NIHL North Laidler Conference 2013/14

Solihull Barons turned the newly formed Laidler Conference into a procession, securing the regular season title by a whopping 12 points before going on to add the play-off crown.

Coach Darren Bellerby assembled a team which would do well in Moralee Conference, with the likes of Josh Bruce, Joe Henry and Richie Slater more than capable of plying their trade at a higher level. Perry Doyle, Tomas Janak and Ryan Selwood added defensive experience to help Barons to a memorable season.

Despite finishing runners-up, Deeside Dragons will probably be glad to see the back of 2013/14. Shaun Kippin, Simon Furnival, Chris Jones and James Parsons all enjoyed excellent personal seasons, while young netminder George Cox showed his potential on numerous occasions. Dan Söderberg-Andersson’s signing was a coup for the club, but injuries restricted the Swede to just 13 appearances leaving Dragons’ title hopes in tatters.

Third place and a spirited performance in the play-offs by Coventry Blaze is a turnaround in fortunes for a team who’d suffered a couple of disappointing seasons. Josh Nicklin, Philip Pollok and Josh Gent led their scoring charts this time around, but Blaze need to add more depth if they’re to push Barons properly next season.

After roaring to the NIHL2 North title in 2012/13, this season has been one of consolidation for Nottingham Lions. Player losses and injuries to key players affected their consistency, leaving Coach Matt Bradbury throwing an array of young talent in at the deep end. Lions ended the campaign by pushing Barons to a penalty shoot-out in the play-off final, raising hopes they can challenge for honours next year.

New boys Widnes Wild took time to find their feet, but a strong end to the season saw them snatch fifth place on the final day. Deeside’s withdrawal from the play-offs opened the door for an appearance in the end-of-season shoot-out, where they performed admirably before being ousted by the Barons. If they can retain their better players and add a bit more quality they could be the surprise package in 2014/15.

Just pipped to the play-offs by Widnes, Hull Jets remained competitive throughout the season. Kieran Beach and Jamie Cobley returned decent points totals, while Lee Bonner’s selection for the All-Star game at Deeside in June was just reward for an excellent breakout senior season. Like Coventry they’ll need more strength in depth if they’re to improve next term.

Sheffield Senators endured a difficult campaign, eventually finishing seventh. Senators’ priority remains development, making it difficult to compete equally with some of the bigger budget teams. However, Cameron Brownley’s move to the EPL with the Steeldogs shows the famed Sheffield player production line is alive and well.

Blackburn Eagles may have finished bottom, but 2013/14 saw them make great strides. Eagles claimed their first win in over two years against Widnes and a subsequent draw with Deeside rewarded the excellent work done by Coach Scott Barnett. James Riddoch’s call up by Blackburn Hawks showed the club’s youngsters a pathway to progression which had been lacking in previous years.

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