Monday, 15 September 2014

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 14th September)

Thomas Stuart-Dant led the way as Billingham Stars opened their NIHL North Moralee D1 season with a pair of wins.

Stuart-Dant hit a hat-trick in Stars' 7-5 success at Sheffield Spartans and he was on the scoresheet again as the Teessiders won 10-1 at home to Manchester Minotaurs. Luke Brittle scored three in Blackburn Hawks' 8-3 home win against Whitley Warriors.

Solihull Barons are top of Laidler D2 after a 12-6 home win against Blackburn Eagles – Richie Slater (3), Joe Henry (2) & Niklas Ottosson (2) led the scoring.

Telford Tigers NIHL began their league campaign with a 7-5 win at Sheffield Senators. Nottingham Lions won 7-2 at Bradford Bulldogs, but Nathan Britton's late strike condemned them to a 5-4 defeat at home to the Senators. Filip Supa bagged a hat-trick as Widnes Wild triumphed 7-6 at Deeside Dragons. Hull Jets won 4-3 at home to Coventry Blaze.

Solway Sharks claimed their first British Challenge Cup points with a 6-4 home win against the Hawks. Chelmsford Chieftains lost 4-1 at Swindon Wildcats and 5-1 at home to Basingstoke Bison, while Wightlink Raiders fell 7-1 at home to MK Lightning.

Invicta Dynamos kicked of their NIHL1 South season with two wins. Andy Smith scored four in their 9-7 home success against Oxford City Stars, while Juraj Huska grabbed the decider in a 7-6 victory at Bracknell Hornets. Daniel Hughes scored three in Hornets’ 6-5 win at London Raiders.

Cardiff NIHL collected four points with a 5-4 success against Solent Devils and a 7-3 win at Oxford. Jamie Line hit the winner as MK Thunder won 3-2 at Streatham Redskins. In the NIHL1S Cup Wightlink won 8-4 at Solent. Bristol Pitbulls and Slough Jets both collected road wins in the D2 Cup.

EPL title hopefuls Telford Tigers started with a four-point weekend, winning 4-3 at Sheffield Steeldogs and 6-1 at home to Bracknell Bees. Manchester Phoenix won 3-1 at Bracknell, but failed to follow up as they lost 4-3 after a shoot-out at home to Swindon.

Joe Greener hit a hat-trick as Basingstoke won 6-4 at home to Peterborough, but the Phantoms recovered with a 5-3 success against the Steeldogs. Guildford Flames eased to a 5-3 win at home to MK Lightning.

Coventry Blaze are the early pacesetters in the Elite League after claiming their third successive win with a 4-0 success at home to Dundee Stars. Sheffield Steelers opened their campaign with a 5-4 shoot-out win at Fife Flyers and an 8-1 victory in the reverse fixture.

Belfast Giants won 8-2 at home to Edinburgh, but the Capitals bounced back with a 5-2 success at Hull Stingrays. Nottingham Panthers secured a 3-1 home win against Cardiff Devils, while Dundee Stars lost 5-4 after overtime at home to Hull.

Braehead Clan maintained their 100% Elite Challenge Cup record with a 4-3 overtime win at Belfast and a 3-0 success at Edinburgh. Cardiff won 4-3 at home to Coventry.

(Image permission: Dean Reeve)

Friday, 12 September 2014

NIHL North weekend preview

 Spartans' captain Ollie Barron
Sheffield Spartans get their NIHL North Moralee D1 season underway on Saturday as they host Billingham Stars.

Spartans narrowly missed out on a play-off slot last term, but have strengthened their roster this summer.

Shaun Wild & Elliot Knell return after spells in NIHLS, while Chris Wilcox is back after a spell away from the game. Utility player Andrew Turner has also rejoined after a year out.

Ollie Barron is excited for the season ahead: "We've been training hard in preparation for our opening game. Billingham will be a good first test for us as they're always a well-drilled team with some standout individuals - but so do we.

"We have the belief we can beat anyone in this league as we proved last season, and we'll play hard for 60 minutes every week. Our overall aim is to achieve a play-off spot, something I think we should have secured last season."

