Hockey’s Euro Question Answered
The European question is something that sounds as though it is straight from the Conservative Party taboo subject list for the Christmas but in hockey terms it too had become a topic hidden away. But now the latest incarnation of a premier Europe wide competition has been launched.
The Champions Hockey League (not related to its predecessor of the same name) is aiming to pit Europeâ€™s Elite clubs against each other in an annual competition. Like the previous attempts the new competition will feature teams from Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, the DEL and EBEL and Switzerland. The new bit however is that the IIHF and the founding clubs are hoping to bring in some wildcard sides from other leagues in Europe to bring the number up to 40.
It does sound like a promising structure after all the IIHF Continental Cup has lacked the biggest names in European hockey. Also the structure is rather disjointed with rounds played in one rink over a weekend that said though it has worked whereas its bigger brothers have not. That said the new C.H.L. is lacking big names.
With KHL positioning itself more and more as the European competition rather than a Russia et al league it has refused to join leaving a gapping whole in the roster of teams. Along with the top Russian sides the likes of Slovan Bratislava and Jokerit will be absent. British fans will of course remember the visit of Dynamo Moscow to the Manchester Arena during the European Superleague in the 1990â€™s and the buzz that game caused.
Another issue is this notion of Founding Clubs. This is the 26 sides that have joined up to help form the competition and will have a divine right to enter. Amongst the 26 are some of Europeâ€™s top clubs including Red Bulls Salzburg, Eisbaren Berlin and ZSC Lions. All are well known names but that is no guarantee that they will be the topsides in a particular year and their entry could be denying another side.Â This is particularly highlighted in Sweden where second tier IF Djurgardens will be entered yet last seasons SHL league winner Skelleftea will not have automatic entry. There is a balance to be made with the fans though and a teams name is a big draw and as well the Founding Clubs the National Champions and regular season winners from the 6 leagues will be including.
Then there is the issue over games. The C.H.L. is likely to employ some sort of a group system and teams will have to fit these matches in around their national competition. This has long been the issue with European competitions dating back to the European Cup which from 1965 to 1997. However during the last Champions Hockey League sides did manage this and fans did turn out for midweek games. The Red Bulls Salute too (which has contained many of the same teams) has managed this.
The competition is being owned by the clubs, leagues and the IIHF, which means the competition is not relent on a competition sponsor; one of the downfalls of the previous attempts. However this will put a lot of pressure on the clubs with regards to travel costs and at a time when backers can be hard to find.
There is a lot that can go wrong with a European wide hockey competition and over the years we have seen most of them. This time though it does seem a little different. The close involvement of the clubs in the set up and the management of the competition shows the desire to make it work and that the clubs will not be dictated too. The possible inclusion of other leagues as wildcards is also a refreshing change that will benefit all.
In the long term the success of the venture may be judged by the rate at which sides join the KHL. The C.H.L. certainly allows for European Competition alongside the national competition which the KHL does not. It is even possible the Victoria Cup could make a comeback.
The draw for the Champions Hockey League which is due to begin in August 2014 will take place over the 19th â€“ 22nd December in Berlin.
The Founding Clubs are;
AUSTRIA (EBEL):Â EC Red Bull Salzburg, UPC Vienna Capitals.
CZECH REPUBLIC (Tipsport Extraliga):Â HC Bili Tygri Liberec, HC Pardubice, HC Sparta Prague, HC Vitkovice Ostrava.
FINLAND (Liiga):Â IFK Helsinki, JYP JyvÃ¤skylÃ¤, KalPa Kuopio, KÃ¤rpÃ¤t Oulu, Tappara Tampere, TPS Turku.
GERMANY (DEL):Â Adler Mannheim, EisbÃ¤ren Berlin, ERC Ingolstadt, Krefeld Pinguine.
SWITZERLAND (NLA):Â SC Bern, Fribourg-GottÃ©ron, ZSC Lions Zurich, EV Zug.
SWEDEN (SHL):Â DjurgÃ¥rden Stockholm (currently playing in second-tier Allsvenskan), FrÃ¶lunda Gothenburg, FÃ¤rjestad Karlstad, HV71 JÃ¶nkÃ¶ping, LinkÃ¶pings HC, LuleÃ¥ Hockey.