Comment: What we’ve got back

Ollie Betteridge with the Elite Series trophy, an event that's helped in so many ways (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

When we come to look back on what the Elite Series brought for us, it’ll be more than a tournament that reintroduced the sport we love.

For many, this was more than just seeing their team or watching two teams play each other for the nice shiny trophy at the end of it.  For many, it meant everything.

The coronavirus pandemic restricted our lives in so many ways that seeing something like go to ice hockey taken away from us created a vacuum that was difficult to fill.

Just seeing it back again for the last five weeks gave us that feeling again of what it means to be enraptured by sport, a two teams competing on an ice rink and the excitement that comes with it.

The most disappointing aspect of this competition was we couldn’t be there to watch it in person.  We couldn’t all mingle the way we would every other week or even as a collective at the play off finals.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault.

But we connected again to something that we needed and as the celebrations die down in the Elite Series, we can all feel positive that we can be in some way connecting over it once again.

Fans watched nightly to see what was going on in the competition (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

It wasn’t simply about the fact Nottingham Panthers came out on top and beat Sheffield Steelers over two games to lift it.  It was the feeling of purpose this served to us.

When the puck dropped back on 3rd April, that game between Coventry Blaze and Manchester Storm hit home what we had lost for over a year.

The virus and its impact goes far, far deeper than just a collection of individuals wearing hockey kit, carrying sticks and battling over a black puck.  

People have died, people have lost loved ones, people have lost their jobs and only now are we started to come out of what’s happened with a fresh outlook on life.

The return of Elite ice hockey in the UK was welcomed, with only four teams taking part.  Funding to be able to play cut out the teams from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland while Guildford opted out for their own understandable reasons.

So four remained and it created something new for us to get behind.

Coventry Blaze picked up some good results in the competition (PHOTO: Scott Wiggins)

A draft, never before seen in the UK, where fans up and down the country were on the edge of their seats to see who their heroes from the other teams would end up playing for.

The video has been watched almost 4,000 times and to have Todd Kelman host it? A ‘good pick up.’

The rules meant the import levels were slashed from 14 to eight and there wasn’t only the signing news that recreated the excitement we’re used to in the summer months, it was the thought of seeing some British talent showcase what they can do.

The games themselves, against the surreal backdrop of an empty Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, gave us what we missed and it didn’t disappoint.

A Coventry team desperate to find the level of success they were having in 2019/20 before the pandemic cruelly established the narrative of what might have been.

Manchester, under Ryan Finnerty, who brought in a number of players he had worked with in the past to foster a side who gave everything on every night.

Manchester Storm relied on players well known to Ryan Finnerty and that formula worked to a large degree (PHOTO: Mark Ferriss)

Sheffield Steelers, a free scoring unit who racked up plenty of goals and had to rely on their backup goalies for much of the tournament, ultimately falling at the last.

Then there’s Nottingham Panthers, who were so disappointing to start with as they struggled to gel the team and get the results, all the while luring us into a false sense of security to the point where they clicked and won their last six games, including the all important two in the final.

Behind the scenes, the people who worked long hours on a daily basis to bring this to us need a lot of love and appreciation.  From the scorekeepers, the officials, the first aiders to the cameramen and media who were able to play their part.

It’s been a success and hopefully we’ll find out how much of a success it was by releasing what the viewing figures were like.  After all, it would be good to know if it felt worth it to the fans.

It may not have had all of our teams, but it’s a start and it gave us a way back.  We can only wish that it won’t be long before we find out if there’s going to be a full regular season again.

If a five-week tournament can restore that sense of belonging again, imagine what the return of a full campaign will do.

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