The Nottingham Panthers (officially known as the GMB Nottingham Panthers due to sponsorship by the GMB union) are an ice hockey club based in Nottingham, England. They are currently members of the Elite Ice Hockey League. The modern-day Nottingham Panthers were formed in 1980, and were named after a club of the same name that existed between 1946 and 1960. During the 2006–07 season the Panthers celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of ice hockey's arrival in the city. They play their home games at the National Ice Centre just east of Nottingham city centre. Until 2000 the team played at the Ice Stadium which stood on the same site as their current home.
The Panthers are one of the most financially stable and best supported ice hockey clubs in the United Kingdom. They have played at the highest level of British ice hockey throughout their history and are the only team who were founder members of the British Hockey League's Premier Division in 1983 who continue to hold membership of the top flight league. During their history the Panthers have won three league titles, two Championships, six Autumn Cups and two Challenge Cups. The Panthers are the holders of the Challenge Cup having beaten their arch rivals Sheffield Steelers 9–7 on aggregate in the 2008 final.
An initial attempt to bring a professional ice hockey team to Nottingham was made in 1939 following the completion of the Ice Stadium. A team was assembled and brought to the United Kingdom from Canada to compete in the 1939–40 English National League season but were promptly sent home having not played a single game due to the outbreak of World War II. Seven years later, after the war had ended, a second effort to bring ice hockey to the city was begun. With a team of Canadians largely from Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Nottingham Panthers played their first competitive game on 22 November 1946 with a 3–2 home victory over the Wembley Monarchs.
The Panthers struggled during their early years and only once during their first four seasons did they finish in the upper half of the league table. The club's first coach, Alex Archer, left Nottingham after two seasons and was replaced by Archie Stinchcombe who would coach the team until 1955. Despite a lack of success in their formative years the team had a number of players who would become local heroes including forwards Les Strongman and Chick Zamick. Zamick became one of the most prolific scorers in the league and won the Nottingham Sportsman of the Year award on two occasions, defeating sportsmen such as the Notts County and England international footballer Tommy Lawton.
The club's first major title came in the 1950–51 season. After finishing fourth in the Autumn Cup the Panthers won 18 of their 30 league games and clinched the league championship. The team also ended the campaign having scored the most goals and conceded the least. The following season Nottingham lost Chick Zamick to injury and fell to the bottom of the rankings. Success returned in 1953–54 when, after a last place finish in the Autumn Cup, the Panthers secured their second English League title by one point over Streatham.
In the close season of 1954 the English League and the Scottish League were merged to form a British League. The Panthers finished second to the Harringay Racers in the eleven team competition. After one season all the Scottish teams, with the exception of the Paisley Pirates, withdrew from the British League and left it with only five members. The close season of 1955 also saw the departure of Stinchcombe who was replaced as coach by Zamick. The 1955–56 season proved to be one of the club's most successful. Nottingham won the Autumn Cup at the beginning of the season before clinching their third league title on goal average ahead of the Wembley Lions. They also traveled to Sweden where they won the Ahearne Cup. This was the last occasion that the original club would win silverware and is, to date, the last season in which a Nottingham Panthers team were league champions.
Over the next four years Nottingham alternated between bottom and second place in the league standings. After finishing runner-up in 1959–60, the Panthers took part in the first British Championship final in thirty years where they faced the Brighton Tigers. Nottingham were defeated 3–2 in the first leg but won the second in regulation time by the same scoreline forcing overtime. The Tigers clinched the tie 6–5 after six minutes and 32 seconds of the extra session. During the close season of 1960 the British National League collapsed and the Nottingham Panthers were disbanded. Ice hockey would not return to Nottingham for the next two decades.
The Nottingham Panthers were revived largely thanks to the efforts of Gary Keward. In 1980 the Ice Stadium directors, led by Charles Walker, agreed to a request by Keward to give ice hockey another chance. The Sheffield Lancers, a team Keward helped to run, were relocated to Nottingham taking the name of the team that had occupied the same building 20 years earlier. On 20 September 1980 the modern Panthers took to the ice for the first time defeating the Solihull Barons 7–4 at the Ice Stadium.
During their first three seasons the Panthers played in regional leagues, first in the English League South and then in Section B of the British Hockey League. In 1983 the British Hockey League reconstituted itself into the first truly national ice hockey league for 23 years and Nottingham became one of nine founder members of the league's Premier Division. The Panthers were one of the best supported teams in the league with games regularly selling out but success on the ice eluded them as the team struggled against more established opponents such as the Durham Wasps and the Murrayfield Racers. It was not until the appointment of Alex Dampier as coach in 1985 that the team's fortunes began to change. In his first season Dampier led Nottingham to the playoffs for the first time since reforming. The Panthers lost all four of their quarter final group games and failed to advance to the finals at Wembley Arena.
