NIHL North weekend preview

 Spartans’ captain Ollie Barron

Sheffield Spartans get their NIHL North Moralee D1 season underway on Saturday as they host Billingham Stars.

Spartans narrowly missed out on a play-off slot last term, but have strengthened their roster this summer.

Shaun Wild & Elliot Knell return after spells in NIHLS, while Chris Wilcox is back after a spell away from the game. Utility player Andrew Turner has also rejoined after a year out.

Ollie Barron is excited for the season ahead: “We’ve been training hard in preparation for our opening game. Billingham will be a good first test for us as they’re always a well-drilled team with some standout individuals – but so do we.

“We have the belief we can beat anyone in this league as we proved last season, and we’ll play hard for 60 minutes every week. Our overall aim is to achieve a play-off spot, something I think we should have secured last season.”

Whitley Warriors begin their league campaign on Sunday as they travel to Blackburn Hawks. Warriors finished fourth last year and are looking to improve on that this year. Forward Adam Reynolds said: “It’ll be a tough test against Blackburn, but we’ve strengthened in the summer and had a good pre-season. We’re feeling confident and hope to get off to a good start.

“Warriors are the only team in the top four without financial backing and we’re always up there, so there’s no reason why we can’t challenge. Personally I hope to have a good season. There’s a few new faces in the league to overtake me in the scoring charts, but I’ll be giving it my best shot.”

The remaining D1 fixture is also on Sunday as Billingham face-off against Manchester Minotaurs.

In Laidler D2, Sheffield Senators aim to build on last week’s impressive start as they face Telford Tigers NIHL & Nottingham Lions. Tom Humphries grabbed a late winner to seal a 2-1 success at Deeside Dragons and Coach Andy Ellis was pleased with the performance.

Senators’ forward Tom Humphries

“Deeside are a tough team to take points off, especially on home ice,” said Ellis. “The biggest plus for me was the character we showed to come from behind and go on to pinch both points in the final three minutes.

“This weekend we face a difficult double-header. Telford are a new team, but they’ll be well-drilled with Scott McKenzie and Tom Watkins overseeing things down there.

“They’ve some excellent senior players and lots of youngsters hungry to make an impression. We’ll need to battle for the full 60 minutes and take our chances when they come in order to give ourselves an opportunity to win.

“On Sunday we travel to Nottingham, who’ll no doubt be fired up after their shock defeat to the Eagles last week. We’ve never won down there, but this year we have more firepower and will have a much better chance of coming away with the win.”

Nottingham are also in action on Saturday at Bradford Bulldogs. Sunday’s games see Hull Jets face Coventry Blaze, Solihull Barons are at home to Blackburn Eagles and Deeside meet Widnes Wild.

Solway Sharks are in British Challenge Cup action on Saturday as they welcome the Hawks to Dumfries. Sharks suffered a miserable first week with two defeats and Coach Martin Grubb is looking for an immediate response:

“Last weekend was disappointing and something we need to bounce back from. We haven’t had too many disappointments in recent seasons, but we’re a much changed team and need to regroup to be ready for this weekend.

“We’re still trying to strengthen our squad, but we’re finding it tough to recruit. I’m very pleased with the way our kids have stepped up and hopefully we can add some real extra quality soon.

“We’ve worked hard at practice this week and need to kick-start our season on Saturday. We know it won’t be easy against Blackburn, but we need to focus solely on ourselves and get the job done to gain some confidence.”

Image permissions: Ollie Barron – Rob Hutchinson; Tom Humphries – Gav Rawson)

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