I had followed the Trafford Metros the season before, in their quest for mediocrity in British Division 1. The previous season had been full of incident. First the Mets managed to get thrown out of Altrincham Ice Rink, and spent much of the season playing in Bradford - which was far easier for me to get to than the Shed in Alty. Secondly, Martin Smith showed his talents in the Manchester shirt, yet a row with the other star import, Frank Morris meant Marty went home midway through the season.
In truth, there are only two games I remember well from that season. First was a victory over Solihull at Altrincham. Metros were cruising at 12-6 up in the final period, before it all went to pieces. Solihull, led by the superb Steve Chartrand, managed to score 6 times to tie the game in the final period. The Barons even had one disallowed and were piling on the pressure in the final minute when the puck broke out of the Trafford zone to Oleg Sinkov. Sinkov is the best player I have ever seen, and as he nonchalantly skated down the ice, roared on by...oooh... at least 500 fans, time slowed down to a crawl. He deked the keeper (so far out of his net, I think he was on the blue line, but that is probably my imagination) and popped the puck in for a 13-12 victory I will never forget.
The second was the Mets last ever game, appropriately against Blackburn Hawks. Despite being a "lowly" Division 1 encounter, the Mets/Hawks rivalry was as fierce as any in British hockey, and a virtually capacity crowd witnessed a see-saw game cheered on in the most passionate of atmospheres. Again Sinkov was the man, at 7-7 with two minutes left, a slapshot from Vlad "Captain" Kirik (I have his autographed stick at home) was deflected up and over the shoulder of the Hawks keeper. But even then it was not to be the fairytale ending, as almost immediately, Mark Stokes picked up the puck and smashed it past Colin Downie for the equaliser.
The Mets were that sort of team.
So there we are. The off-season, normally a chance to recharge the batteries and get the hell away from hockey. But not this year, as the Mets were no more, replaced by the all-new Manchester... somethings. No coach, no team, no name... but the best Arena in Britain - or so we were told.
John Lawless! I couldn't believe it! The coach of the Cardiff Devils, a man won just about everything in British hockey was coming to coach the team! And he brought with him Hilton Ruggles, the Premiers top goalscorer, so the best coach in the country and the best scorer in the country on the team I was to follow.
(At this point I must mention that Hilton seemed like the best in the country. This is a common thing, and an excusable assumption given his scoring record. When the best you can hope for is a playoff place, having the countrys top goal scorer heading the attack seemed like some sort of Nirvana. You gotta dream.)
More signings followed, David Smith, Paul Fleury, Mark Stokes... then some guy with a silly name, Yahgo or something, and the first game was announced.. the 1st Annual Milton Keynes Tournament, featuring Milton Keynes Kings, Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers and the Manchester team.
Good job they got a name before the Tourney, eh? The format was a weekend, two games on Saturday, four on Sunday with an early rise and a running clock. Twenty quid. Hotel not included. Where do I sign up?
Sheffield vs Manchester
Then, as now, the Steelers were the ones to beat. The usual huge support was complemented by... 10 from Manchester. Trafford die hards to a man, or woman - ask Liz (the Drummer). The Steelers came out to a raptuous welcome, and the Storm skated onto the ice and suddenly there was John Lawless and Hilton Ruggles in the new shirts, black, without a sponsor. The best coach, the best goal scorer (I didn't know at this point) in the team I supported - the dream was coming true.
Sportingly, Dave Morris, then-chairman of the Steelers Supporters Club presented John Lawless with a silver plate, commemorating the occasion of the Storms first game, a typically sporting gesture and I secretly hoped the Steelers would make it perfect by not beating us. Not a chance, as despite heroics from Colin Downie in net, Sheffield were well ahead and cruising. Mark Stokes was the historic first goal scorer, 27.45 into the game he picked up the puck in the left slot and fired it home past McKay. The Sheffield fans applauded and the Manchester fans, all 10 of us - went mental.
11-3 the game ended and off to the bar. Especially to interrogate the three people who were wearing Storm shirts in the hospitality bit of the rink. Turned out that they were marketing people, including Jo Hulcroft, whom I warned not to walk down any dark streets as I may mug her and steal the shirt. After some scran at Pizza Hut we went ready for the next morning.
Manchester vs Milton Keynes
An horrendously early start of 11.30am for the next game, and already rumours were flying around about unrest in the camp. The MK Kings were the host team, and Sheffield decided to throw their support behind us. We scored first - we went mad, knowing that even if we didn't win, the satisfaction was there that when MK scored, we still weren't behind. (This is a Trafford way of thinking...) The Kings equalised, so we repeated the trick, and then again.
I can't remember the game, short of yelling my head off at every Storm attack. David Smith scored an absolute beauty of a slap shot. Simon Ferry scored one, made one and deflected one past his own netminder. Hilton Ruggles scored on a penalty shot. And with the score at 8-6 in Storms favour, Davie Smith broke clear to halfway and cool as you like slid the puck into the empty net. Life just didn't get much better than that.
Nottingham Panthers vs Manchester
This game became a grudge match, as Nottingham were furious that Moneybags Manchester had tried to tempt away Paul Adey with a huge wad of cash. Plus they had stolen Jeff Lindsay from under their noses. So the upstart club were about to be taught a lesson. Simon Hunt blatantly crosschecked John Lawless three feet face first into the boards and was carried off. Hunt - rhyming slang if ever there was - went on a 5+Game. Several other heavy hits and Panthers made their physical intentions clear as the inexperienced Storm side just couldn't cope. Even when shorthanded Panthers just knocked in some goals and the final score was 11-2.
But there was something born that day - the "dum-de-dum-de-dum.. Storm!" chant. And it was created by Sheffield fans, who threw their support behind us in our quest to beat the Panthers. Liz took it up and a signature tune was born.
An unforgettable weekend, there is a video of the matches available, I know someone with a copy of it. Doubt he'd let me borrow it though! So, when you see the Storm team of today on top of ISL, spare a thought for how it all started...