In 1986 Nottingham secured their first trophy since reforming and their first overall in thirty years when they defeated the Fife Flyers 5–4 in overtime to win the Norwich Union Trophy at the NEC in Birmingham in front of a crowd of . Layton Eratt scored the winning goal after one minute and 53 seconds of the extra session in a game that had seen both the Panthers and the Flyers lead twice. In the league Nottingham again succeeded in qualifying for the playoffs but again failed to register a point. The team repeated this in the Championships the following season bringing the number of consecutive playoff defeats to twelve.
In 1988–89 the Panthers enjoyed one of their most successful seasons. They finished third in the league and were not only able to register their first win in the playoffs but also advance to the finals at Wembley for the first time. Nottingham met Whitley Warriors in the semi final, winning the match 8–6. In the final the following day the Panthers defeated the Ayr Bruins 6–3, clinching their first Championship title. Another Autumn Cup followed in 1991 but Dampier left the club during the 1992–93 season to join the newly formed Sheffield Steelers. He was replaced by Kevin Murphy who coached the team for the remainder of the campaign. Murphy was in turn replaced by Mike Blaisdell during the close season of 1993.
Blaisdell assembled a strong team for the 1994–95 season and led the Panthers to the Benson & Hedges Cup with a 7–2 victory over the Cardiff Devils in the final. Nottingham opened their league campaign with a 21 game unbeaten run but four defeats over the final two weekends of the regular season, including an 8–6 home defeat to nearest rivals and eventual champions Sheffield, denied the club their first league championship in 39 years. During the 1995–96 season the Panthers made it to both the Benson & Hedges Cup and playoff finals, but they were defeated on each occasion by the Steelers.
In 1996 the Panthers became a founder member of the new Ice Hockey Superleague. The new league abolished the wage cap and restrictions on the number of non-British trained players a club was allowed. Many of Nottingham's British players, who had risen through the ranks of the club's youth development system, were dropped in favour of North American imports. Of Nottingham's locally trained contingent only Randall Weber, Ashley Tait and Simon Hunt were retained. The club acquired Trevor Robins, the club's first import goaltender since reforming, and forwards Marty Dallman, Greg Hadden, Derek Laxdal and Darryl Olsen. The Panthers began the season by qualifying for the Benson & Hedges Cup final for a third straight year following a 6–3 aggregate victory over arch rivals Sheffield at the semi final stage. In the final they defeated the Ayr Scottish Eagles 5–3, taking the lead 29 seconds into the game and never relinquishing it. The Panthers finished fourth in the league and qualified for the last four in the playoffs after finishing top of their group with five wins and one overtime loss from six games. Their semi final against the Ayr Scottish Eagles became the longest game in British ice hockey history. The scores were level at 5–5 after regulation time and each of the following five periods of ten minute overtime ended goalless. Only in the sixth period of overtime, with the two hour mark of the match nearing, did Jeff Hoad finally score a shorthanded winner for Nottingham ending the game after 115 minutes and 49 seconds. In the final the Panthers met Sheffield where they were defeated 3–1 after taking an early lead.
In 1997 the Panthers franchise was sold after directors revealed the club was in considerable debt. A buyer was found in London based businessman Neil Black and his sports management company. The 1998–99 season saw the Panthers sign one of their strongest ever line-ups. After finishing third in their Benson & Hedges Cup group, the Panthers eliminated the Slough Jets and Newcastle Riverkings before defeating the Manchester Storm in the semi final despite being depleted by injuries and facing a full strength Storm side. The final saw the Panthers taking on the Ayr Scottish Eagles in a repeat of the 1996 final. Here Nottingham came from behind to defeat the Eagles 2–1 with Finn Pekka Virta scoring both goals. In the league the Panthers finished in third place, twelve points behind champions Manchester. Nottingham also qualified for the finals of the Challenge Cup and the playoffs but the team were defeated in each. In the first, they lost 4–0 to Sheffield in the Challenge Cup despite outshooting their opponents 39–24. Two weeks later, they lost 2–1 to Cardiff in the Championship final despite outshooting the Devils 36–24. During the course of the season Paul Adey and Greg Hadden scored 141 points between them, four players scored more than 20 goals, six players earned more than 30 assists and seven players achieved 30 or more points.
