Why the NIHL’s ‘Streaming Series’ is Essential for British Ice Hockey to Return

The forecast for British ice hockey in the near future has been looking dire. Since the second lockdown implemented, the majority of hockey has taken a step back down to Level 1 of the ‘Return to Play’ programme, but the National Ice Hockey League has been a shining light of hope at the end of the tunnel, with a new Streaming Series starting tomorrow.

There is no doubt that everyone about the UK is impatiently waiting for British ice hockey to return with some well deserved good news.

Grassroots sports are already struggling under the pressure of the strenuous double lockdown and restrictions. Even to the extent of pro sports, including our very own in pro ice hockey, Elite Ice Hockey League, are still pending and waiting impatiently for our own fair share of help and hope from the government.

But the top guns behind our favourite sport, aren’t forgetting us just yet. No, they’re doing well and what they can to help bring back what we love back from near falling in its grave.

This includes within the past few months, the EIHL officially submitting the requested documents to the government about their fundings. This ordeal wasn’t all one-sided though, this was also in hopes ice hockey will benefit something back.

EIHL Chairman Tony Smith had even stated: “If sufficient funding were to be available to us, then, of course, we would look at every option as to how we can organise some form of season in early 2021. However, this decision now rests firmly with the government.” 

Aside from that, and everyone keeping fingers crossed tightly! Lower down on the scales, is that NIHL had released the news as of late last month of a trial run of sorts for skates back on the ice, a streaming series where three NIHL teams will be participating.

For the pilot series to work, the government had to give the NIHL the green light. And with the immediate looming threat of a second lockdown skimming their teeth, it looked like all bad news from there. But all the NIHL had to be was be deemed ‘elite sport’ criteria, in which, to much relief, the three given teams are.

Spreading throughout three weekends from tomorrow (14 November 2020) right down to the end of the month, Sunday 29 November 2020 where each team will play a hefty battle against each other twice. 

The three lucky teams playing include Milton Keynes Lightning, Sheffield Steeldogs and the Swindon Wildcats.

Though this is all behind closed doors, meaning no fan attendance, the NIHL national owners statement that came with the press release promised us the next best thing. They promised to give us a stream on a high-quality platform with the modest price of £12 tickets with the additional viewers’ price of £3, but this is optional and more a donation option to help support the clubs further. All in all, it sounds like a fantastic deal. 

Many hockey players are job hunting right now; some didn’t need to go too far from their backyard. Some have stepped down, temporarily for the series or for the 20/21 season, from the Elite League’s doormat to help and play. The familiar likes of the Coventry boys Ross Venus and David Clements, tagged along with Belfast Giants’ Lewis Hook, where all three have joined hand in hand to play with the Milton Keynes Lightning. Whereas, in aid of the Swindon Wildcats, Guildford Flames own, Ben Davies who had iced for the team before in 2016 returning for the series, and the double trouble duo, coming down from Cardiff Devils Matthew Myers and Josh Batch. The latter has officially signed up to play for the Wildcats for the 20/21 season!

All in all, this is a huge stepping stone in the right direction if we want ice hockey back. Further, into the press release giving us the Streaming Series news, they have continued to explain that this will help them gain information to even plan for an early competitive season as we hit early 2021.

It doesn’t end there with the news, from the English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA), Director of the NIHL, Andrew Miller, said: “It is a big step forward in bringing our sport back to some sort of normal.”

This isn’t a pack your bags, and this is the final straw, no, Miller continued with, “The Association will also be looking to co-ordinate trial events at other levels of the game in the coming weeks” 

The Chair of the NIHL National owners group sees incredible heights in this Streaming series, “Although this is a small pilot series, we will use it as a testbed to see if it is viable to scale into a cup competition and then a league campaign.”

Since the second lockdown, the fact is there we’re struggling backwards to Level 1 of EIHA’s Return to Play programme, we’re struggling to get both professional and grassroots hockey back. Still, suppose this is a success given the visible popularity and feedback and how the whole thing withstands with the new measures. In that case, we might get the seal of approval to move up to the next level, and more teams will be viable to play for next year given what the government has to say first, of course. 

Here are the fixtures:

14 November – Swindon vs MK (18:15)

15 November – Sheffield vs Swindon (17:30)

21 November – MK vs Swindon (19:00)

22 November – Swindon vs Sheffield (18:15)

28 November – MK vs Sheffield (19:30)

29 November – Sheffield vs MK (17:30)

Tickets are now on sale, via the ticketing page or club websites.

Let’s get supportin’! 

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