BOTW Breakdown – The EPIHL becomes the PIHL February 2017

With Guildford and Milton Keynes confirmed for the 2017/18 Elite League season and the Manchester Phoenix folding, the remaining owners of EPL clubs had to react. After a league meeting on Sunday morning, we have an announcement from the owners so BOTW is here to break down what has been revealed today.

With the MK Lightning and Guildford leaving for the EIHL, the remaining owners in the EPL have acted to try and protect the future. (c) 5 Hole Photography

With the MK Lightning and Guildford leaving for the EIHL, the remaining owners in the EPL have acted to try and protect the future.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The owners of the current EPL teams met on Sunday. From the outset it is important to understand that all of the owners, as a collective, are driven to ensure that the league works as a viable competition for the long term future of the sport, that it has stability and also develops as an on ice product, providing a place to truly develop the best of British talent. This was the basis which shaped the meeting on Sunday and it was the shared vision of all of the owners which helped it to be such a productive morning.

Well that’s reassuring to hear though I venture that the last part of this is somewhat creative license. They’ll be agreement that something needs to be done so we should be thankful for that at least.

The key points to come out of the meeting are:

1. 7 teams have committed to participating next season, ensuring the future of the league.

This is a start, albeit an inauspicious one. Telford, who could have justifiably decided to walk after the unilateral action taken against them at the last meeting, appear to at least have agreed to remain in the fold for the time being. Then again with the financial difficulties they had this season running a 5 import side, the only option for Telford would have been down to the NIHL rather than up.

2. There will be a name change to “Premier Ice Hockey League” to reflect a new beginning and growing opportunities for participation.

Aside from the fact that the acronym PIHL could also stand for the Planet Ice Hockey League (make your own jokes), I don’t particularly like the name. It just sounds a bit flat. It’s not the hardest conclusion to jump to that the name change might be to try and encourage teams from outside of England to join the league be it Cardiff Fire who are quietly making waves in the new National Ice Arena in Cardiff Bay in terms of player development or Solway Sharks in Dumfries who are arguably the best coached and professionally run organisation in the NIHL structure.

3. The non-British trained player level will drop to three, giving British talent the chance to develop, as well as trying to bring financial stability to the league.

This has been rumoured for a few weeks. Part of this plays into a larger point that I’ll make in a bit but on the surface, this is a cost cutting measure from the remaining sides as well as a carrot to tempt other sides to come up. 5 imports clearly hasn’t been sustainable and many of the top end NIHL sides baulked at having 4 imports due to costs, let alone five. It’s a half way house to try and please everyone. It will, in the immediacy, arguably push up the cost of top end British players but it remains to be seen what happens to the glut of British players left jobless by the loss of the Phoenix and those who do not step up to the EIHL with the Flames and Lightning. If the league somehow starts with 10 teams then there could be an issue. It’s less of an issue if there’s only 8 teams with a large group of decent British players becoming available in the south of the country.

4. In the season 2019-20 no non-British trained goalies can be signed, only British trained goalies will be allowed.

If the import level drop is the one thing to grab the attention first then this will be second. British hockey at all levels has kicked the can of British netminder development down the road further and further for a long time now and whilst the date is a bit arbitrary, it’s a line in the sand that teams need to start engaging properly in netminder development. It’s also an incentive to start looking and working towards getting better British netminders now so as to not be left behind in the summer of 2019 whether it be link ups with lower tier sides or extra work in the junior clubs.

5. The bankruptcy ruling agreed at the last meeting will form part of the rules of competition from season 2017 / 18.

That was never going to be allowed to go away. The owners have learned their lesson on this one.

What can be instantly seen is the commitment to the league and a commitment to longevity which will, hopefully, develop an exciting breed of talented young players.

Will get to this one in a bit.

The structure of the league and cup competitions will largely remain the same, although there are some finer details to be worked out, and the owners will meet again at the end of March to finalise these. Following this meeting there is a desire to have everything in place, and announced, by the Playoff Finals weekend so that owners, players, sponsors and fans have full confidence in the league as a viable and successful model.