The 1999–00 season was the club's final year at the Ice Stadium before moving to the National Ice Centre. The budget for players was limited by the club chairman so that the Panthers would be able to break even the following season. Players were asked to take a wage cut, leading to the departure of Trevor Robins, Mike Bishop, Mark Kolesar, Eric Dubios and record goalscorer Paul Adey. This frustrated Mike Blaisdell who left the club in November to become head coach of the Sheffield Steelers. He was replaced by former coach Alex Dampier. Lacking the spending power of many of their rivals, Nottingham finished sixth in the eight team league. The club fared better in the Challenge Cup where it made the final for the second successive year but the team was defeated 2–1 at London Arena by Mike Blaisdell's Steelers. On 22 March 2000 the Panthers hosted Newcastle in their final game at the Ice Stadium. Jamie Leach scored Nottingham's last goal at their home of 54 years but the club was defeated 2–1 in overtime.
The Panthers moved to the new National Ice Centre in September 2000. The new building held more than double the capacity of their old rink and attendance levels increased by 72 percent. The team endured a terrible first season in their new home. They were knocked out at the semi final stage of the Benson & Hedges Cup by the Steelers and suffered a dire first half to the regular season. By Christmas the team faced the prospect of not qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1985. Form improved during the second half of the season with the team winning five of their first seven home games during 2001, including a 6–4 victory over the Sheffield Steelers marred by a violent bench clearing brawl. The Panthers still lay in ninth and last place going into their final game of the regular season, three points behind their opponents Newcastle Jesters. Nottingham required a regulation time win to claim the eighth and final playoff berth, something they had not done away from their home ice all season. The Jesters needed only to tie. With 10.1 seconds to go, the game was locked at 2–2, but with an extra attacker the Panthers won a faceoff next to the Newcastle goal and Robert Nordmark scored with 4.4 seconds remaining to take them into the playoffs and eliminate the Jesters. In the playoffs a 5–0 win over a financially troubled Sheffield Steelers was their only victory of the post season.
The following season numerous changes were made to the playing staff and record goalscorer Paul Adey returned to the club as coach. Nottingham would eventually finish in fourth place in a league now reduced to seven members, two points off the second place Ayr Scottish Eagles but 23 points behind champions Belfast Giants. The Panthers qualified for the semi finals of the Challenge Cup but were eliminated 7–4 on aggregate by Ayr. In the playoffs they won one game in the preliminary stages and finished sixth overall, failing to qualify for the last four for a second successive year.
In 2003 the Superleague collapsed after financial problems; it was left with only five members and faced the prospect of having only three. The Panthers finished the league season in third place; lost 3–2 in the Challenge Cup final to the Steelers and were eliminated 4–3 in the semi finals of the playoffs by the London Knights, who scored the game winning goal with just 0.2 seconds remaining.
After a close season which saw uncertainty over which league the Panthers would be taking part in and even uncertainty over the future of the club itself, Nottingham became a founding member of the new Elite Ice Hockey League. Changes to regulations regarding the number of non-British trained players and a lower wage cap necessitated numerous changes to the squad and in came a number of British players including forwards David Clarke and Marc Levers and several new imports, including Finns Kim Ahlroos and Mikko Koivunoro and Canadian John Craighead. The new team started strongly and by the end of the year Nottingham were at the top of the table. However they struggled against their archrivals Sheffield Steelers who were able to overtake the team after a string of wins over the Panthers, before establishing a commanding lead at the top of the table. Eventually Nottingham finished in second place, their highest league finish in twelve years. The team also qualified for the Challenge Cup final after an 11–5 aggregate victory over the Giants in the semi final. Their opponent in the two-legged final was again the Steelers, a team that Nottingham had failed to beat in each of the six finals the two club's had contested. The first leg ended in a 1–1 tie in Nottingham, with David Clarke scoring for the home side. In the second leg at Sheffield Arena the Panthers raced to an early 3–1 aggregate lead however Sheffield pulled a goal back late in the second period and equalised with ten minutes remaining, forcing overtime. After 53 seconds of the extra session Kim Ahlroos scored the winning goal, ending an eight year wait for the Panthers to beat the Steelers in a showpiece final and securing the club's first silverware since 1998. The Panthers followed up their trophy win with a strong playoff campaign, but after a 6–1 win over the Manchester Phoenix in the semi final, the Steelers avenged their Challenge Cup defeat with a narrow 2–1 win in the final.
The 2004–05 season saw the club take part in the Continental Cup. The Panthers were placed into a group with host team Gothiques d'Amiens, Italian side Milano Vipers and Slovenian side Olimpija Ljubljana. Nottingham tied their first game against Milan before recording 1–0 and 3–1 victories over the Slovenians and French, narrowly missing out on a place in the second round of the competition due to Milan's better goal difference. Domestically the team struggled for much of season and only during the end of season playoffs did the Panthers replicate the form they showed in Europe where, despite being depleted by injuries, they qualified for the a second successive playoff final, losing 2–1 in overtime to eventual grand slam winners Coventry Blaze.
