NIHL North preview: Promotion chasers set for battle

Blackburn Eagles travel to Sheffield Senators on Saturday hoping to extend their lead at the top of NIHL North Laidler D2.

The Eagles currently have a four-point cushion over the Senators, but the Sheffield outfit’s 3-0 victory over their promotion rivals back in November proved they’re a team to be reckoned with.

Player/Coach Scott Barnett admits he’s keen to see the Eagles gain their revenge this weekend.

“I’d expect the game to come down to the wire,” said Barnett (above). “We’re closer on points than we were the last time we met.

“Both teams know how important the fixtures between us are, but I’m confident in the way we’re playing.

“Last time we played Sheffield we certainly didn’t play to our full potential and it cost us.

“We struggled to put the puck in the net, but with 24 goals in our last three games I’m sure that is a memory easily forgotten.”

Third-placed Widnes Wild head to Altrincham Aces on Saturday aiming to keep up the pressure on the top two.

Wild are level on points with the Senators after winning five on the spin, but Player/Coach Ollie Barron will not take the Aces lightly.

“We go into the Aces game in good form – we know this series against them is tight and it will be a tough physical game,” said Barron.

“We need to take the remainder of the season game-by-game, working on specific situations for our opponents.

“Altrincham have a good squad and I expect a hard fought game – one where we’ll be looking to continue our good form.”

Nottingham Lions are also in action on Saturday as they visit Hull Jets.

The Lions are just two points behind Widnes going into the weekend and defender Adam Andrews (above) is looking forward to what promises to be an exciting climax to the regular season.

“Hull are a team not to take lightly as you never know what squad they’re going to have on the night,” said Andrews.

“With two of the top scorers in the league in their ranks we’ll need to be sharp and clinical with our chances to maintain a top four position.

“Midway through the campaign the division has never been so close. With the top four separated by six points there’s all to play for this coming weekend.

“There’s certainly more twists and turns to come. Our aim is to take game by game and take as many points as possible to keep the pressure on and our hopes alive of a play-off spot.”

In Moralee D1, Telford Tigers NIHL face Blackburn Hawks on Saturday aiming to climb off the bottom of the table.

Last Sunday’s 6-2 win at Solihull Barons saw the Tigers draw level on points with the Hawks and Player/Coach Daniel MacKriel believes his team will gain confidence from that performance.

“The game against the Hawks will be another tough encounter – performance-wise last weekend was probably our best of the season and I want to carry that on for this game,” said MacKriel.

“Blackburn have strengthened what was already a strong roster and we’ve lost players at the time when we’re playing some good hockey.

“Like we did in Solihull, we’ll need to stay focused for the full sixty minutes and play a gritty game.

“Even though we have players out, we have a group who’ve shown they can step up and be counted when required.

Now is the time to push on, and with a fully committed and focused group we can aim to do just that.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

NIHL North Moralee D1

Saturday

Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars (Cup)
Telford Tigers NIHL v Blackburn Hawks

Sunday

Solihull Barons v Billingham Stars
Sutton Sting v Blackburn Hawks
Whitley Warriors v Deeside Dragons

NIHL North Laidler 2

Saturday

Altrincham Aces v Widnes Wild
Bradford Bulldogs v Coventry Blaze NIHL
Hull Jets v Nottingham Lions
Sheffield Senators v Blackburn Eagles

(Image permissions: Rob Hutchinson & Peter McConchie)

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