The Elite Ice Hockey League has confirmed that it will implement two significant rule reforms ahead of the 2021/22 season, with the trapezoid zone set to be used in British ice hockey for the first time.
As part of adopting the IIHF’s Unified Rulebook ahead of the new campaign, EIHL fans will notice changes to the league’s face-off procedures and goalie rules this term. The changes come as the sport’s world governing body seeks to harmonise how the game is played, meshing European and North American styles together.
“With players coming to major championships from a variety of different leagues, a unified rulebook makes it easier for teams to transition from one competition to another – such as from the Elite League to the CHL, Continental Cup, or World Championships,” EIHL Head of Hockey Operations Mike Hicks explained.
The first major change to be implemented as a result of the EIHL’s implementation of the IIHF’s Unified Rulebook will affect goaltenders. For the first time in the sport’s history in the UK, goalies will only be allowed to play the puck behind the goal line from within the trapezoid zone.
This rule, first implemented in the NHL following the 2004 lockout, is designed to create more goalscoring chances by preventing goaltenders from intercepting dumped pucks that fall in the corners of the offensive zone.
Subtle changes will also be made to the Elite League’s face-off policies in 2021/22. From the start of the season, there will be four situations when the attacking team is permitted to determine the location of a face-off: after an icing call, when a goalpost is displaced by the defending side, at the start of a powerplay, and when the puck is frozen following a shot from beyond centre ice.
“The purpose of this rule change is to give an advantage to the attacking team. The game is about scoring goals; therefore, the attacking coach is being given a tactical advantage which is designed to increase scoring opportunities,” Hicks said.
Finally, linesmen will now be responsible for dropping the puck after a goal is scored, with referees only responsible for face-offs at the start of each period.
The 2021/22 season is set to begin on Saturday 18 September, with the Elite League’s ten clubs returning to action for the opening weekend of the Challenge Cup.
Even the most dedicated fan of the sport probably doesn’t feel particularly passionate about face-off rules. Frankly, neither do I.
However, it can only be a good thing that Elite League fixtures will now be played with a set of rules that can be found in other countries around the world.
The introduction of the trapezoid zone is particularly encouraging. Although EIHL goalies were never keen to venture too far away from their crease, limiting where netminders are able to play the puck will create more opportunities in the offensive zone. The rule change will also likely lead to an increase in dump-and-chase hockey, a trend that could lead to higher-scoring games.
The bottom line for the Elite League is this: goals are fun and people buy hockey tickets to have fun.
If that logic holds, the trapezoid rule will be popular amongst British ice hockey fans.