History of the BUIHA

The British Universities Ice Hockey Association (BUIHA) was founded in 2003. Prior to this, there were only a small number of recognised universities ice hockey teams in the UK, largely playing against Recreational Clubs on an ad-hoc basis. In fact, the BUIHA was initially placed under the umbrella of both the English (EIHA) and Scottish (SIHA) Ice Hockey Association Recreation Sections, with all player registrations and fixtures being managed via their systems, but administered by the BUIHA.

A National Championships for universities ice hockey teams was organised by Alexis Rawlinson, a student from Oxford University (playing for Oxford University Vikings), who booked Oxford Ice Rink for a tournament, which took place overnight in the 2000/01 season, bringing together the various teams for the first time. Motivated by his team’s success in winning the first-ever tournament, Newcastle University student Graham Brewer, took over organising the event in 2001/02, at the National Ice Centre - Nottingham, which when it was opened in 2000, at a cost of £40m, was the first twin-Olympic ice rink facility in the UK. In the 2002/03 season, Graham was assisted by Simon Hopkins, who worked at the University of Nottingham’s Department of Physical Recreation & Sport. In 2003, Simon worked collaboratively with Russell Ellis, a student from the University of London Union Purples ice hockey team, to formally create the BUIHA. The BUIHA National Championships moved to the £15m Ice Sheffield (also a twin-Olympic pad ice rink facility), just after it opened, in the 2003/04 season, which is now the location of the BUIHA’s registered office. A Cup Competition was established in 2003 to run throughout the academic year (Oct-Mar), initially in a round robin format, with the annual National Championships held in April. The Cup Competition proved to be very successful and encouraged the development of new clubs and teams across the UK.

From the 2008/09 season, the BUIHA was given permission to create their own Universities Section, answering directly to EIHA Board of Directors. This bold move away from the Recreation Sections of the EIHA / SIHA, created greater flexibility and allowed the BUIHA Executive Committee, to develop bespoke online registration management and fixtures systems, in addition to social media, website and TV platforms, which became the benchmark for similar developments throughout the sport of ice hockey in the UK, by the other Sections.

Under the control of current Chair (Andrew Miller), the BUIHA has increased the number of universities ice hockey teams and players across the UK, year on year, often surpassing the 5% annual growth target. With guidance from the BUIHA Executive Committee and financial support via the BUIHA Development Fund, the BUIHA have helped new clubs and teams to be created and developed. The BUIHA currently has >1,000 registered players (>10% of all registered ice hockey players in the UK), and operates 9 Divisions (including 4 Checking and 5 non-Checking Divisions) in the Cup Competition, 7 Tiers in the National Championships (including one Women’s only tournament) and 22 Clubs, most with multiple teams. In order to continue to make the sport as inclusive as possible to HE students across the UK, the BUIHA encouraged the development of composite clubs, e.g. Sheffield Hallam and University of Sheffield students play as the composite Sheffield Universities Bears. However, there are also a number of Independent clubs affiliated to the BUIHA, e.g. Cambridge University Ice Hockey Club. Essentially, the combination of lack of ice rink provision, and lack of ice-time at those facilities, in the UK, in addition to the geographical location of universities in relation to ice rinks, and the costs associated with the sport, make composite clubs more affordable for players and institutions alike.

Growing the Game

The BUIHA have operated annual ice hockey training camps for several years, and currently run a Pre-Season Camp in Sheffield (mid-September), and a Winter Camp, at the International Ice Hockey Centre of Excellence and Finnish Olympic Training Centre in Vierumaki - Finland (early January). These camps are aimed at players ranging from complete beginners to intermediates (i.e. 0-5 years’ experience), thus creating an ideal opportunity for players to develop in one week what they might experience in the UK in one semester. The BUIHA provides qualified and vastly experienced coaches from the GBU programme and guests, offering expert advice and mentoring for both on and off ice training.

