EIHL and DEL – They’re pretty much the same, right?

I have been a citizen of Germany for just over 5 months now, and in that time I have been consulting with one of Europes biggest ice hockey teams, die Eisbären Berlin, who compete in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. After spending the last 7 years with my hometown hockey team in Belfast, I can’t help but make comparisons. So hopefully in this blog I will help explain both the obvious and the not so obvious differences between the two leagues.

The on ice product is actually very similar. Britain has done nothing but improve over the years, and Germany has struggled with the creation of the KHL and the rise of many other major leagues around Europe. From my vantage point I can see that the British league is most definitely on par with the DEL-2, able to compete with them each year in the Continental Cup, and the likes of Brian StewartBrett Jaeger, Brendan CookTyler Plante and Jeffrey Szwez able to compete in both leagues.

Each year we see teams from the EIHL compete with the top flight Germans in the Champions Hockey League. Now, comparing the EIHL with the DEL just because they got a few wins under their belt is a bit more of a stretch. Yes, both Braehead and Nottingham have defeated DEL opponents in the last 2 seasons, but there are a few factors that play into this. Mainly that both teams have only been together for a few weeks, and that injury-free rosters are a huge plus. And while I’m not trying to demean the performances of any EIHL team, the reality is most European teams actually change the style and tempo of play for the CHL for the reason that import limits are so much stricter in other European leagues.

The main differences between the leagues though is off the ice. And there are so many ways this differs, so I think the best way to compare these is to make a list with a description of just what the difference is.

League Operation – Most fans of the Elite League will agree with this straight away, but I don’t think you realise just how much of a difference there is between the EIHL and the DEL in terms of behind the scenes operation. To compete in the DEL you need to buy a one off license which comes in at a rather costly €800,000¹. Obviously the EIHL cannot charge anywhere even close of half a million pounds per team – they probably cannot even raise that combined. But the key here is to get some input from each team to help cover operating costs such as league travel, logistics, and the ever hot topic of officiating. This fee, combined with the television deal covers everything the league needs to run successfully. And, if a team needs/wants to leave the league for whatever reason, they sell their license and get their money back. This cash then helps set them up to continue operating as a DEL2 team. Best way to explain this is if Manchester had to purchase their EIHL license from Hull – Hull would then use that cash to help continue the Stingrays in a lower league until such a time as they were ready to move back up. But instead the Stingrays simply lie fossilised at the bottom of the Humber.

Officiating – Admittedly I haven’t paid much attention to the Elite League this season, but every week my twitter is filled with complaints about officiating. The reality is Tom Darnell, Mike Hicks, Dean Smith, Stefan Hogarth and the rest of the crew are all there is in Britain, and they are actually very good by IIHF standards. I’d even go as far as saying they are better than some DEL referees! The problem is the lack of officials. Britain’s league is seen as semi-pro by most people in the world of hockey, simply because you don’t use the 4 man system. And I know the response to this will always be “we don’t have enough officials and can’t afford the travel” – well, see my first point as to how to help solve that. Also, I told our head coach about the whole Belfast v Edinburgh overtime fiasco back in September, and I genuinely believe he thinks I made it up as some kind of rookie hazing the coach thing. Side note: What are the British officials are doing with the Danish league this year? Why is it not a two way system with their officials helping out the EIHL?

Travel – Every year I always see a couple of people discuss the topic of travel in the EIHL and complain about Belfast and the Scottish teams being too far to travel to. Guess what… every league has some bad travel logistics. All you can do is find a way to make it work. Teams in the DEL bus almost everywhere in their super awesome team busses with amazing graphics plastered up the sides, except us. We don’t even have a team bus. Berlin are the Belfast of the German league. Hamburg and Wolfsburg are in very similar travel situations. There are 7 teams down in southern Germany, and 4 more clustered out in the West, with us 3 up in the north/east. The other 11 teams travel almost exclusively by bus, as the most you will visit an opposing team in the regular season is twice. But the other three teams rarely bus, opting for flights or the slightly longer but less hassle option of trains. Then you have to add hotels into the equation as just like in Britain you can rarely fly commercial after 11pm, and trains would’t get you back to your city at around 2 or 3am, getting you to bed around 4.

