NIHL North weekend preview

Champions Solway still chasing NIHL North treble

The KD Flavell & Sons Northern Cup Final takes centre stage this weekend as Solway Sharks do battle with Sutton Sting.

Sharks welcome Sting to Dumfries on Saturday, with the return in Sheffield the following day and both camps are relishing the upcoming clash.

Sharks remain on course to claim the NIHL North treble, but Coach Martin Grubb is taking a game at a time: “We’re all looking forward to the cup final against a very strong Sutton team. We’ve had a short break due to the U18 World Championships, but the boys are ready and I expect two good games and tight games.

“The treble was our target at the start of the season, but we’re only thinking of winning this weekend. We’ve shared the series with Sutton so far, so the fans will be in for two quality games and we hope to come out on top.”

Sting narrowly missed a Moralee Conference play-off spot, leaving the cup as their last chance of silverware this season. Coach Ian Johnson said: “After being really disappointed with our final league position, the lads took six points from their last three games, so I’m pretty upbeat really.

“It should be a great weekend apart from the early face-off time for our home leg on Sunday – there’s going to be some tired bus legs icing for both teams. I’ve enjoyed the season and it’s been great to see every team improve. Taking on Solway will be a great challenge for us, but if I could have chosen our opponents it would have been the Sharks.

“I’ve made some good friends up in Solway, and I like how they do things. Martin Grubb is someone I look up to and you really have to have everything in order and working together if he’s going to let you have a sniff of success. What better challenge than meeting him and his league champions at the weekend? We’ll have a couple of key players missing on Saturday, but I’m hopeful we’ll have everyone available for the home leg.

“We need to be in close contention after Saturday to be in with a chance, but win or lose I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Next year there’ll be some big changes at Sting, as I’m looking to bring in a new Senior Head Coach, so this weekend may be my last in charge of the team. Finally, good luck to Solway and also Billingham, Blackburn and Whitley in the play-offs.

The final game of the regular season in Laidler Conference is on Saturday as Hull Jets face Widnes Wild. The home team need to avoid defeat to reach the play-offs, while a Wild win would see them join Solihull Barons, Coventry Blaze & Nottingham Lions in the end of season shoot-out.

Jets Coach Andy Daintith commented: “Widnes are a very strong side who’ve progressed so much this season. They are always close intense encounters between the two clubs. We were hoping to get something from last week’s game at Nottingham, but we came up short and that’s hockey. That said, it was a great advertisement for NIHL hockey. We have a great set of talented players at Hull. We have to correct our mistakes from last week, and produce a solid 60 minutes of hockey.”

After a difficult start to life in NIHL, Wild have gathered momentum in 2014, winning over half their games. Coach Mark Gillingham says he’s delighted to reach the final game with something to play for: “The fact it’s come down to a head-to-head game for the play-off position is a bit of a lucky coincidence really, with it being a rearranged fixture, but it should make for a great game.

“We’ve picked up some good results recently against teams at the top end of the table, so we’ve got a little bit of form, but we’re under no illusions how difficult it is to go to Hull and pick up a result. In the three games we’ve played so far we’ve just edged it 2-1, but they’ve all been close games and we need to be at our best.”

(Image permission: David Morrison)

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