NIHL North weekend preview

Bumper crowd at Deeside

With three weeks of the Moralee Conference regular season to go, the battle to reach the play-offs looks set to go to the wire.

Solway Sharks & Blackburn Hawks have guaranteed their places in Dumfries, while Billingham Stars will join them if they avoid defeat in their final game against Sheffield Spartans.

Sutton Sting & Whitley Warriors are battling for the final slot, with Sting a point behind having played one game less than the Warriors. Both are in action on Sunday with Sting hosting the Hawks, while Warriors travel to Manchester Minotaurs.

Sting lost to Solway last week, but Coach Ian Johnson was full of praise for the champions and hasn’t ruled out meeting them again this season: “Martin Grubb and Solway are a quality outfit – and with Les Maxwell and his support staff behind them, long may it continue.

“To win the league is one thing, but to do it consecutively since being promoted and to have so many games in hand of their opponents is pretty special. Congratulations to Martin and his team. I hope we manage to secure a play-off spot, and maybe win a place in the cup final too, where we will hopefully lock horns again.”

Warriors beat the Minotaurs 7-1 last weekend, but with their previous visit to Altrincham ending in a draw and Coach Simon Leach is taking nothing for granted: “We didn’t play to our full potential on Sunday, but we won the game and that’s all that matters at this stage of the season.

“I felt the game was a little flat and we over passed the puck a little, however we were never really in any trouble and as I’ve said it’s the result that counts.”We’ve got two games left now and we’ve got to win those games and see what happens from there.”

Solway host Telford Titans in the league on Saturday, while the following evening they are at Billingham in the KD Flavell & Sons Northern Cup.

The picture in Laidler Conference is a little clearer, with Solihull Barons clear favourites to clinch the title. Barons, Coventry Blaze & Nottingham Lions have all secured their places in the Laidler play-offs, with Hull Jets, Sheffield Senators & Widnes Wild still battling to replace Deeside in the end-of-season showdown.

Solihull & Coventry are both in action on Sunday as they host Hull & Sheffield respectively, while Deeside face a weekend double-header against Blackburn Eagles. Laidler attendances have boomed in recent weeks with Barons and Wild packing out their rinks, while the Dragons drew almost 1,000 for last week’s clash with Sheffield.

Player/Coach Steve Fellows was delighted with the evening: “Sheffield are our bogey team – every side has one and they are ours. We struggle to put the puck in the net against them and after outshooting and outplaying them it was a similar story on Sunday.

“Their goals weren’t the best and that put us under pressure and with their netminder one of the best in the league we were made to work very hard for our goals. The bench coaches decided to go with two lines in the final two minutes and the decision paid off.

“It was fantastic to see the seats full of people, with so many fans having to stand up all around the building just to watch us play. It’s great for our players to play in front of such support, it was a fantastic night.”

(Image permission: PSD-Images)

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