The top four teams in Laidler D2 meet up in Yorkshire this weekend as NIHL North hosts its showpiece play-off event at iceSheffield.
Deeside Dragons, Widnes Wild, Nottingham Lions and Blackburn Eagles are battling for the D2 title, with Blackburn Hawks, Whitley Warriors, Solihull Barons and Solway Sharks chasing the D1 prize (please click here for the Moralee D1 preview).
Nottingham Lions kick things off on Saturday as they face Widnes Wild in the first D2 semi-final.
Lions picked up two wins and a draw from their two regular season meetings with Wild, but inconsistency cost them their chance of a top two finish.
Despite this, defenseman Adam Andrews says the club is happy to have secured a place at the play-off weekend.
“After some promising early results we came up short against a few teams we should be beating,” said Andrews.
“With teams around us capitalising on our results, we realised the league title was too far out of reach so it was imperative we secured a play-off spot.
“Every player’s ambition is to win the play-offs – it’s in our blood. If you don’t get excited and up for playing in the big occasions like this then eBay is the best place for your kit.
“Matt (Bradbury) and Glossy (Paul Glossop) will ensure we are as well prepared as possible and we will head into Saturday’s game with the same focus and mentality as we’ve had all year.
“League form goes out of the window and it’s about how you play on the day.
“It’s going to be tough as we have four teams who’ve all taken points from each other, so it really is anyone’s play-off to lose.”
Wild ended the regular season in second place to seal their place in the promotion/relegation play-off game against D1 team Sheffield Spartans.
This weekend represents an opportunity to claim their first ever silverware and forward Shaun Dippnall believes they are more than capable of lifting the trophy.
“This year has been great – we originally set out to win the league but unfortunately that wasn’t the case,” he said.
“The main aim was always to challenge for promotion though and thankfully we’ve claimed second spot so we can do that.
“On a personal level I’ve learnt a lot from Scott (McKenzie) and I’m sure the rest of the team feel the same.
“He has introduced some solid systems, taught us how to play hockey the right way and passed on plenty of knowledge from his career in the EPL and Elite League.
“I think any of the four teams could win this weekend. We have a tough game against Nottingham on Saturday morning, which will cap off an excellent series between us this year.
“We’ll work hard against them and hopefully meet the winner of Blackburn and Deeside on Sunday.”
Eagles’ progression from whipping boys to play-off contenders is one the league’s most notable achievements in recent seasons.
Player/Coach Scott Barnett has transformed the team to lead them into the play-offs and defenseman Wayne Slater (above) is full of praise for the job he’s done.
“The Eagles have gone from strength-to-strength over the last few seasons under the guidance of Scott – it’s a credit to him and the lads who’ve all bought into the team’s ethos of hard work and belief.
“At the start of the season we set our sights firmly on the play-offs as we believed it was more than achievable.
“I don’t think we ever envisaged being able to mix it at the top, but apart from three poor results against Deeside we’ve done well.
“We’ve beaten both Widnes and Nottingham and drawn with Deeside. At one point we were fighting for a possible third place, but we took our foot of the gas and let it slip.
“We’re certainly not going to Sheffield just to make up the numbers. Those results against Nottingham, Widnes and the draw against Deeside only gives us confidence.
“I believe we’re more than capable of going that one step further this weekend and all the boys are ready to give it everything.”
Dragons claimed the regular season title in impressive fashion, finishing 10 points ahead of Wild.
Defenseman Mike Jones is retiring from the sport after this weekend and he is hoping to end his career on a high note.
“At the start of the season the goal was to win the league and we managed to do that,” said Jones.
“NIHL fans have been crying out for a while to have an end of season play-off weekend featuring both leagues and there’s a real buzz around it.
“As we all know knockout games are totally different to league hockey and anything can happen.
“I’m sure all teams will be focused and fancying themselves so it will bring exciting entertaining hockey for a near sell-out crowd to watch.
“We’ve been working hard and we’re ready to win a second trophy which would be a fantastic feeling when I hang my skates up.”
Saturday – play-off semi finals
Deeside Dragons v Blackburn Eagles
Widnes Wild v Nottingham Lions
Sunday – play-off final
Winners of the above matches