EIHL Hangover Cup: lots of goals but no meaningful goal to aim for in a pointless game

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It's not called the Hangover Cup final for nothing. Officially it’s the bronze game or Consolation Final - the third-fourth place play-off at the championship finals weekend.

There isn’t a player or coach, and very few fans, who actually look forward to it. It feels like a contractual obligation with absolutely none of the buzz which surrounds the grand final which follows it, or the semi-finals the day before.

Sunday saw Cardiff Devils and Guildford Flames go through the motions in a 12-goal, almost penalty free match which saw 12 different scorers as Pete Russell’s Welsh side won 7-5. The EIHL’s own build up billed it thus: “It's the game no one wants to play in, but nevertheless is a small way to end the season on a positive note.”

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Wins are always nice, but this one is utterly meaningless. Flyers’ enforcer Matt Nickerson was still buzzing with adrenaline as he did the media scrum after a semi-final loss a decade ago. He couldn’t stand still as he said “no-one comes here to play for third.” Hours later, somewhere on the wrong side of midnight, a colleague and I bumped into him and the rest of the team in a kebab shop at the end of a night on the town.

Twelve goals in a meaningless game between Cardiff and Guildford (Pics: James Assinder)Twelve goals in a meaningless game between Cardiff and Guildford (Pics: James Assinder)
Twelve goals in a meaningless game between Cardiff and Guildford (Pics: James Assinder)

I’ve sat through several consolation finals, and they have been, without exception, pointless - but the sport perseveres with them. Why?

There is zero pride in winning a bronze game. There isn’t a single pro hockey player who comes to the finals weekend looking for third place. It’s win or bust.

And no-one buying a ticket for the finals weekend gives the match a second thought. You’ll find more fans sitting outside in the April sunshine than you will inside the arena. Even the media can’t be bothered showing up.

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For players, it’s worse. A lunch time face-off means an hour’s prep before hand, so that means an even earlier check-out of hotels to get to the arena ... assuming they’ve made it to bed in the first place. Behind the scenes the atmosphere is stale. ‘’Let’s just do it now and get it out of the way’’ said one Flyers’ import as they looked out at an empty rink all those years ago.

If there was a show of hands on whether to abolish the game, even those on the ice would be raised in support of the motion. They’d probably raise both hands. So why bother with it?

During the Heineken era, Wembley finals saw the Sunday brunch slot given over the the junior finals or a Scotland-England head to head. No-one was brave enough – or daft enough – to ask the losing semi-finalists if they fancied playing one more game.

But still, the EIHL sticks with this dog-eared, dog-tired third-place game, as if it adds any extra value to the overall weekend ticket price. It doesn’t. They’d be as well leaving the arena empty until the showcase final, and let everyone sleep off the effects of a night in Bunkers Hill - or stick Slapshot on the jumbo screens and let fans watch a classic. At least that way they’d see some actual hits.

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The alternatives have all been pitched and discarded. A junior game means extra expense, accommodation and administration. An all-star game sounds good, but it’s a heck of a long time for players to hang around just to dipsy doodle around the ice pad for a few minutes, so, let’s make this one the last one.

I felt for the players from Cardiff and Guildford having to go through the motions for the sake of it. They deserve their post-game beers and a chance to be together as a team, almost certainly for the last time, without one eye on the clock for this apology of a hockey game.

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