Since ENL North split into two divisions in 2008, the standard has steadily increased and it’s fair to say this season has seen the bar raised even further.
The league’s attracted a number of players this term with experience at higher levels – Dean Holland (Whitley Warriors) and Sami Narkia (Blackburn Hawks) immediately spring to mind – while we’ve had the prolific Adam Reynolds and Nathan Salem lighting up ENL2 with Solway Sharks.
ENL1’s title race turned into a three-way fight between Billingham Stars, Whitley and Blackburn, with Stars eventually claiming a well deserved title. At the bottom Solihull Barons made an immediate return to ENL2 as they struggled to cope with the step up in quality having been promoted last time around – Solway moved in the opposite direction. Here we take a look at the each team and sum up their seasons:
Billingham Stars – Followed up their title success with a hard fought victory over Blackburn in the play-off final. Consistently ran four lines throughout the season and this proved crucial. Their double bid was built on the ever impressive form of netminder James Flavell, who has the ability to play his trade at a higher level. Veterans Paul Windridge and Andy Fletcher are rumoured to have played their last game in the final and will be tough to replace.
Whitley Warriors – New coach Garry Dowd was handed the task of rebuilding the double winners of the previous two seasons, having lost a number of keys players in the summer. Given the circumstances a second place finish was an admirable effort, though a lack of discipline cost them points at key times. If they can retain the bulk of their squad and add a little extra quality they’ll be thereabouts next season.
Blackburn Hawks – Underachieved for the first half of the season – losing half of their first 16 games – but some harsh words from Player/Coach Jared Owen after a humiliating loss at home to Trafford Metros, sparked a run which saw Hawks surge into the play-offs. Finishing third and losing to Stars in the play-off final was a decent effort – but improvements still need to be made in the summer if they’re going to finally claim some silverware.
Telford Titans – The season’s surprise package claimed the fourth and final play-off slot. Ran Stars close in the semi-final, but lacked the strength in depth to properly challenge. Karol Jets proved his quality again with 29 goals and 32 assists, while the signing of Chris Jones from Flintshire proved an inspired move. Hanging on to their best players during the close season is vital if they’re to push on again.
Trafford Metros – But for the bonus of the points gained in September while able to ice Manchester Phoenix players, Metros may well have found themselves in a relegation battle. Unless they make significant improvements in the summer, Metros could struggle next year.
Coventry Blaze – Expected by many to challenge for the play-offs, Blaze suffered a miserable season with the loss of ace netminder Josh Nicholls to the EPL proving costly. A remarkable comeback from 4-0 down at home to Blackburn to run out 6-4 winners eventually secured their ENL1 status. Blaze will be hoping their excellent junior set-up will unearth some hidden gems for the future.
Sheffield Spartans – Another team who performed below expectations. Flirted with the wrong end of the table for much of the season and relied too heavily on Nick Manning and Ollie Barron to get them out of trouble. Spartans are always capable of bringing players through and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them challenging again next term.
Nottingham Lions – Last year’s runners-up suffered a miserable downturn in fortunes, eventually losing their ENL1 status in a play-off against ENL2 runners-up Sutton Sting. Will be expected by many to bounce back at the first attempt, but won’t have it all their own way with the likes of Solihull and Deeside Dragons (formerly Flintshire Freeze) in opposition.
Solihull Barons – Arrived in ENL1 in a blaze of glory having been promoted after dropping just one point, Barons failed to cope with the step up in class. Whether they can retain the services of the likes of Richard Slater and Erik Bakalar remains to be seen.
ENL2 proved a cakewalk for league newboys Solway Sharks who scored over 300 goals in a perfect season. Reynolds and Salem have the ability to make a mark at ENL1 level and Sharks will be confident of making a title challenge.
Season 2012/13 promises to be the most excitng yet for ENL North – Coast to Coast will keep you abreast of player movements and coaching appointments throughout the summer, before resuming our weekly round-ups in September.