The big two meet in NIHL1 North on Saturday, as Solway Sharks host reigning champions Billingham Stars (left). With both teams unbeaten so far, Sharks’ Coach Martin Grubb expects a tough match, “I think this is a game both sets of players will be up for,” said Grubb. “Billingham are the team to beat this season after winning the double last year. They’ve started well and I know Simon (Leach) will have them ready to play. If we can take our chances and stay disciplined, we’ll keep our run going.”
Stars are without Dave Thomas & Ross Hanlon, though Andy Thornton returns. Leach believes Sharks present the biggest test of their title hopes, “I know Solway well after spending last season there as assistant coach,” said Leach. “They’ve put together three solid lines with depth and experience. It’s a massive game where we’ll have to work very hard and stick to our systems. It’s a big challenge and we’ve worked towards it in training this week.” The following evening Sharks travel to face Blackburn Hawks, while Stars meet Coventry Blaze at TFM Ice Arena.
Sutton Sting look to bounce back from last week’s double loss to Billingham, with a tough league trip to Sheffield Spartans on Saturday, followed by a visit to Whitley Warriors in the cup on Sunday. Andy Brown makes his Sting debut, while Tom Jeffrey returns from suspension and Coach Ian Johnson believes his newly-promoted team can cope with life in NIHL1, “In the cup game with Billingham, we faced them with just over two lines, with three of our youngest squad players having to step up to the plate,” said Johnson. “It was probably one of the best games of hockey I’ve been involved in and a fair result would have been a point each, but the lads gave everything. Billingham are a class team and deserved the points on Sunday, but the few guys I took on the road did the travelling fans proud.” The final fixture in NIHL1 sees Spartans host Trafford Metros.
Deeside Dragons face a stern test of their NIHL2 promotion credentials on Sunday, with a trip to face Nottingham Lions. Dragons beat Telford Titans in a challenge game last week, while Lions defend a 100% start to the season, but Deeside Coach Ian Foster is confident they can get a good result, “After our undisciplined performance against the Senators in our last league game, we want to get back on track with what would be a massive win,” said Foster. “Nottingham look to be a strong team this year, but it’s nothing we didn’t expect.”
Fylde Flyers play Blackburn Eagles on Saturday and are expected to have import Jans Grinbergs in their line-up. Coach Mick Caunce is still trying to secure a return for fellow Latvian Elvis Veldze, but has signed Troy Evans from Blackburn Eagles. Flyers face a difficult trip to the Midlands on Sunday to meet Solihull Barons.
(Image permission: Colin Lawson)