Sheffield Steeldogs to grab ice hockey limelight in cup campaign

Sheffield Steeldogs will be holding the torch for elite-standard ice hockey in the city over the coming few weeks.

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On Tuesday, it was announced that they would be among five NIHL teams taking part in a National League Spring Cup during this month and March.

The timing was interesting: it came on the day the EIHL's hopes of securing their own Government-funded tournament publicly perished.

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The NIHL package propels Steeldogs into the hockey limelight, along with Swindon Wildcats, Bracknell Bees, Telford Tigers and the (Romford) Raiders.

It is an opportunity for Dogs to sell the club and for their star player, Great Britain kingpin and former Steeler Ben O'Connor, to tune up for the World Championships.

Exactly how the NIHL finances will stack up is difficult to pin down.

But Steeldogs and other clubs have previously mirrored Steelers' view that loan deals during the pandemic, when fans are not allowed in rinks, wouldn't cut the mustard.

Sheffield Steeldogs in actionSheffield Steeldogs in action
Sheffield Steeldogs in action
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Whatever the detail, Steeldogs will now be representing Sheffield and the north of England in the public eye and will hope to expand their reach with Steelers unable to take to the ice until September.

The NIHL programme is in two sections.

Firstly, the five teams will play each other home and away over seven weekends; each side playing each other three times for a total of 12 games each.

Games will take place behind closed doors, "with streaming where facilities are available."

Steeldogs are expected to showcase their wares on the web.

The top-placed team at the end of the series wins the cup.

If all goes well, phase two will allow all ten teams of the NIHL National division the chance to participate in a league competition during April and May.

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The NIHL clubs insist safety of all concerned, during the coronavirus, will be paramount.

"At all times teams will comply with government regulations and the return to play rules from the EIHA," says Steeldogs.

"To increase our insight and warning of any potential COVID infections, all teams will also be running weekly Covid testing of all players with a clear communication plan in the event of positive test results.

"All in all, we are now at a key moment for NIHL National teams returning to the ice.

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"If we are able to do this, it will provide a real boost to the mental health of players, coaches, staff and fans, and be another step towards the survival and wider return of our sport as the benefit of Covid vaccinations is seen across the country."

Meanwhile, Steelers are not making any further comment about Tuesday's EIHL decision to pull out of the running, a resolution influenced by the fact that any Government money coming their way would merely be a loan.

While players and staff are doubtless deflated by their experience - none more than owner Tony Smith who spent a huge amount of time dealing with the DCMS in the hope of staging a six week tournament - the club can at least focus now on bringing a bigger, brasher product back to the Arena in September.

*The World Championship will be held in Riga, Latvia after Minsk, Belarus was removed as a host for safety and security reasons.

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GB and 15 other teams will face off between 21 May and June 6.

The IIHF said: "We can put ourselves in a ready position to welcome fans to the World Championship if it is safe to do so."

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