NIHL North weekend preview

NIHL North play-off hopefuls Sheffield Spartans and Whitley Warriors face-off on Saturday looking to build on impressive performances last weekend.

Spartans were less than a minute away from being the first team to defeat Blackburn Hawks in Moralee D1 this season, while Whitley beat reigning champions Solway Sharks.

Sheffield Head Coach Martin White was delighted with his team’s performance: “We had a few players missing, but we were determined to start the New Year well.

“Blackburn have a highly talented offense and we worked on reducing the space they had to operate in, whilst keeping shifts short and the bench refreshed.

“Despite giving up two short-handed goals in the first period, we pulled level in the second before taking the lead in the third, setting up an entertaining last eight minutes where we were unlucky not to receive a powerplay or penalty shot when Nick Manning was brought down as he went clear.

“We’ve a couple more injuries within the squad, including netminder Brandon Stones (above) who took a clapper to the neck which sent his helmet flying. Luckily he was able to continue and we’re hopeful he’ll be fit for the Whitley game.

“We’re keen to get on with the games as the second half of the season and the run to the play-offs begins. The play-off spots are going to be closely contested and it’s anyone’s guess who’ll end up there come the end of the season.”

Solway are also in action on Saturday as they host Sutton Sting. There are two games on Sunday with Blackburn facing Manchester Minotaurs, while Billingham Stars meet Whitley Warriors. Stars are in British Challenge Cup action on Saturday as they travel to EPL leaders Telford Tigers. Solway are at Peterborough Phantoms the following day.

Blackburn Eagles face Laidler D2 promotion chasers Telford Tigers NIHL on Sunday looking to end a four game losing streak. Eagles started 2015 with two defeats against Sheffield Senators, leaving Player/Coach Scott Barnett disappointed, but he is hopeful his team can bounce back on the road this weekend.

“We matched Sheffield well on Saturday, but penalties cost us on Sunday,” said Barnett. “Last time we played Telford we had a very poor start to the game and it cost us. They are well placed but have had some close results recently, so it will be interesting to see how it goes. I’m confident if we play to the level we’re capable of the game will be a close one.

“I’m sure people will think we’ve had a strong start to the season and then dropped off a little bit, but that’s not the case. We’ve faced some good opponents and had some close games. We’re still building for the future and are a long way from the team we were last year. I don’t want to finish where we currently stand and the aim is to rejoin the ‘pack’ as soon as possible.”

Saturday’s D2 games are Coventry Blaze v Tigers NIHL, Senators v Solihull Barons and Widnes Wild v Bradford Bulldogs, while on Sunday Senators face Wild and Nottingham Lions play Coventry.

(Image permission: David Morrison)

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