In what came as a bolt of the blue, Telford Tigers of the EPL (UK) announced they had signed a partnership agreement with the Utah Grizzlies (USA) who play in the ECHL.
When you start to delve deeper into this agreement between the two teams however, it’s perhaps not so surprising.
CEO of Red Touch Media, Wayne Scholes, purchased the Telford Tigers in October of 2013 through a newly formed company named “Red Hockey Limited.”
Red Touch Media has operations in the USA, UK and South Africa but their headquarters are based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
That’s not the first cog to click into place, as Wayne Scholes was born in Telford and followed his local hockey team as a boy.
Scholes is a main of ambition it appears.
In an interview with the BBC he stated his intent to take the EPL team to the very top of British hockey.
“We have every intention of doing nothing, but investing money into the team to get right to the top.”
“We only play to win. We didn’t want to buy the team so that we could keep them where they were, or so that we could get them halfway up the league, or just to compete in the top three.”
So is this venture a publicity stunt, a money making venture or a real attempt to make his team better?
It’s hard to tell at this early stage but it looks to be more of the latter two than the former at first glance.
It‘s reported that the affiliation will see the two organisations exchange players, coaching staff and marketing strategies.
In fact pretty much the first exchange will see Utah Head Coach/GM Tim Branham heading across the ocean this summer, to take part in the first Tigers Hockey Camp.
Branham was a third round pick by Vancouver in the 2000 draft but failed to make the NHL and almost exclusively spent his playing days in the ECHL before retiring in 2010 and instantly taking up a role in the Reading Royals organisation as assistant coach.
Telford Tigers Head Coach is Tom Watkins, who still laces the skates and has been a part of the GB U20 coaching set up for the past three seasons.
He’s pretty happy about this tie in with the ECHL club and flew out to America as part of the Telford contingent to finalise the new deal.
“This is a great chance for our players to develop their game with a club in a superb league in the United States.
“The facilities they have over there are fantastic and in terms of playing ability, our guys would be delighted to skate with them in training.
“The standard they play at is very good and quick, so it can only benefit the Tigers.”
It’s not just the players and coaches who will benefit as part of the tie in means Telford fans will be able to win trips out to Utah to watch the Grizzlies play.
It’ll be interesting to see how this arrangement works out for both parties and how long it stay’s in place but it’s certainly a bold move by an owner with money to spend, who wants the very best for his hockey club.
In what’s unlikely to be a trend setting affiliation between teams here and the USA, I hope this isn’t another way for a British team to make it easier to fill their team with imports in the coming years.