For a number of reasons, a significant number of current BUIHA registered players had never played ice hockey prior to enrolling at university. For most, they did not have a local ice rink, whereas others failed to make University teams in their first sport, and so they re-sported, often using transferable skills. Some simply want to try something new. Whatever their incentive, the BUIHA provides a clear pathway and supports its member Clubs in operating taster sessions for their respective potential members, through universities sports participation schemes, e.g. Nottingham Universities Mavericks NU2 Ice Hockey programme. These basic skating and stick-handling sessions are crucial to allow students to try the sport before they have to commit to buying the essential protective equipment and paying Club membership, etc. The BUIHA Development Fund assists Clubs by allowing them to apply for funding to purchase ice hockey sticks and pucks to use during the aforementioned sessions. Universities often pay for ice time during off-peak periods, in addition to covering their students with appropriate insurance cover.

The BUIHA also organise and host an annual Alumni Tournament (July), at the National Ice Centre - Nottingham. This event is becoming increasingly popular, because as the BUIHA matures, so do its alumnus. The BUIHA recognises the huge potential from future funding streams from former members, and appreciate the importance of maintaining excellent links through social media and planned events such as the Alumni Tournament. Notably, many BUIHA Clubs already invite Alumnus to their respective annual Varsity ice hockey events (e.g. which sees capacity crowds of 7,000 and 10,000 spectators in Nottingham and Sheffield respectively). In addition and the BUIHA invites its Alumni to participate in their training camps.

Team Great Britain Universities

In 2005, Hopkins created the Great Britain Universities (Men’s) ice hockey team (GBU), as a platform for the British students to experience representing their nation and respective universities in ice hockey, at the FISU World (Winter) University Games. This event is renowned globally as being second only to the Olympic Winter Games, and has seen GBU play against some of the top ice hockey nations in the world (e.g. Canada, Czech Rep, Finland and Russia). After GBUs inaugural WUGs in Torino (Italy) the GBU Women’s team was created in readiness for Harbin 2009. The Women's team was managed by Ice Hockey UK (the overall NGB for ice hockey in Great Britain & Northern Ireland), until 2017/18.

Now the BUIHA operates both GBU Men and GBU Women autonomously, making them the only Section to operate National Representative teams in globally recognised international sports events. Notably, both GBU Men and GBU Women have played in four WUGs to date. GBU is now recognised as an integral step in the Ice Hockey UK Performance Pathway, placed between the GBU18s/20s and the Senior teams. Notably, a number of GBU players have gone on to play professional ice hockey in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), and both GBU-M and GBU-W players currently feature prominently in the GB Senior ice hockey teams, playing at IIHF World Championships.

Most recently, the BUIHA have created International All-Star teams (Men and Women), as a platform for the many international students studying in the UK to come together once per season to play in exhibition games versus the GBU Men and GBU Women. This event helps to promote universities ice hockey in the UK to international students, in addition to providing a good calibre competition and natural friendly rivalry for the GBU teams in their preparation for the biennial WUGs.

Looking to the Future

The BUIHA have welcomed the recent expansion of Women’s-only ice hockey teams. Until 2016, only the Oxbridge clubs operated women’s-only teams and have done so for decades. More recently, Sheffield Bears and Nottingham Mavericks have developed women’s only teams, with the Caledonian Steel Queen’s (part of the Edinburgh Universities IHC) becoming the first women’s-only universities ice hockey team in Scotland.

The BUIHA also supports any HE student in participating in Sledge Hockey, a version of ice hockey, and Olympic Winter Games discipline, specially adapted predominantly for people with physical disabilities. The BUIHA has links with several Sledge Hockey Clubs across the UK, in addition to the GB Sledge Hockey Team.

Although the BUIHA is a relatively young organisation, the Executive Committee are very proud to be part of such a unique entity. However, some of its member clubs have much longer histories. Indeed, the Oxbridge Varsity ice hockey match is one of the oldest ice hockey rivalries in the world, and features in the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame, in Toronto. Notably, 2018 was the centenary of the Oxbridge Varsity ice hockey match, held in St Moritz, Switzerland, and was streamed live on BUIHA TV.

In 2018, the BUIHA has been heavily involved in the NGBs Ice Hockey Development Plan and Governance Review, in the hope that ice hockey in the UK can be properly managed in the future, and lead to an increase in the number of players, followed by sustained participation, whilst maintaining all current areas of operations, thus in keeping with the co-founders’ original vision for British Universities Ice Hockey, but with consideration for the wishes of its current members.