When the puck drops on the new NIHL season in 2019/2020 Swindon Wildcats and player-coach Aaron Nell will look back on the previous season with mixed feelings. A 15-game unbeaten league run saw the Wildcats claim their first league title under the current set-up.
However it was play-off heartbreak for Nell’s team as they fell to an 8-5 aggregate defeat against Bracknell Bees. That rivalry will be renewed in the new season as Bracknell and Swindon will compete in a new 10 team league system.
The new league structure will see Swindon Wildcats competing against the likes of Hull Pirates, Sheffield Steeldogs and Basingstoke Bison. The new league structure is intended to bridge the gap between the Elite League and the rest of the UK game.
Swindon Wildcats 15-game unbeaten run last season was a cause for joy amongst supporters, but it was perhaps lessened by the level of opposition that the Wildcats faced. The new league structure for the 2019/2020 season is seeking to end this lack of competition.
The early online betting odds certainly look a lot tighter for the upcoming season than the one just gone. Whilst Swindon will still be facing off against teams like Bracknell Bees they will also be testing their mettle against a much higher level of opponent.
Attendances at NIHL games have been on the decline in recent years and an uneven playing field has been cited as the main cause for this. Games have often been too one-sided which has led to fans staying away until the play-offs where the games are tighter affairs.
It is hoped that the new league structure will help to develop young players. The immediate pain of the play-off loss to Bracknell Bees will have been hard to take for a number of Wildcat’s players.
In years to come though, players like Tyler Perre (18) and Renny Marr (21) will hopefully look back on games like that with fondness. Young players will learn more from tight, hard-fought clashes which will benefit their game in the long-run.
League organisers hope that the new format will be a big benefit to the British game, which has been steadily improving over recent years.
The new league structure is already been heavily plugged by competition organisers as they seek to raise the profile of the league. It is hoped that this increased exposure will lead to higher attendances, greater interest and ultimately a larger injection of finances into the league.
The increased competitive edge will attract greater audience figures, which in turn should see more money ploughed into the sport.
How will the Wildcats fare?
It’s hard to gauge how Swindon will fare next season in the new league format. They will undoubtedly take buckets of confidence into the new season but will have to improve in several key areas to ensure a good season.
Their play-off loss to Bracknell Bees exposed a naivety in the squad as they consistently conceded at key moments in the match when looking in control. Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs have been identified as the key challengers for the title next season.
In the early betting it seems as though Swindon are just behind these two in terms of the title but with one or two shrewd acquisitions it could be another season to remember for Aaron Nell and co.