Ola Bjerkovoll finds out what lies behind Guildford’s progress this season.
After 25 years in the English Premier League the Guildford Flames are moving up to the top tier of British ice hockey.
The Flames will play next season in the Elite Ice Hockey League where they will face teams from all over Britain, they will be joined by Milton Keynes Lightning from the EPL to make 12 teams in the top flight.
Following the Flames 5-2 win over the Sheffield Steeldogs
Guildford Head Coach Paul Dixon tells Sport In Surrey he is excited for the move to the Elite League, especially in terms of bringing in better foreign players:
“It’s a whole different league, it’s a whole different setup. You go from four imports [foreign players] to five imports. You can get your imports from anywhere in the world, whereas in the EPL you have to have that citizenship of the European Union, which makes it a little bit harder, a smaller pool of players to pick from. But as a whole it’s just a whole new challenge for everybody.”
He says that even though they can bring in more and better foreign players he is keen to keep the core of the team he has today intact and help them cope with the hockey one level up on the pyramid:
“You can fill your roster with foreign imports and with that the standard is going to be higher, the standard is going to be better. It’s key that we keep a few of our players that have been here for a long time and we got to keep trying to develop our British players whether they’re 24, 25, 29 or 30, they’ve still got to develop and they’ll still be learning when they’re going to the Elite League.”
The Flames have been very successful in the EPL winning 19 trophies in their 25-year stint in the league but Dixon says now was the right time to call it quits on their stay in the EPL as some teams has struggled financially for a while and Manchester Phoenix had to pull out before the season was over:
“I think the way that this league has gone, teams dropping out and money troubles it was the right time for us to do that [move up a level].”
Guildford will have to travel a lot more than they have done with teams in the EIHL coming from Belfast and Edinburgh, among other places outside of England, but Dixon is ready for the challenge:
“It’s a new challenge for everybody involved, it’s exciting, there’s going to be a lot of hard work and we’re fully aware of that. We just have to do our homework and do the best we can with our recruitment in the summer and see where it takes us.”
In addition to the Guildford Flames and Milton Keynes Lightning, next year’s Elite Ice Hockey League will consist of the following ten teams: Belfast Giants, Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers, Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze, Manchester Storm, Dundee Stars, Edinburgh Capitals, Fife Flyers and Braehead Clan.