Time to Abolish Challenge Cup Groups

Cup competition has featured heavily over the past month or so on this site by a number of writers. Now it is time for me to throw my hat into the ring this time with the Challenge Cup. Surely the time has come to abolish the group games at very least as standalone group games.

 

With the neither group having a single team completing their 8 group matches yet the quarterfinalist are all but assured. In group A with Belfast and Fife having only played 4 matches in the competition the 4 qualifying teams are confirmed. Group B is little better with anything over than a regulation win on Wednesday night eliminating the Hull Stingrays with the club still having a match to play. Group B has also all but confirmed the final standings in the group stage.

 

This season Group A will see 6 matches that (apart from movement for position) are dead rubbers whilst Group B will see up to 3 games. With these matches left to play what are the teams playing for and what are the fans paying to see? After all it is supposed to be a Challenge Cup.

It is true 10 teams do not fit into a straight knockout cup competition but the format is lending itself to games in which there is no incentive to win or compete. With a long season and is it not really fair to expect players to put their bodies on the line for a nothing game.

There are solutions though. The group phase of the Challenge Cup could be combined with league fixtures. It would have the effect of cutting travel for teams, reducing less well-attended midweek games and meaningless cup games would be worth 2 league points. However as in the EPL Cup this suits the teams at the top of table more. One off game’s have a greater tendency to produce upsets which is what we all want to see in a cup game. It is the rule of the underdog.

 

The other way round this is go back to having small groups. Lets say 2 groups of 3 teams and a group of 4. Each team plays 6 games. With the teams playing those in their own group home and way whilst those in smaller groups play one team in the other small group at home and another away. The knock stage of the competition would see the top 2 in the small groups and the top 3 in the large qualify for the quarterfinals whilst the remaining 3 teams play 2 games against eachother (1 home and 1 away) to decide the final qualifier.

 

Group A Group B Group C
Team 1 (to quarterfinal) Team 1 (to quarterfinal) Team 1 (to quarterfinal)
Team 2 (to quarterfinal) Team 2 (to quarterfinal) Team 2 (to quarterfinal)
Team 3 (to playoff) Team 3 (to playoff) Team 3 (to quarterfinal)
    Team 4 (to playoff)

 

The Challenge Cup has traditionally had the two groups of 5 teams when there has been a 10-team league. However in the earlier days of the Elite League this was not the case. Good teams will always be fancied to come through for this competition but this system does keep the competitive edge going for longer. There may even more sides like the 2008-09 Manchester Phoenix who were not favourites to come through but made it to the final losing out on a single goal after coming out of a small group.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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