LEEDS CHIEFS’ coach Sam Zajac has backed the new NIHL National league to provide the competitive edge he feels has been lacking in the sport’s second tier in recent years.
After weekend meetings between English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA) officials and club representatives, details of how the new league’s structure and format will look were revealed on Monday night.
The 10-team league will be split into two conferences for a 52-game regular season.
I don’t think there is going to be much in it. I expect it to be tight all the way from 1-10, which is what has been sorely lacking in the last couple of years.Leeds Chiefs’ player-coach, Sam Zajac
Teams will play conference rivals a total of eight times – four times at home and four away – while facing off against teams from the other conference four times.
As expected, Leeds find themselves in a conference with Yorkshire rivals Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs, along with Telford Tigers and Milton Keynes Lightning.
The second conference grouping brings together Swindon Wildcats, Bracknell Bees, Basingstoke Bison, Peterborough Phantoms and Romford-based Raiders IHC.
The post-season has also had a revamp with a return to two four-team groups last seen in the now-defunct EPIHL preferred to the knockout format used in recent years.
“Both conferences are pretty evenly matched, I think,” said player-coach Zajac.
“The way every team seems to be shaping up so far, I don’t think there is going to be much in it. I expect it to be tight all the way from 1-10, which is what has been sorely lacking in the last couple of years.”
And while Zajac admits he would prefer a series format for the playoffs, he believes the decision to go with a group stage offers teams that qualify the chance to put together a decent post-season run.
“Ideally I’d like to play a three, five or seven-game series but the logistics of it in this country mean that just isn’t feasible,” added Zajac.
“I don’t mind either way, but a group format does give teams more chance to get it right in the playoffs and it gives it a lot more credibility with potentially eight more games to play after the end of the regular season.”