Blackburn Hawks face Deeside Dragons in an NIHL North double-header this weekend hoping to put a miserable few months firmly behind them.
The reigning Moralee D1 champions have struggled to reproduce the form that took them to consecutive league and play-off doubles, but the addition of two new players has boosted morale around the club.
Slovakian forward Jozef Istocy signed for the Hawks just before Christmas, and Player/Coach Steve Duncombe has now strengthened his defensive unit with the addition of Chris Gee (above) to the roster.
The ex-Deeside defender will make his debut alongside Istocy against his former club on Saturday and Duncombe believes he will be a useful addition to his squad.
“He brings size and a physicality with him which is a trait we like here – he moves well and can play,” said Duncombe.
“He’s been on with us for a while now and we took the decision to add him to the roster – he wants to be here and we want him here.
“It’s a good fit at a good time – I want to be able to have players looking over their shoulders and I want to be able to have to option to sit people if I have to.
“We’ve been a bit light ‘D’ lately and this helps massively. I’ve also got (Chris) Butler and Ollie (Lomax) back in the line-up this weekend, so we’re going to run with seven, which is great as it gives me room for manoeuvre.”
Second-placed Billingham Stars were in fine form in the run-up to the Christmas break, winning nine of their last ten league matches to move six points behind leaders Solway Sharks with a game in hand.
The Stars visit local rivals Whitley Warriors on Sunday with defender Ross Hanlon back in the fold after a spell away from the game, while forward James Moss returns from injury.
General Manager Allen Flavell said: “It seems to have been a long time since we saw any hockey, but the three weeks has given us chance to rest up and heal some knocks.
“We’ve managed to keep training and returned to our usual schedule this week so we should be fit and raring to go on Sunday.
“This is a derby of course, and we know from experience that Hillheads can be the toughest place in the league to go and get a result.
“However, team morale is high – the lads have come back refreshed and relaxed, and we know that if we give our best over the coming months we have a shot at taking silverware come the end of the season.
“The signing of Ross and the return of James are great news for us – Hanlon’s addition will be vital for the run-in and he can’t wait to get going again.”
Telford Tigers NIHL face Solihull home and away this weekend aiming for a repeat of their previous performance against the Barons during December.
The Tigers won 4-1 at Solihull to draw level with the Hawks at the foot of the table and Player/Coach Daniel MacKriel wants to use that result as a platform for the rest of the campaign.
“We’ve had a break over the Christmas period which is a rare thing in hockey, but great for the players and staff to relax,” said MacKriel.
“Like every other game in this league this week will be a hard battle, but we’ve shown that we can compete and take points from the top four sides.
“Now we need to ensure that we are more consistent in our approach and execution.”
NIHL North Moralee D1
Blackburn Hawks v Deeside Dragons
Solway Sharks v Whitley Warriors
Telford Tigers NIHL v Solihull Barons
Deeside Dragons v Blackburn Hawks
Solihull Barons v Telford Tigers NIHL
Sutton Sting v Solway Sharks
Whitley Warriors v Billingham Stars
NIHL North Laidler D2
Bradford Bulldogs v Nottingham Lions
Coventry Blaze NIHL v Widnes Wild
Sheffield Senators v Hull Jets
Altrincham Aces v Hull Jets
Blackburn Eagles v Bradford Bulldogs
Nottingham Lions v Sheffield Senators
(Image permission: PSD-Images)