WE’RE ALL SET FOR A VERY HAPPY EASTER!
The countdown to the knockout 16 of the EuroHockey League is well underway and the excitement is building for what is sure to be another stellar celebration of all that is good about the club scene in the hockey powerhouse of Europe.
Sixteen top teams, some of the game’s very best umpires, noisy and colourful crowds and a new venue to welcome them all as Oranje Rood opens its doors in Eindhoven to become hockey’s global centre-piece for the four Easter days from April 14-17.
This is the 10th season of the EHL and how the time has flown by. It is hard now to remember what the old style men’s European competition was like but, truth to tell, the EHL has impacted on hockey far beyond its European boundaries.
Take the rule changes that EHL has introduced or trialled as early adopters. The self-pass is now a feature of hockey which has added pace and creativity to the game and was first seen in the EHL. The allowing of a high stick stop in nondangerous situations, the four quarters, the nerve tingling shoot-outs, the two-minute green card all owe their very being to the rule development laboratory that has been the EHL hallmark.
But what next? Will the EHL sit on those considerable laurels or will they look to make further changes and improvements through new ideas and concepts? I am sure that I am not alone in hoping that they will continue to refresh ideas and pioneer change not for the sake of it but to make our game more attractive and more accessible to all.
It is a little bit indulgent but good to think about where those tweaks might come in the future. Some are the easy picking, low hanging fruit such as alterations to the penalty corner rule where there have been some well informed siren voices going off regarding player safety which is, and must always be, our main priority.
The HIL recently devalued the PC by upgrading the score for open play goals over the controversial setpiece. Mimicking that change is unlikely to satisfy EHL decision makers because it is no longer innovative and does little to address the risk to defenders. I much prefer the idea that fellow THP columnist Todd Williams flagged up recently where he introduced the concept of a flick situation but taken from just inside the circle against only the goalkeeper thereby keeping the skill and excitement of the drag flick drama of the keeper pulling off a spectacular safe but removing the danger element. Now that’s what I call innovative thinking!
EHL introduced the quarters to help TV build in commercial break time. Initially they went for 4 x 17.5 minutes which the FIH then modified at a later stage to 4 x 15 minutes. With hockey players fitter than ever and interchange now well estab- lished I would have thought that 4 x 20 minutes would have been a better move and perhaps one for EHL to look at.
There has been talk of hockey going to nine a side but I struggle to see why we should look to give less players the opportunity and so it doesn’t get my vote as things stand but I would welcome extending the card suspensions for green and yellow to minimums of five and 10 minutes respectively which would see the player reduction and additional space theories match tested for longer than we see at present.
The shoot-out has been a real crowd pleaser and I would love to see EHL introduce it in round one to decide tied games with the winner taking three points and the loser two. I have even heard it suggested that each game should start with a shoot out but that is stretching my imagination a little too far and it would be hard ahead of the game to recreate the drama of it being the culmination of a tightly fought contest.
One of the very few downsides of EHL has been a handful of matches where the disparity between the sides has meant huge one – sided scorelines. These results do no-one any good and you can tell from the winners’ body language that there is little joy in humiliating an opponent from a country where hockey is not at the same level.
Is there anything that can be done to change this dynamic? One answer might be in a system of handicapping where teams were handicapped on the strength of their squad, previous playing records , national rankings etc. It would be a task for someone a bit better at algorithms than I but it might just work.
It certainly works for golf but I accept that golf is not a team game, Polo has had handicaps as part of its system for years where the individual players are handicapped and the total individual tally becomes the team handicap. Could it work for hockey?
Whatever innovations the EHL come up with to keep the envelope moving I am sure of one thing and that is that the rules need to be drawn up by current or near current players , coaches and leading umpires so that each other’s perspectives can be appreciated and encapsulated with additional input from TV specialists who know how the changes would impact visually on our screens.
Roll on Easter!
Future’s orange: Dutch side Oranje Zwart lifted the EuroHockey League trophy in 2015