Looks as though that after almost 10 years since the last shake up the whole of British ice hockey as seen the light and decided to do something about the ridiculous nature of the league structure and how the leagues operate.
Rumours are abound that there will be a new British Premier League to replace the second tier English Premier League allowing Scottish teams such as Fife and Solway to entire competition against rivals more on a level to what they are capable of. Whilst the Elite League looks likely to decrease the import quote and make clubs adhere to its salary cap.
Finally this is a step in the right direction that entire British ice hockey structure needs. Starting with the Elite League this is what it has needed for three seasons now. The gap between the haves and have nots in the Elite League has widened with the big clubs unwilling to stick to the rules they original created to ensure fairness and stability. This combined with the economic downturn decreasing sponsorship and investment levels has led the Elite League into a three division league with only Cardiff defying the odds to rank with the big boys. The moves being talked about should stabilise boost the clubs financially and allow them to bring in better imports. However more importantly this move should boost the stagnating national team by allowing more British players to entire the league and show what they can do.
Moving on to the second tier. This is where the most improvement is needed. Currently the second tier in England is the EPL, a low import league with the majority of its players british and on a professional basis. Whilst the gulf between the top and bottom of the league is still clear its clubs are relatively financaly stable. In Scotland however the second tier is the Scottish National League, an amateur league that has little standing and fails to provide any progression to the top of the league for players from what has been a hotbed of British talent. So far due to the EPL being an English league the Scottish National League’s top clubs most notably Fife and Solway who are capable of attracting a good crowd and have good junior systems have been unable to play to their potential and have been denied entrance to the Elite League because of finances and not meeting rink requirements. The result has been for young Scottish players have either had to hope the Elite League Edinburgh Capitals took a gamble on them at a young age or move away to forward their career. Meanwhile clubs have looked at creating their own leagues and risked being disenfranchised by the national governing bodies. I am convinced that by getting rid of the EPL and replacing it with a British equivilant will benefit the game by giving a better progression for players and more stability for teams. I also think that if a good conference system which would keep travel costs down could be found teams such as Blackburn, Chelmsford, Romford, Bristol and Whitley Bay could be encouraged to make the step up whilst securing the futures of struggling teams such as Bracknell, Sheffield, Swindon and Telford.
This is a win win for me.
Of course this is all speculation and the history of British ice hockey will tell you the powers that be find it all too easy to take the wrong course of action. But it is at least positive rumours from the owners and a fantastic change good be on its way. However if you ask me the entire solution is to get shut of the English Ice Hockey Association, the Scottish Ice Hockey Association and Ice Hockey UK and have one governing body controlling league structures and the national team leaving the leagues to work to their own salary caps and fixture structure. Where Belfast and Ireland is concerned I think there could be cooperation between the two national federations to allow a Republic of Ireland team to play in the Elite League and a Belfast (Dundonald) team to play in the Irish league. (As the Junior Giants and Belfast City Bruins do already).
So these are the rumours but how I would have the league structure would be like this;
Top – Elite League – Adhering to Strict rink quality control tests, 2000 plus capacity, 8 imports. Likely teams: Nottingham, Coventry,Belfast, Edinburgh, Dundee, Braehead, Sheffield, Cardiff. Possible: Newcastle, Manchester, Guildford. Milton Keynes, Dundalk.
Middle – British Premier League – 4 imports, good quality rink, 2 conferences (16 teams, 2 conference of 8 = 4 games against conference teams (28) plus 2 against other conference teams (16) gives 44 game season plus cup games. Likely teams: Basingstoke, Slough, Peterborough, Bracknell, Sheffield Steeldogs, Swindon, Telford, Manchester, Guildford, Milton Keynes, Solway, Fife. Possible teams: Newcastle, Whitley Bay, Blackburn, Bristol, Chelmsford, Romford.
Lower – National League – North and South English Leagues, Scottish League, end of season play off, no inter league play, 2 import maximum, majority of players under 25.
I would also introduce a British Cup with teams from all leagues playing each other with strict rules on the use of imports but something similar to the Best of British games played between Manchester and Coventry earlier this season.
If all this can be sort all we need would be a couple of permanent rinks in the North East, (Durham, Middlesbrough, and Newcastle) Manchester’s Altair rink to be built, Cardiff’s permanent home to be built next their big blue tent and an Elite League team in London and I think then British Ice Hockey would on its way to bigger and better things.