Thats just the DEL. Jokerit is a KHL team based in Finland, and they started their season with a 4 game, 8 day, 14.000km road trip to some of the furthest teams in the KHL. They had to pay over a quarter of a million pounds sterling for a charter plane alone, and complications with Chinese airspace added about an extra hour to and from Vladivostok, as well as a fuel stop and crew change in Novosibirsk on the way back from Habarovsk.

Source – Twitter

The National Hockey League also has their problems as the Atlantic Division actually has the entire Metropolitan Division geographically separating the six northern teams with the two Floridian teams.

Source - NHL.com
Source – NHL.com

Side note: I started writing this blog a few weeks ago, and since then its come out about the possibility of a KHL team in London. Eisbären Berlin and Kölner Haie were approached by the KHL in 2008, and both rejected as they didn’t think it would be successful. Thats two of Germanys biggest terms with regular 14.200 and 18.500 sellouts of die hard hockey fans. That was also 8 years ago, and still no German team has joined the league, and it doesn’t look like any one is interested in doing so within the immediate future. A brand new franchise would be incredibly hard to sustain, not just financially, but logistically as mentioned above, and also in terms of fan base. Could you guarantee enough ticket sales to create enough revenue to maintain a healthy bank balance? Realistically Sheffield and Nottingham are the only two viable options, and even then I don’t think this would work very well.

Import Limit – The DEL operates a strict import policy. It currently sits at 11 imports, with 10 being allowed to dress for a game, and thats it. If someone gets injured you can’t just replace him and when he gets better you have two guys battling for one roster spot. Theres no healthy scratches. Theres no one month injury cover contracts. Once you have used an import slot, its done for the season, and that includes season ending injuries as well.  Most teams only sign 10 imports, leaving one spot open for an emergency goalie should it be necessary. If you use all 11 import slots you better have confidence in your backup goalie to play 2 games a week should your starter get injured, and your third string goalie better be ready to see a game or two every month, and number 4 on your depth chart then has to take the load of the remainder of the DEL-2 season.

Dual nationality does however count as a German passport, i.e. Daniel Heatley with Nurnberg. This goes back to my point at the beginning about the CHL. Teams cannot afford injuries of any kind. To lose an import in a side competition is a catastrophic loss, and losing a national team player is even worse as they are pretty much irreplaceable. Yes, every DEL team has a fantastic junior system with good players they can call up at a moments notice, something Britain doesn’t have. They will rarely more that 8-10 minutes, but they don’t just fill the bench while every other guy gets double shifted, they do actually see some ice time. (See 17 year old Maximilian Adam who is one of Germany’s 35 NHL Draft eligible players in 2016 who was called up this weekend to help fill in for injuries to 3 of Eisbären’s top 6 d-men, and seen approx. 5 mins of ice time in a special teams heavy game.) I don’t even know what the import limit is in Britain now, but I’d suggest it is dropped to 8 or so, with British passports counting as non-import players.

Fans/Atmosphere – German sports fans are like nothing I have ever experienced. The atmosphere in Berlins fankurve makes even the best Elite League fans look like they are part of a funeral procession. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get goosebumps at every game at the Mercedes Benz Arena. From the opening song ‘Hey, wir wollen die Eisbären sehn‘, to the entrance and introduction of the players, the ‘Dynamo’ chants, and the famous ‘Ost Ost Ost Berlin’ at the halfway point of every game. Not to mention the banners and flags, as well as the pyrotechnics at the end of the intro video! It may sound like it may never work in Britain, but I happen to think it would. The standing terraces are a hot topic in the UK for obvious reasons, but each teams fan section has strict rules as to how things operate. Flags cannot be waved while play is ongoing, no flares inside stadiums, drums are fine, and banners displaying any political messages must be authorised by a ‘fanbetruer’, a representative for the team who works to organise the fan section. Also, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a couple of ‘scheisse scheisse’ chants when addressing the opposition and their fans, but that would lower the PG rating which most British hockey teams are aiming for.

