Cardiff Fire are stepping up to play in the second tier of British ice hockey next season.
They are joining Bracknell Bees, Swindon Wildcats, Basingstoke Bison and more in a new-look competition to replace the English Premier League.
Fire have been crowned National League Division Two West champions for the last two years and believe they are ready for a new challenge.
Head coach Mark Cuddihy is putting his recruitment plans into operation and Fire’s roster will include the maximum two import players per team.
Fire have also entered a development team in Division Two.
“We know it is going to be a tough season, but we are aiming to be competitive and will give it everything we have,” says Cuddihy.
“Fire supporters are used to their team winning the vast majority of their fixtures and we are moving up to a new level, but it’s a challenge to relish.”
Cardiff Fire’s title-winning team from last season included former Devils Sam Smith, Phil Manny and netminder Joe Myers, while Slovakian Robert Sedlak and Hungarian Tamas Elias were leading players.
Ricky Deacon, Tim Burrows and Jordan Powell are among others who have played major roles for Fire.
They were given the go-ahead to play in the second tier during an NIHL meeting which lasted more than six hours.
Cardiff Devils junior section were also represented at the meeting, but will not be involved in the new competition.
Applications from former English Premier League teams Basingstoke Bison, Bracknell Bees, Peterborough Phantoms and Swindon Wildcats were accepted and they are in NIHL South One for 2017-18.
The EPL had 10 teams last season, but Manchester Phoenix folded before MK Lightning and Guildford Flames moved up to the Elite League where they will play against Cardiff Devils, the only fully professional club in Wales.
NIHL Division One will comprise 12 teams, split into two conferences of six teams.
Conference A: Basingstoke Bison, Bracknell Bees, Cardiff Fire, Milton Keynes Thunder, Oxford City Stars, Solent Devils.
Conference B: Chelmsford Chieftains, Invicta Dynamos, London Raiders, Peterborough Phantoms, Streatham IHC, Swindon Wildcats.
Teams will play against others in their own conference twice home and away, while they will face teams in the other conference once home and once away.
There will also be an NIHL South One Cup with two groups.
Group A: Chelmsford Chieftains, Invicta Dynamos, Streatham IHC, London Raiders.
Group B: Basingstoke Bison, Bracknell Bees, Peterborough Phantoms, Swindon Wildcats.
The initial stage of the cup will have one home and one away against the others in their group.
NIHL South Division Two reverts to a single division of 13 teams, playing one home and one away. Discussions on a NIHL South Two Cup will continue.
South Two: Basingstoke Buffalo, Bristol Pitbulls, Bracknell Hornets, Cardiff Fire 2, Chelmsford Warriors, Guildford Phoenix, Haringey, Invicta Mustangs, Lee Valley Lions, Oxford NIHL2, Peterborough Phantoms 2, Slough Jets, Swindon Wildcats 2.
The meeting also agreed that all NIHL South games ending in a draw after 60 minutes will go to five minutes of 3 on 3 overtime and penalty shots if required.
The NIHL season will begin over weekend of Saturday, September 2 and Sunday, September 3 and is scheduled to end in early April.
NIHL South League Manager Richard Carpenter said after the six-hour NIHL meeting which resulted in the new competition being formed: “It was a long day, a difficult meeting.
“We’ve reached agreement on the way forward for next season and beyond.
“There are no perfect answers or deals to such a highly complicated situation, but we would like to thank all teams involved for reaching a deal today to the betterment of British ice hockey.
“There are wider whole-NIHL issues which will be discussed after the North section next week, but we’re pleased to have carried out this task of integrating the former EIHL (English Premier) clubs into the NIHL structure and agreed a format.”