Following the fiasco in Edinburgh that ultimately ended with the Capitals folding and the Racers being denied entry to the league, the EIHL has settled on an 11 team format for the coming season. There has been plenty of discussion regarding who could fill the 12th spot but none of them have included Bristol, until now.
You might be thinking that I am crazy, Bristol don’t even have an ice rink following the closure of the Frogmore Street ice rink in 2012. However, plans have been approved for a new state of the art extreme sports centre for the city including an ice rink. There haven’t been loads of details announced regarding the size of the rink but for Bristol to be able to join the EIHL it would require a capacity of at least 2,000. It will be a Planet Ice rink, the same company that owns the rink that is home to the Milton Keynes Lightning which has a capacity of 2,800 so there is hope. This new rink is already going to be home to the Bristol Pitbulls, who compete in NIHL South Division 2, and have been playing out of Oxford since the closure of the old rink. However, there could now be room for a much larger hockey team to play in the city.
Aside from actually having a operational ice rink, Bristol brings a lot to the table with a strong culture of sports. It is home to two professional football teams, a rugby team that has been recently promoted to the top tier league and a basketball team that made it to this years’ semi-finals. Three of these pro teams are owned by multi-millionaire, Stephen Lansdown, who has already demonstrated through copious spending that he wants to invest in the city’s sporting community, seen by events such as the celebration of sport week. This means that the team has a potential owner, who would help drive tickets for games as Bristol Sport provide many promotions for season ticket holders of any of the other Bristol Sport teams.
A Bristol team would also open up the possibility of a fierce rivalry between Bristol and their closest neighbors, Cardiff (that is, if a new team could compete with the current champions). The two cities love a good sporting match-up between themselves, shown by the past interest in football and rugby fixtures between the two. Bristol also brings more balance to the geography of the league, which is north heavy and really unlocks the whole of the south west of the UK which is currently lacking any competitive hockey. A potential realignment of the three current conferences could be; the Gardiner conference consisting of Fife, Dundee, Braehead and Belfast. Then the Patton conference would consist of the same four teams as before, Coventry, Guildford, Milton Keynes and Manchester. Finally the Erhardt conference would include the addition of Bristol joining Cardiff, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Obviously this wont be a solution for the league this coming season, not just for the fact that the rink won’t be ready then. It should be in 2019 and this could be a viable option. By then, so could several other options including if they can figure out ice time in Edinburgh or if Hull Pirates put in a bid to make the jump to the big time. However, as unlikely as it is, I do think Bristol’s name should be thrown into the hat, as the city has the potential for a very successful EIHL franchise.