The top two in NIHL North Laidler D2 meet on Saturday as leaders Deeside Dragons face-off against Nottingham Lions.
Dragons have started the season in impressive fashion with four straight wins, while Lions have lost just once and both teams will be keen to keep their momentum going.
With a number of senior players leaving the club Lions’ Head Coach Matt Bradbury assembled a youthful looking squad to start the season, and has subsequently boosted his ranks with the addition of two former players.
Defenseman Adam Andrews (above) said the club’s ethos of development and youth was one which would hopefully pay dividends as the season progresses.
“It would be easy to join the NIHL North merry-go-round and sign players from other teams,” said Andrews.
“However, Matt stuck to what he believed in and simply gave the juniors from last year and U20s players added responsibility. We have the right mix of youth and experience with the added bonus that nearly the whole squad are entering their second full season together, which enables us to push on from where we left off last year.”
After ending 2014/15 in sixth place, Lions have their sights set on the top four this time around, and with Dan Hazeldine and Alan Levers back on the roster Andrews believes they are capable of achieving this.
“We certainly hope to make the play-off weekend. Everyone wants to win the league, but with two or three other teams stating that’s their aim it would be arrogant of me to say we can having not played everyone yet,” he said.
“Dan’s a high-scoring forward who will only complement our current squad, whilst having Alan come out of retirement is a major boost given the recent injuries to our usual netminder Tom Hovell. He’s a quality stopper and installs confidence from the back.
“We’ll prepare for the Deeside game the same way we always do. They’ve secured great financial backing and signed a couple of high profile players, but for me it’s how a team works collectively. Our main priority is to focus on our game plan and the rest will take care of itself.”
Lions are also in action on Sunday as they welcome Altrincham Aces to Nottingham. The remaining D2 game is on Saturday with Coventry Blaze meeting Bradford Bulldogs.
Billingham Stars return from a weekend off to face a tough double-header in NIHL North Moralee D1, travelling to Sheffield Spartans on Saturday before returning to home ice the following evening to play Telford Tigers NIHL.
Stars produced two excellent performances against Solway Sharks and the Spartans before their enforced mini-break, but General Manager Allen Flavell is taking nothing for granted.
He commented: “It may be a cliché but there really are no easy games this season. Nobody expected two newly-promoted sides to take points off Solway last weekend, yet Sharks came away empty-handed. Every year NIHL steps up another gear and we can’t afford to take so much as a period off against anybody.
“We beat Spartans a few weeks ago but they’ll be a different proposition on their own ice. The larger playing surface will give both sides more room to pass the puck around, and I expect to see more of both of their new imports this time.
“Telford are an unknown quantity but you can’t argue with their results so far. They’re clearly a very talented side full of players pushing to make the grade with the EPL team. There’s no room for complacency whatsoever – we only have to look at how they fought back to almost snatch a point at Whitley Warriors last Sunday to know that.
“Preparation will be the key – we need to come with our game faces on and be prepared to fight for every puck. I’m quietly confident we’ll get the result in both matches, but only if we come to each game with the right attitude because any lapses will be punished.”
There are four other D1 games this weekend. Sheffield Senators v Blackburn Hawks and Sutton Sting v Solihull Barons completes a marathon line-up at IceSheffield on Saturday, while Warriors v Sting and Hawks v Spartans rounds things off on Sunday.
(Image permission: Peter McConnochie)