Whitley Warriors begin their league campaign on Sunday as they travel to Blackburn Hawks. Warriors finished fourth last year and are looking to improve on that this year. Forward Adam Reynolds said: "It'll be a tough test against Blackburn, but we've strengthened in the summer and had a good pre-season. We're feeling confident and hope to get off to a good start.

"Warriors are the only team in the top four without financial backing and we're always up there, so there's no reason why we can't challenge. Personally I hope to have a good season. There's a few new faces in the league to overtake me in the scoring charts, but I'll be giving it my best shot."

The remaining D1 fixture is also on Sunday as Billingham face-off against Manchester Minotaurs.

In Laidler D2, Sheffield Senators aim to build on last week's impressive start as they face Telford Tigers NIHL & Nottingham Lions. Tom Humphries grabbed a late winner to seal a 2-1 success at Deeside Dragons and Coach Andy Ellis was pleased with the performance.

Senators' forward Tom Humphries
"Deeside are a tough team to take points off, especially on home ice," said Ellis. "The biggest plus for me was the character we showed to come from behind and go on to pinch both points in the final three minutes.

"This weekend we face a difficult double-header. Telford are a new team, but they'll be well-drilled with Scott McKenzie and Tom Watkins overseeing things down there.

"They've some excellent senior players and lots of youngsters hungry to make an impression. We'll need to battle for the full 60 minutes and take our chances when they come in order to give ourselves an opportunity to win.

"On Sunday we travel to Nottingham, who'll no doubt be fired up after their shock defeat to the Eagles last week. We've never won down there, but this year we have more firepower and will have a much better chance of coming away with the win."

Nottingham are also in action on Saturday at Bradford Bulldogs. Sunday's games see Hull Jets face Coventry Blaze, Solihull Barons are at home to Blackburn Eagles and Deeside meet Widnes Wild.

Solway Sharks are in British Challenge Cup action on Saturday as they welcome the Hawks to Dumfries. Sharks suffered a miserable first week with two defeats and Coach Martin Grubb is looking for an immediate response:

"Last weekend was disappointing and something we need to bounce back from. We haven't had too many disappointments in recent seasons, but we're a much changed team and need to regroup to be ready for this weekend.

"We're still trying to strengthen our squad, but we're finding it tough to recruit. I'm very pleased with the way our kids have stepped up and hopefully we can add some real extra quality soon.

"We've worked hard at practice this week and need to kick-start our season on Saturday. We know it won't be easy against Blackburn, but we need to focus solely on ourselves and get the job done to gain some confidence."

Image permissions: Ollie Barron - Rob Hutchinson; Tom Humphries - Gav Rawson)

'Adz' bolsters Lions backline

Coach Paul Glossop welcomes Andrews
Nottingham Lions have strengthened their NIHL North Laidler D2 roster, with the signing of defenseman Adam Andrews.

The 33-year-old brings 12 seasons of senior hockey to the Lions' blueline, with his career spanning every level of professional and semi-professional hockey in the UK.

Andrews' career began in Swindon in 1999, but most recently he's played for two of Lions' main rivals, Solihull Barons and Coventry Blaze.

'Adz' has made a name for himself in the Midlands as a no-nonsense, playmaking defenseman, bagging 74 points in 91 NIHL North games and going on to captain the Laidler All-Star team at the end of last season.

Alongside captain Luke Thomas, Andrews will be on hand to provide veteran leadership and guidance to the junior members of the defensive core, several of whom are entering their first senior campaigns and, with the Swindon native's playmaking ability, he adds flexibility to both the defence and special teams that will be crucial entering the new campaign.

Andrews said he was delighted to finalise his move to the National Ice Centre: "I'm looking forward to working under Matt and the rest of the coaching team - the club has some promising young kids coming through with a good mix of seniors. I'll get my head down and let my hockey do the talking. I can play with no pressure on my shoulders and enjoy myself."

Lions finished fourth last term and began this season with a narrow defeat at Blackburn Eagles, but Andrews believes they can challenge for silverware.

"If you go into the season thinking you'll just make up the numbers you're mentally setting your mind to fail. A wise person once said 'if you always did what you always done, you will always get what you always got'. Take that how you like, but times are changing in Nottingham with the development being around youth. If I can have a hand in that – great.

