Ice hockey is not exactly a staple of British sporting culture. In fact, when you mention the very word “hockey”, most Britons assume you’re talking about a different sport entirely.
However, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) and teams like the Guildford Flames are changing that. With top players from around Europe looking for opportunities and ice time, the league is the catalyst of what could become a huge movement.
This past October, another British ice hockey team made it to the last 16 of Europe’s premier ice hockey tournament, the Champions Hockey League. This unprecedented accomplishment by a hockey team in the United Kingdom came against all odds, as they were seeded 32 of 32 teams in the first round.
To further illustrate the growth of the sport and the EIHL, the Guildford Flames are playing their first season in the top-tier of British ice hockey. Until the 2017-18 season, the Flames played in the second division for their entire club history starting in 1992.
In what may come as a surprise to some, Guildford are off to an incredibly strong start. Currently sitting fifth out of 12 clubs in the Elite League, the Flames are even outpacing the aforementioned Champions Hockey League contenders.
On an individual level, the newly promoted side also currently boast the top two leading scorers in the EIHL. One of those players is Calle Ackered, a Swedish defenseman who’s playing hockey outside his home country for the first time.
Ackered has racked up an unbelievable 45 points (goals and assists) in just 30 games, and is the league’s second-highest scorer behind teammate John Dunbar. Also, just in case you forgot, he plays defense. He is the only defenseman of the EIHL’s top 10 scoring leaders.
I asked him what he’s found different in the EIHL compared to Swedish hockey:
“I think the game here is a little bit faster. More hits, and we go more straight-to-net. It’s fun hockey, and yeah I enjoy it here.”
Having spent his youth days with Alta IF, Calle has spent the last 6 seasons playing in the second division of Swedish hockey, called the First Division. He’s also represented Sweden on the international stage with the U16, U17, and U18 teams.
Before heading to Surrey to join the Flames this offseason, he was with Ostersunds IK. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the organizations’ football program face Arsenal in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 in February. (It’s a small world, right?)
He elaborated on his experience playing British ice hockey thus far:
“As I said, the speed, and also it’s a more offensive game here. In every situation we try to play the puck. We just go for offense as much as we can, because if we have a good offense, they can’t score against us. So yeah, that’s the key.”
Since the 26-year-old is currently tearing up the scoring charts, I asked him his thoughts on his electric form:
“Yeah, I’m glad to be up there. And I’ll just continue fighting, I’m going to be up there. That’s my game. I’m going to score a lot of points, I’ve done that all my career. So why not continue?”
As all hockey fans know, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is the most famous and prolific offensive-minded defenseman in the world, and is also a Swede. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask Calle if he is the Erik Karlsson of the EIHL:
(Grimacing) “I don’t know, Erik Karlsson is a superstar. I can’t compare myself with him, but I’m an offensive d-man. That’s all I know.”
The rest of the Elite League knows that now, too. Calle Ackered is setting the pace for defenseman and forwards alike in the highest level of British ice hockey.
(This story was published on 5 January. As of 8 March, Ackered is now tied for 11th in the EIHL scoring charts, but is still 2nd among defenseman behind only teammate Jesse Craig.)
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE GUILDFORD FLAMES ICE HOCKEY CLUB