In the summer of 2005, Paul Adey left his position as coach and was replaced by former coach Mike Blaisdell. Despite the signing of the winningest coach in British ice hockey history the Panthers finished third in the league and failed to reach the finals weekend for the first time since 2002.
Another coaching change came during the summer of 2006 when Mike Ellis joined the club having guided the Bracknell Bees to a number of titles in the British National League and English Premier League. Ellis made numerous changes to the playing staff and led the Panthers to a fifth place league finish. In the play offs Nottingham eliminated the Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants before defeating the Cardiff Devils to clinch their first playoff title in 18 years. All three ties were decided on penalty shots with goaltender Rastislav Rovnianek saving all seven shots he faced during the course of the competition. The following season the Panthers won a second Challenge Cup title, defeating the Sheffield Steelers 9–7 on aggregate in the final. This was the first time that the Panthers had won major honours in successive seasons.
The origin of the name Panthers is uncertain. One of the most widely known theories is that the club were named for a squadron of Canadian airmen based near Nottingham during World War II. However, there is no evidence to suggest that such a squadron existed and records indicate that the name was coined before these events could have taken place. A souvenir brochure produced to mark of the opening of the Ice Stadium in April 1939 stated that the venue's new team would be known as the Nottingham Panthers. It does not, however, explain the rationale behind the name. Three games were played by teams using the name Nottingham Panthers during the winter of 1939–40 before the name was revived in 1946.
During the original era the Panthers did not have a logo, instead using stylised lettering on the front of their shirts. The club's current logo was adopted in 2003 and is the fifth to be used since the Panthers were reformed. The first was used between 1980 and 1994 and was the silhouette of a Panthers' head in a red circle. The second logo, adopted in 1994, was similar to the first but used a more detailed Panthers' head. The third logo, introduced in 1998, featured a keyhole shaped like the head of a cat with a Panther reaching through it. The fourth logo was adopted following the move to the National Ice Centre and was similar to the logo of German side Augsburger Panther. The stylised lettering used during the original era was used again on special shirts made to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the club in 2006.
The colours used by the original Panthers were black and white. Home shirts were black with a black and white striped lining on the shoulders. When the club reformed in 1980, the black and white colours were also revived, with a gold lining also being added to the jerseys. In 1996 red was added to the colour scheme of the shirts. In 2001–02 the club's colour scheme was changed to black and gold. Home jerseys are gold with a black lining with away jerseys being the reverse. In 2007–08, the Panthers brought out a predominantly white third jersey for the Challenge Cup.
The original home of the Panthers was the Ice Stadium. Built by Sims, Sons and Cooke Ltd, the Ice Stadium was based on the Harringay Arena and officially opened on 10 April 1939. The building hosted its first game two days later with the Harringay Greyhounds defeating the Harringay Racers 10–6 in a challenge game in front of a crowd of spectators. Though a team playing under the name Nottingham Panthers would play three games during the winter of 1939–40, it would be 1946 before the venue would host a competitive match. During World War II the Ice Stadium served as a makeshift munitions store and morgue. The building reopened on 31 August 1946 and hosted another game between the Greyhounds and Racers before the Panthers made their competitive debut on 22 November, defeating the Wembley Monarchs 3–2. The venue became the home of the team between 1946 and 1960 and again from the club's reformation in 1980 to 2000.
The Ice Stadium held a capacity of spectators and had an ice pad measuring by . After the club's reformation a second ice pad was installed in 1983. In October 1996 plans were announced by Nottingham City Council to replace the ageing building with a twin-rinked National Ice Centre. Work began on the capacity arena section of the facility in the summer of 1998 and was completed in the spring of 2000. The Panthers played their final game at the Ice Stadium on 22 March 2000. After the game supporters were allowed to dismantle anything easily removable from the interior of the building to take home as souvenirs. The Ice Stadium was demolished soon afterwards to allow for the completion of the new Ice Centre.
The new National Ice Centre was designed by Nottingham City Council officials and was built by John Laing plc. The building cost £40 million to construct, of which £22.5 million was awarded by the National Lottery. The arena half of the facility was opened on 1 April 2000, with the second public skating pad opening a year later. Both rinks are Olympic sized ice pads measuring by . The Panthers played their first game at their new home on 2 September 2000 when the team hosted the London Knights in the Benson & Hedges Cup. Barry Nieckar scored the club's first goal in a 2–1 Panthers victory played to a crowd of .
