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Twenty20 hits ice hockey

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Ollie Williams | 15:58 UK time, Monday, 5 October 2009

Seven years ago, cricket took a punt and introduced a new format where each team had just 20 overs for its innings.

The transformation was instant - big-hitting matches, plenty of excitement, and sideshows to keep the crowd dazzled - but it riled purists who preferred their games to be four or five days long.

By contrast, if you were going to pick a sport which doesn't sound like it needs new formats to up the tempo and thrill factor, ice hockey would be in there.

Yet Sunday brought us the 20/20 Hockeyfest in Sheffield, uniting the UK's top eight teams in a one-day knock-out competition with new rules.

Wide shot of Bracknell v Basingstoke, challenge game, 2009Normally, as above, hockey teams get five skaters and a goalie. Hockeyfest reduced teams by one and trimmed the length of each game

Under Sunday's rules, teams faced each other in two periods of 20 minutes, instead of three.

And whereas the clock normally pauses every time play is stopped, here it continued to run down, with the intention of adding an extra zip to proceedings.

Finally, teams were limited to a goalie plus four skaters, as opposed to the normal five.

The history of British ice hockey is not packed full of marketing triumphs, but devising a format which can so ingeniously piggy-back on the Twenty20 name is one of them.

Whether it worked or not is a different matter.

Three BBC local radio stations joined forces to present live coverage of the day's events, BBC Nottingham's Chris Ellis among them, watching Nottingham's arch-rivals Sheffield Steelers take home the trophy.

"The Sheffield fans obviously thought it was great," Chris told me, "but Nottingham got walloped in their games so their fans maybe see it as more of a waste of time.

"I thought it was pretty good fun, though - a fun format and it seemed to work.

"Seven games in a day is quite long but there was definite excitement having it all on one day.

"The format changes quickened the play up and there was more end-to-end hockey, which is probably what they set out to achieve - always two players breaking against two D-men.

"I don't know whether they've quite found the correct format but from the benches it was very exciting, and I think they should do this every year."

Chris does, however, admit that Nottingham's lacklustre performance might have left paying supporters underwhelmed.

"If all the big teams say they took the competition seriously, then they're lying. But Nottingham openly took it less seriously than the others.

"And my other reservation is, in cricket, they shortened it to Twenty20 to appeal to non-cricket fans.

"I don't think by shortening hockey you appeal to non-hockey fans."

However, another colleague here in London, on being told of Hockeyfest, said he always got bored "freezing to death" waiting for hockey games to be over and done with - and as an NFL addict he's no stranger to US sports.Hockeyfest logo

So what do you reckon? If you were there, what did you make of the experiment? Is it something you'd like to see more of, or is it best kept as a light-hearted annual extravaganza?

Can British hockey learn much from trying things out like this, or are you happy with the sport as it is? Maybe you've got some other suggestions for rule changes. This video springs to mind...

Hockeyfest wasn't the only live coverage from the BBC on Sunday - Andy Stevenson and I were at Bracknell for the visit of their local rivals, Basingstoke.

They don't sound like the two sexiest towns, I know, but on the ice they produced a seven-goal thriller with great finishing, big hits, injuries, match penalties and a decent fight. (If you're new to hockey, I've written a mini-glossary which explains what a match penalty is, and why a decent fight is A Good Thing. See below.)

Sunday's two player-coaches, Bracknell's Claude Dumas and Basingstoke's Steve Moria, have a combined age of 90.

Name for me another sport as fast as ice hockey - in fact, another sport (forget golf and darts) - where that's possible.

Not that age seems to be a factor for Moria, who was still going with just three minutes left in the game to tap home the goal which sealed a remarkable Basingstoke comeback.

Basingstoke will be thrilled with their weekend. Not just the scorelines - they beat Sheffield's other team 4-3 in overtime on Saturday, the Scimitars giving them far more trouble than I suspect the Bison imagined - but also the resolve, courage and stamina displayed to produce those results.

That Bracknell, up till now looking like one of the league's poorer sides, could take a three-goal lead over a strong Basingstoke team illustrates the potential for any team in this league to win games.

Peterborough Phantoms, who won the treble last season, are joint bottom without a point to their name after six matches. Never seems to happen to Manchester United.

Phantoms fans must be a mite concerned, especially losing 4-1 to local rivals Milton Keynes, who lead the league, on Sunday. How swift, the fall from grace.

Notes

Match penalties: Hockey has two rough equivalents of a red card in football. One is a game penalty, which bans the player from the rest of the current game. The other is a match penalty, which does the same but also rules him (or her) out of the next fixture. So Jaroslav Cesky, who picked up a match penalty on Sunday, can't play in Bracknell's next game (which is the reverse fixture at Basingstoke).

Fights: These are part of hockey and tend to be enjoyed by those involved, their team-mates, and the crowd. This sounds very ugly but isn't as bad as you might think if you're not used to it. Hockey is very physical as a sport anyway - hence plenty of padding and helmets are involved - and with all that body-checking going on, occasionally players "drop the gloves" to vent their anger. Officials let fights develop until a clear winner emerges or it breaks up of its own accord, and both players usually take a penalty as a result.

Many players and fans believe a well-timed fight rouses supporters, lifts the atmosphere and can help a team get its game together in the face of adversity. With Basingstoke trailing on Sunday, their forward Chris Wiggins went up against Bracknell's Andrius Kaminskas, a renowned fighter whose usual tally of penalty minutes would outscore the England cricket team in a one-dayer. But Wiggins is a very, very tall man, and on anyone's card could reasonably be said to have won. Basingstoke went on to win. Did that have much influence? Depends who you ask.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Re: Fighting in hockey games
    Sadly, most followers of hockey make the misguided aasumption that the NHL is the gold standard and all hockey is played by their rules or customs.
    I have been following Eastern European hockey for over 35 years and in their major leagues [Czech Republic, Russia and their predecessors Czechoslovakia and USSR] there is a different attitude.
    Fights do break out of course but they are viewed with considerably less tolerance than in the NHL version of the sport. Linesmen in the Russian Superliga seem to be employed specifically to break up fights, they are as big as or bigger than the players and consistently yank would be pugilists apart. A game penalty rather than the anodyne fighting major is usually given to the player deemed the instigator.
    Perhaps the Europeans' concentration on speed and skill rather than brute force explains why so many Czechs and Russians (not to mention Swedes and Finns) have had such a big impact on the NHL in recent years, not to mention the Russians winning the last two World Championships.

 

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