Alley looks for Lee Valley Lions progress

Lee Valley Lions captain Nick Alley contests a face-off against Basingstoke (pic: Pat Ayling)

Lee Valley Lions captain Nick Alley contests a face-off against Basingstoke (pic: Pat Ayling) - Credit: Archant

Captain returns for fourth season at east London club

Captain Nicholas Alley returns to the Lee Valley Lions for a fourth season as the club look to stay healthy and build upon a positive 2015/16 campaign.

Alley, who topped the team’s scoring charts with 27 points in 18 National League matches last season, said that returning to play for the Lions was an easy decision.

“I was always intending on coming back to Lee Valley,” said Alley. “I’ve had more fun playing with the guys here than I have anywhere since I started playing. I started here when I was six, so it does feel like home.”

The Lee Valley Ice Centre will seem even more like home this season for Alley, as brother George is now head coach.

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The former Lions netminder came in as temporary head coach in January when Gary Dodds was unavailable and the squad responded well to his leadership.

Alley added: “I’m keen to support George. When he came in in January, we thought it was really positive, it really lifted the team.

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“I’m keen to see where that can take us, if we can have a full pre-season in that sense, and a full season working through the systems.”

The Lions finished fourth in Division Two East last season with a record of 5-1-14 and were above Slough Jets for the first time in their history.

But Alley was not satisfied with their results as Lee Valley suffered injuries throughout the season which prevented them fulfilling their potential.

“The last three years, we’ve improved year on year,b ut I don’t feel like we fully achieved what we could have last year,” added Alley.

“We had a lot of issues with inconsistency, so we never really got any real momentum. You can see by our results. There were peaks and then there were dips when we were short of players.

“I feel we can build on last year. An improvement in league position would be a good reflection on that.”

Alley was cautious about predicting any promotion push in the future, but did say that moving up a league will always be a goal.

“If we’re aiming to stay in Division Two then our aspirations probably aren’t high enough. A team with the history that Lee Valley has, going back to the Heineken League days, we should always be aiming higher,” he said.

“You have to build from a solid basis. We can’t go from a mid/low-table in Division Two and expect to be able to compete in Division One straight away. There’s a big jump up in the finances of those clubs, and we’re an amateur club.”

Lee Valley are also uncertain which of last year’s players will be returning for another season.

Chris Fox and Ben Duffy have confirmed they will be lacing up their skates for the Lions again, with brothers James and Matt Hepburn also agreeing returns last week.

Fox netted 15 goals last season, including a brilliant hat-trick against Slough in a 4-3 away win that moved the Lions above the Jets, and Duffy scored 11 goals and 10 assists in his first campaign with the club.

Lee Valley will hope to bring back more players and are also looking to bring in new talent, with Alley adding: “We’re holding open trials every Tuesday evening for new guys to come in. A place like London is very fluid: people move around, so sometimes people are only available for a season, sometimes they can stick about.

“I’m sure there will be some changes, there always are. But I’m hoping we can keep the core of the team and build on what we did last year.”

It isn’t only the senior team that the Lions are trying to build up as Alley expressed a desire to improve their youth system and grow the club’s fan support, adding that a stronger base will create a springboard for the club.

“You build from a strong base, so we develop our fanbase,” he said. “We’ve got a strong drive on youth development and we’ll look to build on that, although that might be more of a three-to-five-year plan, than what we’re looking to do this season.

“I don’t see why that shouldn’t be achievable and we’re looking to build on what we’ve got in terms of a strong base of fans.

“If you look at the geographical area, there’s a large potential fanbase that might not even be aware there’s a hockey team here. With Lea Bridge station opening 200 metres down the road, that expands it even further.

“We’re putting in a lot of work to build our online presence and media coverage and getting our name out there, that there’s a home hockey team in East London, and hopefully we can build on that.”

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