A change to the format of the Elite League means that retaining the title is going to be even tougher for the Belfast Giants.
Doug Christiansen’s men will now face more battles against the top teams after the league’s board voted to inaugurate a conference system when the new season starts in September.
That means instead of facing every team three times at home and three times away, the Giants, Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze, Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers — the top five teams from last season — will have four home games against each other.
The fixture list will then be made up by playing two home and away games against each of the teams in the other conference, which is made up of Braehead Clan, Dundee Stars, Edinburgh Capitals, Fife Flyers and Hull Stingrays.
Belfast Giants general manager Todd Kelman, who attended the board meeting, said: “This may take some time to digest for fans throughout the Elite League, but all 10 teams unanimously decided upon this new format to improve competitiveness, decrease travel costs for the majority of clubs and give every team more opportunities to be competitive for trophies.
“Our fans have increasingly expressed their desire to see more games against Cardiff, Coventry, Nottingham and Sheffield, which is what they will get with this new structure.
“If you’re a Giants fan you should be pleased with the new structure. You get big games, while still getting two games in Belfast against the rest of the league.”
Elite League Conference One: Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze, Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers.
Conference Two: Braehead Clan, Fife Flyers, Dundee Stars. Edinburgh Capitals, Hull Stingrays.