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European club hockey competition cancelled due to money shortage

ZURICH - Ice hockey's governing body cancelled next season's European club championship on Monday because of financial problems with sponsors.

The International Ice Hockey Federation said the Champions Hockey League would not be played but could return in 2010, backed by the National Hockey League.

It had set a mid-June deadline for the NHL to invest and save next season's competition after original sponsor Gazprom pulled out.

"After months of negotiations we came to the conclusion that it is better to postpone the Champions Hockey League (and) restart in 2010-2011," IIHF president Rene Fasel said in a statement.

"As the original investors unexpectedly withdrew from their three-year agreement after the inaugural season as a direct result of the worldwide economic recession, and given the current economic environment, we believe it is better to take the necessary time and ensure conditions are right for the continuation of the league," Fasel said.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he believed the CHL could still offer a solid foundation to develop the game internationally.

"We have advised the IIHF of our willingness to offer resources and strategic contributions toward the pursuit of that objective," Bettman said.

The league was launched a year ago with Russian energy supplier Gazprom as main sponsor and 10 million euros (C$15.6 million) in prize money.

The inaugural championship was played with 12 teams from seven countries and was won by Swiss club Zurich Lions.

An expansion to 29 teams from 22 countries next season was originally planned, but that was scaled back and it was set to repeat in the same format.

Fasel said the organizers felt "deep regret" toward clubs, and their fans, who had qualified for the next CHL.

"We are committed to come back stronger than ever and we will immediately resume our negotiations with the National Hockey League," he said.

The cancellation Monday does not affect the million-dollar Victoria Cup challenge match which pits the European champion against an invited NHL side.

Zurich will face the Chicago Blackhawks on its home Hallenstadion ice Sept. 29.

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