Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Rise and Fall of Durham Wasps

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Rise and Fall of Durham Wasps

Article excerpt


AS the Newcastle Falcons continue to dominate Rugby Union's second tier - the English Championship - some might recall the heady days when another North East team conquered all before it.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Durham Wasps ice hockey team won a succession of trophies at a time when the sport was in its pomp.

Their top of the table televised clashes at Wembley with rivals such as the Murrayfield Racers, Sheffield Steelers, Cardiff Devils and Nottingham Panthers became required viewing, while on a local front they played some lively games with the Whitley Warriors.

The Wasps were Heineken Premier League's champions five times in seven years from 1985 to 1992, and British Championship winners four times over the same period. Their finest season came in 1991, when they achieved a Grand Slam of trophies with an astonishing hat-trick - league title, British Championship and the Autumn Cup.

The team was a potent mixture of seasoned foreign imports such as former NHL star Mike Blaisdell and home-grown talent like the Hall Of Fame Cooper brothers Ian and Stephen, as well as Paul Smith, who also coached the team.

Canadian centreman Rick Brebant was a Wasps legend, accumulating 995 points, which made him the club's all-time record points scorer.

Their home games at the Riverside Rink were an intimidating experience for rivals. Coach Smith once commented: "As one person said to me, it was like an illegal gathering. Teams hated coming to Durham. Everything was about the Wasps winning."

But as the game became more popular and commercialised, the Wasps found it harder to compete, with the Cardiff Devils plundering their top players.

The Riverside also needed significant investment and there wasn't the money to do it.

As Smith said in an interview: "The writing was on the wall in 1993 and then there were financial difficulties in 1994. …

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