A PROPOSED 10-team National League will make Swindon Wildcats’ 2019-20 campaign one of their toughest and most competitive ever, according to player-coach Aaron Nell.

The Wildcats were denied a spot at the national finals weekend in Coventry for a fifth year running after losing 8-5 on aggregate to Bracknell Bees in the regional NIHL South One play-off semi-final last weekend.

This season arguably presented Nell’s troops with their best opportunity to qualify for the final four in three years.

Not only did all teams in the eight-strong NIHL South One table qualify for the play-offs, the Cats were also matched against a woeful Invicta Dynamos team at the quarter final stage – a two-legged contest they comfortably won 24-5.

But facing Bracknell proved a step too far for the league champions, who fell at the second play-off hurdle. That result proved one of the most surprising all season.

But the predictable nature of the league is set to evaporate next season, after the Elite Ice Hockey Association (EIHA) announced plans to form a two-tier structure.

Ten teams will compete in the National League, while outstanding clubs will be split into northern and southern divisions – making for three leagues in total.

Nell said the decision to split the current structure is a positive one, and will benefit the entertainment value that British hockey can offer.

He said: “The fans have backed us over the last couple of years, and we’ve worked hard to try and change what is happening with regards to the league.

“This new league is very exciting, and it will be a really good challenge for us all and benefit British hockey.

“It will be great for the players and fans – it’s something we’ll all look forward to.

“We’ve had a successful year and I’m very proud of everyone.”

A 15-game unbeaten league run helped the Wildcats clinch their first-ever league title under the current set-up.

However, that counted for little during the play-offs, as Bracknell’s ability to score goals at key times counted as their biggest attribute over the two-legged semi-final.

But Nell vowed to rise from the Cats’ Sunday night low, and is already excited about what next season will bring.

He said: “Bracknell were excellent at the weekend, they started the game well on Sunday.

“I wouldn’t say they caught us off-guard, but they were very good and you’ve got to give them credit.

“We tried to come back a couple of times, but they scored goals at key times. When you’re a goal behind, there is always that chance.

“But two or three goals down, you’re always chasing the game. It’s a tough result to take.

“I’m devastated for the players, they have been great this year – and we didn’t want it to end this way.

“The fact that the team placed fourth in the league beat us in the play-offs proves how good our achievement was to win the league title.”