"At 33 the easiest answer would be to say ‘I feel old’, but it's not the case - you’re only as old as you feel and the younger guys bring a tempo that without knowing it is helping us old dogs keep pace and our fitness levels high. The more senior guys will be adding the final touches that the kids haven't developed yet - it's a great balance that everyone benefits from."

Lions' Head Coach Matt Bradbury commented: "Adz has a wealth of experience and many attributes that will help the team. He's strong and composed on the puck, sees the ice well and most importantly he's here with us to play and enjoy his hockey and do whatever is asked of him.

"We've had a very honest conversation as to how we see him fitting into the programme and we believe he'll complement our back line giving us further depth, as well as another good shot from the point.

"I'm quite sure he'll be keen to help his team mates out, both on and off the ice, and the entire coaching team look forward to him joining our ranks. He has a lot to prove to people and we hope that playing for the Lions will assist in proving a lot of people wrong and putting a few records straight."

Andrews is expected to make debut on Saturday at Bradford Bulldogs. The following evening Lions begin their home campaign against local rivals Sheffield Senators.

(Image permission: Nottingham Lions)

Barons add Swedish flair

Solihull Barons hopes of winning NIHL North Laidler D2 this season received a major boost last weekend, with the confirmation of the signing of Niklas Ottosson.

The Swedish forward's addition to the Barons roster was announced a few hours before their demolition of Widnes Wild. Ottosson enjoyed an impressive debut, grabbing three assists in Barons' 10-1 romp.

Ottosson is a product of the HC Vita Hästen junior system, going on to make his senior Division 1 debut in 2009/10. He played over 100 games before switching to Lindlövens IF in 2012. Ottosson enjoyed an excellent season, scoring 22 goals with 28 assists in 40 games.

He returned to HC Vita Hästen in 2013/14 and helped the team gain promotion to the Allsvenskan – the second tier of the sport in Sweden.

Ottosson explained how he arrived in NIHL North: "I've thought about playing abroad for a couple of years and last season got into a relationship with a girl from England. After some discussions about where we wanted to live, and because I didn't find a good solution with my old team, we ended up here.

"I wanted to try something new and I thought it was a good time to do it now. I had a try-out with Telford Tigers earlier this summer, but they didn't have an import slot left for me. My girlfriend lives in Solihull, so that's how I ended up with the Barons. I've only played one game and had a couple of practices with Solihull so far.

"I played in Vita Hästen last season in the Swedish Division 1, which is the third best league in Sweden. We got promoted to the second league last season, which was absolutely great to be a part of and I hope the best for them this coming season."

Ottosson admitted he was disappointed not to sign in the EPL, but was full of praise for the welcome he received at Solihull: "I do think they are a good team and should be in a higher level. The boys and staff are great and they took good care of me when I came - I really appreciate that."

The Swede makes his home debut on Sunday as Barons face Blackburn Eagles at Hobs Moat Road.

(Image permission: Keith & Jenny Davies)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

New Star Sykes seeks success

Billingham Stars' signing of Chris Sykes earlier this summer was a big statement of intent for a club who have gone two NIHL North seasons without silverware.

Sykes enjoyed a productive 18 month spell with Sutton Sting as they established themselves in the upper reaches of Moralee D1, but when Stars came calling he decided to make the switch to Teesside.

Sykes brings a wealth of higher league experience to Stars' roster, having previously iced in the Elite League for Hull Stingrays and Sheffield Steeldogs in the EPL. He began his Stars career with a hat-trick in a pre-season friendly against Aberdeen Lynx, before picking up the MVP award in their 5-2 British Challenge Cup win at Solway Sharks last weekend.

"Joining Stars has been a great move for me so far," said Sykes. "I'm enjoying my time here and enjoying the hockey. The players and backroom staff are great – it really is a well-oiled Big Red Machine!

"I've joined Stars to win trophies and to start off by beating last year's league winners in their own barn is somewhat of a head turner. I was delighted to come away with the MVP award – I don't get it often so it was nice to win it. Solway didn't look like the team they had last year, however I'm sure they will bounce back."

