Belgian hockey restarts from mark zero

Belgian hockey restarts from mark zero

05 Sep 2012 | Davide Tuniz

"We have had to overcome a few hurdles in the past and right now our future is looking very bright on the horizon" - Charleroi Roosters headcoach Gabe Yeung said to, introducing the new season in Belgium.

This year Belgian hockey will pass for another reformulation of the competitions: Leuven Chiefs and Turnhout White Caps have withdrawn from play in the North Sea Cup/Dutch Eredivisie Competition and will be joining Belgian Competition. HYC Herentals is the only Belgian team left in the Dutch league at this time.

Last week, the Belgian Federation (RBIHF) announced the plans to restructure the National League and Belgian Championship. In place, a newly formed "Belgian Elite League" has been created. The Belgian Elite League is now the highest form of competition in the country and has 10 teams: HYC Herentals 2, Gullegem Jets, Eeklo Yeti Bears, Antwerp Phantoms, Liege Bulldogs, Haskey Hasselt, Olympia Heist, Leuven Chiefs Charleroi Red Roosters and Turnhout White Caps.

Also in place is a new playoff format. The top 8 teams will play a best of three series in the quarter final and semi final rounds. A best of five series will be played in finals. This will replace the previous format of the top four teams in the the standings playing single game knock outs.

The Belgian Cup will still  be played in it's previous format. However, the only diffference is HYC Herentals 1 will be allowed to join the competition but without imports on their current roster. The players can only be replaced with players on HYC Herentals 2 team. talks with Head Coach for the Charleroi Roosters Men's Elite, U18 and U16 programs, American Gabe Yeung

Eurohockey:  Belgian hockey will live a "mark zero" this season with another change in leagues' format: what do you think about the new leagues' structure?

Gabe Yeung:
The new Elite League will bring many advantages this season especially with the Leuven Chiefs and Turnhout Whitecaps coming from the North Sea Cup as teams will be much more competitive and the overall skill level will be greater compared to the previous years. I think many of the more experienced Belgian players will also elect to play domestically this season and in return increasing our national product within the league. The more relaxed provisions of allowing the use of junior players for games will also be seen as a great commodity for teams as they will be able to develop from within their own system while giving them further opportunities to develop at the senior level which can be easily seen as beneficial to the overall development of our youth players within the country. Another exciting change to this season is the new post-season format as 8 teams qualify for the playoffs as teams will now play a best-of-three format in both the quarter and semi final rounds and a best-of-five format in the final round, therefore replacing the single game knock out format that was used in the past. This season will be quite an exciting year for everyone including players, coaches, and fans alike.

Eurohockey:  Last season North Sea Cup seemed a good opportunity for Belgian top team to develop, but the experiment had a short life: what didn't work?

Gabe Yeung: I think a number of factors contributed to the demise of the Belgian participation in the North Sea Cup such as availability of players, sponsorship, management, and finances as a whole. Most Belgian teams are mostly funded by sponsors or private investors in general and the recent economic market hasn't been too generous often leaving teams with less available funds than normal. The overhead, or the costs to compete in the league was far too great for teams to afford often leaving them close to bankruptcy each year. With the high number of imports in the league and less domestic players available, a larger than normal expenses and salaries were accumulated and teams were in a constant struggle in order to stay competitive within the league. Overall, I felt the intentions were there but the timing was not. This now gives us the a unique opportunity to take advantage of this situation and improve the overall quality of the league and national levels in Belgium as well.

Eurohockey: Is ice hockey popular in Belgium? Does media follow the games and spread informations?

Gabe Yeung: Like most European nations, hockey is really secondary when it comes to football. Belgium also has a highly competitive professional basketball league and gets far more attention media wise than hockey. I would say hockey is beyond the grass roots level in terms of competition and development but it needs to evolve at a much faster and proficient pace when compared to other Scandinavian and other hockey playing European countries in terms marketing and research. Funding at the national level has always been a problem and I would like to see this improve in the near future. I also feel we can do a better job of promoting the teams locally which can then in return evolve nationally. Many teams are virtually unheard of to the general public and this is where the media and advertising comes in to play. To simply put, teams do get media attention, but not nearly enough as they should be
Eurohockey: All the teams seems have a good work with youth but Belgium doesn't produce a decent number of senior players, why in your opinion? Lack of opportunities for juniors players when they come at senior level?

Gabe Yeung: Belgium historically has never been a domesticated breeding ground in terms of developing ice hockey players in general and we are looking to change that. As many players start to mature within the junior age, most of them seek opportunities abroad to further their game and careers. This year, things should change a bit as more players will have the opportunity to play at the senior level than ever before. This is why it is vital for us now to retain most of our home grown talent within our system in order expand and grow nationally as a whole. With the new structures in place and the creation of the Elite League, I believe the Belgian Ice Hockey Federation are taking positive and necessary steps in terms of getting to where we need to be in the present and in the near future.

Eurohockey: What Belgian hockey needs to grow up? It's possible one day to reach the level and the organization of Netherlands?

Gabe Yeung: I think many of the more older, experienced players will come back to Belgium and introduce their knowledge to the new generations as experienced coaches as this is something we are lacking at the moment. This should play a big role in impacting the future development of our players. I would like to see Belgium set a stronger precedent in the hockey world by having more interleague games and cup competitions with other countries as well. This can have an immediate improvement to our game and put us on track to having a more competitive league similar to the Netherlands. We are also taking our time learning from our mistakes, while finding solutions and creating new ideas. We have had to overcome a few hurdles in the past and right now our future is looking very bright on the horizon.

Eurohockey:  Can you give us a short presentation of upcoming Elite League, pointing your favourites for the title?

Gabe Yeung: Last season, Antwerp had a very skilled and balanced team that easily dominated the league and could have done fairly well in the North Sea Cup. However, I think Leuven and Turnhout may easily give them a run for their money as they will both be dramatically improved teams from last season. Olympia, Eeklo and Hasselt should be very talented as well and I can only see them living up to their usual winning traditions The games between Charleroi and Liege will very exciting as it is will be the "Battle of Wallonia" as the only two walloon teams in the country playing for top honours. Overall, the league will be a bit more intense than usual. This will be an exciting year for everyone and I am greatly looking forward to the start of a new season!
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