Triple headers, midweek road trips, clubs giving up their traditional home game nights, playing right through Christmas – welcome to the world of compromise that is the 2017-18 ice hockey schedule.
Right now we’re at the bleating stage.
The fixtures have just come out, and everyone has already honed in on the bits they don’t like as well as scouring for that all-important road trip double header.
It’s easy to kick the schedulers – the men who arrived with at least three spare pens, two notebooks, and an infinite supply of patience, which drains by the minute as the 11 owners bicker at the 12th team’s insistence that it cannot play at home the third Sunday in January, but it could do the second Wednesday in February if pushed.
Fixtures day is a bit like electing the pope.
Everyone files in, the doors are locked and no-one gets out until there is white smoke rising from the lum. An entire morning, afternoon and evening in the company of Dave Simms is their punishment for not reaching agreement quicker ...
Does such a thing as a perfect fixture list exist? Nope.
Design by committee means you aim to please everyone, have to fudge bits here and there, and hope no-one looks too closely at the left-over parts you had to crowbar in at the last minute to finally get sign off before everyone started to change their minds again.
There is no doubt the addition of two new teams made life even harder for the schedulers.
Clubs knew as soon as they opened the door to Guildford and Milton Keynes that it’d mean more compromise, possibly fewer games on their preferred hockey nights, and the prospect of some Friday, or midweek, hockey – that very conversation was had at the office in Fife after one game mid-season.
Looking specifically at Fife Flyers’ fixtures, the club has lost some Saturdays but it still has a familiar pattern to it, but Christmas and March stand out as real hot spots.
To ask a pro sports team to play four games in five days is nonsense.
From December 22 to 26, Flyers get one day off. Christmas Day.
To offer almost zero recovery time to guys who a play a sport more physically demanding than almost any other flies in the face of sports science – and the usual defence ‘’ah, but they’d be training anyway’’ is just as out-dated.
In March, arguably THE crucial month of the season as the title and play-off races reach their conclusion, Fife have just three out of ten games on home ice, and two of them are buried in the graveyard midweek slots.
For a club whose budgets are built around income at the door, that could have a huge impact.
Ditto their home double header which brings Cardiff and Sheffield – two of the biggest teams – to Kirkcaldy in successive nights.
The system is far from perfect, and relies too much on horse trading.
Dave Simms, who chaired the meeting, is on record as saying there isn’t a computer programme capable of factoring in all the variables and intricacies of the EIHL.
Strangely, there is one capable of managing the English Premier League where clubs also have to liaise with police authorities and local councils, and also teams outwith their own leagues who share the same town or city.
So, the technology is there to help, even if it still needs a hefty amount of debate and input round the table.
But, I suspect, deep down, those who do the fixtures love the day, and thought of an app or programme replacing their lovingly created spreadsheets would break their wee cross-referenced hearts.
Their work, once complete, is a thing of beauty – a colour coded, perfect schedule which runs like clockwork. Well, until a Zamboni conks out, lights fail or someone bigger and more famous books an arena date, and you’re turned out.
So, if you want to moan about those infernal Sunday games, or that 500-mile round-trip on a Tuesday, have a pop at your own club.
After all, they signed off on the schedules.