NIHL North weekend preview

Blackburn Hawks face two tough tests this weekend as they put their unbeaten NIHL North Moralee D1 record on the line.

Hawks travel to Sheffield Spartans on Saturday before returning to home ice to meet Solway Sharks the following evening.

Despite making big changes to their roster during the summer, last year’s double winners have hit the ground running this season with maximum points so far. Long-serving defenseman Ollie Lomax (above) believes Hawks are a better team this year.

He commented: “People might think the changes are a backward step coming off such a successful season, but I think we’ve strengthened in what is a really tough league.

“Dan MacKriel is one of the most proactive coaches around, and the players we’ve added all bring something to the party. Bentham, Berra and Miettinen have slotted in really well, while Ben Simister has been excellent for us, setting the benchmark with his 100% effort at both ends of the ice.

“Everyone’s working hard and that pushes players like myself who’ve been at the club a long time to not just expect to turn up and get ice time – we all have to work for our opportunities.

“We’re unbeaten but we haven’t had a complete performance yet and are still coming away with two points, so that bodes well for the rest of the season. It’s gradually clicking into place as we look to build momentum into the winter.

“This weekend is another tough ask against two teams with the same ambitions as ourselves, so we have to apply ourselves to get the points.”

Newly-promoted Sheffield Senators face a weekend double header as they look to secure their first points of the campaign. Senators host Billingham Stars on Saturday, before a making the trip to Solihull Barons on Sunday and forward Nathan Britton admits his team have struggled so far.

“It’s been a very tough start for us after getting promoted last season,” said Britton. “This league is a lot faster and stronger than the one below. There’s been spells where we’ve shown we can mix it with the top teams, but the challenge is turning that into full games of matching and outworking them.

“We’re gaining confidence and the team is gelling really well with everyone pulling together against tougher opponents. Hopefully over the course of the season we’ll become much stronger and be able to shock a few people along the way.”

The remaining D1 game is on Saturday as Sutton Sting face-off against Telford Tigers NIHL.

Hull Jets bid to return to winning ways in Laidler D2 on Sunday as they travel to play Widnes Wild.

Jets’ four game unbeaten run was ended at Nottingham Lions and forward Kieran Beach (right) expects Wild will be another difficult challenge.

He said: “We always seem to struggle in Nottingham and I don’t think we’ve won there for a few years. Widnes will be a tough game, but if we stick to our game plan I’m confident we can come away with two points.

“I believe we have the ability to win the league or at least finish in the top three, although we have a lot of juniors and for some it’s only their first or second season at senior hockey.

“They’re getting a lot of ice time which will help them gain experience and hopefully build their confidence.”

Altrincham Aces are also in action on Sunday, with Bradford Bulldogs the visitors to Greater Manchester. Aces have won once so far this term, while Bulldogs are yet to pick up a point and forward Tom Revesz is confident they can kickstart their season.

“We need to pick ourselves up and get our heads down,” said Revesz. “The boys are gutted with how we’ve started, but the positive thing is everyone is backing each other and the dressing room is still in good spirits despite the losses.

“Things seem to be working in training, but we’re struggling to implement them at the weekend. I think when things click we’ll be up there come the end of the season.

“Our intention is still to win the league and with only four games played there’s no reason we can’t. The leadership is there with the coaches and captains, so it’s just a matter of time.”

There are two other D2 games this weekend with Bulldogs facing Coventry Blaze on Saturday, while Lions host Blackburn Eagles on Sunday.

(Image permission: Ollie Lomax – Pete Sheffield; Kieran Beach – Arthur Foster)

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