MK Thunder were formed in 2001 and began playing in what is now NIHL South 1 in the 2001-02 season. The club was created by Dave Fairhurst to provide players graduating from the Milton Keynes junior ice hockey club an opportunity to play senior ice hockey and progress their careers. Many Thunder players have gone on to play at higher levels, with current head coach Lewis Clifford a former Thunder player himself. This is the MK Thunder story so far…
The first Thunder squad comprised primarily of members and graduates of the MK junior ice hockey club, with several veterans including former MK Kings forwards Chris Anderson and Jim Ryan. The club’s first goal was scored by Ryan, with Paul Jamieson netting the first away goal in a 5-1 loss at Chelmsford. Head Coach Mark Johnson led the well-supported Thunder to a sixth place finish in English National League South, with a 8-9-1 record.
The departure of British National League side MK Kings to Solihull led to Thunder seeing a decrease in home attendances with the new MK Lightning playing one league above ENL in the English Premier League. Youngster Mark Conway joined the likes of Chris Anderson, Mark Krater, Ryan Blackwood, Paul Gore, Mark Woolf, and Kieron Goody in the yellow and black. Thunder excelled on the ice, securing the fourth and final playoff place in ENL South with a 8-10-2 record.
The young Thunder side improved to third place in ENL South, once again clinching a playoff berth with a 9-5-2 record. Experienced defenceman Michael Knights took over head coaching duties of a team that featured MK junior club alumni in every roster spot bar one. Teenager Tom Hurley joined a squad including Colin Pritchard, James Roberts, Lee Featherstone, Sam Fairhurst, and Kim Taylor that finished behind only Invicta Dynamos and Oxford City Stars in league play.
Michael Knights and his young team narrowly missed out on the fourth and final playoff place in ENL South, finishing two points behind Cardiff Devils in the league standings. Local lads Iain McGill (joining older brother Andrew) and Alex Parris added themselves to the long list of junior club alumni representing MKT. Thunder finished the season in fifth place in the 10-team league with a 7-7-4 record.
Ben White led all forwards with 22 points in 18 league games, six points behind Knights who tallied 28 points in 16 games to lead the team. Thunder’s 8-8-4 record saw them again narrowly miss out on postseason qualification, finishing three points behind fourth-placed Streatham in ENL South. The team ended the season sixth in the standings and featured new additions Phil Wooderson, Dan Ramsden, and Aidan Mahmud alongside familiar faces Aram Todd, Matt Roberts, Pete Taylor, and Lewis Clifford.
An increase in league standard and injuries to key players saw Thunder slip to ninth in the 12-team ENL South, with a 5-13-4 record. Tom Hurley led the way with 24 points despite appearing in only 13 games due to injury, with Mark Krater adding 19 points for second place in team scoring. Junior club graduates Matt Halford and Josh White joined the lineup, as did Slovakian defenceman Ivan Turan and Canadian forward Todd Bakogeorge.
A new league structure saw ENL South split into two conferences, with Thunder finishing the campaign fourth in South A. MKT’s 9-5-2 record saw the team fall seven points short of a playoff place. Dan Chaplen led the team with 21 points in 13 games, with Mahmud adding 16 points and Tom Roles bagging 15. Import forward Pavol Hudak joined the team, while debuts were given to youngsters Harrison Goode, Martyn Snape, and Jay Cox.
A return to the single conference format again saw a rise in league standard and an increase in games played to 28. Thunder’s 7-16-5 record saw the team finish eighth out of nine teams which meant an appearance in the relegation playoffs, with MKT securing their spot back in ENL South 1 for the following season. Import forward Michael Lauko topped the scoring charts with 24 points, Tom Roles added 23 points from defence, while Mark Woolf started all 28 league games.
Another increase in teams and games played saw Thunder finish eighth out of 10 teams with a 6-27-3 record in ENL South 1. Haringey Greyhounds, who finished two points behind Thunder in the league standings, entered the relegation playoffs along with Peterborough Islanders. Michael Knights topped the scoring charts with 25 points despite appearing in only 22 games, with Harrison Goode adding 20 points to sit second in team scoring. A new influx of teenagers chipped in with their share of the workload as Jacob Corson-Heron tallied 15 points, while Nidal Phillips appeared in 11 games, and Ross Green dressed twice.
Thunder returned to the playoffs thanks to a 14-22-4 record securing them seventh spot in the 11-team league that featured former EPL teams Romford Raiders, Chelmsford Chieftains and Wightlink Raiders. Ross Bowers hit a record-breaking 62 points in 30 games to lead all scorers. New recruit Jamie Line featured in 16 games, veteran D-man Simon Howard in 24, with import forward Maros Stefanco bagging 49 points in 25 games, and youngster Tom Mboya finding the net six times in 20 games.
Postseason hockey was played by the Thunder for the second consecutive season after a 7-25-4 record saw MKT finish seventh out of the 10 teams in ENL South 1. Stefanco led the way with 42 points, followed by Connor Goode with 34 points, and Jamie Randall with 30 points. Young forward Ryan Gadeke played in seven games, becoming the first MK junior club graduate to appear for Thunder as both team mascot and player. David Cassidy got the nod to start in 32 games as Slough Jets were relegated and Oxford City Stars were expelled from the league standings.
