Solway Sharks and Billingham Stars face a big weekend in NIHL North as they bid to keep their Moralee D1 play-off hopes alive.
Sharks host Stars on Saturday, before travelling to face Blackburn Hawks the following day, and the Dumfries outfit will be desperate to pick up points as they target a top-four finish.
Last weekend saw Sharks blow a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 after overtime against the Stars in the Northern Cup, but Assistant Coach Scott McMeeken says the team are fully focused on reaching the play-offs.
“It’s important to get into a good run with the play-offs on the horizon and several teams chasing the final spots,” he said.
“It was disappointing to lose after being two goals up, but we move our focus to next weekend and a huge clash with Billingham in our barn on Saturday.
“Ourselves and Billingham are looking to make the top four and Saturday is arguably our biggest game of the season.
“The league table is extremely tight and a team going on a good run until the end of the season will climb the standings and that’s our aim.
“We’re looking forward to being back at home after a month away, with our own fans getting behind the team and everyone pulling together to get the club to the play-offs.”
Stars are also in action on Sunday when they host Sutton Sting.
They head into the weekend two points behind fourth-placed Telford Tigers NIHL and General Manager Allen Flavell is well aware of just how important this weekend could be to his side’s play-off ambitions.
“There is no way of understating this weekend – we must get four points,” said Flavell.
“The Solway game in particular is crucial to our hopes, they sit just behind us but they have games in hand, so it’s up to us to keep our destiny under our own control.
“We’ve beaten them twice up there this season so we know it can be done, but they are an excellent side and we’ll have to be at our very best.
“We have a short bench to face the Sharks, but we will go with confidence and I know we can get a result.
“Sutton at home on paper looks the easier tie, but there really are no easy games in this league.
“The Sting got the better of us when we faced them at iceSheffield and they need the points just as much as we do.
“It’s a huge weekend – the points that we dropped earlier in the season may well come back to haunt us if we do not keep winning.”
Telford boss Jason Parry will draw on his side’s previous successes over Solihull Barons when they travel to Hobs Moat Road on Sunday.
Tigers have beaten their local rivals twice this season, including November’s 9-4 victory in Shropshire, when the Barons racked up a hefty 118 minutes in penalties.
Parry is expecting a much tougher evening in Solihull, but he remains determined to deliver another shock to the Barons.
He said: “Solihull is always a tough place to go, especially for the younger players, but there’s no reason why we can’t do what we did the last time we played them in Telford.
“That game showed we can beat Solihull, and discipline was the key for us. Hopefully, we can keep our discipline again on Sunday and come away with two points.
“They’ve got a lot of attacking talent, and that helped them to beat Blackburn recently. Despite that, I am still confident we can beat them again.”
“I do think they’ll be in the top four at the end of the season, so we have to make sure of fourth place for the play-offs.”
NIHL North Moralee D1
Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars
Billingham Stars v Sutton Sting
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks
Solihull Barons v Telford Tigers
Whitley Warriors v Sheffield Senators
NIHL North Laidler D2
Bradford Bulldogs v Hull Jets
Altrincham Aces v Blackburn Eagles
Nottingham Lions v Bradford Bulldogs
(Image permission: Mark Paterson)