Let me introduce myself. I'm Stuart, aged 27 and currently living in Coventry, England. I've been following hockey over here for about nine or ten years now, since going to university and having a team in the city. Started following the Coventry Blaze when I moved here a few years back, and have been a season ticket holder since the inception of the Elite League in 2003.
The structure of hockey in the UK is a little complicated. Well, it's a lot complicated, and more so than necessary. The "top tier" of hockey is called the Elite League. It's a ten team league, playing a 54 game regular season. Each team plays the others three times at home, and three times away. Unlike North American hockey, or hockey in most other places, the league is the most important trophy to win. It takes some of the non-British players a while to get used to that concept, especially as there are playoffs as well, but I think it's a cultural thing for the UK. It probably stems from football being ingrained as the national sport over here.
As well as the league, there are two cup competitions. The first one, the Challenge Cup, is played for at the start of the season, and generally involves two groups of five in some format. This year, each team played each other once, with the top two in each group going to a semi final, then final. It does tend to change year on year though.
The second cup is the British Knockout Cup, introduced a couple of seasons back to make up a shortfall in fixtures when London dropped out of the league (another sadly common occurence). It's a straight knockout, usually played over two legs on aggregate. That can lead to weird situations, such as Team A winning the first game 4-1, then team B being 2-0 in the second game and having to pull the goalie to equalise. Only eight teams take part, ice time restrictions mean that there's not enough time for a couple of teams to play all of their games. This is a problem with hockey in the UK, since it's such a minority sport, hockey is way down the priority list for arenas and rinks.
And finally (are you still following) there's the playoffs. The top eight teams in the league qualify, and there's a two-legged quarter final; the teams are drawn according to final placings. The semis and final are just one game each, played over one weekend - the semis on the Saturday and the final on the Sunday. The Playoff Weekend is the end of the season, and is attended by fans of every team, whether they have made the playoffs or not. It's a really fun weekend to go to, the atmosphere is great and something that sets it apart from other sports over here.
That's just the Elite League, or EIHL - the abbreviation that it is known by. There's also the English Premier League (EPL), English and Scottish National Leagues (ENL and SNL) and rec hockey for those who love the sport but never quite made it - or got there too late!
There'll be more soon about my team, the Coventry Blaze, and other bits and bobs from around the league. And I hope that at least someone found it interesting!