The Nottingham Lions will be playing in the newly created NIHL Laidler Conference for the forthcoming 2013/14 season.
This weekend’s EIHA AGM saw a number of surprise changes to the NIHL league structure, all of which were exclusively revealed on the official Nottingham Lions Twitter account on Saturday evening.
The two-tier, promotion/relegation system, which has been in place for the past few seasons has now been replaced with one-tier, two-conference format, removing the possiblity of promotion or relegation and includes an end of season playoff competition for both conferences, details of which are still to be finalised.
The all-new Laidler Conference will allow the Lions to once again, renew their Midlands rivalry with Coventry Blaze as well as facing local challenges from Solihull Barons and Sheffield Senators.
Nottingham will also play an extra four regular season games compared with their 2012/13 championship winning campaign – playing a minimum of 28 games with two home and away ties against each of their opponents, which also include Hull Stringrays, Blackburn Eagles, Deeside Dragons and the newly-formed Widnes Wild.
The NIHL Moralee Conference consists of the teams who featured in NIHL Division One North last season with the exception of Coventry. (Solway Sharks, Billingham Stars, Whitley Warriors, Sutton Sting, Sheffield Spartans, Blackburn Hawks, Trafford Metros and Telford Titans).
The conferences are named after former EIHA directors Rob Laidler and Neville Moralee who passed away in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Nottingham Head Coach Matt Bradbury was clearly pleased with the new format and spoke to nottinghamlions.co.uk today; saying,
“We are excited about the formation of the new conference system and look forward to the forthcoming campaign.”
“When we first decided not to take promotion we based our decision on sustainability for financial reasons and also to enable us to continue to develop our young local talent whilst staying competitive at the same time.”
“If you see the roster that Solihull are putting together then you tell me my players aren’t going to develop playing against a team like that – travelling an hour to Solihull to play in front of 700 fans, then having another hour up the road for a humdinger of a game in Ice Sheffield.”
“We are going to play four more games than we did last season which is another 240 minutes worth of hockey. Again using that as a further chance to ice more players.”
“We didn’t expect Coventry to make the move which they decided at the AGM, but you have to admire their sense. Playing games against Solihull, Coventry, Sheffield, Hull as well as the not so local Deeside, Blackburn and Widnes! – It really will make for a competitive season”
“We also believed other teams were about to consider to look at joining the Laidler Conference, but changed their mind at the last minute.”
“Those doubters saying that games won’t be competitive and won’t have a meaning with there being no promotion – every team that stepped onto the ice in the league last season played with passion, spirit and pride whether it was top versus bottom or a top of the league clash.”
“If people think sensibly the conference system could be a real building block for sustainable and competitive hockey across the NIHL, time will tell.”
“We are working on another exciting initiative which is just around the corner that will be revealed quite soon. We have many young talented hockey players in Nottingham and with the right personnel supporting and guiding them with a real vision to what hockey in this country is all about.”
The Lions’ representative at the meeting was General Manager Danny Harrison, he also spoke to nottinghamlions.co.uk today and gave his thoughts on the changes; saying,
“Contrary to people’s beliefs, Ken Taggart (EIHA Chairman) opened the floor for a positive topical discussion for league formats and gave opportunity to every team to voice their opinions - It’s no good people going onto internet forums and criticising this combined decision without knowing the real facts – every team had an opportunity to put their views forward.”
“It has been said that some teams should just go out and get sponsorship to support them financially, that’s not as easy as people think – If you look at the two conferences out of a total of sixteen teams – seven of them play in buildings that either have Elite League or EPL teams playing out of them.”
“Sponsors are more likely to go for the pro teams rather than the little teams. We should know better than anyone, we have the Nottingham Panthers playing out of the NIC, as we’re the “second team” in Nottingham the public and sponsors want to support the best hockey available to them, that in theory is the Panthers”
“Some people believe that to develop players they need to play in “the best” league, I’m not entirely convinced, we have Sam Gospel playing and training with the Panthers on a two way contract, Ollie Betteridge and Gareth O’Flaherty moved to the EPL after being noticed playing for the Lions in Division Two – That’s what we’re here for, to develop players at a reasonable cost, we can’t keep them, we can’t afford to!”
“Our record speaks for itself, the team has ambition, we are looking to the future, we are here for our junior players and always will be, they are the life blood of this great sport, and without them we have nothing.”
Keep an eye out for more exciting news from the Lions’ camp in the coming weeks as the inaugural Laidler Conference season rapidly approaches.