With a new look and a host of new players on show, the upcoming NIHL North season promises to be the best yet. Coast to Coast takes a look at the NIHL2 (Laidler Conference) teams and what we can expect over the next eight months:
Nottingham Lions – Comfortably won NIHL2 last time around and will be hoping to mount another serious challenge in 2013/14. Lions have seen a few players leave, with perhaps Gareth O’Flaherty’s move to the EPL likely to hit them hardest. Ex-NHL defenseman Chris Allen joins from Solihull Barons, while the prolific Joe Wightman is back for another year. Likely improvements from their production line of youngsters should see them in the hunt for honours again.
Deeside Dragons – A late season surge saw Dragons reach the NIHL1 play-off game, controversially losing to Coventry Blaze. They’ve added ex-Titans defender Mike Jones, while popular forward Chris Jones returns to Deeside from Telford. Despite interest from elsewhere, Shaun Kippin remains with the club, but it’s the addition of import Dan Söderberg-Andersson which has Dragons’ fans believing this could be their year. Should make a determined challenge.
Solihull Barons – Flattered to deceive last time around, the Barons appear to be going all out for success this season. A number of Blaze players have switched across the Midlands, with netminder Josh Nicholls and forward Josh Bruce impressive additions. Ex-Telford Tigers defender Ryan Selwood brings a wealth of experience, while Joe Henry made a huge impact after joining midway through last season. Title favourites.
Sheffield Senators – Last season’s surprise package have lost defender Jonathon Kirk to Sheffield Spartans. Despite this they have plenty of experience to call on with the likes of Jonathon Bell and Simon Manning still at the club. Coach Andy Ellis is likely to have Senators well drilled and it would be no surprise to see them near the top of the table once again.
Hull Jets – Finished a creditable fifth last time, but have yet to officially announce any signings this summer.
Coventry Blaze – Despite securing their NIHL1 status against Deeside, Blaze moved conferences in the summer. New Coach James Pease has had a hectic time, seeing a number of players move to Solihull, but has put together what should be a competitive roster. Defender Adam Andrews comes in from the Barons and Tom Pease is back after a year away from the game. Blaze look strong in the netminding department, while forwards Josh Nicklin and Josh Gent should continue their improvement. It would be foolish to underestimate Blaze this season.
Widnes Wild – The league newboys arrive in NIHL with lofty plans to progress up the league ladder. Wild have brought in a number of players from the defunct Fylde Flyers team, with Bobby Caunce perhaps the most impressive addition. Ex-Deeside defender Calum Ruddick could be a decent signing, while Marc Etherington has plenty of NIHL experience with Trafford Metros. With Slovakian import Filip Supa an unknown quantity it’s difficult to write Wild off, but mid-table is probably the best they can hope for.
Blackburn Eagles – Ended 2012/13 without a point and have confirmed just two players to date.