In this second instalment of our ‘Get to Know’ series, we sat down with Racers’ Director Willie Dunn.
With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the achievements of the Racers so far, as well as what is left to come heading into the New Year.
In this interview, Willie highlights the best moments of the season to date, the aims for the rest of the campaign and potential future plans for the organisation.
The team has enjoyed some significant success over the past 18 months. What would you say has been the greatest achievement?
For everyone connected to the club it would it obviously be winning the league and cup last season.
We went into our first year not knowing how many players we would have or where we would end up in the league. It was a shot in the dark for us. The whole of last year was a learning curve and it was highly successful as first seasons go.
Moving forward, we learned lessons from last year to try and make this season even stronger on and, more importantly, off the ice. That is what we need to do if we wish to go forward in the future.
I think we have put great building blocks in place over the last eighteen months that will allow us to move forward if and when we can.
What have you enjoyed most about being with the Racers so far?
I actually like the interaction with the fans. We have a good group of fans now who are generally a good laugh, particularly on the away trips. We’ve built a good cohort of people that go to the away games.
I also like the merchandise side of things – part of my role involves coming up with new ideas for how we can use our brand. I like that element of it.
Of course, I also love watching the hockey. Everybody involved with the club loves ice hockey and loves the club. Watching the guys win is always great. It always brings a smile to my face despite all the stress we have to go through in terms of organising things and trying to get things done on time.
When we win, we win as a family. We win as a unit and it makes us all happy. So, they are the things that I find the most rewarding, but the cherry on the cake is winning. Always is and always will be.
The team is very well placed within the SNL and is in the final of the Stuart Robertson Cup. What are your hopes and aims this season?
We have the final of the Stuart Robertson Cup on the 21st and 22nd (of December). We’re playing against the Dundee Comets, a team we know very well, and I’m hopeful that we can retain the cup if we are lucky and work hard.
The big one though is the NIHL North Cup, which is coming up in January. We are playing Solway (Sharks) who at the moment are at the top of the SNL as well, so within the space of about seven to ten days we’ll be playing them three times. If we want to be successful, we need to beat them at least once, possibly twice over those three matches.
In the league both of us are going very well at this point, but we can slip up. So, results against each other are going to be vital. To progress in the cup, we have to get past them in the semi-finals.
They came into the league this year as a longer established organisation playing in the NIHL, so they are the target for us to try and aim at. We have had some very close games with them so far, losing twice in the last six seconds. Hopefully Lady Luck will shine on us at least once this season, and we can catch them out and possibly beat them.
What has been the main highlight this season?
The games against Whitley Warriors both away and at home. We went down to Whitley Bay and gave a very good account of ourselves in a very tough place to play. They are a very strong hockey team in a very strong hockey area of the United Kingdom.
On the return game back at Murrayfield, the crowd was much larger than previously. The Whitley Bay fans turn up in great numbers. It was like the old days at Murrayfield with the old Racers. Everybody who was there loved it and enjoyed it. It was the highlight of the eighteen months, not just this season, when we beat them.
It showed us that we can compete at that higher level. I think it also showed the fans that you can get quality games of ice hockey without being in the Elite League and I think it showed everybody that we are going in the right direction.
Winning against Whitley was fantastic, but it also set a standard that we hope to keep up going forward.
Are there any plans for the organisation or goals that you wish to target beyond the 2019/2020 season?
Ice hockey is in an interesting place at the moment. We’ve got this situation where there could be unification between Scottish Ice Hockey and the English Ice Hockey Association.
That might bring forward a set-up that is regionalised, possibly a Northern League, and we want to play at that level. But we are also very rooted in the SNL as well, so we have to see what develops and see what opportunities there are.
We have dipped our toe in the water with the NIHL North Cup over the last two seasons. We learnt our lessons in season one and have given a better account of ourselves in season two, so we will see if there are possibilities there for us to make that step.
But we also have a commitment to Scottish Ice Hockey and the SNL as well, so we have to see what develops over the next five to six months and do what is best for the club at the right time.
It is pointless going to a higher level with higher costs if there is not the infrastructure and we have not built the fanbase and the players. These guys are all amateurs and you say to them “we are going to have to travel down to the south of England” and they have got work in the morning or they’ve got commitments and family. We need to be careful with what we do.
As for the Elite League, they are looking for applications at the moment. Again, we will look at things and decide whether or not it is the right move for the club, at the right time on a sustainable financial basis and in terms of our growth.
Moving up to the Elite League would mean bringing in twelve or fourteen imports, having to house them within Edinburgh and getting them cars. That’s a huge outlay, but you can never rule it out.
What we want to do is keep pushing forward – keep giving people value for money and quality entertainment and making Edinburgh a place you want to go and see a hockey game. We want to make it place that is entertaining, a place that has victories and a place that has trophies.
(Image permission: Racers Media)