Sheffield Steeldogs and Leeds Chiefs coaches welcome clarity over NIHL National start date

COACHES have welcomed the clarity brought about by the decision to target a New Year’s Day start for the 2020-21 NIHL National season.

FACE-OFF: Leeds Chiefs and Sheffield Steeldogs face-off against each other for the first-ever game at Elland Road Ice Arena. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

A meeting earlier this week between representatives of all 10 clubs – including Yorkshire rivals Hull Pirates, Leeds Chiefs and Sheffield Steeldogs – produced agreement to target New Year’s Day as a start date. It is, as with most things currently, subject to changeand any changes in government lockdown restrictions and guidelines.

It is a decision taken in light of the continued uncertainty over whether crowds will be allowed into rinks to watch games because of the government’s current social distancing rules relating to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

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Fans may not have to wait until January to see their teams in action, though, if separate proposals to play a number of challenge and pre-season cup games in November and December come to fruition.

Sheffield Steeldogs player-coach Ben Morgan Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy

Leeds Chiefs, however, may have to play any such games on the road, with Elland Road rink owners Planet Ice stating league hockey would not be played in their buildings until January 1.

Planet Ice also own rinks housing three other NIHL National teams in Peterborough Phantoms, Milton Keynes Lightning and Basingstoke Bison, with their stance covering all four rinks.

Sheffield Steeldogs’ player-coach Ben Morgan said news of the targeted start date was a positive step and now gave teams something to aim for.

“When you’ve got 20-odd guys pecking your head, asking when pre-season is, when the season is starting, it is a relief that at least we’ve now got some kind of start date to work from,” said Morgan.

Leeds Chiefs player-coach Sam Zajac Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

“It is just a bit of positive news and is leaving us all a bit more optimistic than we were before.”

Like coaching rival Zajac, Morgan has announced around half of his roster for next season, with any further signing news likely to be staggered over the coming weeks and months, with a couple of places still to be filled.

“We’ve done most of our signings, although we’ve still got opportunities for one or two spaces and slots,” added Morgan “Having some kind of date to aim towards helps.”

Chiefs’ payer-coach Zajac hopes the decision to target January 1 removes some of the uncertainty that has grown in recent weeks.

“Doing it this way and maybe seeing what the lie of the land is further down the line is probably the right decision by the league,” said Zajac.

“It has to be better than starting and then having to potentially stop again, particularly with any local lockdowns that come in and then play havoc with fixtures.

“The uncertainty over when we might start wasn’t great for anyone. It is a bit of a blow that it is going to be later than we hoped but this whole time we knew it was unlikely we were going to start anywhere close to when we normally would.

“It is disappointing as January does feel a long way off at the moment, but it’s being done for the right reasons.”

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Thank you, James Mitchinson. Editor.