20/21 hockey season could be less than normal

The Challenges Faced by Hockey in 2020/21

Hockey fans have been waiting a long time for their sport to resume, many filling their leisure hours at the best online UK casinos in the intervening period. With a schedule pencilled in, the sport’s set to return, but how will it handle the pandemic and what might the future look like?

Absence of Hockey and Top UK Casinos

The black swan event of the COVID-19 virus and its global consequences saw many sports, including ice hockey, suddenly take enforced breaks. At the same time, hockey fans who would normally be enjoying the sport found themselves with more leisure time but less with which to fill it. Many people under lockdown conditions have found new hobbies and pastimes, with online casino betting proving increasingly popular. In light of this, there are a few online UK casinos around that british players have voted as their favourite. These all have interesting games and bonuses, with virtual sports and hockey-themed slots that might particularly appeal to hockey fans. The leading sites also welcome players with introductory promos including free spins, credits, and cash, and match deposit bonuses to substantially increase playing funds right off the bat. Unlike brick-and-mortar sites, which have been hit just as hard as sporting arenas, UK online casinos are always accessible, and strong mobile platforms and iOS/Android apps have made them more convenient than ever.

Opposition to Empty Stadia

The Elite Ice Hockey league (EIHL) has plans to resume on the weekend of 5-6 December and finish on 1-2 May, but there remain some question marks. One of these relates to whether or not spectators will be present and, if so, how many. EIHL chairman Tony Smith has said that the reason for a pre-season fixture meeting is to give teams time to prepare logistics and associated matters. He also stressed the desire to play in front of fans, describing it as a ‘need’. Although a clear preference for live spectators has been given Smith did concede that the sport would be led by guidance from the UK and devolved governments.

Trying to Keep Players Safe

The entire sporting landscape has been reshaped by the explosion of the COVID-19 healthcare crisis and the ensuing national actions, most obviously the lockdowns aimed at stemming the growth and reversing the progress of the pandemic. Ice hockey is no exception to this sweeping change as governments grapple with the worst global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of the early 20th century, attempting to balance public health with economic resilience. Sport has been particularly hard hit due to a combination of its voluntary/leisure nature and reliance on frequent mass gatherings of people, something completely contrary to the concept of a lockdown.

At the moment it’s still unclear whether the 2020-21 season will begin on schedule as we cannot know what infection levels will exist or how close a distributable vaccine will be. As with other sports, ice hockey may resume this year with no fans in live attendance in a bid to help keep the disease from spreading further. The absence of the excitement and energy of crowds will have a huge detrimental effect on the atmosphere of the sport, yet public health has to come first. There is the possibility of playing fan noise over speakers (akin to canned laughter for sitcoms) but it remains to be seen whether that’s the way things will go.

An alternative approach could be one adopted by the NHL and have the sport operate in a bubble. This would involve teams remaining in set locations for prolonged periods of time, and having minimal contact with the outside world. The NBA and the travelling circus of F1 are also taking a similar approach, lending credibility to this as a viable way of maintaining sport even during a pandemic.

Hockey’s unique characteristics are a double-edged sword for organisers. It’s a hard-hitting contact sport which makes it inevitable players will come together, but also well-suited for the wearing of plastic face shields to help reduce the odds of transmitting the virus.

Safety probably can’t be guaranteed 100%. But, as with ordinary members of the public, making an effort to try is still going to reap dividends in reducing the spread of disease, and giving fans something to cheer.

Localised Lockdowns and Potential Complications

Todd Dutiaume, head coach of the Fife Flyers, acknowledged that although current plans lent some clarity to the near term future there remained significant questions over what would happen if a second wave or a localised lockdown is imposed. The potential for different pandemic and lockdown circumstances both internationally and within the British Isles makes the future inherently uncertain and therefore difficult to try and plan for. The devolved governments potentially taking different action could make matters complicated for teams across the league, and Dutiaume emphasised the importance of putting health first and foremost.

The Importance of Ticket Sales

Indeed, the very viability of ice hockey as a sport has been called into question by no less a figure than Todd Kelman, managing director of the EIHL’s Cardiff Devils. With clubs deriving significant income from gate receipts and the pandemic virus putting the kibosh on large public gatherings across the board, Kelman has asserted that the sport playing to empty venues or with socially distanced (and therefore far fewer) spectators would simply not be financially viable.

Putting a number on it, Kelman indicated the Devils needed crowds of 3,000. The Devils are one of the top teams of the EIHL, having already qualified for the Champions League at the point of the domestic league’s suspension due to the coronavirus and imposition of measures to fight it.

He added that sports leagues, like restaurants, theatres and pubs had all been left on their knees due to the disease, with 75% of Devils’ income deriving from ticket sales. The low number of fans demanding refunds on season tickets has helped the club, but with ticket sales contributing so much, and mass gatherings having profound health implications, questions remain about how the sport will function in the near future.

International Hockey Plans

On the international stage plans have been made for the teams of Great Britain to participate in the IIHF World Championships in 2021. As with the domestic plans, these may be subject to change based on the development of the global pandemic. The tournament is set to run from 21 May to 6 June, with Great Britain’s men facing up to Belarus (the host nation), the Czech Republic, Denmark, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Spain was the original host of the 2020 tournament (which was cancelled) and will be where the women of Great Britain vie for sporting glory. The women will also be attempting to secure their position in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics at a Korean qualifying tournament in 2021 (during which they will play teams including Slovenia and Korea).

There are plenty of challenges ahead for hockey. The good news is that vaccine progress seems to be coming along nicely, and the sooner the better for both hockey and sports fans generally.

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