NIHL North preview: Stars eye play-off spot

Billingham Stars bid to keep their NIHL North play-off push rolling this weekend as they look to build on a run of four wins from their last five games.

Stars travel to Sutton Sting on Saturday, before returning to home ice the following day against Sheffield Senators, aiming to keep the pressure on the teams above them in Moralee D1.

The Teessiders lie fifth in the table, just three points off a play-off slot, but with games in hand on the teams above them a place in the end-of-season shoot-out in Sheffield remains the target.

Director of Coaching Terry Ward said: “The Sutton game will be a tough one. Yes, they’re second from bottom but they’ve only been losing games by one or two goals in the main, so we’ve got to be on form again.

“They’re a good side, give them the opportunity and they’ll take it. We can’t go there thinking they’re second-bottom so we’re going to win.

“In this league it’s not like that – you take time off and you lose. I think Sunday is an easier prospect for us, we expect to get two points there, but we have to go to Sutton and grind like we did last week.”

Solway Sharks host leaders Blackburn Hawks on Sunday also eyeing a top four finish.

Sharks played their first competitive hockey in over a month last weekend, but found their form to record a 14-0 win against the Senators

Head Coach Martin Grubb commented: “It was a frustrating lay-off, so tonight was good to blow away the cobwebs and get back into game action.

“It was useful to get back into good habits with the puck, and give some confidence to the players finding the net like they did.

“While we enjoyed the win, we know we’ll have to be even better against Blackburn. They’re performing consistently week in, week out, as we used to do. That’s our aim if we want to climb the table and make the post season.”

Telford Tigers NIHL Head Coach Jason Parry is determined to return from weekend games in Sheffield and Whitley with at least two points.

Tigers travel to Sheffield Spartans on Saturday, before heading north to meet Whitley Warriors the following day.

Parry said: “We’ve beaten Sheffield once this season, drawn with them and lost to them, so the target is to take two points and win the mini-series.

“Anyone can be beaten on their day and that goes for Whitley as well. We’ve drawn with Warriors and lost twice, but only by a single goal.

“It’s a tough place to go, but we’ll give them a good game on Sunday night and ideally come away with the points.”

Laidler D2 leaders Deeside Dragons face their third weekend double-header on the spin as they look to take another step towards the title.

They face Altrincham Aces on Saturday, before travelling to Hull Jets on Sunday, and Head Coach Lol Paul has asked people to come out and watch his team.

“It’s a long time since Deeside have won a trophy, and the fans have supported us through thick and thin. As a fan, I would feel strongly about coming down and seeing this team.

“There is still a way to go, and I think those supporters should share it with us. Don’t miss out on this team and how well they are playing.

“We are building a fortress here at Deeside and every match now is a countdown for us. If we win every game from now on, it would be a very special achievement.

“People want to come and watch a winning team, which is the feeling I want to create here. If that happens, then we must be doing something right.”

Sunday’s trip to Hull could be something of a banana skin for the Dragons, as it will be their sixth game in the last three weeks.

Paul has warned his players not to take the Jets lightly: “It is a long journey up to Hull and this will be our third back-to-back weekend in a row,” he said.

“Some of the lads aren’t used to that, so you do start to pick up knocks. Hull came here a few weeks ago and really took us to the wire.

“A few teams have put big scores past them, while others have struggled, so you never know which Jets team you’ll get. We can’t underestimate them.

“Winning our away games is very important for us, and in some ways they are our priority for the rest of the season.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

NIHL North Moralee D1

Saturday

Sheffield Spartans v Telford Tigers NIHL
Solway Sharks v Blackburn Hawks
Sutton Sting v Billingham Stars

Sunday

Billingham Stars v Sheffield Senators
Whitley Warriors v Telford Tigers NIHL

NIHL North Laidler D2

Saturday

Deeside Dragons v Altrincham Aces

Sunday

Blackburn Eagles v Bradford Bulldogs
Hull Jets v Deeside Dragons
Widnes Wild v Coventry Blaze

(Image permission: Keith & Jenny Davies)

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