NIHL North: Moralee D1 preview

Following on from our preview of NIHL North Laidler D2, Coast to Coast takes a look at the Moralee D1 teams to assess their chances of success in 2014/15.

Sharks swept all before them last season, but may find it harder to repeat. A number of players have left, including captain Mark Gallagher and top defenseman Juraj Senko. Coach Martin Grubb has added higher league experience in Richard Bentham, Marc Fowley & Aidan Fulton, but admits he’s still looking for players. Sharks are believed to have two imports in their sights who would make a big impact on NIHLN. If Grubb can work his magic they’ll still be the team to beat.

One trophy in 24 years is a poor return for a club of Hawks’ size, but that may be about to change. New Czech defender Pavel Slowik has been compared to Senko by Player/Coach Jared Owen, while Luke Brittle and Jordan Bannon add more attacking options to a roster full of goals. Owen says he’d like to add a bit more depth to the squad, but if Hawks can avoid injuries and the inconsistencies which have blighted previous seasons, there’s no reason they can’t clinch that elusive League title.

Stars made an early statement of intent this summer, signing forwards Chris Sykes & Thomas Stuart-Dant from Sutton Sting. GB U18 defenseman Tom Keeley has also been added, leaving them looking stronger at both ends of the ice. With Sharks and Hawks still hoping to add to their squads, Stars have numbers in abundance – not the worst idea given their injuries woes over the last two seasons. If they keep everyone fit, Stars will mount a serious challenge.

If Warriors played all their games at Hillheads they’d be odds on to win the title. Dreadful away form last season cost them any chance of troubling the top three and they’ll need to be much better on the road if they’re to battle for top spot this time around. Adam Reynolds & DJ Good will no doubt rack up the points once again, while the returning Dean Holland is an excellent player at NIHL level. With Dan Pye added to the defensive core, Warriors look stronger all round. Will definitely push for a play-off slot, but can they sort that away form out?

With Sykes and Stuart-Dant heading north and Ian Johnson stepping down as Head Coach, Sting are in a state of transition. New boss Matt Darlow believes he’s capable of building a successful team, and with Sting starting their season three weeks after the opening games he’ll have plenty of time to do so. Top scorer James Spurr and fit-again captain James Goodman remain with the club, while the returning Thomas Jeffrey will ensure Sting are no soft touch. A top four slot will be the aim – anything more would be a bonus.

Like Whitley, Spartans’ hopes of success last season were dashed on the road. The majority of last season’s squad remain, with the likes of Stuart Brittle, Ollie Barron and Jonathon Kirk all talented performers in NIHL. Spartans have strengthened during the summer with Chris Wilcox returning after taking time away from the game, while Shaun Wild & Elliot Knell are back following spells elsewhere. Another team perfectly capable of pushing for the play-offs, but will their road wobbles hold them back?

Minotaurs’ hopes can be summed up in two words – Lukas Zeman. The Czech forward hit 42 goals last year, but has moved to Europe, leaving a massive hole in the roster. With other players off to pastures new, Coach Kevin Cassidy has a difficult job ahead. Rhys Gillatt’s arrival from Coventry Blaze is a positive step, while Jared Dickinson should build on his impressive form last season. Cassidy’s plans to blood youngsters from their junior programme could see Minotaurs unearth some hidden gems, which should reap rewards in the future.

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