NIHL North weekend preview

Dragons suffer Söderberg-Andersson blow

The race to reach the NIHL North (Moralee Conference) play-offs hots up this weekend, with a number of key games being played.

With Solway Sharks needing just three wins to claim the regular season crown, it’s now looking like any three from four to join them in the Dumfries end of season shoot-out.

Those four teams do battle on Sunday, with Sutton Sting facing Billingham Stars, while Blackburn Hawks meet Whitley Warriors. Hawks and Stars are level on points with Sting three behind, while Warriors trail by another two, but their boss Simon Leach believes they’re still firmly in the mix: “We’ve got to make sure we come to battle and play with the intensity we showed against Billingham last week.

“We brought Harry Harley back in and the young kids have done well, so hopefully in the next few weeks we’re going to be in good shape with the amount of bodies we’ll be able to put out. We’ve got two games in hand on Billingham and we’re aiming for a play-off spot, but we’re taking one game at a time. We’re looking to be in a good position going into the last five games, because four of them are at Hillheads.”

The remaining Moralee games see Solway host Sheffield on Saturday, with the Spartans returning to home ice the following day to face Manchester Minotaurs.

The big game in Laidler Conference is on Sunday as leaders Solihull Barons play Coventry Blaze. Barons hold a three point lead over the chasing back, and with games in hand on all their rivals are firm favourites to win the title.

Head Coach Darren Bellerby is looking forward to facing Blaze: “I’m not happy we haven’t played for three weeks, but we’ve had six training sessions since the Sheffield win so we’ll be ready for them. We’re hoping for a big crowd – it’ll be a passionate affair and there’s no better game than the Coventry derby.”

Deeside Dragons’ fading title hopes have been dealt a major blow, with import Dan Söderberg-Andersson returning to Sweden later this month due to injury. Dragons’ recent form has dipped, but with a number of academy players making the step up to senior hockey at Nottingham Lions last week, Player/Coach Steve Fellows refused to be downbeat.

“The objective at the start of the season was to finish fourth and develop our young players,” said Fellows. “It seems likely we’ll finish in the top four, so we want to give the younger players regular ice time.”

Widnes Wild bid for their third win in a row on Sunday as they host Blackburn Eagles. Despite the upturn in fortunes, Head Coach Mark Gillingham isn’t getting carried away: “It’s nice to pick up back-to-back victories, but we’ll have to step it up again in order to make it three out of three against an ever-improving Blackburn side.

“It seems as though our supporters are really starting to get behind the team and the effort is being recognised. We’d love to see a full rink to support us in what’s a really important derby game.”

Nottingham face a weekend on the road as they travel to Hull Jets on Saturday, before a trip to Sheffield Senators the following day.

(Image permission: PSD-Images)

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