Social Media/Promotional Material – This is more of a cultural thing rather than a difference in the hockey leagues themselves, but I thought it was worth including anyway. Eisbären Berlin are probably the most socially interactive team in the DEL with a over 9.000 fans on Instagram, 13.000 followers on Twitter, and almost 100.000 likes on Facebook. They are still a couple of steps behind some of the promotional stuff the British teams do (specifically Belfast). But to be honest I think this is more a Germanic thing. The country as a whole is very different with social media compared to Britain. It simply isn’t as huge here as elsewhere in the UK, USA, Canada, etc. Even I have I have turned off push notifications from Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on my phone because they were beginning to annoy me. So if its not a text or WhatsApp, I probably won’t see it until the next time I’m sitting on the toilet. But the biggest difference is promotional material such as the excellent videos the likes of Belfast and Sheffield use. Especially Belfast. Not that I’m biased, but seriously Belfast have some awesome videos in their archives. Advertising over here its a bit more mainstream. Huge billboards, printed press, radio and TV commercials, and so on. There’s even a 25ft tall portrait of Micki and Pohly wrapped around the Dunkin’ Donuts at the Ostbahnhof. I just don’t think the Germans have grasped shamelessly hilarious promotional videos yet. Maybe I’ll talk them round to it next year…

Playoffs – Seriously, sort your shit out Britain. 4 victories and you win the “playoffs”? No one takes that seriously. A player actually laughed when I told him that. It needs expanded in some way, and by doing this you will instantly get more recognition as a good hockey league, therefore bringing better players to the league, therefore raising the level of competition.

For those that don’t know, the DEL playoffs start with the top 6 teams from the 52 game regular season qualifying, and the teams ranked 7th to 10th compete in a pre-playoff best of 3 game series. The winning teams then go through to the actual playoffs, a 3 round best of 7 game series using the traditional 1v8 or 9, 2v7 or 10, 3v6 and 4v5 ranking/bracket system.

Schedules – At the time of writing this blog the lowest number of regular season games played by an Elite League team is 34, and the highest is 39. In the DEL the lowest is 39, and the highest is 40. And after tonight this will change so that all 14 teams are on 40 games played. Every team will remain on the same number of games played throughout the remaining 2 months of the regular season. This leads to a much more competitive end of the season, as theres no maths needed to calculate teams catching up points using games in hand. And I remind you this is all for a league championship which is comparable to the NHL’s Presidents Trophy. It gives you top seed for the playoffs, and thats about it. Eisbären’s regular season championship banner doesn’t even hang in the MBA, instead being located in the teams practice facility (and former home arena) the Wellblechpalast. The reason for this perfect symmetry in the DEL schedule is that teams play all their games every Friday and Sunday. Obviously in rare exceptions there are a couple of midweek games. But apart from that, it is pretty much a perfect schedule. Obviously this would be more difficult to enforce in Britain with bigger events priority over hockey games at certain venues, but there still shouldn’t be a 5 game spread throughout the table at any time throughout the season.

In Conclusion – The on ice product is comparable to a certain extent. Obviously the styles of play and team systems used on the bigger regulation ice over here are different than Britains hybrid skill/physicality style of play. And running 4 good competitive lines vs 3 good competitive lines will wear a team down quickly. So while EIHL teams have defeated DEL teams recently, it doesn’t quite mean they are on equal terms on the ice. But the main difference is behind the scenes, as I hope I helped illustrate in this long and rambling blog. Every other league in Europe has a stable structure similar to the DEL, and operational organisation behind it is helping push their individual league toward being more competitive with other leagues throughout the world, including the KHL and even the NHL.

