Deeside Dragons face a stiff test at Nottingham Lions on Sunday as they bid to extend their lead at the top of NIHL North Laidler D2.
The North Wales outfit hold a two-point advantage over Widnes Wild and Nottingham, although Dragons do have a game in hand.
Head Coach Lol Paul believes this weekend’s clash is the biggest of the year so far.
He said: “Games like these are huge for the boys, especially as Nottingham are the only side to have beaten us this season. We’ll need to be at our absolute best on Sunday.
“I’ll make sure our imports aren’t bullied, especially as Nottingham have a lot of players in cages who are more than willing to skate all night long.
“Whether it’s dump and chase, or quick transitions, we’ll look at all the options in training and decide from there. I’m really pleased with the players’ confidence and attitude at the moment.”
Nottingham will be without forward Connor Glossop who is away with the Great Britain U20 squad, but Paul refused to write his opponents off.
He added: “Nottingham sometimes have players representing their country, or playing down an age group.
“The important thing to remember is that their younger players will be looking to make a name for themselves. That means they’ll be willing to work hard and put their bodies on the line.
“We have to watch out for that and I’m sure Nottingham will put out a very strong side against us.
“Any rink with an Elite League connection is a tough place to go, but our players are too professional to let that stand in their way. We’ll just go about our business like we normally do.”
Nottingham have won three of their last four games to stay in the hunt for promotion, but Head Coach Matt Bradbury says Deeside are big favourites to clinch top spot.
“We’re obviously looking forward to the game – it’s going to be great playing Deeside. They’re a fantastic team and really should be beating us.
“If they don’t go on and win the league and get promoted then there’s something wrong. With the budget and resources they have available it would be a travesty for them not to win.
“They’ve got the two top players in the league in (Adrian) Palak and (Filip) Supa and I’m sure they’ve been worth every penny, but ultimately we’ve got to remember this league is the fourth tier of British Ice Hockey – it’s supposed to be a development league.
“Moving on to next season, something Deeside should be looking at is the sustainability and the next crop of players coming through their club and whether playing in Moralee D1 will allow then to do that.
“For us, we’re pleased with what we’ve achieved so far. It’s about how we perform each game and trying to meet our maximum potential and continuing our learning process. We’re without Connor who’s with GB20s, but we’re really proud he’s been called up.
“There’s no pressure on us this weekend – we’re not expected to win this game.”
Telford Tigers NIHL boss Jason Parry hopes to round off 2015 with victory at home to reigning Moralee D1 champions Blackburn Hawks on Saturday.
The Shropshire outfit trail Blackburn by two points going into the game and Parry is determined to kickstart his side’s challenge for honours at Telford Ice Rink.
He said: “It will be a massive test for us against Blackburn, as we might have a few guys away playing for the EPL Tigers and with GB20s.
“That just means the players we have will need to work hard and show us what they can do. I still think we have a very good chance of doing well against the Hawks.
“We need to keep it tight and work hard over all three periods. It’s our last game of 2015, so to beat the champions at home would be brilliant for the lads.”
“They’ve got a couple of very good imports, so it is going to be an extremely tough game for us. It is still a match we can win though.
“We’ve got players who are showing us potential, and they will spend a lot of time in key areas against Blackburn.”
NIHL North Moralee D1
Solway Sharks v Sutton Sting
Telford Tigers NIHL v Blackburn Hawks
Blackburn Hawks v Whitley Warriors
NIHL North Laidler D2
Bradford Bulldogs v Hull Jets
Altrincham Aces v Widnes Wild
Nottingham Lions v Deeside Dragons
(Image permission: Peter McConnochie)