British ice hockey’s league structure changed over the summer months of 1996. The old Premier League gave way to the new, all professional Ice Hockey Superleague. Eight teams took part in the inaugural competition; Cardiff Devils, Sheffield Steelers, Ayr Scottish Eagles, Nottingham Panthers, Newcastle Cobras, Bracknell Bees, Basingstoke Bison and the Manchester Storm.
In addition the new European Hockey League was formed and the Storm were invited to take part. British fans were to get the chance to see the Storm play teams from Finland, Sweden and Germany.
This was the year when crowds for Ice Hockey in Manchester reached their peak – on the basis that on 23rd February 1997 the Manchester Arena was full. The Storm vs Steelers game was SOLD OUT. You couldn’t get a ticket if you wanted one. Sadly, this was a unique event and so many tickets were never sold again.
This, though, was to be a year of frustration and under performance. In the Benson and Hedges Cup the team lost both quarter final legs to the Ayr Scottish Eagles. In the EHL they didn’t score a point, faced with the huge firepower of TPS Turku, Lulea and Berlin. In the Superleague itself Storm faired equally badly. They won just 14 games, lost 24 and finished second to the bottom … ahead only of the Basingstoke Bison. In the play offs Storm came bottom of the group and didn’t even make the finals weekend.
The Storm’s fans wanted more, the owners agreed, and coach John Lawless left the Club.
(Read the interview with Dave Biggar for his thoughts on that decision)