ELITE LEAGUE chairman Tony Smith believes the UK’s top-flight competition is much stronger after Guildford Flames agreed to compete from the start of the 2017-18 season.
The Flames, currently competing in the English Premier League with the likes of Sheffield Steeldogs and Hull Pirates, will see the number of teams competing in the UK’s tyop flight rise to 12 as a result of today’s announcment.
They are the second EPL club to make the step up in the past 12 months, with Milton Keynes Lightning also set to make the switch this summer.
Smith, also owner of defending Elite League champions, Sheffield Steelers, said news of Guildford’s inclusion was further proof of the league’s overall improvement and growing status.
“Guildford’s inclusion gives our league much strength going forward,” said Smith, after the decision was ratified at an EIHL meeting earlier in the week.
“With Milton Keynes 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.
“It promises to be a great season ahead.”
The EIHL currently operates a two-conference system, roughly divided on geographical lines, but it remains to be seen how the expanded league will line-up next season.
One possibility could see Belfast Giants switch from the Erhardt Conference where they play eight times a season against Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers, Coventry Blaze and Cardiff Devils.
This would put them into the Gardiner Conference in which Manchester Storm compete against four Scottish rivals, Fife Flyers, Brahead Clan, Edinburgh Capitals and Dundee Stars.
Such a move would then see Milton Keynes and Guildford go into the ‘southern’ conference.
“As things currently stand, we are reviewing what the structure of the league will be and the Conferences so we can’t reveal anything at this time,” added Smith.
“This is something that will be announced at a later date.”
Since forming in 1992, Guildford have won six league titles, five play-off competitions and seven cups and will make the step up to the top tier for the first time in their history.
The Flames’ chief operating officer Kirk Humphreys said the time was right for the Flames to make such a move.
“We feel that the time is right to step up to a higher quality, faster on ice product,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
Flames heead coach Paul Dixon added: “Moving to the top flight of domestic pro hockey is unquestionably a step up to a faster game with a much deeper talent pool than we currently enjoy.
“Along with currently available player sources, the EIHL structure opens up some global leagues that used to be part of our recruiting grounds in the former British National League.
“Those leagues produced many of our former star players, but have been largely unavailable to us under EPL player eligibility guidelines.”