NIHL National League aim for Happy New Year

The NIHL National League are aiming for a start date of January 1st (PHOTO: Mark Ferriss)

The NIHL National League has set a target date of New Year’s Day 2021 to begin what would remain of the 2020/21 season.

All ten teams took part in an online meeting to determine the way forward in what has been an already delayed seasons as Covid 19 throws doubt over many aspects of ice hockey.

And in a statement released by all teams from the National League, information on the schedule of the season will follow in due course.

The statement said: “We are pleased to confirm that we have all together agreed to set a target start date for the NIHL National league of 1st January 2021. 

“In addition to this, there was collective agreement to aim to play hockey matches during late November and through December with a series of challenge games and a pre-season cup competition.

“Details of the length of the regular season and the format of the cup competition and pre-season challenges will be shared once they are finalised.

All 10 National League sides shared the statement, posted on Wednesday

“Having these dates in the diary gives the opportunity for teams to start to put in place the arrangements needed to safely and effectively return to play.”

It’s a positive step for the sport in what has been a very frustrating year because of the worldwide pandemic and with the rumours persisting that the Elite League could be cancelled in 2020/21, it would be a great opportunity for these clubs to take the spotlight.

The statement also warned of certain conditions before they can play and these were clearly set out, with social distancing and Covid protocols at the forefront of any action there may be.

“It is important to note that these are subject to a number of points being resolved before teams can take to the ice.  For example, it is highly likely that social distancing rules will still be in place and that this may restrict attendances. 

“Whether this is a fixed number (e.g. 800) or a percentage of a venue’s capacity, (e.g. 40%) is still to be determined and will be led by local and national Government guidelines, the findings from various non-Ice Hockey test events taking place and EIHA policy.  

Telford Tigers would have the chance to try and defend their title, if the plans go ahead (PHOTO: Steve Brodie)

“The level at which attendance is restricted will be critical as to whether it is financially viable for teams to compete.

“Some arenas are still without ice and venues would need to be operational for fixtures to take place so we are dependent on plans to re-lay ice in those venues.

“We will be consistently adopting across all NIHL venues and fixtures a defined set of COVID protocols around access and exit, locker room provision, cleanliness etc. These processes need to be finalised, agreed and rolled out.  This work has now started.

“A flexible fixtures model needs to be developed to accommodate as simply as possible any fixture changes (e.g. through local lockdown), or changes to the overall season structure. This work has now started/

“The EIHA’s return to ice programme needs to have reached level five for the season to begin, and at least level four for pre-season activities to take place.”

Further meetings will take place among the clubs to move these plans, with more information to come in due course.

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