As the dust settles on another exciting season in NIHL North, C2C asked fans around the league for their opinions on their team’s season.
Mark McCreadie (Solway Sharks) – What a season. We came up not expecting the year we’ve just had, but with the additions of Craig Mitchell and John Connolly, Coach Martin Grubb showed he meant business. Billingham gave us our only league defeat and Sutton pushed us all the way in every game, but for me our hardest games were against the Hawks. We scraped through in a few games with Nathan Salem being the main man along with Gary Russell. What lies ahead for Sharks I can’t answer. We’ve already lost Balmer, while Mitchell and Connolly are rumoured to be moving on. But after two trophies in our first year at this level, next season can’t come quickly enough. Over to Coach Grubb to work his magic once again.
Carol Ramsden (Billingham Stars) – We entered the season with high hopes – a double-winning side that lost very few players whilst gaining two top-class forwards in Wallace and Bowman. However, two things quickly became evident – the overall quality of the league had gone up, plus we weren’t going to have the luck we had previously with injuries. We did look good at the start of the season – motoring through to the Cup Final, plus there was the wonderful 5-0 road win at Solway. From that point it seemed someone had broken a mirror in the dressing room with a run of injuries that bordered on ridiculous. The biggest loss was James Flavell to Sheffield Steeldogs, leaving Mark Watson with huge skates to fill. The arrival of Dave Manning was a welcome boost – not afraid to forecheck and stick up for his teammates, ‘Bruce’ soon became a fans favourite. The title was lost with games to spare, leaving us with just the play-offs to concentrate on. The final disappointment against the Hawks leaves us looking at a very different summer. But second in all competitions is still an achievement – an interesting close season awaits.
William Hayman (Sutton Sting) – We set out this season to make a name for themselves in the league. After a fairly rough start September 29th saw the first Spartans game and our first win. This heated the strong rivalry, which Sutton dominated throughout the season. We continued our new winning ways and with a few new signings, particularly Chris Sykes and Dmitri Zimozdra, we found ourselves in third place – an outstanding achievement. The play-off series was closely fought and very exciting – both teams competed to a very high standard. The effort Sutton put in did everyone proud and was a great end to a great season.
Nick Riley (Blackburn Hawks) – Before the season began we lost some key individuals. With little information coming out of the Arena on any new signings it led to some fans getting frustrated. But when the season got underway Jared’s final roster didn’t look too bad. One major difference has been the name on the front has been more important than the one on the back. Ashington, Cairney-Witter and Dacres added some energy into the team, while Latvian Ivo Dimitijevs has been different class. I’ll never forget the night he took Whitley apart scoring some truly amazing goals. Our two most important signings though were Aaron Davies’ return from Deeside and Dan MacKriel coming out of retirement. His quality and experience stood out a country mile in the play-off games. If Jared and Dangy are supported as they should by the Arena we’ll be a formidable outfit next year.
Chris McKenzie (Whitley Warriors) – We went into the season having finished runners-up last time around. However, we lost several key members of the 12/13 squad as Shaun Kippin, Kevin Bucas and Rob Wilson all departed Hillheads over the summer months. We started well, picking up five points from the opening three games, but a slump in results saw Warriors lying towards the bottom of the standings. The arrival of bench coach Dave Holland saw an upturn and Warriors were able to move into mid-table to eventually finish fifth. Skipper DJ Good and winger Callum Watson both enjoyed fine personal campaigns, regularly picking up points and were voted into the Prohockey News All Star Team of the 2012/13 season.
Phil Holden (Sheffield Spartans) – Spartans started with great hopes and expectations, but it’s safe to say we were more than disappointed by not securing a play-off spot. We’d identified general fitness & player levels as areas to address in order to be more competitive, but it took longer than expected for the team to gel and overall it’s been a frustrating season. We’ve played some great hockey but just couldn’t get the wins on the board to seriously challenge, although a good run in the New Year saw us ensure NIHL1 safety. There were many positives though to take forward, including getting Martin White on board as our new Coach, which gives us reason to be optimistic next season.