Alan Weeks Trophy (Best British Defenceman)
First Team All Star
Second Team All Star
Canadian forward Paul Adey is the club's all time leader in goals, assists and points. He scored 828 goals and 781 assists for a total of points in 609 appearance between 1988 and 1999. Zamick is in second place having scored 774 goals and 638 assists for 1412 points. He is the only other player to have amassed more than points for the Panthers. Adey also holds the record for the most goals scored by a Panthers player in a single season with 120 during the 1994–95 season. During the same season Rick Brebant set club records for the most assists and most points in a single season with 156 and 241 respectively.
British forward Simon Hunt holds the club record for the most penalty minutes, serving minutes in 524 appearances between 1988 and 1999. During 2000–01 Barry Nieckar earned 352 penalty minutes, the highest number for a player in a single season.
The club's record win came on 31 October 1981 when the Panthers defeated the Southampton Vikings 31–2 at the Ice Stadium. A few weeks earlier, on 4 October, the Panthers had recorded their record away victory with a 23–1 win over the same opposition. The team's heaviest defeat came on 20 March 1988 with a 23–1 away defeat at the Whitley Warriors. Nottingham's largest home defeat was a 14–2 loss to the Dundee Rockets on 25 February 1984.
The Nottingham Panthers have held continuous membership of British ice hockey's highest division since the foundation of the Premier League in 1983 and are the only team to have this distinction. The club are the oldest member of the Elite League having been founded forty years before and having played twenty seasons more than the Cardiff Devils, the next oldest team.
|Number||Player||Catches||Acquired||Place of Birth|
|31||Davis Parley||L||2008||Grenfell, Saskatchewan|
|20||Geoff Woolhouse||L||2003||Sheffield, England|
|Number||Player||Shoots||Acquired||Place of Birth|
|17||James Ferrera||R||2006||Peterborough, England|
|19||Danny Meyers||R||2006||Ascot, England|
|24||Nick Toneys||L||2008||Waupaca, Wisconsin|
|29||Joe Graham||R||2008||Nottingham, England|
|75||Rumun Ndur||L||2008||Zaria, Nigeria|
|77||Corey Neilson||L||2006||Oromocto, New Brunswick|
|Number||Player||Shoots||Position||Acquired||Place of Birth|
|5||David Clarke||L||RW||2008||Peterborough, England|
|7||Robert Lachowicz||L||LW||2007||Nottingham, England|
|8||Matthew Myers||R||C||2004||Cardiff, Wales|
|9||Bruce Richardson||L||C||2008||Ville Saint-Pierre, Quebec|
|12||James Neil||L||C||2005||Nottingham, England|
|13||Samuel Bullas||R||RW||2007||Nottingham, England|
|15||Johan Molin||R||RW||2007||Nacka, Sweden|
|16||Marc Levers||R||RW||2007||Derby, England|
|18||Brendan Cook||L||LW||2008||Reston, Manitoba|
|25||Kevin Bergin||L||LW||2007||Montreal, Quebec|
|26||Dan Tessier||R||C||2008||Orléans, ON, Canada|
|40||Jade Galbraith||R||RW||2008||Hinton, Alberta|
The Panthers have retired the numbers of four players since reforming: The number 3 of defenceman Gary Rippingale was retired following his death at the age of eighteen in 1992. Randall Weber, who spent his entire seventeen year career at the Panthers, had his number 10 retired following his final game for the club in 2002. The number 11 of forward Greg Hadden and the number 22 of the club's all time leading goal, assist and point scorer Paul Adey were retired in 2003.
Sixteen people who have been associated with the Panthers are members of British ice hockey's Hall of Fame. As a member of the Great Britain team that won gold at the 1936 Winter Olympics, Panthers coach Archie Stinchcombe was inducted in 1951. The club's first coach, Alex Archer was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame as a member of the Olympic winning team in 1993. Forward Chick Zamick, who played for the Panthers between 1947 and 1958 and holds the original club's records for most goals and most appearances, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1951 while fellow forward and team mate Les Strongman who went on to serve as the modern club's coach, secretary and as a club director was inducted in 1987. Coaches Alex Dampier and Mike Blaisdell were inducted in 1995 and 2004 respectively while Paul Adey was inducted in 2006. Former players George Beach, Rick Brebant, Johnny Carlyle, Stephen Cooper, Jack Dryburgh, Art Hodgins, Chris Kelland, Jimmy Spence and Mike Urquhart are also members of the Hall of Fame. Zamick is the only person associated with the Nottingham Panthers to have membership of another Hall of Fame, having been inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.