The Hull Pirates were formed in 2015 following the demise of Hull Stingrays. They are the latest in a line of ice hockey franchises in the city, flowing from the legendary Humberside Seahawks, Humberside Hawks, Kingston Hawks and Hull Thunder.
Led by Franchise Owner, Shane Smith and Co-owner and Player/Coach, Dominic Osman, the Pirates had just six weeks to prepare before the start of the EPIHL 2015/16 campaign. Given the circumstances, the team finished a credible 9th place led by top-scoring Finn, Tommi Laine.
The Pirates prepared well in advance for their second campaign, bolstered by the re-signings of Nathan Salem, Lee Bonner, Jamie Chilcott and Jonathan Kirk. Import Forward, Andrej Themar, appeared to be a speculative signing but fed by Stanislav Lascek he fired the Pirates into being league title contenders (he eventually finished the season with an impressive tally of 52 goals from 51 games, establishing a franchise record in the process). However, despite Themar’s steady stream of goals, the Pirate’s notable unbeaten home run surprisingly faltered before the turn of the year and Hull slumped to a disappointing 7th place in the EPIHL.
The EPIHL franchise league collapsed after the 2016/17 season due to the departure of key teams, leaving it unsustainable. Hull Pirates joined the National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) along with the remaining EPIHL teams and once again the process of rebuilding began, this time under Player/Coach, Jason Hewitt. His squad included prolific scorer Bobby Chamberlain and returning ‘King of Assists’, Matt Davies. In an epic campaign, the Pirates competed as potential champions, only falling short in a series of epic games against local rivals, Sheffield Steeldogs. 2nd place in the league was respectable given the quality of the Steeldogs but Shane Smith was not deterred in his quest for what he termed the need to, “…make the Hull fans believe again.”
Hurt by the manner of defeat in the previous season, Shane Smith assembled a formidable squad under Player/Coach Hewitt with emphasis on the League’s most destructive forward-line. In defence, an established unit containing Jonathan Kirk, Lee Haywood and Jamie Chilcott was bolstered by the recruitment of lone import signing, Netminder, Tomas Fucik. At last, the Pirates appeared true title contenders but the season started on an indifferent note and they were then struck by the loss of Fucik, due to a lengthy ban for disciplinary issues. His absence threatened to derail the Pirate’s challenge and a desperate search ensued for a replacement. In stepped Ashley Smith, signed from Nottingham Lions but after serving most of his ban, Fucik then departed. Soon after, Smith succumbed to injury and joined a worrying list of absentees.
By the end of the autumn period, the Pirates had surprisingly performed according to the form-book but still lagged behind northern rivals, Telford Tigers and Sheffield Steeldogs. Injuries had taken their toll and with the campaign slipping away, the club moved quickly to sign Kevin Phillips.
Just when the Pirates seemed ready to resurrect their assault on the championship, misfortune struck again with injury to Matt Davies and the suspension of Bobby Chamberlain. Title aspirations looked forlorn so Shane Smith and Andre Payette recruited two import forwards. In came Sonny Karlsson and Lubomir Korhon.
The arrival of Sonny and ‘Lubo’ resulted in a rise in form and saw some of the finest hockey played in Pirate colours. Despite numerous setbacks, the Pirates reached the business end of the season in contention but needed to take points from Telford and Sheffield or face disappointment. Although the odds were heavily stacked against them, Hull snatched 3 points from 4 over Telford, in February, and in doing so, rejoined the battle for the championship. Now, the path to the title was within sight but far from easy to accomplish.
Over two games in March, the Pirates took full points against their rivals and in the process, inflicted a demoralising 13-2 defeat upon Sheffield. A grandstand finish was perfectly set up. Two more games remained against the contenders and in the first, a home fixture against the Tigers, Hull snuffed out their rivals title hopes in a stoic 6-3 win.
A showdown with the Pirate’s most feared South Yorkshire rivals awaited in the last fixture of the regular season but home advantage rested with Sheffield. In two devastating periods, the Pirates pulled free, stunning the home crowd into silence and inspiring a frenzied response from their loyal travelling supporters. The Hull Pirates ran out eventual 8-3 winners and the Northern Conference was at last in their hands.
Seeking their second trophy of the season, Hull reached the Northern Playoff Final where they would meet a Steeldogs team seeking revenge. In the first leg in Sheffield, the Steeldogs played gallantly but slipped to a 7-7 draw, characterised by a stunning solo effort deftly finished by Lee Bonner, rare goal from Lee Haywood and a levelling goal from Pirate’s top scorer, Jason Hewitt. In the return leg, the Hull crowd were treated to an enthralling 6-2 victory and watched the season’s second trophy lifted aloft.
The NIHL Playoff weekend in Coventry saw Hull paired with Southern Conference team, Bracknell. A nervous semi-final saw the Pirates trailing 2-0 until the unstoppable Sonny Karlsson led a determined recovery. The Swede’s three goals sparked a rousing fightback and eventual 6-2 victory.
Peterborough Phantoms now stood in the Pirate’s way of a historic club treble. In what many supporters have since nicknamed the ‘Sonny final’, the diminutive Scandinavian opened the scoring but Peterborough repeatedly counterattacked and drew level at 3-3 with less than ten minutes remaining. Worse still, talisman Sonny left the ice with an horrific facial wound, his upper lip being ripped in two. Many players would not have left the treatment room and few expected to see him skate out. However, to the relief of the Hull fans, Sonny found the courage to return, donning a full face-guard. Skating back onto the ice, his re-entry visibly raised the morale of his teammates.
To the amazement of the assembled fans, Karlsson repaid the Hull supporter’s cheers with a fine go-ahead goal but still the Phantoms refused to concede defeat. At 54.19 they levelled and took the game into overtime.
This was undoubtedly a classic final with neither team yielding in the opening exchanges of overtime. Peterborough’s persistence seemed to have paid dividends when a breakaway saw Ashley Smith isolated in the Hull goal. Until then, the Final had been frustrating for the young keeper. He had conceded a goal, which by his standard was disappointing, yet as the game unfolded, Smith grew in confidence, inspired by two stunning glove saves. With the Phantoms forward accelerating towards him, Ashley cut a lonely figure but made a stunning double save to snuff out an almost certain goal. Further attacks then poured down on his goal but at the end of one of these forays, Lee Haywood poked his stick out and deflected the puck to Matt Davies. Speeding along the left wing, his pass to Bobby Chamberlain was pinpoint accurate and the keen-eyed sharpshooter finished with a clinical strike. Treble victory was the Pirates. Fans mobbed the players and at last, the confidence, which Shane Smith looked to instil in the Hull supporters, flowed back in abundance.