Ice Hockey: Clubs cool over wage curb: Steve Pinder reports on ice hockey's bold plans to introduce a salary ceiling with a new league format

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The Independent Online
THE restructuring of the Premier Division has been greeted reasonably warmly by clubs, but the proposal for wage capping received at best lukewarm interest.

The British Ice Hockey Association hopes to have the new 16- team league in place for the beginning of next season. David Pickles, the BIHA secretary, said: 'We are looking at two regional leagues, north and south (which would in theory see Nottingham Panthers as the most southern of the first, and Peterborough Pirates the most northerly of the second).

'The two leagues would play twice at home and twice away, and a play-off system would decide who were the British champions as well as relegation and promotion.

'The extra teams would come from the existing First Division's top sides, while the bottom teams, together with the English and Scottish First Division (effectively the Third Division), would be organised in very much the same way.'

Paul Smith, the coach of Durham Wasps, said: 'The move is long overdue and perfectly right. There would be a lot more interest from the fans who would get a chance to see more players and more teams. It's the kick the sport's needed.'

Alex Dampier, the former Nottingham Panthers coach who is now with Sheffield Steelers, said: 'The league needs freshening up. The gap between the top and bottom teams in this league is very marked and a team like Lee Valley Lions might survive better in a lower league where derbies against Streatham, Romford and Chelmsford could draw better crowds than they get at present.'

Wage capping, however, has its problems. Dampier and Smith quoted the example of a player who might be in the employ of sympathetic club sponsor. If his salary were increased by the sponsor and his playing salary decreased to be spread elsewhere would this be allowed under the wage-capping system?

The theory, according to Pickles, is 'to ensure teams continue to exist in the face of dire financial trends'. But it would not take a financial genius to find ways of evading the independent audit clubs will be expected to submit to.

Over the weekend,Wasps were defeated 10-5 by Cardiff Devils and Murrayfield Racers, setting a record of 12 defeats for the first time in their 10 years in the Heineken Premier Division. Racers also suffered, losing 16-5 to Billingham Bombers, their heaviest league defeat. Anthony Payne's eight goals and one assist for Bombers equalled the record score by a British player in one game.