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Ice Hockey: North East clubs part of new set-up.

Byline: STUART RAYNER

THE North East's English National League sides can look forward to a higher standard of ice hockey next season after the league decided to cut out the dead wood from next term, writes STUART RAYNER.

The 12-team ENL (North) will be split into two divisions from next season, with Whitley Warriors, Billingham Bombers and the ENL Vipers all featuring in the new top flight.

Blackburn, Coventry, Kingston, Nottingham and Sheffield will join them in the division and despite there being less teams, the number of regular-season games has been increased from 22 to 28.

All sides will play one another twice at home and twice away, with the top two progressing into the play-offs alongside the southern division's top two.

While the Vipers are newcomers to the league, having joined in 2005 after taking over Sunderland Chiefs, their local rivals are traditional powerhouses of the division.

Last season Whitley finished second in the competition, beating southern champions Peterborough in the ENL play-off final. The Vipers' third-place finish also qualified them for the playoffs, while Billingham were fifth in the regular season.

The ENL has expanded to include new teams in recent season, but some have been exposed as being horribly out of their depth. Bradford, Lancashire and Grimsby each managed only two wins apiece in the 22-game 2007-08 campaign. The gulf in class between the top and bottom of the old table was highlighted by Whitley's 17-0 success against Bradford and the 25-0 win over Grimsby.

The Bombers also recorded doublefigure scores against the bottom three, thrashing Bradford 15-1, Lancashire 12-4 and 16-4 and Grimsby 14-1 and 16-1.

While the ENL are proud of their league in its own right, Elite League teams such as the Vipers, Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers use it to give ice time to their reserve players.

The new set-up, which begins in September, will feature promotion and relegation between the first and second division of the northern league.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 17, 2008
Words:327
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