A Possible Answer to NIHL North's Impossible Question

The NIHL has as a whole had another turbulent summer as it battles with its identity crises with yet more changes have occurred. The South has seen a restructure of Division 2 into 2 conferences whilst the North was thrown into chaos and uncertainty until the last minute.

Changes in Telford meant that Moralee D1 (or North 1 as it was 2 seasons ago) side Telford Titans have been left unable to ice a side. In Telford the Titans have been replaced by a development side for the EPL’s Telford Tigers. This new side has joined the resurrected Bradford Bulldogs in entering Laidler D2 (or North 2 as it was).  But this was only confirmed during last week after teams had returned for preseason and season ticket sales had been issued. Instead of last seasons Laidler champions Solihull stepping up to D1 there will be an imbalance in the divisions with D1 having 7 teams whilst D2 has 10.  It is perhaps understandable that the Barons didn’t step up given the late notice but it is far from ideal especially for the Whitely Warriors who does not have the extra games in the new English Challenge Cup as some comfort.

Craig Simpson this week highlighted that this is yet another summer of overhaul for the NIHL North in his article ‘What Should We Do With NIHL In The North?’. He does hit the nail on the head that travelling is a big issue especially with the inclusion of Solway in the NIHL North with the Solihull Barons, Coventry Blaze NIHL and Nottingham Lions not keen on the 400 plus mile round trip especially when they need to travel to the North East as well and on a smaller budget than those ‘far north’ teams. Craig’s solution was to create a ‘senior league’ with the senior side at each rink or area in and a ‘development’ league with the more feeder teams.

Senior League Developmental League
Billingham Stars Nottingham Lions
Blackburn Hawks Coventry Blaze NIHL
Whitley Bay Warriors Hull Jets
Deeside Dragons Manchester Minotaurs
Widnes Wild Telford NIHL
Sutton Sting Sheffield Senators
Solway Sharks Sheffield Spartans
Solihull Barons Blackburn Eagles
Bradford Bulldogs

That does suit quite well except there is no way that Bradford or Deeside could compete with the bigger budget sides that they are now in against. A caveat could be that starter teams could enter the Developmental League for a couple of seasons but that does not help Deeside.

A way round this might be to introduce an EPL Division 2 and bring in some of the NIHL South teams as well perhaps cut into two conferences. And keep the NIHL as is with a mix of small budget senior sides and developmental sides.

Personally I like the concept of an EPL Division 2 and the whole of the NIHL as a developmental league similar to ‘A’ team rugby or ‘Reserve’ fixture football. You could have the EPL Division 1 as is as a national 1 conference league and EPL 2 as a 3 interconference league set up.

EPL Division 1
Manchester Phoenix
Basingstoke Bison
Guildford Flames
Swindon Wildcats
Milton Keynes Lightning
Sheffield Steeldogs
Peterborough Phantoms
Telford Tigers


EPL Division 2 North EPL Division 2 Midlands EPL Division 2 South
Solway Sharks Deeside Dragons Chelmsford Chieftains
Billingham Stars Solihull Barons Invicta Dynamos
Blackburn Hawks Widnes Wild Isle of Wight Raiders
Whitely Warriors Oxford City Stars London Raiders
Bradford Bulldogs* Bristol Pitbulls Streatham Redskins
Sutton Sting Telford Titans± Lee Valley Lions§
   Cardiff Fire London Racers
  Solent and Gosport Devils

*After x seasons in Developmental League ± Playing as an independent club separate from the Telford Tigers set up. Other rinks may have more than one senior side if ran as separate entities.

§ As an example could choose to play in developmental league as London Raiders affiliate.

From a development point of view this would work quite well. Players would come through the youth system be able to sign a developmental contract that would allow them to play in the developmental league and for the senior side and before making the step up to the senior side could be loaned out to a EPL 1 or EPL 2 team for a season. The ultimate goal would be that every team would have a developmental team.

Under this structure there would be promotion and relegation between the 2 EPL Divisions, cross conference games in Division 2 and the teams in those conferences may move depending on who is promoted and relegated. The major challenge for this structure would be finding and imposing the right budget levels or agreements on what teams could put into contracts such travel expenses.  However the promotion and relegation element would allow teams to play a higher standard and spend more on their side if they so wish and prove they are good enough by having won the Division 2. This structure could also lend itself to having promotion to the EIHL.

It is interesting to note that similar discussions are taking place in North America over the future of the AHL and ECHL and the NHL affiliates. But one thing is for sure no matter how you cut it as Craig Simpson says if teams cannot agree to the t’s and c’s that it isn’t for them. The EIHA needs to govern and lay down the structure, impose rules and be stronger for the better of the game and development of players.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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