NIHL North Gets Split

The EIHA annual meeting has thrown up a real spanner in the works. As part of a trail run in 2014 the National League North will be split into two conferences rather than two divisions.

The change has been born out of the decision by the Nottingham Lions to decline promotion due to increased travel costs of playing in National League North 1. However some of the changes do not seem to add up.

The newly named Moralee Conference will feature Telford Titans, Trafford Metros, Sheffield Spartans, Billingham Stars, Whitley Warriors, Solway Sharks and Blackburn Hawks. Whilst the Laidler Conference will feature Nottingham Lions, Widnes Wild, Deeside Dragons, Coventry Blaze, Sheffield Senators, Hull Stingrays and possibly the return of the Bradford Bulldogs.

It was recognised last season that there was a need to cut down on travel for the midland clubs but if the conferences have been split on a geographical basis it seems an odd mix especially as Telford is not in the same conference as Coventry and Nottingham. It is also unclear as to whether or not the two conferences will have a playoff to see an overall winner. This is further complicated by the fact the Moralee Conference will have a playoff finals weekend in Dumfries in April whilst the Laidler Conference would opt for the two legged affair of previous years.

The clubs themselves have driven this change but what seems to be more odd is that it is a decision that has left many fans angry and many coaches bemoaning the decision. It has even been admitted by some clubs that the split could limit marketing opportunities.

It is also expected that there will be a cup competition that will involve all clubs but with EIHA Chairman Ken Taggart hinting that some clubs may struggle for ice time it could a difficult season for the NIHL North.

It is more the case the decision to call the change conferences seems to have created more panic but it is rather a continuation of the status quo with the exception that Coventry will drop down to what would have been division 2. The real change will be that teams can apply to join the other conference.  Whilst teams will have the flexibility to apply to join the other conference with out winning the conference or the playoff we have seen with franchising in the EIHL and Premier League sides often become complacent in their league and rather used to be being a big fish in a small pond.

The issues in the National League around transport costs and the difference in abilities of teams’ means it is hard to find a common ground; both fans and clubs may have more warmly received a more integrated conference system.

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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