Hopefully the owners stick to this. They do point themselves into a corner in terms of getting teams to join if they’re wanting to announce such details. They could have done with being more pointed as to what it coming in March and April rather than this which hog ties them a bit.

This is an exciting time for the Premier Ice Hockey League, and the sport within the UK, after what has been a challenging year. There has been a recognition that our outlook has to evolve in order for our game to evolve, the only way to do this is to invest in our British players and provide them with the best environment in which to thrive and develop.

That’s actually an alarmingly decent assessment; it’s been a tough year, the outlook did need to evolve. The shame in some ways is that it took the house of cards nearly collapsing in spectacular fashion for them to see this. The proof of all the talk of development and how committed the clubs are to it will be in the pudding.

We are actively looking to expand as a league and are hoping that the changes, and commitments made, will encourage other clubs and teams to join us in providing a stable and exciting future.

Hopefully so as a 7 team league won’t do very well for very long. Fans might stick with it for 1 season but beyond that I personally think there will be issues.I doubt that Planet Ice will want to immediately put another team into this new structure given all the recent upheaval with the argument that this isn’t the EPIHL.

 

We, as a league, are fully committed to making this a reality, we are driven to succeed and ask fans across the country to join and support us in our vision.

I get a feeling that this wasn’t written by the people who wrote the last press release…

The immediate glaring omission from this press release is the lack of any mention or connection to the ongoing plans of a new governing structure under Ice Hockey UK (thankfully it seems that the EPL teams have softened in their stance towards such things) or in fact who the governing body will be at all. Initially that might not sound like a massive issue but it will have a massive say on the future of the league.

If the league ends up under the EIHA then nothing really changes and one assumes given no word on the matter that the status quo remains. If the league ends up under IHUK then there’s a chance that it’s the end of European only imports for the league as leagues under IHUK (like the Elite League) can get players who require work permits. The argument could be that if teams are wanting to develop British players then you get the best imports possible to play alongside them. There’s cost issues involved with work permits, just as there are with ITC cards but if it becomes an available option then you have to believe that some teams will take it. From a question asked at the Swindon fans forum this evening, the plan is for it to remain under the EIHA for the time being and no interest in work permits but we obviously need to see what happens with the EIHA potentially joining any IHUK structure.

When we get down to brass tacks (and I said I’d get to it) the owners have now made a “commitment to longevity which will, hopefully, develop an exciting breed of talented young players” and they need to be held with that.” The English Premier Ice Hockey League has been a development league in name only for quite some time. Development has almost been a side effect rather than a goal of the play of clubs and it’s widely acknowledged that more needs to be done. For this new structure to do that, the Elite League needs to engage as does the NIHL but if this league is actually going to develop players then they need to do it. The way to prove that commitment is to either engage with the IHUK plans or publish their own. If British netminders need to be used by 2019/20 then why not propose a home grown players target or u20s minimum or the like?

There are two final questions that will concern people. The first is the quality of hockey that will be on offer given that there’s a drop of two imports for next season. For me as an observer, the increase from four to five imports has not seen a dramatic increase in the quality but the drop from five to three will see a marked change and it’s one that some will not want to pay for that because they feel that a drop in imports means a drop in quality. For me, aside from the fact we need to see what the product on the ice actually is, there’s a legitimate argument that there has to be a step in any direction to make things more sustainable. Whether reducing import levels is the way that works remains to be seen.

The other question; will it work? Time will tell.

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3 Comments on “BOTW Breakdown – The EPIHL becomes the PIHL February 2017”

  1. Presumably the permit situation will forcibly change when we brexit? 😦

    • Suppose it depends what happens on that front. With all European law remaining till the exit (so coincidentally 2019 when there would be no import goalies if article 50 is triggered in March) they have time to play with what they do there.

      • Mike says:

        As a British passport holder, suspect it might not be legal to prevent Jon Baston playing.


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