NIHL North preview: Sharks face tough opening weekend

Solway Sharks face a difficult introduction to the NIHL North season as they tackle two potential challengers for the Moralee D1 title.

Sharks welcome Billingham Stars to Dumfries on Saturday, before travelling to meet Whitley Warriors the following evening.

Head Coach Martin Grubb has had a busy summer, adding proven quality to his squad including ‘D’ man James Hutchinson and forward Richard Bentham.

Finnish defender Kim Miettinen has also signed for the club having won the double with Blackburn Hawks last season and Grubb believes he now has a squad capable of ending their domination.

“When I recruited my roster I looked across the league and the likes of Billingham and Blackburn – two of the sides likely to challenge for honours – had gone down the route of two import forwards,” said Grubb.

“Last year we shipped too many goals so we’ve gone with the import defence – I’m confident that there will be goals spread across our forward lines plus the likes of Juraj (Senko) contributing from the back end.

“Billingham come in on Saturday – we know all about Dennis (Bostrom) from last year. We saw little bits of their new import in last week’s games with Hull Jets plus they have a host of talented British forwards.

“We’ll look to shut down their offensive ability and take our own chances when they come.

“It will be a tight game, but like the games between us over the past few years, it will be open exciting hockey with no doubt one or two talking points.

“Everyone is excited to get started in the competitive action and our aim on Saturday is two points to get our season up and running.”

The Warriors kick their campaign off on Sunday at home to the Sharks with Player/Coach David Longstaff playing down their title chances.

With the likes of Callum Queenan, Mark Turnbull and Kyle Ross leaving the club, Longstaff is hoping some of Warriors’ younger players will make a name for themselves this season but he’s also tasked one the team’s older heads with producing the goods in front of goal.

“Imports are the difference makers in this league and all of the other teams have two solid imports, so Andre (Payette) will be expected to contribute a lot more goals this season,” said Longstaff.

“We’re also going to have a smaller squad and a lot of senior players missing games due to work commitments which will be a challenge, but will give players a chance to show they can play.

“I can already see the league is changing and the standard is improving, which is something I noticed when I dropped down from the Elite league to the EPL after the first season.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

NIHL North Moralee D1

Saturday

Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars
Telford Tigers NIHL v Solihull Barons

Sunday

Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars
Deeside Dragons v Sutton Sting
Whitley Warriors v Solway Sharks

NIHL North Laidler D2

Saturday

Hull Jets v Altrincham Aces

Sunday

Altrincham Aces v Nottingham Lions

(Image permission: Duncan Speirs)

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