This weekend Stars get their league campaign underway as they head to Sykes' hometown of Sheffield to take on the Spartans, and he's expecting a tough encounter: "They're always are a well-drilled team and always play hard. They have a grind it out attitude and it's a place you know you'll always get a game.

"You don't walk away easily with two points, but we'll turn up with our game plan and take it to them. It'll be a battle, but if everything goes our way we're good enough to get the win."

Stars return to home ice on Sunday as they face Manchester Minotaurs. The Altrincham based outfit lost 11-3 to Blackburn Hawks last week, but Sykes said Stars won't underestimate their opponents: "They were a bit of a surprise package last year they had Lukas Zeman, but this year they don't look as though they have the same firepower.

"However, we'll never take any team lightly. We'll play our normal game and hopefully make it a four-point weekend. We've set ourselves a few long term goals and I have a few personal targets of my own, which hopefully if I achieve will make for a great season."

(Image permission: Dean Reeve)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Brothers reunite at Sting

Carl and Shaun Ashton have signed for Sutton Sting.

Carl has been out of the game since 2009, but previously iced for Sheffield Scimitars in the EPL, while 2014/15 will be Shaun's fourth in Sting colours.

"After a lot of consideration and discussions with a number of people, I'm happy to have signed for Sutton," said Carl.

"I've watched a lot of games over the last few years and have always been impressed with the way the club is run. I can't wait for the season to start and I'm excited to see what we can achieve."

Shaun (pictured) added: "I'm very happy to be back with Sting and getting down to business. There have been quite a few changes over the summer and I'm looking forward to seeing these take shape and see what we can do."

Matt Darlow made re-signing Shaun one of his top priorities when he took over as Head Coach and he admitted Carl's addition was a welcome surprise: "The cherry on the cake came when Carl came out for a skate with us, looked like he'd never been away from the sport and said he was interested in signing.

"These guys are two of the best Brits in the league and will give the opposition nightmares with their smart intensity and high standard of play. The scariest thing is they are both at the peak of their fitness levels right now and are doing damage way above and beyond what they've ever done before."

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Karol 'jets' in for Tigers

Telford Tigers NIHL have signed Karol Jets, Daniel Croft and Russell Plant for the new Laidler D2 campaign.

Jets (left) was a prolific marksman in the EPL for the Tigers and Solihull Barons, before joining Telford Titans in 2008. In just over 250 games in the UK, Jets has notched 457 points.

Croft and Plant also boast a wealth of higher level experience and will form the nucleus of a line-up that is expected to feature a number of under-18 players.

Tigers NIHL Head Coach Scott McKenzie wants to use their experience to develop the younger members of his squad: "All of the guys we've signed so far have years of useful experience, many of them at EPL level.

"Daniel could probably still do a job in the EPL even now, Karol is a great playmaker and Russell's a natural leader who will play a big role in our defensive core.

"These three guys will have the expectation to lead our younger players through tough situations against some good teams. I have no concerns they'll do a great job of that.

Tigers NIHL travel to Yorkshire for the first game of their league season next weekend, when they face Sheffield Senators. The late demise of the Titans gave team bosses just a few weeks to prepare their squad, but McKenzie is confident they will enjoy a successful year.

He added: "We've got quite a few youngsters still to announce, who I expect to be competing for places in the senior Tigers squad in years to come.

"The pool of talent we have here in Telford is remarkable, and to give these youngsters a chance at senior level is a great opportunity for them.

"It is a case of developing their skills and awareness, and providing them with a chance to play. That will enhance their experience."

(Image permission: Mark Tredgold)

Monday, 8 September 2014

Sting add more firepower

Sutton Sting have signed forward Nathaniel Rose, who returns to NIHL North after a spell away from the game.

Rose previously iced for Sheffield Scimitars in the EPL, before joining Sting in 2011/12. A stint with Invicta Dynamos followed, but Rose decided not to re-sign with the Kent club to take some time out.

Rose said: "I was contacted by Sting over the summer after having a break and I was pleased with the interest.

"I know and like the set up, and there's a great dressing room with a good balance of experience and up and coming talent. I know my role in the room and I'll be playing a very hard, tough and fast game.

