Solent Devils preparing for first home ice hockey game in Gosport for over a year – and you can watch it for FREE
Head coach Alex Murray believes Solent Devils have already overcome their biggest challenge this season by getting back out on the ice.
The Gosport-based ice hockey club ended a run of 364 days without a competitive fixture amid the pandemic with a 2-0 win on the road at Slough Jets last weekend.
Solent Devils are just one of four National South Division One teams who have signed up to play in the 2020-21 season South Cup mini-series with the UK still currently placed under lockdown restrictions.
Murray is now preparing his squad for a first fixture on their home Planet Ice rink for more than a year with MK Thunder the visitors on Saturday (5pm).
It will be the second of just six fixtures in the mini-series designed to provide clubs with a chance to at least get in some competitive action in the pandemic-hit season.
And Murray, 31, insists making it back out on the ice is a major achievement for all involved.
He said: ‘It was a long period of absence and a lot happened in that year. It was 364 days before we got back on the ice, but it was a great moment to finally step back on.
‘The real success was the fact that we were able to get back on the ice, that in itself was a win, but to feel the emotions of winning the game as well was the icing on the cake, really.
‘It’s great to be back at the rink this weekend.
'We’ve had a rehearsal in terms of the streaming service at training and the volunteers will be in trying to make sure everything is up for our guests Milton Keynes.
‘The guys are excited, we haven’t played on our rink for well over a year now, it’s great to play at your home arena.'
Solent Devils followers will have to wait a little longer before they can return to the rink to cheer on their team.
Arenas are remaining closed to supporters despite the season resumption, although the Devils are streaming their meeting with MK Thunder for free on YouTube.
Murray felt it was important to give their fanbase an opportunity to still follow matches, with all fixtures in the mini-series available to watch through a stream.
He is also hoping the live stream might generate some new interest in the sport.
Murray said: ‘We decided to offer the service free of charge because when we reviewed what was the purpose of the stream, it’s to benefit the supporters and we owe a lot to our supporters.
‘They’ve been through a difficult time - they’re still at home, they’re unable to do what we’re able to do - so we were really keen on getting the message across that this is for them.
‘It provides a great opportunity for people to try to see something different. We often find that when people watch ice hockey for the first time they fall in love with it.
‘It’s a family sport, it’s something you can come and watch with your family, and leave feeling a sense of ‘that was great,’ and a real good experience you can talk about with friends and family.'
Murray, son of former England and Great Britain player and head coach Pete, thinks the pandemic has made people appreciate what they previously took for granted so much more.
He said returning to action against Slough was a special moment and his squad shared the same sentiment.
Murray confessed: ‘Everyone is valuing everything so much more now and everything you too for granted beforehand, whether it was to see a family member, to see a friend or to even have the opportunity to step out on the ice, you really are treasuring those moments more now because you know how quickly they were taken away from you.
'That feeling you get when you step onto the ice or even in the build-up, the day of a game when you wake up and start going through your routines that you were so used to and became part of your life that were quickly forgotten over the past year because of the pandemic.
‘It’s not only the game itself but everything that goes with it and the bond you have with your team-mates and the supporters are things we’re really looking forward to.'
The Devils are asking fans if they could donate to an online fundraising campaign, in lieu of the free match streams the club are offering. At the end of the season, 50 per cent of all monies raised will be given to the NHS Charities Together fund. Visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/solent-devils-live for more details.