BRACKNELL Bees are among seven clubs planning to compete next season in the newly-named Premier Ice Hockey League, but at the moment their participation is by no means certain, writes Dave Wright.

Club director and player-coach Lukas Smital said: “We are in talks with the rink (bosses). They are in the early stages and we will have to see what happens in the next few weeks. We need to know where we are before we make a decision and see whether it is worth going forward or not.”

Weekly hire of The John Nike Leisuresport Complex for matches and two late-night training sessions, along with players’ wages, do not come cheap for a club that lacks a major sponsor.

There are plenty of smaller sponsors and the supporters’ club works tirelessly to bring in much-needed revenue.

But if their running costs are raised by the rink’s owners, then the Bees’ future will be put in doubt, as it was last year.

“I can’t give a 100 per cent assurance that Bracknell will be there (next season),” Smital revealed to the News.

“As I said, we are in negotiations with the rink. We need to see where we are. It will not be an overnight decision, it’s not that easy.”

What has also not helped Bees this season is that match-night attendances have remained fairly average with the team’s lack of success failing to attract larger crowds.

Following two more defeats last weekend – 7-0 at Swindon and 5-4 home to Milton Keynes – Bees will finish bottom of the EPIHL leaving them the only side not involved in the end-of-season play-offs.

Bracknell are by no means alone in encountering financial problems. Manchester were recently forced to pull out of the league and even champions Telford Tigers were close to going into administration in November amid thousands of pounds worth of unpaid bills.

The owners of the current EPIHL teams met recently to discuss the long-term future of the sport and they are now determined to bring stability and development to the league with the emphasis on nurturing British talent.

At their meeting, the owners decided a name change to Premier Ice Hockey League to “reflect a new beginning and growing opportunities for participation.”

The number of permitted import player will be reduced from five to three, while only British-trained net-minders will be allowed from season 2019-20.

Smital commented: “I personally think it is good for the league as you want to help British talent. There will be more spots open to them.

“But you still need import players as some of them are on a different level to British players and they (the Brits) need to learn from them. Having five this year, I thought was a little too many.”

With both Guildford Flames and Milton Keynes Lightning stepping up to the Elite League as from next season, the Premier League are hoping to attract new teams to fill the vacancies and the last thing they will want is to lose Bracknell as well.

Their directors – Smital, Matt Fettell and Carol Miller who all rescued the Bees last time – will be looking to carry on, but it seems the whole future of the club rests in the hands of those who now run the complex in John Nike Way following the Christmas Day death of John Nike, who formed the club in 1987.