NIHL North Moralee Conference 2013/14

Solway Sharks first – the rest nowhere. The Dumfries outfit impressively swept to the Moralee Conference title, before adding the Northern Cup and play-off crown to complete a famous treble.

Losing Nathan Salem, Adam Reynolds and John Connolly was thought by many to be the start of Sharks’ demise, but Coach Martin Grubb’s astute team building skills made sure this wasn’t the case. Iain Bowie was a shrewd addition to their forward ranks, while the returning Juraj Senko and Pavol Melichercik proved to be the icing on the cake.

League and play-off runners-up Blackburn Hawks made a statement of intent by signing the impressive Adam Brittle, yet four wins in the first ten league games ended their expected title bid before it got off the ground. Canadian Jon Adams arrived in November and sparked a spectacular run to the play-off final, but ultimately they ended the season empty-handed.

Billingham Stars will be glad to see the back of this campaign, with injuries and a loss of form by key players disrupting their rhythm. The failure to address their coaching situation was also argued to have hindered their season. Stars eventually finished third to qualify for the play-offs, going on to lose in heartbreaking fashion to the Hawks. It could be an interesting summer on Teesside.

Simon Leach worked his magic with limited resources to haul Whitley Warriors into the play-offs. The returning Reynolds and Karl Culley enjoyed impressive seasons, while Leach also saw a number of youngsters grab senior opportunities with both hands. Warriors were almost unstoppable at Hillheads, but just one road win shows where improvements are needed if they’re to challenge next season. Re-signing Reynolds, DJ Good & Jamie Tinsley is a great foundation to build from.

Sutton Sting’s title ambitions went up in smoke before Christmas. Coach Ian Johnson assembled an exciting array of firepower, but their defensive inconsistencies cost them dearly. An impressive run in 2014 saw Sting almost grab a play-off slot, but they missed out on their head-to-head record with Whitley. An appearance in the KD Flavell & Sons Northern Cup Final also ended in disappointment as they lost to Solway.

Sheffield Spartans kept their season alive until the final weeks, eventually finishing sixth. Captain Ollie Barron led from the front once again, while Stuart Brittle proved an excellent addition. Defenseman Jonathon Kirk enjoyed a breakout senior year, racking up almost a point per game from the blueline. If the Sheffield player production line has one or two more like Kirk lined up, Spartans could be a handful next year.

The newly-branded Manchester Minotaurs proved difficult to beat in the early part of the season. Czech forward Lukas Zeman was the star attraction, bagging 42 goals and 14 assists to finish second behind Adam Brittle in the points table. Player departures didn’t help their cause and Minotaurs will hope to assemble a more settled roster for 2014/15.

Telford Titans lost 18 on the spin before picking up their first point against Whitley. Two subsequent victories against the Spartans were just reward for a team who never threw in the towel. If Titans keep their core of youngsters together and see some benefit from the financial developments at Telford Tigers they could be the surprise package next season.

That’s all for Moralee Conference for this season. Please check back on Friday when we’ll preview the Laidler Conference play-off weekend and also during the coming months as we bring you the latest player signings, transfers and rumours from around NIHL. We’ll also have all the build-up to the All-Star weekend at Deeside.

Finally a big thank you to all the clubs, coaches, players and everyone else who’s contributed to Coast to Coast this season – your help is much appreciated.

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