The big weekend has finally arrived as three NIHL National League teams get ready to bring competitive back after eight months in limbo.
The Streaming Series begins on Saturday when Swindon Wildcats and Milton Keynes Lightning meet in the Link Centre to kick off two weeks of action as event that could be a precursor for a truncated season, if it meets government approval.
Sheffield Steeldogs are the other team who make up the trio in a keenly anticipated series of games for fans who have been starved of action since lockdown was announced back in March.
The teams have been building their teams in the last few weeks in preparation and as well as players re-signed from last season’s rosters, some established Elite League players have been drafted, which should attract top flight fans.
One such player is Ben O’Connor, who joined Steeldogs and was part of the Sheffield Steelers team who won the Challenge Cup prior to lockdown
“The more competitive we can make these games, the more people we will hopefully get watching, which is what it is all about,” O’Connor told Yorkshire Post.
“We want to be putting on some top quality hockey and keep fans watching over all three weekends.
📢Read everything you NEED to know about our Livestream on 14th November⤵️https://t.co/rPak5XrBlW
— Swindon Wildcats (@SwinWildcats) November 12, 2020
“At the end of the day, there is no other hockey in the UK. It is a showcase and something that is going to be available for fans who have maybe not seen an NIHL game before.
“There is a lot of interest for EIHL fans as well as regular fans of the three teams and that has to be a good thing. The more support that we get then the more likely there is to be a chance for us to play even more hockey down the line.”
Swindon host MK on Saturday then head to Sheffield on Sunday for the opening weekend and fans will hope there are no issues as they crave a more permanent return for the sport, despite the current lockdown conditions in England.
Wildcats D-man Tyler Plews is excited to return and recognises the opportunity to showcase the NIHL to fans who don’t follow any of the teams in the lower divisions.
He admits there maybe some rustiness after not playing for so long but made the point that all players involved will be short of match sharpness.
“I’ve only been able to get on the ice three times since March, which isn’t ideal, but on the upside, everybody will be the same in terms of fitness,” he said.
“It’s been eight months since we stopped playing and while those sessions let us shake off some cobwebs, that’s as much as we can do.
“As for the games themselves, it’s a big thing for ice hockey in this country and I hope this is a big step forward for the sport. I was pleased the government gave it the green light despite the lockdown in England right now.
“Basically everyone who watches hockey will be tuning in to watch, which is pretty special to be part of given the circumstances. We’re all excited to show what this team is all about. As long as I don’t go on there and make a fool of myself, then it’ll be fine.”
The excitement has been high in Milton Keynes as well in getting ready to hit the ice and coach Lewis Clifford is no different in that respect and he highlighted the possible unpredictability for the next couple of weeks for a few reasons.
“I’m really excited to be back behind the bench tomorrow night, and I know the boys are equally as excited to be back playing the game they love,” Clifford said.
“In a year with so much uncertainty and turmoil, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to be back doing what we normally do, although things feel different around changing facilities and social distancing and other things. Once the puck drops hopefully we will all have a bit of normality back in our lives.
“I don’t think any of us really have much idea how the games will go, in all honesty with the changes to lineups, differences in training schedules and such like we really don’t know how it’s going to go but I do know all three teams will be keen and come out Tom play hard and try and get some wins.”
Tickets will be priced at £12, with a family ticket on an optional basis at £3 per additional viewer if more of you are watching together and feel you’d like to further support the clubs.
All information regarding tickets for the Streaming Series can be found here.
Saturday – Swindon vs MK (18:15)
Sunday – Sheffield vs Swindon (17:30)
21 Nov – MK vs Swindon (19:00)
22 Nov – Swindon vs Sheffield (18:15)
28 Nov – MK vs Sheffield (19:30)
29 Nov – Sheffield vs MK (17:30)