The Hockey Paper - - FOCUS ON YOUTH - Nick Irvine

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

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