Leeds Chiefs prepared to wait for clarity over potential NIHL National league campaign

LEEDS CHIEFS’ owners are keen to see the team back on the ice at their Elland Road rink - but are waiting to see what plans are formed for any kind of NIHL National season first.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 6:55 am
Leeds Chiefs' netminder Sam Gospel and defenceman Lewis Baldwin (right), block a shot during a clash at Elland Road last season against Telford Tigers. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

On Wednesday, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) gave the green light for proposals from governing body the English Ice Hockey Association that enabled rinks in Tier 3 areas to open for use by specific groups.

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One of those groups is ‘elite’ athletes which the Chiefs would be classed as once they apply for and attain ‘elite sport’ status.

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Spectators won't be allowed into the Elland Road rink until Leeds moves into a Tier 2 category. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

This would enable the entire Chiefs’ roster to train together - in Covid-secure surroundings - as well as enable them to start playing games, making them available for any competition which may be put together in early 2021.

NIHL National team owners are holding regular talks in light of the recent Streaming Series which saw three teams - Sheffield Steeldogs, Milton Keynes Lightning and Swindon Wildcats - take part in a successful behind-closed-doors pilot with games streamed online to paying fans.

It’s understood the average number of streaming tickets sold was around 1,000 per game and it is believed to be one option team owners are considering to be rolled out on a wider scale if enough teams agree on it as a way forward.

The behind-closed-doors/streaming option may be the only way forward for those teams whose buildings are unable to allow fans back in due to them being located in Tier 3 areas.

Leeds Chiefs haven't been able to play games since early March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Heath Rhodes, chief operating officer of Planet Ice, who own both the Elland Road rink and the Chiefs, said there was definitely a collective will by owners to produce some kind of season.

“Until there is an agreement from the NIHL as to what a season looks like, it is difficult to determine the next move with regard to the Chiefs,” said Rhodes.

“I’ve got to say that all the team owners in NIHL National are very much engaged in what that season is going to look like.

“Right now, there is a very serious conversation about what the 2020-21 season is going to look like and there have been no suggestions that there won’t be one.

“But there are some considerations outside of what we have a control or a say in.

“The big one, obviously, is the pandemic itself and how that affects restrictions in the future, so there are a lot of variables that are outside of the team owners’ control.

“But I do know they are mad keen to get the season started and we would love to see hockey out of the Elland Road rink ASAP.”

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