More travel, more expense but Flyers will ‘get on with it’ as EIHL confirms 11 teams

Fife Flyers will compete in an 11-team EIHL next season.
Fife Flyers will compete in an 11-team EIHL next season.

Fife Flyers will “get on with it” after this week’s confirmation that the Elite League will run with 11 teams next season.

Clubs will play each other six times across season 2018-19 – and the Scottish-based Gardiner Conference will continue with just three teams.

But, it means there will be no top flight ice hockey in Edinburgh.

Murrayfield Ice Rink decided against handing the ice time contract to perennial strugglers, Edinburgh Capitals, and gave it instead to a new consortium which planned to revive Heineken era legends, Murrayfield Racers.

That ambition was killed at the very first hurdle when the EIHL clubs dismissed its application even before the new club could present its business case in person.

Hull Pirates were widely tipped to step in as the 12th team until they decided to defer their application for 12 months.

The days when clubs played more games against teams in their conference than outwith it are gone.

In 2018-19, teams will play each other three times home and away with all league games against conference opponents counting towards that championship.

The Gardiner Conference – won by Fife Flyers last season – will operate with just three teams; Braehead Clan and Dundee Stars completing the all-Scottish mini-league – but the focus is very much on the league.

Flyers director Jack Wishart attended the EIHL board meeting at East Midlands Airport on Tuesday, where the plans for 2018-19 were thrashed out.

He told the Press that while the club accepted the new set-up, they were left with no other option.

“The only alternative was to reduce to 10 teams but nobody was willing to back out,” he said.

“It will certainly cost the club more money with all the extra travelling. There’s going to be more midweek games as well, which is another thing we didn’t want.

“We now need to discuss what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.

“We just need to get on with it. We’ve survived up til now, so let’s keep going.”

With the league set-up now confirmed, Mr Wishart accepted the need to provide supporters with news over the club’s intentions for its upcoming 80th season.

Todd Dutiaume and Jeff Hutchins are continuing to work behind the scenes on building a roster, despite no announcement yet being made over the coaching positions.

EIHL clubs will meet again on June 27 to agree on a fixture calendar, where Mr Wishart expects to have to jostle for the club’s preferred Saturday night slot.

“It will be another long and stressful meeting because more and more teams want Saturday games, and there’s only so many Saturdays in a season,” he said.

“We are a Saturday night club and we get lower crowds on a Sunday.

“We could try occasional Fridays, but that doesn’t help the rink, as it usually has a disco, and that’s where they make money.

“We might have to do one or two, but we really don’t want it to become regular thing.

“When we have no game on a Saturday, people find different things to do and getting them back in again is very difficult.

“We’ve got a routine and we want to try to stick to that so people know what to expect. Once you start chopping and changing it just puts everything in the air.

“We’ll do the best we can for both the team and the fans, but it’s not an easy job, at all.”

The structure of the Challenge Cup won’t be announced until after the fixtures meeting takes place.