Up For the Cup?

As the English Premier League ice hockey season is now underway the fans of the 10 teams will be starting to get a picture of what their new rosters look like.  Almost predictably, even at this early stage Guildford and Manchester lead the way.  These two power houses of the league of already scored 28 and 27 goals in five games respectively.  Possibly even more impressive is the fact that the Manchester Phoenix have only conceded 7 goals so far.  The Sheffield Steeldogs are the only other team to notch over 20 goals in the opening fixtures, but they have let in 31 already – Coach Payette will have his work cut out if this form continues.

Four teams – Basingstoke, Bracknell, Peterborough and Telford haven’t played as many games so far.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is the slow start made by the Slough Jets, with one OT win in their opening 5 outings.

Fans of the EPL will know that these earlier fixtures (in fact the first two fixtures versus each team) are important not only for league points, but for consideration in qualification for the EPL Cup.  In order to qualify for the cup semi-finals, teams need to finish in the top 4 after these early season encounters.

And this is my bone of contention.  I recognise that it is transparent.  I recognise that we have to have a system for a cup competition based on a league with 10 teams, whereas a cup competition works much more conveniently with 8, 16, 32 or 64 teams, which of course, we don’t have.

It is also the case that the same teams (generally speaking) are in contention year after year.

What we lack in our level of ice hockey is a genuine cup competition; something that stirs the blood and creates those ‘magical’ cup nights that we see in other sports.

Though this article is being written at a very early stage in the EPL season, we have already got a couple of the big guns in the top 4.  If we look at the last 4 seasons, the seasons since Manchester and Basingstoke left the top flight of British ice hockey and joined the semi-pro ranks of the EPL, we see that neither Peterborough, Swindon, Bracknell or Telford (or Romford in 2009-10) have qualified for the cup semi-finals.

Guildford and Manchester have qualified on 4 occasions; Slough 3 times, Basingstoke and MK twice and Sheffield once.  So if you are a fan of a bigger team, a team that will do well in the league, you stand a chance at a tilt at the cup.  For those of us who follow the smaller teams, it is extremely unlikely that we’ll see our teams contest it.

Evidence suggests that we pretty much need to focus on our league position and scrap for a place in the play-offs which only exclude 2 of the 10 teams.

So this might seem like sour grapes from a Peterborough Phantoms fan (though we have high hopes for progress this year), and I know that the EPL season is a gruelling 54 game marathon.  Perhaps coaches would say that their resources are spread too thin for an additional set of games.

Nevertheless, what I’d like to see is a genuine cup competition, one that isn’t based on qualification via league placings.  I’d even consider a seeding system based on the final league table from the previous season, where the teams that finished in 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th position played a preliminary round before the other 6 teams joined the knockout process.

 

This is what is might look like if it was based on last year’s final EPL table:

 

Untitled

 

This would mean an extra round for the top 4 teams, but for the rest – a genuine cup competition to be involved in.  I would even go as far as to say that ties should be one-off fixtures to minimise the potential fixture backlog.

So there it is – my vision of a cup competition that engages all teams rather than the usual suspects – something to make the fans genuinely ‘up for the cup’.

 

Author:  Phil Smith

 

If you have any comments or observations I’d love to hear from anyone who has read the article.  Find me on Twitter at @phil_smith66, and follow for regular Peterborough Phantoms updates…

 

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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