The top two lock horns in NIHL North this weekend for what could be a pivotal game in deciding the destination of the Moralee D1 title.
Solway Sharks host Billingham Stars on Saturday with a nine point lead over their rivals, although the Teessiders have a game in hand.
With a trip to Whitley Warriors the following day, Sharks’ boss Martin Grubb believes his team face their most difficult weekend of the season so far.
“Obviously as we start to approach the business end of the season the games come thick and fast,” Grubb told march74sports.
“Saturday it’s the top two in the league and rightly so with the hockey both teams have been playing over the course of the year.
“I don’t expect it to be an open game. We’ve got a bit of an advantage being at home and we’ve got to make sure we use that fully.
“Coming into the game on the back of a derby victory the Stars will be confident, so we’ve got to be ready for what they bring into the building.
“Sunday we’ll be going into a different type of facility at Hillheads. We’ve got to try and take the crowd out of the game in the first five or ten minutes.
“Whitley will be up for the game – it’s of huge importance for them towards qualifying for the play-offs and also to us in terms of challenging for the title.
“I expect it to be very tight, very difficult, and again it’s going to be more about the result than the performance.”
Telford Tigers NIHL meet Deeside Dragons on Saturday hoping to continue their recent upturn in form.
Although still bottom of the table, the Tigers are only a point behind the fifth-placed Dragons after losing just one of their last four games.
Tigers’ boss Daniel MacKriel said: “Deeside are a team who have quickly found their feet in Division One this season and their squad has been bolstered with the addition of netminder Denis Bell.
“They’ve had our number each time we’ve played them this season, but this weekend we need to change that. They’ll be organised and hungry to gain two points, so we need to be at our very best against them.
“We’ve been lucky enough to add Dale White and Joe Gilbert to the team – both are players who will strengthen us and give us options.
“We’ve needed a couple of bodies for some time now, so we’re delighted to welcome them both back to Telford.”
Blackburn Eagles face two big games this weekend as they look to maintain their Laidler D2 title challenge.
The Eagles host Nottingham Lions on Saturday, before visiting second-placed Sheffield Senators the following day and will be keen to extend their four point lead at the top of the table.
Rumours over whether the Eagles will be prevented from taking their place in D1 due to the presence of Blackburn Hawks have continued to circulate, but defender Wayne Slater says the team are simply focusing on the job at hand.
“I think this weekend is the biggest so far for all the teams in the top five – we pretty much all play against each other and the results could drastically change the look of the table,” said Slater.
“For us we take it as we’ve done all season long – one game at a time. Of course it’s only natural that we’ll have an eye on the other results, but our focus will be on our job.
“We have two tough teams to play in Sheffield and Nottingham, but it’s weekends like this that you play for.
“As for the rumours around what will happen with promotion, we’re not there yet and it would be a foolish distraction for us to even think about it.
“We have a job to do. We’ll just have to see what happens at the end of the season, especially with the talk of restructuring of the leagues.”
NIHL North Moralee D1
Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars
Sutton Sting v Solihull Barons
Telford Tigers NIHL v Deeside Dragons
Billingham Stars v Solihull Barons
Sutton Sting v Blackburn Hawks
Whitley Warriors v Solway Sharks
NIHL North Laidler D2
Blackburn Eagles v Nottingham Lions
Coventry Blaze NIHL v Bradford Bulldogs
Sheffield Senators v Widnes Wild
Nottingham Lions v Altrincham Aces
Sheffield Senators v Blackburn Eagles
Widnes Wild v Coventry Blaze NIHL
(Image permission: David Morrison)