Game welcomes new era

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The Independent Online
Ice hockey

British ice hockey contemplates a new era this weekend when a meeting in Blackpool will sort out the sport's new structure.

Seven clubs - Cardiff, Sheffield, Manchester, Basingstoke, Bracknell, Newcastle, Ayr and Guildford - have all joined up for the new Super League administered by the clubs themselves, with Nottingham waiting in the wings.

The rest of the clubs meet in the seaside town to decide their own future with the formation of the British National Ice Hockey League, which will have two divisions, a Premier and First Division, under the present governing body, the British Ice Hockey Association.

Adrian Florence, the chairman of the working party looking into the new league structure, said: "We're going to Blackpool and come midnight Sunday the whole thing will be sorted out. No ifs - it will be sorted."

In a revolutionary change to the rules, there will be no drawn games in the BNIHL. If the sides are level at the end of normal time, games will go into sudden-death overtime and the side that scores first wins. If after overtime the teams are still tied, then a penalty shoot-out will decide the winner.

However, the most important key to the new structure will be the club's financial welfare. Premier Division status will only go to sides able to guarantee a minimum expenditure of pounds 140,000 while the minimum for First Division membership will be pounds 75,000.

For the first time in the sport, there will be a professional side from Northern Ireland competing in the league. Previously teams from the province played in the Scottish Divisions or played purely recreational hockey.

Florence said the main aims were to have a competitive alternative to the Super League for teams with rinks that did not come up to their criteria. "It will have to be seen as viable and the level of play in the Premier I foresee as being as good as it was this season.

"If we can achieve that, then the fans will turn out to watch it in increased numbers. The sport is growing and we must reflect that added interest. What is in nobody's interest is teams trying to compete with the big venue outfits and bankrupting themselves.''

With teams like Milton Keynes, Slough, Humberside, Fife and Whitley Warriors set to be included, half this season's Premier League teams are expected to compete in the new National League.