The playoffs are a special time of the season. The edge of your seat drama associated with win or your out hockey is like nothing else. Now with teams across the globe heading down the stretch looking to secure that last spot or home advantage every hockey fan has thoughts of the playoffs.
Last week however an article on from Mark Denholm (Slough Jets, EPL) on his personal blog suggested that British ice hockey and the English Premier League should return to the mini league system for its playoff format. This would involve the qualifying teams to be split into two groups who then play against each other home and away with the two teams with the best records going on to the finals weekend. This system was widely used in the UK until quite recently when a change to the knockout system was introduced first by the EIHL then by the EPL.
Denholm suggests that the mini league format would add credibility to the playoffs, as teams would have to win more than 3 games and prolong the post season past a weekend. However Denholm ignores the reasons for the change and the reasons why the playoffs in the knockout format are so exciting.
Firstly the knockout format allows the underdog to have its day. A team from the bottom half of the league can take a scalp much more easily if a tie is played over 2 games instead of over 6. This gives the fans something to cheer on whether they are at the top or the bottom of the regular season.
The knockout format is also much less complicated for everyone. Whether you are a fan, a player or an official you know if you beat the opposition you win the tie and progress. There is no missing half the game because you are busy checking the result in the other game and trying to work out how many goals your team needs. It also avoids the mess that is the head to head method of splitting teams on equal points.
A major reason for the change to the knockout system was one of logistics. The mini league possessed many headaches and pitfalls for the teams that made the playoffs both in terms of arranging the fixtures and in getting to the rink to play the games. The rushed nature of getting the fixtures organised and the short time in which teams have to play them often led to games being played in midweek, which in turn had an adverse effect on attendances as teams struggled to criss-cross the country to make games.
With the change to the knockout system there has been an increase in playoff attendances as home and away fans come along to see their team for possibly the last time. Fans are also more willing to attend, as the costs for playoff tickets are lower and they are more willing to travel, as there is a chance of an upset. Whilst the playoffs are also a focus point for fans to arrange their travel around.
In terms of competition the playoffs in a knockout format provide another challenge. In UK ice hockey the league standings decide the league champion and there is a cup competition in which the semi finalists qualify via a mini league. Therefore there is an absence of a knockout competition to challenge teams.
Ultimately which playoff system is used in the UK should come down to which is the most popular with the fans and with good attendances and a simple method why chance with a magical time of the year.
Mark Denholm’s blog can be found here.
This article can also be found with others from around the globe on Get Real Hockey