The Elite Ice Hockey League’s (EIHL) 10 clubs have voted unanimously to suspend the 2020/21 league season. The new campaign, initially scheduled to begin on 5 December, has been suspended indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
League chairman Tony Smith acknowledged the possibility of a condensed season taking place between February and June 2021. The EIHL’s decision has also resulted in the cancellation of the ‘Magic 5 Weekend’ – an event designed to kick-start the new domestic season.
Supporters who purchased tickets for the event have been encouraged not to contact the Motorpoint Arena to request a refund, with organisers stressing that reimbursement will be issued as quickly as possible.
The decision to halt the season comes amid a sustained increase in the number of new coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom, with several EIHL clubs affected by local lockdowns and targeted restrictions. Smith re-emphasised the league’s stance that play cannot resume until there is a clear pathway allowing spectators to return to arenas across the country.
Smith said: “We’ve been very open that we need to have fans back in our arenas for us to begin playing again. We operate around 75% to 100% capacity at our venues and this is the level of crowds we would need in order to go ahead at any point, which isn’t a realistic option right now.”
We are looking into the possibility of some form of top level ice hockey in the UK potentially taking place in early 2021
– Tony Smith
Smith, who owns also owns the Sheffield Steelers, underscored the importance of protecting players, officials, staff, and fans during the pandemic, adding: “If government guidance and support were to change, some teams may be ready to revise their plans to return to play and would need a minimum of eight weeks to prepare.”
Smith also confirmed that plans are in place to hold a condensed season in the next calendar year, supporting comments previously disclosed to The Boar Sport by a Coventry Blaze spokesperson.
“We are looking into the possibility of some form of top level ice hockey in the UK potentially taking place in early 2021,” Smith admitted. “This could start in late January or early February and go through into late June, but may not include all teams and again this is dependent on crowds being allowed back inside venues.
“We continue to speak with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and devolved administrations about their plans for the return of fans to arenas that would enable this to happen, but having a full EIHL season starting in 2020 with ten teams is now beyond us, unfortunately.”
The decision leaves a majority of Team Great Britain players looking for new clubs in Europe.
The decision to suspend the 2020/21 EIHL season is a huge blow to everyone involved in the British ice hockey community. Hockey, the third-largest winter sport in the UK, has enjoyed sustained growth over recent years, with the national team reaching and remaining in the top pool of the IIHF World Championships.
Partnered with the Cardiff Devils’ success on the continent, domestic ice hockey was in a good place before the pandemic struck. Make no mistake, this is a huge setback for the sport and the EIHL’s 10 clubs.
British players now face a daunting choice: fight for a job in Europe, stay in the UK without the promise of hockey taking place, or drop into a lower division. With Team GB participating in the World Championships next summer, players have been left in an exceptionally precarious position.
This is heart-breaking news for the clubs, many of which had actively recruited players for the new season. League chairman Tony Smith has given hope to fans that some kind of competition could take place in 2021, but that depends entirely on how the UK fares against Covid-19.