The ENL was branded to the National Ice Hockey League prior to the start of the season, with Thunder remaining in the top-tier NIHL South 1. MKT clinched a playoff berth by finishing in eighth place out of the nine teams with a 6-25-1 record. New recruit Greg Randall scored 29 points to lead the team, with Connor Goode bagging 28 points and older brother Harrison Goode hitting 25 points. Veteran defenceman Dayne Newman played in 25 league games, while young netminder Jordan Hedley made his debut between the pipes.
The closure of Planet Ice for refurbishment left Thunder in danger of not competing in 2013-14, until General Manager Dave Fairhust played a key role in the building of a temporary ice rink in the former site of a supermarket in Central Milton Keynes. Thunder’s makeshift roster contained a lot of players from the junior club, including Ryan Coffey who scored 10 points in 22 games. New recruit Alex Whyte topped the scoring table with 26 points as Thunder ended the season bottom of the nine-team league with a 3-28-1 record.
A return to the refurbished Planet Ice saw Thunder add several new faces, including D-man Edward Knaggs and forward Ali Barrow, while Jamie Line, Simon Howard, Paul Gore and Tom Castle all joined the new-look roster. Thunder skated to a 16-15-5 record to move above .500 and clinch a playoff berth after ending the regular season in sixth place out of 10 teams. MKT advanced to the playoff semifinals after defeating Streatham over two legs in the quarterfinals. Line led the team with 57 points in 36 games, followed by import forward Piotr Poziomkowski’s 43 points, as Damien King made 35 league starts in goal.
Ross Bowers returned to Thunder to challenge Jamie Line in the race for the team’s scoring title, coming up short with 62 points while Line led the team with 64 points. Third placed went to Mboya on 24 points, while experienced forward Nick Poole suited up in eight games for the red and black. Thunder again qualified for the post season after ending the campaign seventh in NIHL South 1 with a 14-20-2 record. Teenager Luc Johnson dressed nine times as Estonian national team netminder Villem-Henrik Koitmaa started 17 games.
Thunder bowed out in the playoff quarterfinals once again after a 9-17-2 record saw them finish seventh in the standings. Czech forward Jakub Klima hit 35 points to lead the team, with Ross Bowers’ 29 points and Jamie Line’s 26 points securing them second and third placed respectively. Experienced Welshman Nick Chinn took over from Paul Gore as head coach midseason, while teenager Connor Hutchison joined the team on a two-way contract with NIHL South 2 side Basingstoke Buffalo. David Wride started 28 league games and backstopped Thunder to success in the NIHL BBO Cup for the first piece of silverware in team history.
Thunder made the step up to professional hockey in 2017-18 to compete in the Second Division for the first time in the club’s history. GM Dave Fairhurst attracted former MK Lightning Assistant Coach Lewis Clifford to take the reins, and the ex-Thunder player recruited well in the summer on a small budget.
Experienced stalwarts Jamie Line, Ross Bowers and Greg Randall returned to the team, while a blend of experience and youth rounded out the lineup. Former Elite League players Tom Carlon, Gareth O’Flaherty, Rupert Quiney, and Lewis Christie signed up, as did MK Lightning legend Grant McPherson who had his number retired by MKL in preseason. Veteran netminder Tom Annetts came in to claim the pipes, with teenagers Rio Grinell-Parke, Josh Crane, Oliver Lord, Connor Hutchison and Logan Prince also making the roster.
Despite the increase in standard, Clifford’s men more than held their own in their first season in the second flight, pushing Bracknell close in the opening weekend before taking Swindon to a shootout in week two. Bowers celebrated his 600th appearance in MK colours with a shootout winner against Streatham in October, one of several games in 2017-18 that saw MKT shatter the previous home attendance record.
A shootout win at Peterborough Phantoms in November rested any doubts that Thunder were able to compete at this level, as Annetts strung together a series of outstanding performances while his teammates did the rest on the offensive end. Eventual league champions Basingstoke won an exciting 3-2 game on NHS Night in Milton Keynes in early December, before needing overtime to take both points in Hampshire two weeks later.
Off the ice things continued to strengthen with the formation of the MK Thunder Supporters Club, a new website, and an increased social media presence. The bigger and noisier crowds seen over the course of the season made for a fantastic atmosphere both at home and on the road. Wins came tougher to come by after the new year, which saw Clifford make some personnel changes including the acquisition of Cardiff Fire top-scorer Michael Stratford.
Bowers led the way with 25 points in 31 games, closely followed by captain Line on 23 points, and McPherson on 19. Youngster Grinell-Parke topped the goal scoring charts by lighting the lamp 13 times over the season as Annetts finished the year with an impressive 91.41 save percentage from the 1,000+ shots that came his way.
Thunder’s dedication to homegrown talent was rewarded with four international call-ups over the year. Grinell-Parke and young netminder Josh Crane being named to the GB U20’s reserve list, with the pair also getting opportunities to dress in Elite League games with MK Lightning. Seventeen year-old defenceman Oliver Lord was selected for England U19s, and Alex Whyte was picked to play defence for the Great Britain Universities team.
A seventh-placed finish in the standings and taking points from each of the four ex-EPL teams was a brilliant effort from Fairhurst, Clifford and their players, and sets things up well for a second go-around at the new-look NIHL South 1 in 2018-19. A playoffs quarterfinals defeat to Peterborough saw the season end in March with the club in a far stronger position than it has been at any point since the debut season in 2001.