Yesterday the EIHL announced the format of the new season ahead of the big fixture reveal on Monday. Here we dissect a few things from this and share a few thoughts on what we think could/should have been done.
The 2018-19 Elite League season will comprise of a straight 11 team division with each playing the other three times home and away, resulting in the regular season being 60 games long. The EIHL needed to do something practical following the collapse of Edinburgh and the EIHL’s preferred replacement, Hull, declaring that they weren’t ready to make the jump from the NIHL this season. Dispensing with the conferences as they were, and going for one big league, is probably the best thing they could have done.
The biggest issue that the conference system raised was the amount of unhappiness that fans had over the amount of games played against other sides. Eight games was seen as overkill especially if your opponents were also in your Challenge Cup group stage too (more on than shortly) and I know personally fans stayed away from games because of this. If you had a strong conference record, it could help cover up some deficiencies that your team had elsewhere and give the impression that you were falsely placed in the entire league standings. Hopefully, the forthcoming structure will balance this out.
Onto the Challenge Cup, which is still in existence. A number of fans want to see it gone, myself personally included, because it’s a meaningless affair and just adds more games into an already packed domestic schedule. A lot of crowds in the early stages are lower than what you would expect for a league games. If it is remain, and the EIHL want it to, then it would need a bigger revamp than currently proposed.
Playing group games isn’t the best way to decide it. The EIHL fixture list may need tweaking so the Challenge Cup games are also counted as a separate table and the first 22 games (or 24 if we had a 12 team league again) double up as League and Challenge Cup matches. This would then reduce the amount of games played. From the table the top four would then qualify for the semi-finals which I would keep as two-legged and then a one off Final at a neutral venue. All teams would be notified the date of the Final in advance so they could reserve the ice-time. It would then stop the comments of “Oh Cardiff’s hosting it again, can’t it be moved elsewhere?” full stop. Either that or scrap it and use the available gaps in the fixture list to help the national team out by letting them play in the Euro Hockey Tour match-ups.
Another thing it could be used for is to extend the play-offs. Play-offs are great but there is a common consensus that the actual play-off structure is too short. Suppose we either scrapped the Challenge Cup or used the double up process, this would possibly free up dates at the end of the regular season where you could have a proper play-off series. It’s logistically possible, we just need to tweak the fixture list so it happens. However, as long as the Challenge Cup remains and in its much hated long drawn out group stages, this will never happen.
There is a lot of work we can do to make the product better and the above are just ideas of mine, and mine alone. I know full well that there will be fans out there who think I’m talking rubbish again but on the flip side, ones who will agree. We need a think tank, and once we have something we can all agree on, maybe present that to the Elite League telling them what we feel will improve the EIHL product no end. It’s not impossible, we just need to work together like a team on the ice. After all without us, the Elite League and British hockey would be very much a minority.
Thanks for listening and reading…