Steve Gordon (Telford Titans) – We didn’t start off too well – with having no rink to train in it was difficult to keep the momentum we finished with the previous year. Then we forfeited our first game because our coach company cancelled the day before our fixture in Whitley. Our season was one of inconsistency, short benches and penalties. We are a team who wear our hearts on our sleeves and this sometimes gets the better of us. You can’t win games from the penalty box, but when we have five players on the ice we are a match for anyone. We had some close games with the top four and could have nicked a win more often, if we could just control ourselves better in certain situations. The future is bright – a few good juniors have stepped up and performed well this season, which shows development at Telford is moving the right way.
Marion Frankland (Coventry Blaze) – It’s been a frustrating season of mixed fortunes for NIHL Blaze. We’ve had games where we’ve been so short benched we’ve joked about dressing the bench staff and somehow found the strength to win; we’ve had others where we’ve been at full strength and looked as if we’d never played together before. We lost two of our new signings to the Elite team early in the season, but the core of guys who turned up week in, week out played some great hockey and in many cases made vast improvements on the ice. The new signings showed what they were picked for and the old guard continued to develop, in sometimes challenging circumstances. Here’s hoping we can hold on to most of them next season.
Stuart Latham (Deeside Dragons) – Last season, Dragons’ weak spot was poor passing and discipline. These were addressed this year as they were the best passing team in the team and far more disciplined. Brian Worrall perfected his unstoppable shots from the blueline to become top points scorer. The turning point of the season was finding the final piece to the jigsaw when they signed Jordan Bannon from Telford. He cemented the team together and from his arrival, there was no turning back for the Dragons as victories away at Nottingham, Sheffield and Hull brought a very creditable runners-up spot. This brought play-off hockey to Wales, but in a physical encounter against Coventry Blaze, they ultimately came up short. A very positive season which they can build upon.
Paul Jackson (Solihull Barons) – At the start of the season the fans were buzzing. Our home form was fantastic, but we struggled away. We still nearly made the play-off against Coventry after beating Nottingham 8-0 in front of over 800 fans, but lost the return 6-2 to leave the door open for Deeside. There’ve been too many stand out players to name them all, but Mikey Rodger is a class act, while the Slaters have been doing their thing again. Joe Henry was an instant success and what can you say about the signing of Perry Doyle, what a character! His level of fitness seemed incredible and I was surprised at his skating ability. All-in-all it was a good season – it’s just a shame we couldn’t finish second, as the prospect of a derby play-off would have been something else.
Barbara Wilkie (Fylde Flyers) – Our season was a rollercoaster. Greg Ruxton came in as netminder and showed great potential, while Peter Bleakley contributed greatly to our coaching set-up. Danny Jones and Joe Charlton made the move up from rec hockey and were quickly followed by Ryan Johnson – all three proved you can make the step up. The signing of Jason Pirie brought some excitement to the play and a few excellent boxing matches! However, short-handed away matches and low attendance at training took its toll. The prima-donnas will remain unnamed, but their lack of commitment had an impact leaving the Fylde Coast saying farewell to league hockey.
Tod White (Blackburn Eagles) – This was a season which saw the team take a new name as the Raptors became the Eagles. Most of the old squad returned with new faces including the Barnett brothers, Adam Leaver and Greg Newton adding experience to what was essentially still a development squad. Unfortunately the club couldn’t improve on the previous season and failed to win a game. Despite conceding over 200 goals, keeper Nick Saxton achieved an 88% save ratio, while facing an average of over 75 shots on goal per match throughout the season. Goals and points were scarce with top goal scorer Kenny Armstrong bagging seven goals and Steven Hetherington topping the points with 15. Highlight of the season was the home performance against Solihull Barons when the Eagles lost by the odd goal in nine.
(Our fans from Nottingham & Sheffield Senators didn’t submit in time, while no-one from Trafford would share their thoughts. Hull’s Donna Jackson passed her apologies as other commitments prevented her from contributing).