Comment: Can we live without hockey for a year?

Sheffield Steelers won the last Challenge Cup in March 2020 (PHOTO: Dave Williams)

It’s hard to believe we almost coming up to three months since the world effectively shut down as a result of the coronavirus, but one question way down the list has to be is if we’ll actually see any UK ice hockey in 2020/21.

Only now, depending on where you live, are we starting to see lockdown measures starting to ease and gradually, people are being allowed to go out, but keep contact with others minimal.

Just the other day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that car showrooms and outdoor markets can open from next week and put other businesses on notice that they could open soon.

Of course, it’s different in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, who are a little more behind, but Scotland and Wales are making moves to their “Phase 1” in some capacity this week.

However you look at it though, the chances of seeing ice hockey played in front of any crowd of any substantial size will take some time.

In fact, I would go so far as to say, if we see anything of 2020/21, then we’re doing very well indeed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has started easing lockdown measures in England, but hockey arenas and other sporting venues may not see action for some time (PHOTO: ITV)

The last thing I want to come across as is a big, old doommonger, thinking the worst and being all negative.  That’s the very last thing I want to be, but when you look ahead at the possible timeline, we may not get the all-clear for another year at least, with no vaccine on the horizon.

Unlike football, ice hockey and the finances in this country aren’t held up by weighty contracts where clubs can function so the prospect of playing games behind closed doors is an absolute non-starter.

It’s all about ‘bums on seats’ and while teams in the Elite League are looking at ways of functioning with minimal crowd in accordance with social distancing measures and using webcasts in the hope they can play, they will take a hit.

The EIHL have already spoken of aiming for the Magic Weekend at the start of October, but do we really believe that’s going to happen with any great conviction?  I’d love to be wrong on this, but I’m not hopeful.

If that doesn’t happen, we might see something happen in January, which would mean no action for the remainder of the calendar year. For those already missing the sport, this is going to be a nightmare to contemplate.

Planet Ice released a statement about the reopening of their rinks and stated they would follow the Government guidelines which would be set out in early July.

This only applies to ice skating, junior hockey training and making the necessary adjustments to adhere to social distancing.

Junior hockey may resume under social distancing measures according to Planet Ice (PHOTO: National Ice Centre)

However, spectator sports is down the list as this paragraph stated: “As there is currently no clear guidance in relation to spectator sports, Planet Ice are currently not expecting the resumption of league hockey to begin this year, however, this will be reviewed in line with government guidance and engagement with the relevant ice hockey leagues.”

So, if this statement is anything to go by, the thought of being able to bring in 7,000 people to the Motorpoint Arena in early October seems a too little far down the road right now.

So, if it means January is a viable option, you have to wonder if it’s worth it for three months of action.  From a GB point of view, it needs to be with the World Championships in Minsk next year.

Knowing the people at the Elite League, they’ll work hard to try and make that happen at the very least, but if it’s to be too risky or too costly, or if governmental advice renders their hands tied, then it’s going to be a problem.

Even signing news has been thin on the ground, with only 11 announcements of players committing to a new season at the time of writing.

Of those 11 signings, they have come from six clubs, with Glasgow, Fife, Belfast and Nottingham all yet to announce anybody.

Joey Martin is only 11 signings to date in the Elite League, a huge drop compared to last year (PHOTO: Helen Brabon)

Compare that to 12 months ago when 54 players had been announced by 29 May, either new players or contract extensions, which means the organisations are playing it safe just in case we see no action.

What do we read into that?  Considering four teams have still to release any season ticket information about 2020/21, are the clubs looking at the possibility of not having a campaign at all?

We hinted as much in a previous blog that the concerns of clubs have delayed how they would go about their business this summer.

The cost of a delayed season may be more than having no campaign at all by the time you factor in ITCs, accommodation, equipment, travel costs.  

Those in the know would be able to confirm that, but until the Elite League confirm it one way or another, we have to carry on something will happen, which is why there are teams offering season tickets and announcing players.

There’s nothing wrong with carrying on regardless as things stand and these organisations have to make plans until told otherwise.

But don’t be surprised if we end up having to watch other sport or doing something else for a year or so while we wait to fully recover from legacy of the virus.

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