NIHL – North return to play continues with Three Rivers Cup

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Three teams that have competed in the recent North Cup – the Nottingham Lions, The Sheffield Scimitars, and Widnes Wild – have agreed to play in the Three Rivers Cup organised by EIHA (English Ice Hockey Association) and NIHL (National Ice Hockey League).

The three have already played two rounds of fixtures, with the Lions beating the Wild 6 -2 on their patch on Saturday, before the Widnes team lost again the following day, this time on the road, the Sheffield Scimitars defeating them 5 -2.

The three they will play off against each over the next six weekends in a tournament named from the fact that each of the teams is based near a major English river. Sheffield is located near the Dart, Nottingham close to the Trent, and Widnes is beside the Mersey.  

Each side will play the others twice at home and twice away. 

It is regarded as a chance to show what British hockey has to offer to a wider audience.

Ice hockey in the UK is very much a niche sport, unlike parts of Canada where it comes close to being a national religion, with almost the same amount of devotion from their fans.

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Ice hockey has been played in the UK since the start of the UK and it was a game played between British Army veterans in Canada using a san-off ball that is the first recorded use of what became the puck in hockey.

Despite that, it has struggled to attract a wider following, swamped by the ubiquitous football (soccer) and other more popular sports like rugby, cricket, and athletics. But, although they may be small in number, British ice hockey fans are as dedicated to their team as those of any franchise anywhere in the world, and they will be cheering on their sides and hoping they can win the Cup this time around.

Unfortunately, none of them will be in the stands to watch them, because of current Covid restrictions. Instead, all matches will be played behind closed doors, and the games will be broadcast by the respective teams on their dedicated YouTube Channels. 

Sporting venues in the UK are gradually beginning to allow limited fans back into outdoor sporting venues, beginning this weekend with the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton, and the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield, both of which are being treated as pilot events.

If it is demonstrated that fans can attend sporting events successfully with no subsequent spike in transmissions then it is hoped full capacity stadiums could yet be seen by the time that this year’s rescheduled European Football Championships come around.

That is too late for the Three Rivers Cup this year. However, by the time that the 2022 version of the tournament comes around, all three teams will be hoping that their loyal and noisy fans will be back in their seats once again. 

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