The race to reach the NIHL North Moralee D1 play-offs hots up this weekend, with four teams still harbouring realistic hopes of joining Blackburn Hawks and Whitley Warriors in the end-of-season shoot-out.
Solihull Barons are in pole position at the moment with 30 points from 24 games, while Telford Tigers NIHL complete the top four with 25 points in 25 games.
Billingham Stars and Solway Sharks are next in the table with 23 points from 26 and 22 games respectively.
Sharks head into Saturday’s home game against the Barons having collected seven points from the last possible ten on offer, and last week’s 4-2 victory against the Stars has put them in a handy position as the season reaches its climax.
Head Coach Martin Grubb was delighted with his team’s performance: “We went into the game needing to beat a close rival and the players knew it was all about being patient and showing character and that both teams would have to battle.
“I felt we played well in spells and we more importantly got the job done. We dominated the game and scoring chances and we were getting frustrated but we kept plugging away and got our reward in the third period and a good win.
“Kieran (Hobbins) made some huge saves at key times and it shows how much he is improving and giving us a chance to win. We did what we needed to do to help him out and we need to continue to show that pride in our own zone.”
With games in hand on their rivals a win against the Barons would be a major boost to Sharks’ hopes of qualifying for Sheffield, but Grubb recognises the danger posed by the Midlands team.
“Solihull are playing very well right now and are scoring goals for fun, so we know we have a huge task on our hands.
“They’ve taken to this league very well and are well coached by Perry Doyle who has made them a better team and looks like he will steer them to a play-off spot. They will be a real threat for anyone in the league.
“This is yet another huge game in our season and one we again need to win to ensure we are able to be in the play-offs. We have to ensure we win our home games and the Barons game will be tough, but we are ready for the battle.”
Saturday’s other D1 fixture sees the Tigers face-off against the Stars.
Tigers have had the upper hand so far this season, winning both their previous games, and Head Coach Jason Parry is keen to put some distance between his team and the chasing pack.
He said: “It is a huge game in terms of the play-off race and we need to beat the teams around us. At home that is even more important for us.
“It’s likely that we won’t have a full squad to choose from, but nevertheless we have got a good selection of players to choose from this weekend.
“I’m looking forward to the game and so are our players, which is especially important at this stage of the season. There is a lot at stake.”
“Each game we’ve played against Billingham this season has been close and very low scoring – I don’t expect Saturday to be any different to those.”
NIHL North Moralee D1
Solway Sharks v Solihull Barons
Telford Tigers NIHL v Billingham Stars
Billingham Stars v Sheffield Spartans
Whitley Warriors v Solihull Barons
Blackburn Hawks v Widnes Wild
NIHL North Laidler D2
Bradford Bulldogs v Deeside Dragons
Coventry Blaze v Altrincham Aces
Altrincham Aces v Coventry Blaze
Blackburn Eagles v Widnes Wild
(Image permission: Duncan Speirs)