Whereas Britain, well, you have Tony Smith, chairman of “the board” of the Elite Ice Hockey League. A league which will never change as long as he is in charge, kind of like FIFA. To become a better league and to actually be able to compete in the likes of the CHL, it will involve a league wide makeover. Every team needs to buy in to making the league great, and I just don’t know if every team is willing to do that.

Advertisements

NI Invasion at UK Forum All Stars

In just a few weeks, I will travel to Sheffield with 5 good friends from Belfast to take part in the 8th annual UK Forum All Stars Ice Hockey Charity Tournament being held in Ice Sheffield from the 24th to the 26th July, and will feature 163 players from all over the UK playing for 8 different teams, each representing a separate charity.

These teams are:

So far over £165,000 has been raised since 2008, including over £45,000 this year alone, and the Northern Irish contingent of just 6 players have a combined £3.5k to their names with 3 weeks still to go!


Meet the Team:

Dave Seay #25 – Prostate Cancer UK

I am delighted to be taking part in the 2015 UK All-Stars Ice Hockey Weekend. I love playing ice hockey and have heard such great things about the UK Allstars Weekend.

Set up so that fans that love the sport of ice hockey from across the UK could come together and have a fun, enjoyable and great time playing ice hockey and whilst raising money for a number of good causes.

My team is Prostate Cancer UK so please donate as much as you can for a such a great charity. Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men. Over 42,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year – that’s more than 110 men every day.  1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime, and there are over 300,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer.

Thanks for taking the time to read and thanks for all the donations towards Prostate Cancer UK 🙂

Dave Seay – Picture: Alan McNeice

James Glover #14 – Dreams Come True

For a number of years now I have wanted to do something for charity and there is no better way for me to do this than playing the sport I love.

The UK Forum All Stars Weekend has raised a phenomenal amount of money for various charities since 2008 and I am proud to be representing the Dreams Come True team at this years competition.

From the outset there was only one team I wanted to fundraise for and fortunately that is the team I was assigned. All of the 8 chosen charities carry out fantastic work however Dreams Come True is a charity that I am extremely passionate about.

Dreams Come True is a children’s charity serving England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, bringing joy to terminally and seriously ill children by making their dreams come true. Over the last 25 years Dreams Come True have helped more than 5,000 children and young people as well as their friends, family and carers.

In my work with the Belfast Giants I have been fortunate to see first hand the joy and excitement young children experience when they get to meet their favourite player, watch a practice from the bench, or go on a tour of the locker room. I want to help create moments like that for seriously ill children and their families and by supporting Dreams Come True, hopefully make the hard times a little easier for someone.

To bring me back to my first point, hockey attracts a unique breed of people. The 136 players taking part as well as the officials and fundraisers for Sheffield 2015 are not only doing something they enjoy but also they are making a difference. Please give us your support. Donate what you can, share a post on facebook, retweet a tweet and let’s get the £200K milestone smashed. Every penny is going straight to the charity and will go a long way in fulfilling the dreams of a young person.

James Glover – Picture: Nicky Johnston

Jonathan McIlmurray #50 – Autism Plus

I am glad to be representing the charity Autism Plus in this years event. We all know someone or know off someone effected by autism and how tough it can be both on the people who suffer from autism and their carers. I personally know a few people who have autism and know their families which makes playing for this charity even more special.

I have been playing ice hockey for 5 years now for the Belfast Ice Foxes which as you can tell is based from Belfast, I love the sport and being able to play in this charity event is just amazing. I am lucky enough to say that i am one of only 6 people selected from Northern Ireland from people all over the UK who asked play in this years event.

Jonathan McIlmurray – Picture: Alan McNeice

Ross Gowdy #72 – Autism Plus

In July I will be playing in the UK Forum Charity All Star event for the Autism Plus team. The event has been setup to bring people from all round the UK together to play ice hockey and most importantly, raise money for the team they will be representing.

In the UK, it’s estimated that about one in every 100 people has Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While there is no ‘cure’ for ASD, a wide range of treatments – including education and behaviour support – can help people with the condition.

