Nottingham Panthers in The Champions Hockey League

Freddie Black, son of Panthers Chairman Neil, explains more regarding Panthers participation in the new Champions Hockey League and the competition as a whole

With today’s news that the Panthers will play in the newly formed Champions Hockey League (CHL) next season I thought I would take a look at how it all came about and what fans can look forward to, and expect from the competition.

Up until about mid-April, the Panthers had no intention nor idea that they would be participating. However the organisers of the CHL wanted to expand the competition from the original 40 teams to 44 as they were keen to add teams in from markets that they felt had extreme potential, such as the EIHL. Belfast were always designated as the first option as the league champions but unfortunately for them in between the CHL telling them they wouldn’t be getting a wild card and then expanding to 44 teams they lost the dates at their Arena which had previously been reserved for the competition.

Due to this, there was pressure on the EIHL to produce a legitimate team to play or else the competition wouldn’t have been able to expand and other wild card teams would have missed out. With the Panthers always being the 2nd option as Challenge Cup winners the club was offered the chance by the CHL to participate in the competition. The club had the Arena availability plus now the chance to enter the most prestigious competition possible for a European Club and with it bring all the advantages of being a CHL club. With it also having minimal impact on the Panthers EIHL season due to the dates of the competition, it was an excellent option.

Now to look forward to what fans can expect to see from the CHL and the Panthers involvement. Firstly though I would like to state as an absolute fact that the EIHL is and will always be the number one priority for Panthers every season, it’s never been any different and never will be. Also, as will soon become clear as I explain the format of the event, the CHL will have minimal impact on the Panther’s EIHL title campaign, in fact no more of an impact than Sheffield playing 3 more challenge cup games will have on them.

The first important date for the diaries of Panthers fans will be the 21st May 2014 when the draw for the group stage part of the competition will take place from the IIHF World Championships in Minsk. Information about the seeding of teams will be released on the 13th May and fans will be able to watch the draw live online come the 21st where Panthers will be drawn into one of eleven groups of 4 teams. The draw will be conducted by celebrities as well as hockey stars in much the same way as football’s UEFA Champions League but instead of the team’s names being drawn from miniature footballs, they will be drawn from pucks as pictured below.


The group stage of the competition will start on 21st August and be completed by 7th October. Panthers will face each of the other 3 teams in the group both home and away for a total of 6 games. There are specified dates on which days teams must play their games. Panthers will have played 4 out of their 6 group games before their EIHL campaign even begins which is no different to how many pre-season games the club would have played if they weren’t involved in the CHL. Further to this, Panthers will play a CHL game on the 23rd September and the 7th October (both Tuesdays).

The 11 group winners plus the 5 best runners up will then advance to the play-offs where a knockout competion over 2 legs will occur, starting on the 4th November and culminating with a one off final on 3rd February 2015.

Realistically Panthers know that making it past the group stage is highly unlikely. While it would be a dream to make it past the group stage, the main aim is to be competitive and to try and get some points on the board. Hopefully the Panthers will put together a team that will be able to compete and also have enough depth to keep up with the other teams. The likely event that the Panthers European adventure will be over, come the 7th October will also suit the club just fine. In comparison to say the Continental Cup where it didn’t even start till the 18th October and involved two weekends of 3 consecutive games right in the middle of the season, this is by far a better alternative in a far better and more prestigious competition.

Although the way the seeding will work will become clearer on the 13th May, the club would like certain teams. Anyone from the DEL in Germany would be excellent and the biggest draw for the fans. There are other teams such as Geneve-Servette who have close ties with the Panthers and I know that nothing would make Chris McSorely happier than coming back to play a competitive game in the UK. Elsewhere, personally a game against Henrik Lundqvist’s Frolunda or the best supported team in Europe SC Bern would be extremely exciting. In terms of winning games, the Panthers best chance would be to draw a team from the Austrian League (EBEL). For example the champions of the EBEL Bolzano Foxes were beaten twice by Belfast in pre-season.

Competing in the CHL will bring a huge number of positives, not only to the City of Nottingham and the Panthers but to the rest of the EIHL and beyond. The players will get a chance to play against some of the best in the sport, and for our British players to play in games which will have NHL and KHL scouts in the crowd is an opportunity they most likely would never have had. For these 6 games the Panthers and British Ice Hockey will be in the limelight like never before. Games will be shown live across the whole of Europe on major TV channels and I would hope that would include a broadcaster in the UK as well. The fact that Panthers just being in the CHL made it to the front page of the BBC Sport website shows the positive effects being in this competition can have.

For the fans, the Champions Hockey League nights will be special and have a completely different feel to them compared to anything they have experienced in the UK. The ice will look completely different to any other game and the boards will be logoed up with the CHL’s big European sponsors. We will have 4 man systems, goal cameras with instant replay and goal line technology. The anthems of other countries and the chance for the fans to watch our team including local Nottingham lads going up against some of the best players in the game including past and future NHL players will be something special.

While the club’s intentions will always lie with the domestic game the hope is Panthers fans as well as other UK fans can take to the European game in much the same way as football fans have to their Champions League or Rugby Union fans with the Heineken Cup. While selling out for the 3 CHL home games is beyond the Panthers wildest dreams, if we could get 4,000-5,000 fans for those games that would be excellent and put us no worse off than the majority of the teams in the competition.

For more information on the CHL follow on Twitter @ChampionsHockey
Elsewhere take a look at the CHL Wikipedia page & the video embedded below.

You can follow Freddie on Twitter @freddieblack2


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