European Hockey League
From 1997 to 2000, the European Hockey League was the premier ice hockey tournament in Europe. The IIHF invited the champions and some other top teams from the major leagues to compete in the league. The Continental Cup was a tournament for the teams and nations not considered for inclusion in the EHL, and is currently the top competition for European club teams.
There are strict regulations for admission, which have, for example, prohibited the participation of ISL champions Cardiff Devils in 1997/98 (IIHF require a 60x30m ice surface) and VSZ Košice 1999/2000 (inferior rink facilities).
The league starts off with a number of groups (1999/2000 there were four groups of four) in which the teams play each other home and away. This stage runs from September to December.
The top teams of these groups qualify for the next stage, a playoff round of two-game match-ups in early January. Should the two games be split, an overtime period is played at the end of the second game to determine the winner.
In recent years there has been a further round to reduce the number of teams down to 4.
The four qualifiers go the the "Final Four" played at one venue over a weekend at the end of January or early February.
Previous to 1997, the European champion was the winner of the European Cup. More details on this tournament soon.