"Everyone knows I have no issues with dropping the mitts if opponents take liberties, and I'll put my body on the line for the guys.

"It's been a rough few weeks getting ready in the gym after my time away, but it'll definitely be an interesting season so I can't wait to get started."

Head Coach Matt Darlow added: "Nat is an outstanding signing for us and brings the pace, power and impact I was looking for. This is a guy with work ethic and points written all over him.

"It's great to see him back in a Sting shirt and to see him taking up where he left off without missing a beat. Nat will be one of the power forwards to watch in Moralee D1 and every time the opposition defence have to turn and pick pucks up they know exactly what's going to happen when he's on the ice."

Solihull Barons have boosted their Laidler D2 title hopes with the signing of Swedish forward Niklas Ottosson from Vita Hästen. Bradford Bulldogs have added a number of players to their roster including Myles Dacres from Sutton and Chris Hutchinson from Manchester Minotaurs. Aaron Jordan has signed for Blackburn Eagles.

Streatham Redskins forward Callum Best has agreed a second season with the club, while GB U18 forward Owen Griffiths joins Wightlink Raiders from Cardiff NIHL. Experienced forward Jamie Hayes is one of eight additions to Cardiff's NIHL D1 & D2 rosters.

Tom Castle has joined MK Thunder from Chelmsford Chieftains. Thunder have also confirmed Harrison Goode, Brad Moore & Sam Fairhurst all return for another season, while Connor Goode is back after a spell in the EPL with MK Lightning.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 7th September)

Billingham Stars won the inaugural British Challenge Cup game in impressive fashion with a 5-2 victory at Solway – Michael Elder (2) led Stars' scoring. The Sharks followed up with a 4-0 loss at Blackburn Hawks.

That result crowned a solid first weekend for the Hawks, having triumphed 11-3 at Manchester Minotaurs in their NIHL North Moralee D1 season opener.

Reigning Laidler D2 champions Solihull Barons cruised to a 10-1 win at Widnes Wild – Joe Henry & Connor Hubbuck (left) both hit hat-tricks. Scott Barnett's late strike sealed a 3-2 win for Blackburn Eagles at home to Nottingham Lions.

Widnes picked up two points with a 7-0 success against the Eagles. Sheffield Senators came from behind to win 2-1 at Deeside Dragons – Joel Aheran & Tom Humphries got the goals.

London Raiders kicked off the NIHL1 South season with a 6-4 home win against Cardiff NIHL – Jakub Klima (3) led their scoring. Chelmsford Chieftains won 6-4 against Solent Devils in the NIHLS1 Cup, while Haringey Racers lost 5-4 at Basingstoke Buffalo in the NIHLS2 Cup.

Belfast Giants began the defence of their Elite League crown with a 4-1 win at Dundee Stars. Rory Rawlyk scored the only goal of the game as Coventry Blaze won 1-0 at Fife Flyers, while Russ Cowley's late empty-netter capped a 4-2 win in the reverse fixture.

Leigh Salters hit a hat-trick as Braehead Clan won 8-6 at Hull Stingrays. Cardiff Devils won 3-2 at home to Hull – Jake Morissette got the overtime decider.

In the Elite Challenge Cup, Braehead won 4-3 after a shoot-out at home to Belfast. Two Kevin Saurette goals helped Giants to a 2-1 victory at Edinburgh Capitals. Sheffield Steelers won 3-2 at Cardiff – Mathieu Roy scored twice.

Nottingham Panthers' Champions Hockey League woes continued with a pair of defeats in Scandinavia. Panthers had already lost their opening two games on home ice and followed up with a 6-2 defeat to Lukko Rauma (Finland) & a 9-1 loss to Lulea Hockey (Sweden).

Eight EPL teams put the finishing touches to their preparations for the new season with a series of warm-up games. Manchester Phoenix faced Sheffield Steeldogs in their annual War of the Roses clash, but crashed to a 9-4 aggregate defeat.

Guildford Flames won 3-2 at Basingstoke, but Bison bounced back to win the return 6-2. Peterborough Phantoms won 5-2 at home to MK Lightning and followed up with a 3-1 success on the road. Swindon Wildcats beat Lightning 6-1, but lost 3-2 home and away to Bracknell Bees.

