THE Elite Ice Hockey League saw attendances rise for the fourth year in a row during the 2016/17 season after recording a 12 per cent growth from the previous campaign.
The domestic season concluded at the start of April when Sheffield Steelers recorded an overtime win against Cardiff Devils during a sold-out play-off finals weekend in Nottingham.
More than 940,000 spectators attended league matches during the campaign, an increase of almost 100,000 from the 2015/16 season as Cardiff finished on top of the league standings after 52 rounds of action.
The league features 10 teams from across the United Kingdom, including Scottish representatives Braehead Clan, Fife Flyers, Dundee Stars and Edinburgh Capitals.
Fife and Braehead fell at the play-off quarter-final stage, while Dundee were eliminated in the semi-finals after throwing away a lead in their clash with the Devils. The Capitals failed to qualify for the play-off stage after finishing bottom of the league standings.
It is the fourth year running in which the league has recorded rising attendances, with clubs selling out numerous league games as well as the Challenge Cup Final and play-off finals weekend reaching maximum capacity.
The rise means the British league now boasts the seventh highest average attendance across Europe and Asia according to an IIHF study, ahead of nations like Austria, Slovakia and Denmark.
Next season league winners Cardiff and Continental Cup champions Nottingham will compete in the Champions Hockey League, featuring the top teams from across Europe, while Sheffield’s play-off success has earned them a spot in the Continental Cup.
“It has been another excellent year for the Elite League.” Said EIHL chairman Tony Smith.
“This season has been one of the most competitive we have seen since the league was formed, with an exciting title race and the battle for the playoffs going right down to the last weekend. It was capped off with another brilliant Playoff Finals Weekend at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham, culminating in the superb Grand Final between Cardiff Devils and Sheffield Steelers.
“It is a testament to the hard work that goes on every week at both club and league level that attendances continue to rise, and with Guildford and Milton Keynes joining us from next season naturally we expect that trend to continue and we hope to smash the one million spectator mark during 2017/18.
“We have also seen British ice hockey return to free-to-air television this year, while the Playoff Finals Weekend received extensive coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra with the Grand Final also shown live by the BBC”
The 2017/18 ice hockey season will get underway in August when Braehead Clan will face Elite League rivals Cardiff Devils and Nottingham Panthers in the Aladdin Cup.
Clan will be bidding for a fifth successive triumph in the pre-season tournament after defeating Panthers 5-2 last year, with the action scheduled to take place on the weekend of 19 and 20 August.
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Source : HeraldScotland