarians” demonstrating the famous “barrel roll” move. It is also encouraging that a new generation of local players are coming to prominence in the ice hockey world. Eight junior players between the ages of 9 and 19 represented Scotland at the recent Hull conference tournament in early May. Local boys, 9 year old Carter Hamill from Dundonald and ten year old Kell Beattie from Belfast represented Scotland at Under 11 level. Josh Hodgkinson from Belfast represented Scotland at Under 13 level. One of those players representing Scotland at Under 17 level, Stephen Eccles from Dundonald, was chosen by the GB coaches to attend GB Under 18 trials in August at Sheffield. His team mate, 16 year old Jamie Scott from Dundonald, played defence for the Under 17 Scottish side and picked up his first assist point at this level. Stephen and Jamie will be playing with the Junior Belfast Giants Under 20 team in a challenge match against NI Tridents, who represented Northern Ireland in the World Police and Fire games last year. Members of the public can watch the two teams play it out for the “History of Northern Ireland Ice Hockey” Challenge Cup on Sunday 25th May 2014 at Dundonald International Ice Bowl. The doors open at 17:15 with face-off at 17:30. The entrance fee is £5 per adult and £2.50 for under 18’s, pay at the door. The proceeds of the game will assist with forthcoming tournament costs. Each entrant to the game will receive a free entry to a draw for a 22’’ television.

“History of Ice Hockey Northern Ireland” would be interested to hear from readers who might have memories to share, or photographs and memorabilia related to ice hockey. Please contact diggerarticle@outlook.com or go to “History of Ice Hockey Northern Ireland” Facebook site.