English Premier League clubs advised to apply for lower league

Ice hockey
The English Premier League is one of two professional ice hockey leagues in the United Kingdom

Clubs in ice hockey's English Premier League have been recommended, by the governing body's chairman, to apply to join a lower division for 2017-18.

So far, Swindon Wildcats, Hull Pirates and Peterborough Phantoms have done so.

The Premier League had 10 teams last term but one club, Manchester Phoenix, folded before two sides moved up to Britain's top flight, the Elite League.

English Ice Hockey Association boss Ken Taggart says no lower-league sides were willing to step up to fill those gaps.

The tier immediately below the Premier League, the National League, consists of North and South divisions.

It is not yet clear if any other Premier League teams will follow Swindon, Hull and Peterborough in applying to drop down.

An EIHA spokesperson told BBC Sport: "Chairman Ken Taggart emailed all English Premier Ice Hockey League (EPIHL) club owners to advise them that, despite weeks of discussions and several face-to-face meetings, no clubs from the lower National League were willing to step up to EPIHL for the 2017-18 season.

"That left a division of six or seven clubs where half of the clubs had financial problems in recent years, so the new league was at risk should those issues reoccur during the season.

"On balance, his [Taggart's] recommendation was that the EPIHL clubs make an application to the respective National League for the new season."

'A bit of a shock'

Swindon are the longest-serving members of the EPIHL, which held its first season in 1997-98.

"It was a bit of a shock. We didn't expect that email to come out," Wildcats managing director Steve Nell told BBC Wiltshire.

"My main focus is to make sure we've got hockey in Swindon next year so I made the application, as advised to by the [EIHA] chairman.

"It is all down to the association and the chairman. They operate the league. It is not our league. If the chairman doesn't want it to run and doesn't think it is sustainable, we would be left with nowhere to play."

'There is still an alternative scenario'

Hull Pirates owner Shane Smith added in a statement on the club website: "After we received the email from [Taggart] containing his thoughts about the EPIHL, and how he saw the future, we took the difficult decision to make the application.

"What we can also say is that there is still an alternative scenario, however we won't know any more about this until the end of April."

Meanwhile, Peterborough owners Dave and Jo Lane added on the Phantoms' website: "We understand this is a turbulent time for fans across all of the leagues including the NIHL.

"But we will be doing our utmost to make sure ice hockey remains in the UK and locally."

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