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Smith: No champion for Elite League

Smith 1 Scaled E1584478723420, British Ice Hockey

Elite League chairman Tony Smith has revealed there will be no champion for the 2019/20 season following the early shutdown due to the coronavirus.

Cardiff Devils were top of the table when the shutdown was announced on Friday, a point ahead of Sheffield Steelers and with three games in hand.

But Smith, speaking exclusively to British Ice Hockey, also outlined plans to continue with a version of the play-off weekend, but perhaps under a different guise.

“As a league, we’ve hadthree or four conference calls and we’re in agreement there is no champion for this season,” he said. “Cardiff finished top, but they won’t be champions and that was a league wide decision.

“Stats will remain as they are, but the reality is we have no outright winner.  There’s no way we could call one and there will be statements to come regarding the CHL, Continental Cup and the play-offs.

“The play-off weekend isn’t cancelled per se, but we may rename them and we’re looking at many possible alternatives as a replacement.

“There’s more to come and while I’d like to say more on that, we’ll have something to say on that soon enough.”

Smith, who also owns Challenge Cup winners Sheffield Steelers, gave an insight into the discussions taking place among the clubs as the coronavirus pandemic became more and more of a concern.

Motorpoint Arena E1584478817817, British Ice Hockey

The Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham won’t be seeing any play-off weekend this year (PHOTO: Motorpoint Arena)

He revealed fixtures for the weekend were still going ahead, aligning with government advice about mass gatherings, but a phone call on Friday morning changed all that.

He added: “The situation on Thursday was we were waiting for the government to announce what exactly would happen with mass gatherings and we heard the Prime Minister tell us they could continue.

“We had the green light there, although we had a scare with three Dundee players being checked and on Thursday night, we got the all clear and they were okay.

“On Friday morning, it was our intention to play until I took a call from Steve Thornton and Robert Fitzpatrick in Belfast and they told me there were two players showing signs.

“There wasn’t enough time for them to decide if it was the coronavirus or flu, so they had no option – and rightly so – to cancel their game with Nottingham Panthers that night.

“It meant we had to shut the season down because there was no way we allow any games to go ahead.  For the safety and the health of players, officials and fans, it made absolute sense.

“Closing down was always going to happen and it’s fair to say a week to 10 days before that, we thought we could get through the season and maybe the play-offs, but it’s all changed so quickly.  

“We all accept it was the right thing to do, get the players home and start to look forward to the new season.

“All over the league, I’m seeing positive comments from players talking about how good this league is and how well they’ve been treated.  This is all ten teams getting great feedback and I’m delighted by that.”

5 Devils DW E1571691693836, British Ice Hockey

Cardiff ended the league top of the table, but there’s no silverware to show for it this season (PHOTO: Dave Williams)

While there have been good things that have come from this enforced situation, Smith admits some clubs will feel the pinch in the coming months financially, with teams missing four or five games worth of ticket money.

And he said there are plans in place in the event that a proposed start for the 2020/21 campaign in the event coronavirus continues to have an impact further down the line.

He said: “It’s going to be very tough for everyone going forward, by closing down early.  Clubs are already cutting costs and while there isn’t money coming in any more from games, that’s offset by the fact players are leaving to go home.

“It will be difficult because the teams will have been looking forward to the big gates they get at this time of the season with the league reaching its climax and the play-offs.

“We’ve got plans in place in the event that next season is impacted by the coronavirus.  We’re working towards starting in September, but no one has a crystal ball.

“We’ll move forward in the next month or two and monitor things as we go then deal with it when we have to.

“You have to hope everyone stays safe and we get through this to the point come September or maybe October, we’re looking forward to a hockey season again and we put this behind us.

“This summer won’t be quite as comfortable, but there is good people working for their respective clubs.  Everyone’s working together and there’s a positive attitude with people keen to get this league up and running again.”

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