November 7, 2011

The Get Real Guide to UK Ice Hockey

Ice hockey in the UK is relativity small sport compared to soccer or rugby. Consider if you will the fact that the city of Toronto boasts more ice rinks than the entire UK yet Great Britain was the gold medal winners at the 1936 Winter Olympics. The hockey season in the UK starts roughly the first weekend in September and runs until the second weekend in April.  The Great Britain national team currently competes one tier below the World Championship group in Division One Group A and at the 2011 championships won in the Ukraine won a silver medal beating the hosts coached by former Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis in the process.

There are three domestic leagues in the UK. There is no promotion or relegation between the leagues as it is a franchised based system.

The top league is the Elite League or EIHL. This consists of 10 teams Braehead Clan, Belfast Giants, Coventry Blaze, Cardiff Devils, Nottingham Panthers, Hull Stingrays, Sheffield Steelers, Edinburgh Capitals and the Fife Flyers. Each team plays each other 6 times in the league which is decided on standings not playoffs. There is a post season however this runs as a separate competition and culminates in a finals weekend at the National Ice Center in Nottingham. At the finals weekend the semi finals are played on the Saturday and the final is Sunday. The Elite League also runs a Challenge Cup in which teams are split into groups and play each other twice with the top two progressing to a semi-final and then a final. In these matches no overtime is played.

Each team in the Elite League can only have 10 non UK trained players icing at one time and the squad must come in under the salary cap.

The second tier in the UK is regarded as the English Premier League or EPL and is run by the English Ice Hockey Association. This also has 10 teams, Manchester Phoenix, Sheffield Steeldogs, Basingstoke Bison, Swindon Wildcats, Slough Jets, Guildford Flames, Telford Tigers, Peterborough Phantoms, Milton Keynes Lightning and Bracknell Bees.  Like the Elite League teams play each other 6 times and the winner is decided on standings. There is also a playoffs again ran as a separate trophy which ends in a finals weekend in Coventry.

There is an EPL cup as well which runs alongside the league with every team playing each other twice and the top four facing off in a home and home semi final and final. This is a professional league but teams may only have 4 non UK trained players and only 2 can be on the ice at any one time.

Final the bottom rung. This is the national league. The English National League in England and Wales and the Scottish National League in Scotland. At present the English National League is divided into two leagues the north and the south and both have two divisions with promotion and relegation between the two. Sides in this league are on the whole amateurs and play four times against each other. Again there is a play offs but the league standings decide the winners.

Teams in the ENL may use two non UK trained players.

In addition to these leagues there are other competitions such as the Northern League which combines teams from Scotland and the North of England, women’s leagues and junior leagues.

Watch out for the next Get Real Guide as it takes a more in depth look into the teams and leagues that Great Britain has to offer.
Links – Elite League Website English ice hockey association. – Great Britain Supporters Club Website

Neil Tucker

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