NIHL North weekend preview

Billingham Stars face Blackburn Hawks on Saturday looking to boost their NIHL North Moralee D1 play-off hopes.

The Teessiders have shown improved form over past few weeks, losing just two of their last eight games, but their recent record against Blackburn is poor.

However, Billingham GM Allen Flavell says Stars will travel to Lancashire full of confidence.

“The Hawks are there to be shot at and Whitley have proved it can be done,” said Flavell. “We fear no-one and on our night we know we are more than capable of giving them a good game.

“Blackburn are to be applauded for their recent successes and there is absolutely no doubt they’re a very good side indeed, but we’re confident in our own abilities and maybe the Hawks will have their minds elsewhere with the Whitley game coming up on Sunday.

“We’re expecting them to come at us strongly from the first puck drop. We know we’ll need to keep the tempo high and we will be demanding that no-one has a shift off, because that’s what is costing us.

“When we switch off, as we have done all season, we get punished. We simply can’t afford to do that at all against Blackburn – we need a full 60-minute game and 100% from everyone.

“If we can achieve that then anything is possible because the opposite is also true – when we play with our tails up we are a real force to be reckoned with and we can cause anyone problems. We have the talent.”

Laidler D2 leaders Deeside Dragons meet Coventry Blaze on Saturday buoyed by last week’s impressive performance at Nottingham Lions.

The North Wales outfit secured a 7-1 victory to stay two points clear of Widnes Wild with a game in hand, leaving Head Coach Lol Paul delighted with his team.

“I feel happy for every single one of my players – they really deserve to be where they are at the moment and the table doesn’t lie,” said Paul.

“I’ve said before that having Nottingham beat us early in the season probably did us a favour. It was a wake-up call.

“This year is about building the players up, both physically and mentally. That is really paying off for us now.”

Blackburn Eagles will hope to bounce back to form on Sunday as they host Altrincham Aces.

Five wins in a row had pushed them into the promotion picture, but two successive losses to Widnes put a dent in their hopes.

Defenseman Wayne Slater has challenged his teammates to react positively this weekend.

He said: “I think we are just where we need to be so far this season. We’re playing some good hockey, but we’re inconsistent and have been exposed by some of the top teams. We need to play for 60 mins not just 40.

“This weekend will be massive as Aces have strengthened and are playing well. But if we put in a 60 min shift we should come out on top and start to cement our position in a play-off spot.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

NIHL North Moralee D1

Saturday

Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars
Sheffield Senators v Sheffield Spartans

Sunday

Sheffield Spartans v Sheffield Senators
Solihull Barons v Sutton Sting
Whitley Warriors v Blackburn Hawks

NIHL North Laidler D2

Saturday

Deeside Dragons v Coventry Blaze
Hull Jets v Nottingham Lions

Sunday

Blackburn Eagles v Altrincham Aces

(Image permission: Dean Reeve Photography)

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