NIHL North preview: D1 Final Four set for battle

NIHL North relocates to iceSheffield this weekend as the top teams in Moralee D1 and Laidler D2 do battle in the end-of-season play-offs.

Blackburn Hawks, Whitley Warriors, Solihull Barons and Solway Sharks will contest the D1 title, while Deeside Dragons, Widnes Wild, Nottingham Lions and Blackburn Eagles chase the D2 crown (please click here for the Laidler preview).

Sharks face a big task against the Hawks in Saturday’s first D1 semi-final, with the Dumfries outfit winning just one of their six league and cup meetings this season.

Despite this, captain Struan Tonnar (above) is looking forward to what is expected to be an excellent showcase for the league.

“This year’s been great from a fans point of view – close games, anyone capable of beating anyone, top standard goalscorers and goaltending, plus fantastic amounts of young and upcoming talent,” said Tonnar.

“Hopefully this weekend the top teams can come together and show just how good the standard is.

“The fans across NIHL North are passionate and enthusiastic about not only their team but the league as a whole.

“There isn’t a rink in the country where you aren’t applauded off the ice and I’m sure I speak for all the players in thanking you all for the continued support and love of the game.

“As for who’ll win the play-offs, I don’t know – literally anything can happen.

“We’ll come into this weekend with confidence and a solid work ethic knowing that Sunday doesn’t exist without putting in a serious shift on Saturday to try and beat the Hawks.

“It will be no easy task, but it’s a task that we are up to.”

Hawks go into the weekend aiming to secure back-to-back victories in the league and play-offs.

The Lancashire outfit finished the regular season campaign six points clear of the Warriors and forward Lee Pollitt believes they can secure another double.

“People were slightly sceptical at the start of the year that we could be successful this year with the amount of changes in the team, but we started well by winning our first 10 league games.

“We’ve faced a lot of adversity with injuries, but we’ve remained consistent beating teams with our speed, skill and balance of experience and youth.

“With both the Hawks and the Eagles making the play-offs, Blackburn will be bringing a large and vocal following.

“We’re all extremely motivated to get hold of another trophy and on a big stage and I can see us having a successful weekend and taking the play-off title back to Blackburn.”

Whitley Warriors meet Solihull Barons in the second D1 semi-final knowing they’ve had the upper hand against them this year.

Warriors won three of their four regular season games, leaving forward Shaun Kippin (above) hopeful they can take the trophy back to the North East.

“It’s been a great season for us – our aim was to finish top four and we’ve achieved that,” said Kippin.

“It’s been a few years since we’ve won any silverware and we aim to change that this weekend. We’ve been working hard in training for the last month preparing for this.

“We’ve had some good, close games with Solihull this season and this should be another entertaining game.”

Barons have enjoyed an impressive first season in D1, clinching third place after sweeping all before them in D2 during the previous two seasons.

Swedish forward Niklas Ottosson has been one of their standout performers this year, scoring 23 goals in 28 games.

He said: “It’s our first year in D1 and everyone was saying we would never compete with the teams in this league.

“I think we proved everyone wrong – finishing third in our first year is good. We have some things to work on, but overall it’s been a good season for us.

“We had a target and that was to get to the play-offs – now we’re there. Saying that, we’re not done yet.

“We know that all four teams in the play-offs are good, but we beat every team during the league and we know we can do it again.

“We are looking forward to this and our goal is of course to win.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Saturday – play-off semi-finals

Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks
Whitley Warriors v Solihull Barons

Sunday – play-off final

Winners of the above matches

(Image permission: Struan Tonnar – Duncan Speirs; Shaun Kippin – IceHockeyMedia)

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