The IIHF’s Hockey Forum was an eye opener into the future of ice hockey. The Hockey Forum held in Barcelona brought together a number of participants involved in ice hockey across Europe and beyond. The outcomes from the forum are not the most developed but give an insight into the ideas coming from the people that run the sport.
The most interesting discussion was on the future of the European club competition. At present there are two competitions that can be described as a European club competition, the Continental Cup and the invitational European Trophy. Not only did the forum participants recognise the need to change the competitions into a more unified structure but also there were some interesting suggestions as to what this structure should be.
The most extreme was the suggestion of the KHL president Alexander Medvedev to expand his league well into Western Europe with 64 teams. Medvedev’s plan is not only ambitious but also the most advanced with the Russian hopeful of seeing his plan fulfilled in 2 years. That plan would include at least one team in the UK as well France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands joining the KHL’s future franchise in Milan.
It is a plan that does seem rather far-fetched given the investment needed but other plans seem more promising. Top of that list is for a competition based on the UEFA Champions League. This would give the qualifying teams from the top leagues in Europe a guaranteed place in the competition as well as allowing other clubs to qualify for a group stage.
It is a plan though that has been mooted before and echoes previous incarnations of European club competitions. These include the European Hockey League of the 1990’s that enjoyed some success until money became an issue for all involved. Similarly the Champions Hockey League that had hoped to recreate that glitz but that lasted only one season.
But it is not necessarily a pipe dream. There is already the European Trophy that has the backing of the Red Bull Corporation and could be tapped into and expanded from an invitational tournament to a fully-fledged European Club competition in which smaller nations leagues could qualify. This too seems to be favoured by the fans that see the KHL’s plan as destroying national leagues and more importantly rivalries between teams.
So by the time the Belfast Giants take to the ice in their Continental Cup ties there is a possibility that it could be the last time a UK team take part. However it is unlikely. The Hockey Forum is not meant to produce more than just ideas but hopefully when the time comes to turn those ideas into reality lets hope that the EIHL and UK ice hockey is not forgotten about. After all even in football the smallest leagues do get a shot at qualifying for the Champions League.