Putting the National in NIHL
The format for the 2017 NIHL season is now set and whilst i do hesitate saying that given the changes upon changes that have occurred I do think it is a positive format and one that puts the National in National Ice Hockey League.
For as long as we have had a national league, whether it was the ENL or NIHL the north and south divisions have felt very separate. Different numbers of teams, regionalised conferences within divisions, promotion and even having names for the divisions have made the north and south feel very different.
The changes for 2017 season though will feel more like the NIHL level is a united level across the country. A cup competition contested in 4 regionalised groups straddling the North and South followed by a knock out phase across the country helps to combine the major divide during the regular season whilst the playoff format will be familiar to all.
Promotion and regulation rules will be same across the North and South at the outset at least. Though the NIHL’s record on this pretty poor with teams refusing to be promoting.
There are some tweaks I would have liked to have seen. The playoff format for example is a bit disjointed. In division 1 there will be North and South champion crowned before the National League Playoff finals which will feature 2 teams from the north and south meeting over a weekend. I like the idea of a combined north and south playoff to find an overall NIHL champion but the format means that a North and South champion might be different to the national champion. For me the playoff final for the North and South should be the semi-final for the national final.
Then there is the Autumn Cup featuring 6 of the 7 remaining EPL teams which doesn’t really sit anywhere but if it appeases those sides and fills some of the fixture gap between the EPL and NIHL then ok.
The big question and gap in many ways is the SNL. Though the SNL is on a pathway to becoming aligned with the NIHL with the number of imports being allowed increasing to 2 over the coming years and the hope of adding the SNL to the picture of building a truly cross country NIHL level championship.
Overall it will be a positive format for next season and one that will suit many fans. We might not have the EPL level anymore but the new format is certainly not the same as the NIHL level of years gone by either. There will be lots of variety for fans and the national playoff finals will give the fans the annual get together that the EPL teams were used to however now it will be encompassing 19 teams so how about that for variety.