Reigning NIHL North champions Blackburn Hawks host Sutton Sting on Sunday aiming to continue their recent upturn in form in Moralee D1.
The Hawks endured a miserable first half to the season, but a run of four wins and a draw in their last seven league games has improved the mood around the club.
New Slovakian forward Jozef Istocy (above) has helped spark the Hawks’ revival, averaging a goal per game since signing for the Lancashire outfit just before Christmas.
The 24-year-old was on target during last week’s 2-2 draw against Sutton and he says he’s enjoying playing in Britain.
“We can only be half satisfied with that result because we did not win, although a few seconds before the end of the game we did have a small chance to win it,” said Istocy.
“I liked the number of our fans on who travelled to see us play – it created an atmosphere like a home game.
“I hope we can fight our way into the play-offs – we still have a lot of matches to play and we want to end the season successfully for the fans.”
Sutton go into Sunday’s game two points behind Whitley Warriors in fourth place, but with just three points separating them from bottom-of-the-table Telford Tigers NIHL.
Player/Coach Simon Butterworth believes the league is set for an exciting climax to the regular season.
“Although I haven’t been involved for the past two or three years, I’m pretty sure the race for a play-off spot and also the relegation battle hasn’t been so tight for many a year,” he said.
“It’s still feasible to think that any team in the league could still make the play-offs if they hit a good run of form.
“All-in-all I have to be pleased with where we are in the league right now – I probably would have taken it if I was offered it at the start of the year. I know a lot of people had us earmarked for the bottom spots.
“We’ve let a few games slip that I feel should have been ours, so I can’t help but feel disappointed as with these wins we would have been firmly in the play-offs by now.
“Every game is a big game from here on in – realistically we’re already playing play-off hockey now and we’ve got to raise our game if we want to finish in the top four.”
Deeside Dragons meet Telford on Sunday aiming to continue their push for a play-off place.
Three wins from their last four games has put the Dragons level on points with Sting and Player/Coach Scott McKenzie is keen to keep the momentum going.
“It should be a good game – we’re really prepared and ready to put on a a solid home performance,” said McKenzie.
“The guys have really bought into what it takes to win in this league and I believe the team is the strongest it has been since I arrived back in July.
“We can definitely make the play-offs, but we aren’t even thinking about it. We just take one game, one period at a time, and focus on ourselves.
“Our main focus has always been to be competitive and remain in NIHL1 for next season. It’s a building process, but we’re making great steps and I’m proud of the players and management team for how far we have come in such a short amount of time.”
Coventry Blaze NIHL face Hull Jets in a Laidler D2 double-header this weekend buoyed by recording their first victory of the season last Saturday.
Jordan Bloom (above) hit a hat-trick for Blaze during their 8-5 home win against Bradford Bulldogs – a result which was the team’s first success in 17 games.
The Blaze NIHL team is run independently for development purposes, providing the step for juniors or younger recreation players into better leagues.
A couple of last season’s squad successfully moved up to higher levels and team boss Steve Brookes is proud of the progress his young team is making.
“This year we have a fair number of new players making the step up to NIHL level for the first time,” said Brookes.
“All are working hard week in, week out. Every game we can see an improvement and giving the opposing teams a challenge.
“The win has been coming for a few weeks and last weekend was the reward they have been due. Hopefully the team can draw on their success and build on this to gain more points.
“We are working both on and off ice to keep the momentum going and get the support the team deserve.”
NIHL North Moralee D1
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks
Telford Tigers NIHL v Billingham Stars
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors
Blackburn Hawks v Sutton Sting
Deeside Dragons v Telford Tigers NIHL
NIHL North Laidler D2
Bradford Bulldogs v Blackburn Eagles
Hull Jets v Coventry Blaze NIHL
Altrincham Aces v Bradford Bulldogs
Coventry Blaze NIHL v Hull Jets