Months of complaining and dithering in the german ice hockey league are over. More than nine months after the season was cancelled due to the corona crisis, the DEL season will start this year after all.
On 17. December – 284 days after the last DEL game so far in march – the opening game of a shortened season is to be played with a different schedule and full of uncertainties. "We know that there are still a lot of uncertainties, we will certainly have to improvise," said DEL general manager gernot tripcke after the decisive club switch, but was visibly relieved: "we all feel very, very comfortable. We’re coming into the season late, but hopefully all the better for it."
The mode is, however, necessarily habit-forming for most fans, who are used to 52 main-round game days and subsequent playoffs up to the championship cure. Apart from the fact that they won’t be able to go to the stadiums anyway and will have to rely on a magentasport subscription, the telekom platform, like the NHL, offers "non-stop field hockey" with up to three games a day until mid-march.
"It’s a bit like what you know from north america," said tripcke. The only foreseeable breaks are on christmas eve, christmas day and new year’s day. Playoffs are also planned in the "corona season", but these are now to be shortened with a maximum of three games per series take place. In the now shorter season, which was supposed to start in september, there will be only 38 main round games for each team and a division into a north and a south group. This means less travel and fewer risks. The exact schedule will be announced in the coming days.
The fact that it took the DEL so long to come up with a season concept during the pandemic is due in particular to its particularly high dependence on spectator income. The number of fans in the arenas is nowhere higher than in the DEL outside of the professional soccer leagues. The league had already postponed the start of the season twice, so in the meantime there had been serious doubts as to whether first division ice hockey could even be played this winter. "It was an incredible feat of strength. The shareholders have shouldered an additional burden," said mannheim’s managing director daniel hopp.
In particular, the kolner sharks, with more than 13.000 spectators for usually the highest cut outside of fubball in germany had feared for their existence. Sharks general manager philipp walter has already emphasized that a start to the season without the prospect of spectators would nevertheless represent a major risk. "It remains a dare, of course. It will certainly not be a low-risk season for any club in the DEL," walter told dpa.
This is also due to the fact that the DEL is now calculating completely without spectators – in contrast to the first start attempt in september. "Everything that comes is bonus," said tripcke, who had also come in for criticism in light of the league’s aub presentation. "I had expected a bit more courage from the beginning," olympic silver medalist patrick reimer told dpa. "That it was said from the beginning: ‘we know what kind of problems we will have, but we will definitely play a season.’ there has been a lot of hush-hush, and partly one had the feeling that maybe it wasn’t always the goal."
Mannheim’s coach pavel gross had also scolded: "the only thing we’ve heard is that they’ve asked for 60 million from the government, which I think is already daring."
Apparently it was only in the past few weeks that the league came to the realization that it would first have to develop its own emergency concepts to finance a special season. "The last physical meeting of the clubs in october was a bit of a turning point," hopp confirmed indirectly. With the help of sponsors, special campaigns, short-time work and, in some cases, further salary cuts, as well as the state aid that gradually appeared, the turnaround was then achieved.