Ice hockey is not a particularly popular sport this side of the pond – or the North Sea, for that matter. The town of St Andrews does not even boast a single ice rink on which to host the sport. However, neither of these ostensibly significant factors deterred Edinburgh-born captain of the St Andrews Typhoons, Ollie Cutting, from setting up a brand almost completely unique to the rest of the university’s sports clubs in his first year of study here in 2011.
Ollie first explains how, as a student in a country where the term “hockey” is much more closely associated with field variety, he felt compelled to start from scratch a brand-new ice hockey club. Having been involved with the GB Universities’ setup, and with practice being limited to trips to Dundee that would inevitably clashed with his timetable, it was suggested to him that he start a team in St Andrews. While reactions were mixed within the Athletic Union, finding players was not too difficult – according to Ollie, he was able to find around 20 willing players fairly quickly. Logistically, organising practice was difficult, but in January 2012 the fledgling side had its first ever practice.
Logistically, training and matches are still a challenge for the Typhoons. Practice times are, to say the least, slightly bizarre, at 11pm in Dundee on Wednesday nights. As Ollie acknowledges, this has prevented the Typhoons from being much of a presence at Sinners for quite some time. With a 30-seat bus and the hour’s booking for the ice, the costs add up and this means that the Typhoons have one of the highest membership costs of the various sports clubs throughout St Andrews, at around £360 per year. Despite this obstacle, the club has managed to grow in membership over the past few years and currently has a regular squad standing at around 30 players. Importantly, Ollie notes, there are more first- and second-years getting involved; a factor crucial for the long-term development of the club.
As for matches, although the Typhoons compete in Division 2 North of the British Universities Ice Hockey Association (BUIHA), it is technically not a BUCS competition – although Ollie mentions that the BUIHA is in the process of affiliating with the latter. Opponents in Division 2 North vary widely in location, but are all English: Newcastle, Bradford, Birmingham, Nottingham and Sheffield are among the sights the Typhoons have seen this season, and indeed Ollie cites one weekend in which the team had to play in both Bradford and Birmingham as an example of the commitment required. Yet, this challenge appears to have been more than met; the Typhoons have won every game in their league and are on course to enter a playoff with their counterparts from Division 2 South to compete for a place in the national Division 1.
What does Ollie attribute this success to? One factor is the diverse range of (ice hockey-playing) nationalities at St Andrews. The North Americans make up a good portion of this, alongside the plethora of Scandinavians in the student population. But this is just one of the reasons why the Typhoons have had the success they have had so far; Ollie credits what he calls the atmosphere within the club. Although there is some form of structure of leadership (more on that to come later), Ollie claims that there is no rigid hierarchy. Indeed, he uses the example that first-years are treated as equals at socials, something unheard of in other sports clubs. There is also the high profile of the club under the Typhoons name (as opposed to the Saints Sport banner) and the popular Jonny Wookey Memorial match. Apart from anything else, Ollie adds that everyone in the Typhoons sees each other as personal friends, and this, as any sports team knows, always helps.
As things are, the Typhoons are in period of transition. As the club’s founder and captain since its inception, Ollie will be graduating and entering the world of work. So to not leave a power vacuum, he gave up the Presidency last year to Vancouverite Mack Irwin, and soon will be passing over the captaincy of the team to his as-yet-undecided successor. Amidst all this, Ollie is positive about the future of the Typhoons; Mack, he says, has done a great job in his Presidential role and has kept the club organised in terms of training, transport and fixtures – a not inconsiderable task given the already-mentioned difficulties associated. Furthermore, that 25 players are consistently willing to travel to Dundee at the witching hour on a Wednesday night and spend a weekend travelling across the border is another sign of encouragement, especially considering the increased proportion of younger players. Finally, there is the team’s form this year, also already mentioned, and Ollie is understandably confident of promotion to enter Division 1.
The final topic that Ollie discusses is the one St Andrews students will be most familiar with: the Jonny Wookey Memorial. For those unfamiliar with the Typhoons, Jonny Wookey was one of the first players for the ice hockey team here. Ollie tells a story that, as the only fourth-year at its time of founding, Jonny told all who had turned up to the first training session how big a project this was, and how 500 people would turn up to watch their matches in the future. At this point, the Typhoons were barely a team and half of whose members did not even have any kit, so of course those words were taken with a pinch of salt.
Jonny tragically passed away in the summer of 2012, and bearing his words in mind, Ollie decided to set up what is now known as the Jonny Wookey Memorial, where the Typhoons take on Edinburgh at the Dundee Ice Arena. Poignantly, the last two matches in 2013 and ’14 have indeed attracted well over 500 people. This year’s match promises to take on an extra layer of emotion after the passing of Kieran McCann last month. Kieran, a goaltender, will also be remembered in the form of a bursary in his name, awarded to whomever is voted as the best all-round player in the Typhoons. This will be funded by ice hockey hats in the colours of the LA Kings, Kieran’s favourite team, of which there will be a limited number.
Last year saw the Typhoons win in the Jonny Wookey Memorial, and one will be hoping for a repeat of that result this year, especially bearing in mind recent events. Whatever the outcome, though, for the St Andrews Typhoons to have come this far, and as we speak lie on the verge of promotion after only one year in their current league, surely speaks volumes about Ollie, Mack, its players, and this university itself. Should the Typhoons go on to achieve Ollie’s ambitions and win the Division 1 title next year, amongst this period of transition and recent adversity, it could most certainly be called St Andrews’ own “Miracle on Ice”.