After playing ice hockey for 3 years at the Belfast Ice Foxes, i am delighted to be selected and play for Autism Plus and raise as much as possible. So if you can spare anything at all it will be much appreciated and go a long way whether it be £1 or £5

Ross Gowdy – Picture: Robert J Rainey

Alan Hamilton #90 – Breast Cancer Care UK

This July I am playing ice hockey at the UK Forums All Star Weekend in Sheffield from the 24th to the 26th July. This will be my first year at this event, and I am honored to be taking part in raising money for such a great cause.

I started playing hockey 9 years ago, made it as high as the Irish Amateur League in 2010 before a hit left me with a severe concussion and kept me off the ice for the best part of 2 years before I started helping out coaching a women’s team. I’ve only recently got back to skating and practising on a regular basis so I’m still lacking fitness and getting used to it all again!

For my first year at the UK Forum All Stars I am honoured to be representing Breast Cancer Care UK, or ‘Team Boobies’ as its known. Every year nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and it is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the UK, killing nearly 12,000 people every year in the UK alone. Breast cancer also affects men, around 400 men are diagnosed each year.

The research into breast cancer could someday cure this, and possibly other forms of cancer. Please donate whatever you can to make this possibility become a reality.

Alan Hamilton – Picture: Nicky Johnston

Aaron Stewart #64 – Captain – British Heart Foundation

For those I haven’t met yet, I’m Aaron, I’m 24 and three quarters, and from Bangor, Northern Ireland. 2015 will be my third UK Fallstars tournament, and this season I’m honoured to have been asked to captain Team British Heart Foundation.

Over 40,000 premature deaths in the UK are caused each year by cardiovascular disease, and the British Heart Foundation are the UK’s largest independent funder of research into cardiovascular disease.

Being asked to be a captain in any team, in any sport, is an honour. It’s something most people aspire to, and when it happens, it’s a shock.

My road to the Fallstars started about 6 seasons ago, when I first heard about the tournament. I thought it was an awesome idea. I think it’s best been described as a ‘second playoff finals weekend, without the emotional rollercoaster that goes with watching your team win or lose’.

I began playing hockey in the tail end of 2010, and first applied for the UK Fallstars in 2011, sadly, I didn’t make the roster, only the reserve list. The same happened in 2012 and 2013, until I got an email from David in April 2013 saying there had been a few people drop out and roster spots had opened up for Team Breast Cancer Care, amazingly, the team I wanted to represent. So that’s where it all started really, I made my justgiving page and spammed twitter for a solid 4 months. Team Boobs went on to win the tournament that year, which felt almost as good as hearing that the entire weekend had raised over £30,000.

In 2014 I represented Team Autism Plus, a locally based charity in the Yorkshire area. Initially I worried I wouldn’t be able to drum up as much sponsorship as the previous season. This wasn’t the case. As I’ve said before, the amount of donations and kindness and promotion you see for this event and the people taking part, is enough to restore your faith in humanity at times, and I’m sure I speak for all the players that take part, that we can’t thank everyone who donates enough for their donations and constant promotion for this event.

Hockey isn’t the biggest sport in the UK, but it has this aura around it that intrigues people, whether it be the scoring or the fights….well maybe mainly the fights, but it draws people to it. This weekend, to me, is all about the charities and meeting new people. The actual hockey plays second string to that. Whether you can or can’t skate, whether you can shoot or not, or whether you can stop or have to crash into the boards. It’s really not that important. The fact you’ve raised money for 8 great charities and being able to do so by playing and watching a sport you love, having a few fun nights out in the local area, and all while raising ridiculous amounts of money charity in the process. That’s a pretty sweet gig if you ask me.

I have no doubt that the 2015 event will carry on from the success of previous years, and I can’t wait to get into swing of things again; chatting to team mates, organising training camps, thinking up ridiculous ways to raise money, and generally, just having fun, that’s what it’s all about.

It’s an honour to take part in this event, and I can’t wait to see you all in the summer, until then, mix in a water, stay away from the mustard and play hard.

Aaron Stewart – Picture: Colin Nellis