Blackburn Hawks host Solihull Barons on Sunday aiming to gatecrash the NIHL North play-off party.
The reigning Moralee D1 champions endured a difficult first half of the campaign, but a run of just three defeats in their last 10 league fixtures has boosted their hopes of qualifying for the end-of-season showdown.
Captain Ollie Lomax, who still has three games to serve of a ten-match suspension, says it’s frustrating being on the sidelines but is confident he’ll return to a team heading for the play-offs.
“To get that length of ban for a bit of something and nothing has been hard to take, but it is what it is so I’ve just got to get on with it,” said Lomax.
“The team’s been doing well though and we’ve got ourselves into a good position.
“I wasn’t surprised by last Sunday’s win against Solway, but to win up in Billingham was fantastic – they’ve had our number lately and it’s always good to put one over them.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to make it into the play-offs and with two of our last three games on home ice we’ve got to make sure we take advantage.
“I’m pleased for our Steve Duncombe too. He’s in his first year as coach and had a lot of unfair stick, but we’re still in with a shout of the top four so that’s great for him.
“If we do get there we’ve shown we can compete with any team in this league. We’ve won the play-offs from fourth place before, so there’s no reason why we couldn’t go and do it again.”
Widnes Wild Player/Coach Ollie Barron has urged his team to stay focused ahead of their participation in two different play-off challenges.
Wild’s 7-5 victory over Hull Jets in Laidler D2 last weekend secured the runners-up spot and a promotion/relegation game against D1N’s seventh-placed team.
With the four-team D2N play-offs at iceSheffield also on the horizon, Barron wants his players to keep their momentum going as they host Altrincham Aces on Sunday.
“It was good (against Hull) to see all lines putting in the effort and playing good fast flowing hockey,” said Barron.
“I felt we took our feet off the gas a little and allowed Hull back into the game – not taking anything away from them as they’ve shown they’re a dangerous team finishing the puck.
“I was happy with the two points and the win to secure second spot – however, we must play for a full sixty minutes in our remaining games and play-offs.
“Altrincham will be another test for the squad. These games are always high-tempo and it’s one I’m looking forward to.
“In terms of league position, in theory we don’t have much to play for, but I want the team playing hard in the remaining league games in order to take some momentum into the play-offs.
NIHL North Moralee D1
Solway Sharks v Solihull Barons
Telford Tigers NIHL v Whitley Warriors
Blackburn Hawks v Solihull Barons
Sutton Sting v Billingham Stars
Whitley Warriors v Solway Sharks (Cup)
NIHL North Laidler D2
Blackburn Eagles v Altrincham Aces
Coventry Blaze NIHL v Bradford Bulldogs
Hull Jets v Sheffield Senators
Nottingham Lions v Blackburn Eagles
Widnes Wild v Altrincham Aces
(Image permission: Ella Thornton)