New Kids On the Block For National League
The 2013 season may have just ended but eyes are on the 2014 season already. The National League will see the biggest shake up with 2 new teams ready to take to the ice.
The new kids on the block will be the Widnes Wild from Merseyside who will enter NIHL North 2 and returning to competition will be the London or Harringay Racers who have been admitted to NIHL South 2.
Widnes Wild have already made their mark with a PR drive that has seen the team produce a website, gain a presence on twitter and engage with local schools as the pupils chose the name and teams new logo. It is good start for the side that are based at the new Hive Leisure Park in Widnes not far from the city of Liverpool. When the Wild take to the ice in September it will be the first time since 1982 that Merseyside has iced a senior team and so far they look ambitious.
However with the Manchester Phoenix just down the road drawing in fans from across the North West and the sideâ€™s sledge hockey team using the Widnes rink for sessions, the Wildâ€™s biggest task will be pulling in more than just a curious crowd. But with the city of Liverpool down the road and the side using the Merseryside connection it is a step in the right direction. The Wild will also benefit from the local rivalries with recently demoted Trafford and beaten promotion playoff finalist Deeside as well the interest in from a legends game beaten the Liverpool Leopards and the Deeside Dragons on July 13th.
Also making a come back to the ice are the London or Haringey Racers. The Racers name is one of the oldest in British ice hockey and the name had made a return to senior leagues in 2003 when the London Racers entered the newly formed EIHL. However after a disastrous start and a string of problems with arenas the team folded in 2005. Now they are back and playing at their traditional home Alexandra Palace in central London.
The side will make its comeback in NIHL South 2 but clearly have the ambitions to climb higher. Whilst the side will be official named the Haringey Racers a lot of its PR is under the London banner with the brains behind the project wanting to sow the seeds and grow the team with an eye on bigger targets. It is a good start and plan for the team.
British ice hockey needs a strong presence in London to attract top sponsor and corporate interest in the sport. However with the boom and bust of the past with the London Knights in the Superleague and the London Racers in the Elite League it is difficult to regain any confidence. However by starting small and putting the set up in place it may allow a side the chance to develop into something bigger.
Despite there being 2 new teams on the scene there are doubts over the future of others. The Fylde Flyers have disbanded with their license being transferred to Widnes whilst the future of the Romford Raiders and Romford Fury is very uncertain.
The Flyers have ceased operations at the senior level stating that the small size of the ice pad was hindering their recruitment at the senior level. It is a fair comment although many will be left angry given the wait for the return of ice hockey on the Fylde coast. Half size rinks are no places for senior ice hockey in Britain. If hockey is develop as a serious sport in the UK its senior leagues need to competing on full size ice pads. The Flyers though will remain in British ice hockey icing junior sides, which is a welcome legacy.
The Racers though seem likely to be replacing a side that will definitely leave many angry. The closure of the Rom Valley Way ice rink has stirred many angry voices after the council reneged on its commitment to build a temporary rink for the Raiders and its many junior sides including the NIHL South 2 Fury. With a new rink for Romford still in the planning stages it seems almost certain that the Romford Fury will not take part in the NIHL South 2 next season whilst the Raiders could join the Bristol Pitbulls in being homeless for the 2014 season although it has been rumoured the Raiders may play at the Lee Valley Ice Center but the club has yet to confirm anything.
The final plans for the 2013 â€“ 14 English Premier League and National Ice Hockey League will be announced following the EIHA Annual General Meeting on June 22nd.