NIHL North weekend preview

NIHL North swings back into action this weekend with a number of enticing games. Reigning champions Solway Sharks begin their season on Saturday as they welcome Billingham Stars to Dumfries.

Sharks Coach Martin Grubb is keen to start with a win: “We’re coming into the season on the back of a few good challenge games and we’re looking to defend our titles. We know we’ll have to be as consistent if not more so than last year as the league has improved again, but I think we have more depth this time and we’ll be even stronger. Billingham is a tough start, but one we’re looking forward to and we hope to get underway on a positive note.”

Stars have put the finishing touches to their roster this week with Adam Robinson, Martyn Davies and Andy Thornton all agreeing another year. All three are expected to ice against Sharks and the following night at home to Telford. The Titans begin their campaign on Saturday at home to Whitley Warriors.

Manchester Minotaurs travel to Sutton Sting on Sunday looking to put last season firmly behind them. The ex-Trafford Metros team managed just three wins in 2012/13, but new Czech import Lukas Zeman believes they’ll be much improved this time around: “I like the attitude our new coach Kevin Cassidy is taking into the new season. He is professional and knows how to lead a team. My team-mates have helped me to settle and I feel confidence from them.

“This will be my first season in the UK and I’ve played two friendly games, so I have an idea what UK hockey is about. It’s a long season so it means we have time to settle into our systems. Signing for Manchester is a big opportunity for me. They’ve given me a chance to play and I really appreciate it.”

Minotaurs have also added Tom Revesz and Geoff Wigglesworth to their roster, while Sting import Vjaceslavs Movko is now registered and will ice.

Last year’s NIHL2 champions Nottingham Lions begin with a trip to Blackburn Eagles on Saturday, while Deeside Dragons are at Hull Stingrays. The following evening sees Dragons host new-boys Widnes Wild, with the Eagles travelling to Solihull Barons.

Dragons forward Shaun Kippin believes this season could be a transitional one: “We’re all really looking forward to this season. I think it’s going to be a rebuilding year, but we have lots of good youngsters coming through. We’ve got a few rivalries with teams in this league already, and it’s great to have the chance to develop another one with Widnes.”

The final game is Coventry against Sheffield Senators and Blaze defenseman Adam Andrews believes his new team could be the surprise package this year: “With a lot of departures heading to Solihull to chase the money, it’s been a tough off-season as we’ve had to replace the majority of the squad. We’ve managed to keep last season’s key forwards in Josh Nicklin, Philip Pollok and Josh Gent, which was a massive plus and gave us a good foundation to start on.

“Over the last six weeks we’ve added a good mix of youth and experience and have been working hard in practice. Some teams will be going into games thinking Coventry won’t be at the races this season, but I can assure you the first team who thinks this will be going home empty-handed. We’re hungry for success and want to prove the doubters wrong. James (Pease) has everyone working off the same page and we’ll be a well drilled squad this year – something I’ve not had over the past three seasons.”

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