Solihull Barons face a baptism of fire this weekend on their return to the top flight in NIHL North after a three year absence.
Barons welcome Whitley Warriors to Hobs Moat Road on Sunday, with the visitors buoyed by last week’s impressive 7-4 win against Solway Sharks.
After easily winning Laidler D2 for the past two seasons, new boss Perry Doyle wants to establish Barons as a force to be reckoned with in Moralee D1.
He said: “Warriors will be a good test for us. They’ve brought in David Longstaff, who’s an old friend from our Sheffield Steelers days, and also added Andre Payette.
“They’ll both make a big difference to their team and I think they’ll be up there challenging. I’ll be able to see how we compare and take it from there.
“It’s our first year up and we’ll take it one step at a time. Playing in D2 has done us no favours as we picked up quite a few bad habits. We’ve got some really great players but got by on raw talent alone. This league will be more of a test, but on paper we’ve got serious firepower and we’re defensively strong.”
Barons have retained the majority of last season’s squad, with the prolific Joe Henry, Josh Bruce and Tomas Janak all agreeing a return. Star import Niklas Ottosson is also back and Doyle believes the Swede has the talent to be a big hit in D1.
“Niklas has tons of skill – he does things in training I’ve not seen since Ken Priestlay back in the 90s,” said Doyle. “We’ve also got Tom Soar who’s a great finisher and Ed Eaton who holds that line together. There’s some superb kids coming through, while on ‘D’ there’s Ryan Selwood who’s played at a good level.”
Doyle adds further experience and toughness to the Barons’ blueline, and with Payette joining Warriors much of the pre-game chat has been about whether the two tough guys would lock horns this weekend. Although Doyle said it was a possibility, he was keen to stress they both offered more to their teams than just enforcing roles.
“It’s inevitable that everyone’s been talking about us, but whereas it’s previously been our job to fight that’s not the case in this league as we’re important players to both our teams. If Andre plays his game this season he’ll put up some good points.
“If anyone does step out of line on either team, then we’ll both be ready to step up on each other. Andre’s a proper tough guy – you’ve got to respect someone who’ll take on anyone each and every week. Whatever happens though we’ll be in the bar afterwards having a drink together.”
Doyle’s appointment as Player/Coach was seen by many as further confirmation of the continuing improvement of NIHL, with teams across the league attracting players with experience higher up the scale. It’s a view Doyle is in agreement with.
“This league reminds me of the old BHL from when I first started out,” he said. “We’re going to face some really good imports and British players this season and it’s a great place for me to start my coaching career.
“I’ve got some good people helping me like Joel Poirier and current Steelers boss Paul Thompson, who’s offered me the chance to go and see how they operate. Hopefully I can develop my coaching during the next couple of years and keep Barons moving in the right direction.”
(Image permission: Keith & Jenny Davies)