Stephen McIlkenny: The EIHL has left the league in a sorry mess with the Racers rejection
Ice hockey fans in the Capital were dealt a hammer blow yesterday when it was revealed that the Elite League had rejected an application from Racers Leisure Ltd to participate in 2018/19 campaign.
Despite securing ice time at Murrayfield while effectively ousting the Edinburgh Capitals from their home, the decision from the EIHL to reject the Racers bid has implications that will reverberate across the UK hockey scene.
For a start, there are the local fans in Edinburgh and across Scotland.
While the Capitals had significant issues on and off the ice in their time, the prospect of no professional ice hockey in the Capital is a scenario that fans would not have been able to conjure up in their worst nightmares.
The decision will no doubt be felt across the city, the move from the EIHL also has an impact on the other Scottish sides, taking away some old rivalries and impacting the Gardiner Conference, and the league as a whole.
Last year, the league reshaped with the addition of Guildford Flames and Milton Keynes Lightning.
The overhaul which saw the inclusion of the two new sides no doubt had an impact on the league. Yesterday’s decision throws yet another curve ball to the fans and the organisation as a whole. Unless there is yet another major shake-up of the EIHL and the conference, the league will need to find a new franchise to compete in the Gardiner Conference.
The association stated that: “Regarding the vacant 12th slot, we are continuing to examine all options going forward and will announce an outcome in due course.”
While there have been some calls to introduce yet another London side, the current conference set up means that unless there is another significant change or yet another shake-up, an additional franchise in London or the south is unlikely. So, despite the rejection of the Racers bid, the EIHL will need to find a northern-based team to compete and fill in the northern conference slot.
And, in reality, bar the likes of Hull, it may need to be a Scottish side. So why not choose the Edinburgh bid?
As it stands, Scotland’s capital city will not have an ice hockey team in the UK’s top league, despite three other sides playing at a professional level.
But what does this mean going forward for EIHL in Edinburgh?
Well, it would appear that the Racers bid for top-flight hockey is dead in the water with the Murrayfield Racers now expected to submit a proposal to join the second division of the National Ice Hockey League, a semi-professional league consisting of 43 clubs and governed by the English Ice Hockey Association.
But could the Caps make an unlikely return?
It’s looking unlikely. While one would assume that the Edinburgh Capitals would be approved by the league, having been members last season, it appears that the door has been slammed shut on their bid to have ice time at Murrayfield.
Asked whether the Edinburgh Capitals could re-apply for the ice-time that they lost to Racers Leisure, Murrayfield ice rink managing director Richard Stirling said: “I don’t believe so. The hockey at Murrayfield had reached an unviable level, proved by Capitals Hockey Limited going into liquidation in November. For the benefit of the league and to save it falling apart mid-season, Cool House Marketing were granted a contract by us to run through to the end of the season.” If rejecting the Racers was an attempt by the league to force the hand of the ice rink, it seems to have failed.
So what now?
Well, the truth is that this sorry mess is likely to continue with the Caps unable to secure ice time and the EIHL unlikely to approve Edinburgh’s alternative bid.
WIth Murrayfield slamming the door on a potential EIHL franchise, and the Racers still likely to use the rink (albeit in a lower league) The Caps look set to join a host of times exiled from the EIHL.