Flames step up to take Elite League to 12 teams

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Guildford Flames will become the 12th team in the Elite Ice Hockey League from next season.

They will step up from the English Premier League to compete in the 2017-18 season.

And they will be joined in the top tier by fellow newcomers, Milton Keynes Lightning.

The impact of two new teams on the EIHL’s conference structure has yet to be clarified.

Speculation has centred on two leagues of six – or three groups of four – but who plays where is up for debate.

The arrival of two southern sides in the EIHL also shifts the geographical balance, and that could mean more give and take is required when it comes to the fixtures schedule.

Fans may well see more Friday night hockey as well as Saturday teams having to face-off on Sundays.

Flames’ step up will also rekindle memories among Fife Flyers’ fans of the clubs’ great BNL rivalry during which teams led by Stan Marple and Mark Morrison went head to head across several seasons.

Flames were the biggest team south of the border during the British National League, with Kirk Humphreys one of their key players.

Now the club’s chief operating officer, he is looking forward to the return of top flight ice hockey at The Spectrum

He believes the time was right for the Flames to join the Elite League.

“To say the least, we are exceptionally excited to have been given this opportunity by the league and its board members,’’ Kirk said.

“We feel that the time is right to step up to a higher quality, faster on ice product.

“We believe the jump to the Elite League level will be well received by our fans, and best suits our own objectives in promoting the most competitive, entertaining hockey we can put on the ice.

“After a successful quarter century, we are the same club, same home building, same ties to the community, but now we have the chance to compete in the highest league available to us.

“We hope our fans are as thrilled as we are to begin our next steps at the very top of British ice hockey.”

Guildford’s addition was also welcomed by Tony Smith, league chairman.

He said. “With Milton Keynes Lightning also competing from next season, it’s an exciting time and our growth is a definite positive as we look to the future.

“Guildford are an established force in the English Premier League and they have a history of success at that level, which will stand them in good stead.

The next step for the EIHL is to work out the structure of the league and conference set-up.

It’s currently under review and details will be available at a later date.