The 2020-21 British Elite League (EIHL) season has officially been suspended. The United Kingdom’s highest level of professional hockey will not be played for the rest of 2020. A decision was made last week to put the 10 league teams on pause and not go ahead with the December 5, 2020 starting plan, which was earlier announced as the EIHL’s return date.
According to league chairman Tony Smith, the main reason for the suspension stems from the lack of profit that the teams would earn with arenas and venues operating at minimal capacity, due to the current restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been very open that we need to have fans back in our arenas for us to begin playing again,” Smith said. “We operate around 75% to 100% capacity at our venues and this is the level of crowds we would need in order to go ahead at any point, which isn’t a realistic option right now. Government compliance along with the safety of our players, officials, staff and fans is paramount to this decision.”
With the current provisions to the health and safety acts put in place throughout London, England and the rest of the EISHL cities, professional hockey is not expected to return to the UK any time soon, if at all.
“If government guidance and support were to change, some teams may be ready to revise their plans to return to play, but that would need a minimum of eight weeks to prepare,” Smith added. “We are looking into the possibility of some form of top-level ice hockey in the UK potentially taking place in early 2021. This could start in late January or early February and go through into late June, but may not include all teams and again this is dependent on crowds being allowed back inside venues.
Smith added that the league continues to hold conversations with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and various other administrations regarding the potential plan for the return of fans to league venues, which would allow the sport to begin once again.
With Manitoba’s most prominent EIHL star Adam Hughesman (Winnipeg), returning to North America for good following his 2019-20 season with the EIHL’s Manchester Storm, just three other Manitobans remain on the official rosters of British Elite League rosters, and would be affected by this postponement.
The Coventry Blaze are home to Winnipeg’s Justin Hamonic – a 26-year-old defenceman who played last season with the team. 29-year-old Winnipegger Corbin Baldwin suited up on defence for the Guildford Flames last year, identically matching his eight points with the Flames from the 2018-19 season. While former University of Manitoba Bisons captain Brett Stovin dressed in 44 games for the Dundee Stars in 2019-20, collecting eight goals and 23 points in the process.