NIHL North will have a new format for 2013/14 after teams voted to change the structure at the EIHA AGM. Last year’s NIHL2 teams will be joined by Coventry Blaze to form the new Laidler Conference, while the remaining NIHL1 teams make up the Moralee Conference.
EIHA Chairman Ken Taggart explained the reasons for the change: “Because of the higher profile and increase in travel time and costs, several teams felt they were in threat of costing themselves out of business. The old ‘cut your cloth’ motto has come home to a lot of team operators. A lot of us think of the competitive factor and the ‘win’ at all costs factor, but these days teams have to worry about running out of money if they try to live on their gate receipts or force more out of players into a ‘pay to play’ environment.
“The North have split into two Conferences as a trial for the upcoming season. There will be no promotion or relegation and we will review everything at next years’ meeting. There will also be a cup that will involve a mix of both Conferences, but there will be a struggle for some teams to get ice.”
Moralee Conference will also feature an end of season play-off weekend at Dumfries Ice Bowl over the weekend of April 12/13 2014. The top four teams will play semi-finals on the Saturday, with the final held the following day. It’s unclear at this stage whether Laidler Conference will have play-offs or if the two sections will find an overall winner. A number of fans have criticised the changes, while reaction from within the game has also been negative.
Sutton Sting Coach Ian Johnson said: “It was a very interesting meeting with teams basically telling the EIHA what they should do. It’s a big step backwards in my opinion and seems to have been pushed through by two teams who I thought were supposed to be two of our beacon clubs. It’s amazing how they are now worried about not being competitive and having to learn how to lose. I think it’s very poor.”
Telford Titans’ Dave Fielder had been vocal about the need for change but slammed the move saying, “We should have gone Midlands and North. This is much worse – two separate leagues – I just don’t see the point.”
Coventry Blaze defender Adam Andrews had mixed feelings: “It’s swings and roundabouts really. It’s a farce from a Blaze point of view as they fought to stay up and for what now? Yet again Trafford get relegated and dodge a bullet. Having no promotion or relegation is a joke, but less travel for Coventry this year is good personally, but I was looking forward to doing battle in the top division again.”
Sheffield Senators Coach Andy Ellis said the move devalued the competition: “So what’s to play for now? I can’t imagine big spenders like Deeside and Solihull are too happy. How can they justify paying players when there’s no play-offs or chance of promotion? It’s not so bad for pay to play teams like us, but there has to be some end goal to work towards.”
Solway Sharks Coach Martin Grubb summed up the mood saying: “It all sounds a bit like certain Midlands clubs are dictating what is going on.”