England's first competitive ice hockey game since the start of the pandemic will be played in Swindon this weekend (Saturday, November 14).
Swindon Wildcats will host Milton Keynes Lightning for the first game of the Streaming Series tournament.
The round-robin tournament, organised by the National Ice Hockey League, will take place over three weekends in November.
Each of the three teams taking part – the Wildcats, Milton Keynes Lightning, and Sheffield Steeldogs – will play each other twice: once at home and once away.
Although fans are not allowed to attend the rink due to coronavirus restrictions, the games will be streamed live.
A third of the Wildcats' season ticket holders have already registered for virtual tickets, and 250 passes have been sold for the live stream in total – with many more sales expected on the day. Fans from across the UK have registered to watch.
Wildcats coach Aaron Nell said: “It will be a great feeling to get on the ice again. We all love playing and it's something that all the players have missed for the last eight months.
"I'm sure it will be different playing without any fans, but we will make the most of the situation. Hopefully, this is the first step towards getting the league started in 2021 and at some point getting fans back in the ice rinks to watch us play."
The 2019/20 ice hockey season came to a premature end in March, as the pandemic took hold across the country. Under normal circumstances, the 2020/21 season would have started in September.
In October the Wildcats received a boost when they were recognised as an English Ice Hockey Association elite team under guidelines set down by the government, meaning they could have more than six players on the ice at once for training and competitive matches.
And the club has won support from across the Swindon community, including the staff and councillors at Swindon Borough Council, many of whom will cheering on the team on Saturday.
Councillor David Renard, leader of Swindon Borough Council, said: “The Wildcats are an important part of our sporting line-up here in Swindon and it is great they will be back on the ice once again this weekend.
“Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on so many sports over the last eight months, but I am delighted that Wildcats fans will get the chance to cheer on their team thanks to this streaming service, which is already being used by football sides up and down the country.
“The Streaming Series tournament is being broadcast to a national audience and I am sure the Wildcats will do our town proud.
"I would encourage anyone who has not bought a streaming pass to do so as the income generated from the initiative will provide a great boost to the club in these difficult times.”
The Wildcats will take to the ice at the Link Centre at 6.15pm on Saturday, and will be hosting Sheffield Steeldogs on Sunday, November 22. Their away games will take them to Sheffield on Sunday (November 15) and Milton Keynes on Saturday, November 21.