So after being locked in a meeting all day in the glamorous surroundings of Newbury services just off the M4, the 25 teams of NIHL South have managed to come up with a new league structure.
Here’s the plan…
NIHL1 South will be a 12 team league, split into 2 conferences of 6 with teams playing home and away twice within conference and home and away once with teams in the other conference to give a 32 game league season.
The two conferences will be as follows:
Milton Keynes Thunder
Oxford City Stars
Playoffs will feature 8 teams, but the exact details of this have not yet been announced.
We’ll also have an NIHL1 cup competition in the South and 8 teams have entered this. Unusually, this is not being seeded and the 4 ex-EPL teams (Basingstoke, Bracknell, Peterborough, Swindon) will form one group and the other group will comprise of Chelmsford, Invicta, London and Streatham. Top two from each group will go forward to the semi-finals.
In terms of rules of the game – the NIHL1 import rules will be used with a maximum of 2 non-British trained players allowed on the team list and only one allowed on the ice at any time. We will however be adopting the old EPL rules for overtime with teams who are drawing after 3 periods going to a 3-on-3 sudden death overtime period of 5 minutes and finishing with penalty shots if there is still no decider.
NIHL2 South will be reverting to a single league of 13 – with 3 new teams being welcomed into the NIHL – as Cardiff and Oxford both enter a second team and Guildford also join the league. With the Bees playing in NIHL1, Bracknell Hornets will also be moving down to NIHL2. Sadly the Wightlink Buccaneers have withdrawn from the league after the loss of their rink last season.
These teams will play home and away once each for a 24 game league season.
The full team list for NIHL2 South is:
Cardiff Fire 2
Haringey (name TBC)
Lee Valley Lions
Oxford City Stars 2 (name TBC)
Peterborough Phantoms 2
Swindon Wildcats 2
Playoff format and cup competitions in NIHL2 are still to be confirmed.
Relegation and promotion between the leagues will be happening but the specifics have not yet been announced.
The EIHA press release has some words from NIHL league manager Richard Carpenter:
“It was a long day, a difficult meeting but we’ve reached agreement on the way forward for next season and beyond. There are no perfect answers or deals to such a highly complicated situation but we would like to thank all teams involved for reaching a deal today to the betterment of British ice hockey. There are wider whole-NIHL issues which will be discussed after the North section next week, but we’re pleased to have carried out this task of integrating the former EPIHL clubs into the NIHL Structure and agreed a format.”
After the meeting (as I had the advantage of driving home with him) he also added “We are absolutely thrilled to have got this deal done. A lot of people didn’t think that we were going to be able to, but what we and the clubs have shown is that in getting everyone around the table together, shows the true resilience of the NIHL.”
So that’s the facts… now for some opinion!
Personally I think that the EIHA and the clubs have done a tremendous job to get a format together that every club can sign up to. I’m not suggesting that all the club owners are completely happy with the way this looks and I know that there has been a lot of compromise by pretty much everyone. But we have a league that everyone can hopefully buy into. I spoke to a few of the club owners after the meeting and there is a feeling that the long meeting (6 hours and 20 minutes) has produced something that they can sign up to and sell to their fans. It may not be exactly what they were hoping for (and of course some are more/less happy than others) – but it’s workable and given the doom and gloom we have had in social media over the last few weeks, frankly I am impressed.
I do think that for NIHL1, one conference looks stronger than the other, but the teams will still be playing everyone else in the league (it’s just a matter of which teams you play twice). This is also a format that can be rejigged each year based on the previous seasons results.
Next season is going to be a huge testing ground. Do I think the ex-EPL clubs will be stronger and finish in the top four? Yes, probably. Are the NIHL1 teams going to find the competition a lot tougher than last season? Yes, probably. But the teams have to give this a chance. Long term, I honestly believe that the difference between the teams will start to even out over the next few years. The wages available for British-trained players will come out of the stratosphere simply because there won’t be the teams willing to pay hundreds of pounds a week anymore as they just won’t need to. That will mean that more of the clubs will be able to afford these players and we’ll see the top talent spread out more across the NIHL. It’s just my opinion of course, but I don’t think that the amalgamation of the EPL teams into the NIHL is going to be the disaster for everyone that has been harping on about for the last few weeks.
I’m a little disappointed that the cup will not see more mixing of the teams in the initial groups – especially since the 4 teams in one group are also part of the same conference for the league. But that’s what the majority of teams wanted – and in the end they are the ones who will need to sell this all to their fans.
In terms of NIHL2, I think this league is also going to get stronger and I am delighted to see it increase in size and go back to a single league system meaning that teams won’t feel stale playing the same teams over and over. I am absolutely delighted to see Guildford join the NIHL, meaning that we now have participation from every hockey rink in the South in our league. it is also great to see second teams coming out of Cardiff and Oxford – expanding the league and providing a strong pathway of development for their junior systems.
So in summary – is this perfect? No. But I think that on reflection it is probably as good as it can be. As Richard Carpenter said – there are no perfect solutions.
Am I excited for next season? Damn right!