Ice hockey is one of the most popular sports in the world, that much goes without saying. While the world’s most elite players strut their stuff in North America’s National Hockey League or Eastern Europe’s Kontinental Hockey League, some of the world’s finest have plied their trade in Britain’s Elite League over the years. While these stars may not be household names in the world of Ice Hockey, some of them have pioneered the Elite League, sending it to unheard-of heights.
The current Elite League season is reaching its business end, and the playoffs are just around the corner. The postseason is due to get underway in April, with finals weekend taking place on the 15th and 16th of April from Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena. Currently, the Guildford Flames are top of the regular season table and have already secured their place in the playoffs.
The Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers are the two most successful teams in the history of the division, with both outfits picking up the coveted trophy on five occasions each. They too have secured their spot in the playoffs, and in the coming weeks, the final few postseason spots will be claimed, setting the stage for the playoff showdown.
The Elite League still lags someway behind the NHL however, both in terms of popularity and in quality. On the other side of the pond, online sports bookie Bovada makes the Boston Bruins the favorites to lift the Stanley Cup this season. The TD Garden outfit has amassed a mighty 39 wins from their 51 games so far this season, and they look dead set on picking up a first championship in over a decade.
As we alluded to earlier, some of the finest Ice Hockey players in history have played on either side of the pond. Let us take a look at a few of them.
Mathieu Roy and Paul Bissonnette
Two of the most successful players to have played in both leagues are left-wingers Mathieu Roy and Paul Bissonnette. Mathieu Roy was an elite prospect in the QMJHL over in Canada, and throughout his three years with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, amassed a mammoth 202 points. He would add a further 87 points in his fourth season in the famed league with the Val-d’Or Foreurs.
Despite his unbelievable performances over in Quebec, Roy somehow went undrafted in the NHL Draft. He still went on to enjoy a relatively successful career outside of the NHL, becoming one of the finest players in the history of the Florida Everblades in ECHL, two tiers below North America’s top Ice Hockey league.
In 2014, Roy made the move to the Elite League when he signed for the Sheffield Steelers, and in the process became one of the franchise’s finest overseas players. He amassed 225 points during his four seasons in South Yorkshire, twice winning the Elite League in the process.
Whereas Roy never quite made the cut in the NHL, one man who did was Paul Bissonnette. He was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins way back in 2003, however, it would take five years for him to break into the Penguins’ first team. He would make just 15 appearances in Pennsylvania, before being snapped up by the Phoenix Coyotes, where he would become a household name.
Bissonnette would make 187 appearances throughout a five-season spell in Arizona, and in the middle of that stint, he would cross the Atlantic for a brief spell with the Cardiff Devils. He made 11 appearances for the Devils in the 2012/13 season, resurrecting their campaign and helping them to the semifinals of the playoffs, where they were eventually downed by the eventual champion Nottingham Panthers.
Other well-known players who have featured prominently on either side of the pond include goalie Kevin Reiter. While the American netminder never quite made it to the NHL, he did turn out for a number of top teams in the Elite League, including the Newcastle Vipers, Sheffield Steelers, and Basingstoke Bison.
It took forward Doug Doull over a decade before he got his chance in the NHL. His career began way back in 1990, and he had a minor detour to Britain a decade later when he turned out for the Manchester Storm. It wasn’t until 2003 that he would get his chance in the NHL when he made 36 appearances for the Boston Bruins. He would make a further two appearances for the Washington Capitals in 2005.
Overall, there have been plenty of talented ice hockey players who have excelled in both North America’s National Hockey League, and the tiers immediately below, as well as Britain’s EIHL and the success of these players, serves as great inspiration for aspiring hockey players all over the world.