NIHL North: Laidler Conference play-off preview

The first ever Laidler Conference season has been a huge success. Barons swept all before them to claim the regular season title, and are big favourites to add the play-off crown and seal the double. However, Coventry, Nottingham and Widnes will be keen to ensure the hosts don’t have things all their own way. Here’s the Coast to Coast preview for the Easter weekend showdown:

Solihull Barons – Started the season slowly, but a record-breaking winning run saw Barons ease to the title. They boast an array of talent up front, with Richie Slater, Joe Henry and Josh Bruce all hitting impressive points totals. Perry Doyle and Ryan Selwood add a wealth of experience at the back, ensuring Barons are the team to beat this weekend. Record against their rivals: P12 W10 D0 L2.

One to watch – Richie Slater: “Our aim was always to win the league, but I didn’t think we’d do it so convincingly having lost three of our first six games. We had a great run from October, creating a 22 game win streak which we want to bring into the play-offs.

“Nothing changes from our point of view, we still have to keep supporting each other as a team, work hard and leave everything on the ice, especially against Widnes who’ve pulled out some great results and are always improving.

“On a personal level, this season has been better than any other. I’ve enjoyed the return of Connor Hubbuck, as we shared many seasons together at Solihull at a junior level and have always had a great understanding on the ice. The balance in the team has been great – there’s a nice mix of youth and experience which works well in the dressing room.”

Coventry Blaze – Had high hopes of pushing for the title, but some disappointing results in the run up to Christmas cost Blaze dearly. Just four defeats in their final twelve games saw them comfortably secure a play-off slot. Certainly capable of a play-off win and will look to the likes of Josh Nicklin, Phillip Pollok and Josh Gent to fire them to glory. Record against their rivals: P12 W6 D0 L6.

One to watch – Phillip Pollok: “We had a bit of an elevator season this year, with a few ups and downs. This seemed to be the trend across the whole league. We’re glad we made it to the play-offs as second seed as we worked very hard for it.

“We’re now hoping for a good competitive weekend to finish off the season. I’m more than happy with how the year went and quite satisfied with my achievements inside and outside of hockey. Hopefully things will keep going well in the future.”

Nottingham Lions – Romped to the NIHL2 title last season, but player losses and injuries hampered their chances this time around. Lions are capable of pushing their rivals hard, but will need experienced duo Luke Thomas and Rob Perks to inspire their young roster. Forward Luke Branin topped their scoring charts, while Dan Hazeldine’s development has been impressive. Record against their rivals: P12 W4 D1 L7.

One to watch – Dan Hazeldine: “This season has been a learning curve for us, with a lot of young players coming through. Next season will be an exciting year which I’m looking forward to. I think we have a bright future and hope to succeed and carry on developing young players.”

Widnes Wild – The league’s new boys have been a breath of fresh air in NIHL North. Some impressive off-ice marketing has seen Wild create a buzz around the club which inspired a strong end to the campaign. Forwards Bobby Caunce, Shaun Dippnall and Filip Supa are a real handful and Wild will hope they continue their excellent form in the play-offs. Record against their rivals: P12 W3 D1 L8.

One to watch – Shaun Dippnall: “We’re pretty happy with finishing fifth in our first season. We had a rough couple of months early on in the year where no matter what we did we just couldn’t get going. We had a few lads who didn’t really commit to the team, but once the numbers got cut and put the work in the team seemed to gel.

“Everyone knows Solihull have been the team to beat all year. They’re the only team we haven’t took points off this season. If we all dig deep and play how I know we can, I feel we can give them a game and even edge a win to advance to the final on Monday.”

The first semi-final is on Saturday as Solihull face Widnes, with Coventry meeting Nottingham the following day. The final takes place on Easter Monday. For more details please click here.

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