Ice hockey league suspended - but the Sheffield Steelers show isn't over yet

Britain's elite ice hockey tier will NOT face off on December 5 as planned - a further suspension was imposed today which means a full, regular season will not now happen.

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 10:16 am

Sheffield Steelers and the nine other EIHL clubs have decided that the Government's coronavirus restrictions on indoor sport are unlikely to be fully lifted before the end of the year - and if they were to be, it would be too late to legislate for filling rosters and organising socially-distanced attendances.

The clubs now say they need at least a 75% capacity of fans to be present in their rinks to make the business financially viable.

A second spike, in winter, would render that impossible.

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League Chairman and Steelers' owner Tony 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%-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.

"Government compliance along with the safety of our players, officials, staff and fans is paramount to this decision.

“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" said Smith in an EIHL statement.

Unlucky for some: The EIHL season won't start in December.

"We are looking into the possibility of some form of top level ice hockey in the UK potentially taking place in early 2021.

"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.”

It is an obvious blow for Steelers' fans and others across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But the show is not over yet - or in hockey parlance, Elvis has not quite left the building.

Steelers will examine the option of a possible mini-league starting in January or February, a move welcomed by the likes of Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze and Guildford Flames.

If Belfast Giants can play at the SSE Arena, they'll likely be involved too.

And, locally, Sheffield Steeldogs are also hoping they too can start competitive hockey at NIHL level, in the coming months.

But, clearly, it's not a great day for British ice hockey.

And we may see gifted Steelers like Tanner Eberle, the team's top 'plus-minus' player, move on - something which would carry the club's blessings as they don't want any of their players suffering financial hardship.

Coach Aaron Fox has strived to ensure fans recognise how frustrated and vulnerable players are at this time.

He said that he had "never seen a player market like this before in my life with the amount of good players that are actively looking for jobs throughout Europe."

But on the other side of the coin, there were "thin pickings" available for any Steeler that would be freed from his contract.

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