EIHL’s new Challenge Cup format revealed after fans' survey criticism– and it still feels clunky

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The long awaited overhaul of the Challenge Cup has been revealed - and it still feels a bit clunky

The Elite League has merged the three qualifying groups into two, and scrapped the quarter-final round. All ten teams will now compete in two sections for places in the semi-finals - but one section will have four teams, and the other will have six.

Group A will have Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze, Guildford Flames, Manchester Storm, Nottingham Panthers, and Sheffield Steelers who will play each other once at home, and once away. The winners and runners-up go straight into the semi-finals.

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Group B is slightly more convoluted with four teams - Belfast Giants, Dundee Stars, Fife Flyers, and Glasgow Clan - playing more games.They will play each other twice home and twice away, with the section winners going straight into the semi-finals, but the runners-up will face the team finishing third in Group A in a special “play-in” one-off game to decide which side makes the semis. Home advantage for this tie will go to whichever team has the higher points percentage from the group stage.

The Challenge Cup will have a new format next season (Pic: Dean Woolley)The Challenge Cup will have a new format next season (Pic: Dean Woolley)
The Challenge Cup will have a new format next season (Pic: Dean Woolley)

And just to add more un-necessary confusion, whichever of the two group winners enters the semi-finals with the best points percentage will get to choose their opponents in the last four …excluding the other group winners, obviously!

If it feels clunky, that’s because it is. The simple option of two leagues of five playing the same number of games with the top two from each going through sounds much simpler, but the league is confident it has addressed the fans’ gripes over the hapless format of a tournament that has dragged on for most of the season. The cup was the biggest negative from a survey conducted in 2022, and last season simply underlined it was in need of a complete overhaul.

Mike Hicks, head of operations, said teams shared fans’ frustrations, adding: “We needed to find a solution that worked for all 10 teams as equal stakeholders, not simply benefit a few, and we’re pleased that the teams have come together to agree a new format for the coming season.

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“This format offers us a solution that works for all teams, while also improving the sporting integrity of the competition with teams now fighting it out for four places in the semi-finals, which we hope will create greater excitement during the round robin phase.”

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