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The Premier Hockey League has proved to be a boost for hockey in India

Premier Hockey League India

The Premier Hockey League (PHL) is a joint project of ESPN-Star Sports, Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Leisure Sports Management and is modeled on the grounds of U.S. NBA league. The PHL was conceived to give a shot in the arm to the domestic hockey scenario and to revive the sagging interest in the game of hockey. Hockey is India's national game and the country proudly boasts of having eight gold medals to its credit, along with lifting the World Cup once. However in the recent time, the game has been on the back foot, as more interest has been drawn towards other sports. One of the preliminary reasons for the fading popularity of the sport was the rise of corporate teams, such as Indian Airlines and Punjab & Sind Bank.

Premier Hockey League is a step forward to change the whole scenario of the game, by bringing in regional flavor to it. It has incorporated teams from the traditional hockey bastions, such as Mumbai, Punjab, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu. PHL also boasts of teams from other cities, like Hyderabad and Bangalore, where the game has got some fan following. The inaugural edition of the PHL kicked-off at the Gachibowli Stadium, Hyderabad, on January 13, 2005. The league comprised of 5 members - Bangalore Hi-Fliers, Chennai Veerans, Hyderabad Sultans, Maratha Warriors and Sher-e-Jalandhar. Later, 2 more teams, Chandigarh Dynamos and Orissa Steelers, were added. The PHL will be telecast live by ESPN-STAR Sports for the next ten years.

Initially, the PHL had two tiers - division 1 and division 2. However, in 2007 the division 2 was permanently scrapped. Played during the months of December and January, the format of PHL has continuously changed since its inaugural session in 2005. As per the last season, the league followed a single round-robin format, wherein all teams played each other once. Later, in the semifinals the top four teams contended against each other, wherein the team that stood in the top position competed with one at the fourth position. The teams that stood in the second and third position competed against each other. This was followed by the finals, adopting a best of three format, for the top 2 teams. Generally, there are a total of 26 matched that are played for each session.

Innovative Features
According to the standard format, the game of hockey is played in 2 sessions - each of 35 minutes. However, PHL has incorporated a slew of innovations to make the game more exciting and spectator friendly. To rope in more funds, PHL has four sessions each of 17.5 minutes. This format has been proved beneficial in two ways - firstly more breaks would mean more advertising time and eventually more funds. Secondly, these time outs are extremely beneficial for the teams as they can chalk out new strategies during the course of the game to defeat their opponent.

In case, the match results in a deadlock even after the full time, the number of players of each team is gradually reduced till a result is obtained. Talking about the point system, a win within the stipulated time earns the winning team 3 points. However, a win after the full time fetches 2 points to the winning team and one to the losing team. In the course of the game, every team is allowed to field up to five international players. Another inventive feature added to PHL is the penalty shootout competition, modeled on grounds of the Major League Soccer penalty shootout.

In the penalty shootout competition, 5 members of each team play against the goal keeper of the opponent team, one at a time. Just when the umpire blows the whistle, each player would have a total of 8 seconds in which he has to score a goal, with only the goal keeper defending the goal. The player can take as many shots possible within the stipulated 8 seconds. Another exciting aspect of the game is the timeouts, similar to those in basketball and volleyball. These timeouts are mandatory and has to be taken once in each half of play. In case a team does not avail the timeout, it would be imposed by the technical bench 2 minutes from the end of the second/fourth quarter.

Winning Spree
2005 - Hyderabad Sultans
2006 - Bangalore Lions
2007 - Orissa Steelers
2008 - Bangalore Lions