Leeds Chiefs’ owners open to 2021 NIHL National ‘season’ but main focus is on 2021-22

LEEDS CHIEFS’ owners haven’t ruled themselves out of taking part in a short 2021 NIHL National season if plans initially tabled last month come to fruition.

Saturday, 20th March 2021, 6:35 am
Leeds Chiefs haven't played since March last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Dean Woolley.

But, for now, Planet Ice are focussing all their efforts on preparing a team ready for what they hope will be the start of a full-on regular NIHL National season in the Autumn.

When announcing the format for the ongoing Spring Cup – which ends on Sunday, March 28 – team owners said all 10 second-tier teams would be invited to take part in ‘a league competition’ in April and May.

As of yet, there has been no update on any such competition and with the top-flight Elite Series now taking place in April – in which a number of players currently involved in the Spring Cup are also slated to play – that could see a NIHL National league season put back by a month.

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Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Funding another behind-closed-doors competition may also be an issue, although it was confirmed yesterday that the English Ice Hockey Association had secured £400,000 via the DCMS to help cover the cost of return to play events, including the Spring Cup.

Heath Rhodes, Planet Ice’s chief operating officer, said they would consider proposals for a league competition in April-May before making any decision on the Chiefs’ participation.

“We didn’t feel it was right for the Chiefs, logistically or time-wise, to take part in the Spring Cup,” said Rhodes.

“At the moment all of our focus is on putting together a competitive team and product together for the 2021-22 NIHL National season which is scheduled to start in August/September. If the other teams in the league come to us with proposals for some kind of shortened league campaign after the Spring Cup has ended then we will give it our full consideration.

“But, primarily, our focus is on getting everything in place and ready for what we hope will be a successful campaign for the oncoming season onwards.”

A number of the Chiefs’ players signed for the abandoned 2020-21 season have found roster spots elsewhere in recent weeks, including Kieran Brown, Joe Coulter, Jordan Griffin and Lewis Baldwin.

On the Elland Road rink in general, Rhodes said staff in Leeds were gearing up for what they hoped would be a re-opening on April 12.

“Initially, we will hopefully be opening our doors for things such as junior ice hockey training, learn to skate, in line with the government guidelines,” he added.

“Then, on May 17, we are hoping we will be welcome more customers back to the rink for lts more activities, including public skating which, in the few short months we have been able to open, has proved very popular with Leeds people.”