With his team entering their eighth season as a nomadic team, Bristol Pitbulls team owner, Richie Hargreaves is understandably excited at the announcement that construction of Bristol’s new ice rink will start early in the New Year.
He said: “I’m going to be beside myself when we get into the new rink. Coming back to the city, to a brand new rink, it’s going to be fantastic for us as a club to have somewhere to call home.”
The Pitbulls found themselves homeless in 2012 when the rink on Frogmore Street closed it’s doors for the last time. Since then, the team have been made very welcome at Oxford Ice Rink. While the team will be forever grateful to that rink, and the Oxford City Stars, they never gave up hope that one day they’d return to their own city.
Hargreaves said: “When we started playing on the road seven years ago, the aim was to stay in the limelight and be the reminder that Bristol needed an ice rink. If it wasn’t for our club and the people who believed in it, I think this process to get a new rink would have taken another ten or fifteen years.
“Now that it’s happening, I can’t wait to start growing the sport in Bristol. I think it’s great that the club, and our very committed fans who have done the 150 mile trip to watch us play home games, are now being rewarded.”
The key for Hargreaves is that it’s not just about the Pitbulls coming back, it’s about introducing a new audience to all levels of the sport.
He said: “I want to make the sport accessible to everyone and I look forward to that challenge. Working with people, watching the sport grow in Bristol.
“For me, it’s always about the grassroots and making the sport accessible. Promoting a healthy lifestyle, a sport that is just as good as football or rugby. Making it a fully inclusive sport.
“We won’t just have junior teams for children to pick up the sport, but also a full learn to play programme for adults so that they can discover how much fun this sport is to play. And we’ll have a full programme for girls to play in, as well as boys.”
The Bristol Pitbulls are unique in British ice hockey for how long they have survived as a nomadic team. Some teams have managed a season, or even two, before either managing to return home or quietly stop playing. No team has come close to matching Bristol’s eight seasons on the road.
But Hargreaves is keen to stress that the team has done more than survive. They’ve stayed competitive during those eight years, even winning a league/playoff double in 2015.
He said: “We’ve managed. We’ve survived. We did what we had to do. But we’ve also been a club that turns heads.
“Not many teams go on to win playoffs and championships, or even just be in finals. We haven’t just scraped by and been there to make the numbers up. We’ve competed.
“I can’t speak more highly of the guys who have come through the club. They’ve turned up and never made an excuse, never blamed results on what we were going through. We’ve achieved so much. It’s a great chapter in the club’s history to look back on, a spell where we were successful on the road.
“But now it’s time to look forward to the challenges ahead.”