When Manchester Storm face off against rivals Sheffield Steelers in their Elite Ice Hockey League match on Sunday, they will be swapping their customary purple and yellow tops for pink ones.
Not only is it an important match for the Storm. It also marks the start of Paint Altrincham Pink Week in aid of preventing breast cancer.
Storm players will be auctioning off their shirts after the game and their academy players will be collecting money on game day itself.
Storm have been involved every season since they reformed in 2015. So far, they have raised over £30,000 for the cause.
Storm are just one of over twenty Altrincham-based businesses taking part in fundraising for the event this year. They were inspired to get involved by Vicki Thomas, the wife of former Manchester Phoenix and Sheffield Steelers player Mark Thomas, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September last year.
Mark is planning to raise money for Prevent, a charity dedicated to the prediction and prevention of breast cancer, by taking part in a charity walk starting at 7am on Saturday 23rd February outside the Steelers’ Fly DSA Arena.
Mark and his colleagues will walk as far as they can by 2pm before returning to the arena for the Steelers home game, and will return to wherever they managed to get to earlier and resume the walk to Planet Ice, Storm’s Altrincham home, ahead of Sunday’s showdown.
Community spirit is something that Manchester has always had in abundance – and Manchester Storm are no different.
Ryan Finnerty, who replaced previous coach Pacha Omar for the 2017/18 season, is impressed with the kind of atmosphere the fans can create at Planet Ice. Despite only having a 2,500 seat capacity and playing sides which have crowds of between 7,000 and 9,000, Finnerty is adamant Storm can create something those teams cannot.
“You can say what you want about our building, but there’s not too many places that can create an atmosphere like that. I think we have a team that feeds off that. We have a team that likes to play to that and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of when you’re on the bench.
“It’s something you don’t see and you can’t replicate it in the big stadiums. You’re this tight and fans react and they’re that on top of you, they’re that engaged and loud and when the drums are going it becomes a hostile place to play and a fantastic place for our guys to compete in.”
Finnerty believes that when they are on the ice, the players feed off the energy created by the supporters. He also thinks they have some great leaders in the dressing room.
“This is a team that is fairly close in the dressing room, fairly tight knit,” he says.
“They stand up for one another on the ice, they’re an exciting bunch to watch perform and when you’ve got pieces of the puzzle like Ginner [netminder Matt Ginn], [Ciaran] Long and [Mike] Hammond, you give yourselves a good chance to win.”
The sense of community surrounding Storm doesn’t stop with the first team. It runs right through the club.
With fantastic coaching at the academy level, players working with young kids on the ice each week and a partnership with Salford University, the club certainly make their limited resources go a long way.
“Knowing you aren’t one of the big spenders and you can’t just go out and buy the best resumes, we have to create within,” says Finnerty. “We’ve got some great players in the academy.
“Our guys are out there every week with the kids throughout all of the age groups, and we are heavily involved with the work with the academy teams.
“We see the damage that our academy sides are doing. They are beating teams by scores you would associate with American football not hockey.”
Finnerty says Storm are ready for a dog fight finish following last weekend’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Guildford Flames. That meant Storm had lost their last five games.
Wednesday night saw them get back to winning ways with a 3-2 victory over the Dundee Stars which will hopefully give them confidence heading into Saturday’s game with Milton Keynes Lightning and Sunday’s home game with Sheffield.
“At this stage when you look at the table, every game is almost like a play-off type game. It’s going to be a bit of a dog fight all the way which makes it exciting considering there are still so many games left to be played.”