Let madness commence
All but one of the group games have been completed and now the Challenge Cup is about to enter a completely new way of deciding a quarter final line up.
The “play-in round” is set to take place in just under three weeks time and a chance for two teams who, statistically, haven’t been good enough to qualify on their own merit, have a lifeline.
It’s a new layer of madness to a tournament that didn’t need it as the qualification is elongated to allow Manchester Storm and Coventry Blaze a chance to make to the last eight.
It may be a new dimension that gets fans excited as the possibility of a one-off game to decide the final quarter final place looks absolutely wonderful on the face of it.
Let’s not forget, FreeSports will be there to show the game live as well, to add to the razzamatazz of it all.
Not for me. It’s a farcical situation where two teams who, with respect, haven’t been good enough to qualify on their own merits over eight games are given a ninth to seize a Challenge Cup lifeline.
Storm and Blaze have made a decent fist of their campaigns so far, so it can be argued, to a point, one of them is worthy of progressing.
The problem is you have a third group, consisting of four teams, who played two fewer games, albeit they played one more opponent, left on the outside and no lifeline.
This is where the Challenge Cup becomes something of a slight laughing stock. The other group play six, bottom of the table go out. No ifs and buts.
Being mindful this was agreed by all the clubs in the league, there has to be a better way of revamping this tournament to regain some of the lustre needed.
Some fans are already of the opinion that it’s a competition that needs scrapped. When crackpot formats like this are put in place, I’m inclined to agree. If you’re not going to do something worthwhile with it, then give it a more dignifying end.
Two groups of five, as it used to be when the EIHL had ten teams, worked so much easier. Top four go through. That’s it. No lifeline for the teams at the bottom. If you’re not good enough, your road ends there.
As I’ve said before in this very column, the fact we’ve substituted Edinburgh Capitals for Guildford Flames in the ten-team format leans any group layout towards a more financially reasonable one for all teams concerned.
So why not randomly draw the ten teams into two groups of five? Then it’s done in the fairest possible way and prevents the possibility of a ludicrous extra game for two teams who haven’t done enough.
We live in hope the league can make its way to 12 teams again and then you’re talking three groups of four, same number of games and the team in third place with the worst record over the section are out.
It doesn’t take a lot to come up with a more workable and better prepared system than the one in place and any move to change it would surely be welcomed.
A ‘play-in round’? No, thank you. And that’s before I even get to ‘Pick your Opponent.’
An alleged bottle and some intrigue
Having worked with the league for two and half years, I’m generally supportive of DOPS and what they’re trying to do in cleaning up some of the more disgraceful actions and for the most part, it’s worked really well.
Without having the stats to hand, I don’t think there’s anywhere near as many checks to the head incidents being reviewed as much for example so you have to say that’s definitely been a positive. (Happy to be corrected on this, of course)
But what did raise my eyebrows was the news breaking last week that Fife Flyers assistant coach Jeff Hutchins copped a seven-game ban for reportedly kicking an empty water bottle into the crowd, hitting a fan in their game with Nottingham Panthers recently.
The first person to say they should never have done it is Jeff himself and I believe he has apologised for what he’ll put down as a sheer moment of madness.
But when Sheffield Steelers’ Michael Davies picks up two games for throwing goal pegs into the crowd earlier in the season, with an explanation of the decision given as ”it showed a lack of control with his personal emotions in frustration at the conclusion of the game”, then it is worth asking about.
At least Davies was given the platform to apologise. Hutchins has not been given the same privilege.
So my question, not a criticism, is how can both incidents be judged in quite different manners?
With no explanation given to back up the decision behind Hutchins’ lengthy ban and no sign of it on the EIHL website, it throws further mystery on the decision making process and how it was reached.
We’ll never know because as far as the EIHL is concerned, “no further comment will be made”, so with Hutchins not able to appeal either, it closes the door on something where questions still linger.