(Image permission: Keith & Jenny Davies)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

NIHL North: Moralee D1 preview

Following on from our preview of NIHL North Laidler D2, Coast to Coast takes a look at the Moralee D1 teams to assess their chances of success in 2014/15.

Sharks swept all before them last season, but may find it harder to repeat. A number of players have left, including captain Mark Gallagher and top defenseman Juraj Senko. Coach Martin Grubb has added higher league experience in Richard Bentham, Marc Fowley & Aidan Fulton, but admits he's still looking for players. Sharks are believed to have two imports in their sights who would make a big impact on NIHLN. If Grubb can work his magic they'll still be the team to beat.

One trophy in 24 years is a poor return for a club of Hawks' size, but that may be about to change. New Czech defender Pavel Slowik has been compared to Senko by Player/Coach Jared Owen, while Luke Brittle and Jordan Bannon add more attacking options to a roster full of goals. Owen says he'd like to add a bit more depth to the squad, but if Hawks can avoid injuries and the inconsistencies which have blighted previous seasons, there's no reason they can't clinch that elusive League title.

Stars made an early statement of intent this summer, signing forwards Chris Sykes & Thomas Stuart-Dant from Sutton Sting. GB U18 defenseman Tom Keeley has also been added, leaving them looking stronger at both ends of the ice. With Sharks and Hawks still hoping to add to their squads, Stars have numbers in abundance – not the worst idea given their injuries woes over the last two seasons. If they keep everyone fit, Stars will mount a serious challenge.

If Warriors played all their games at Hillheads they'd be odds on to win the title. Dreadful away form last season cost them any chance of troubling the top three and they'll need to be much better on the road if they're to battle for top spot this time around. Adam Reynolds & DJ Good will no doubt rack up the points once again, while the returning Dean Holland is an excellent player at NIHL level. With Dan Pye added to the defensive core, Warriors look stronger all round. Will definitely push for a play-off slot, but can they sort that away form out?

With Sykes and Stuart-Dant heading north and Ian Johnson stepping down as Head Coach, Sting are in a state of transition. New boss Matt Darlow believes he's capable of building a successful team, and with Sting starting their season three weeks after the opening games he'll have plenty of time to do so. Top scorer James Spurr and fit-again captain James Goodman remain with the club, while the returning Thomas Jeffrey will ensure Sting are no soft touch. A top four slot will be the aim – anything more would be a bonus.

Like Whitley, Spartans' hopes of success last season were dashed on the road. The majority of last season's squad remain, with the likes of Stuart Brittle, Ollie Barron and Jonathon Kirk all talented performers in NIHL. Spartans have strengthened during the summer with Chris Wilcox returning after taking time away from the game, while Shaun Wild & Elliot Knell are back following spells elsewhere. Another team perfectly capable of pushing for the play-offs, but will their road wobbles hold them back?

Minotaurs' hopes can be summed up in two words – Lukas Zeman. The Czech forward hit 42 goals last year, but has moved to Europe, leaving a massive hole in the roster. With other players off to pastures new, Coach Kevin Cassidy has a difficult job ahead. Rhys Gillatt's arrival from Coventry Blaze is a positive step, while Jared Dickinson should build on his impressive form last season. Cassidy's plans to blood youngsters from their junior programme could see Minotaurs unearth some hidden gems, which should reap rewards in the future.

Friday, 5 September 2014

NIHL North: Laidler D2 preview

After a summer of uncertainty and controversy, NIHL North swings back into action this weekend with a new format and two new teams. With four possible promotion places up for grabs, Laidler D2 promises to produce plenty of excitement over the coming months. C2C casts its eye over the teams to see what we can expect.

Barons won last year’s title by 12 points with a roster that wouldn't look out of place in D1. No promotion/relegation last term leaves them facing another year at the lower level. Defensive rocks Ryan Selwood & Perry Doyle are back again, while new forward Thomas Soar adds yet more EPL experience. Favourites to retain their title and gain promotion to a level their squad warrants.

With Dan Söderberg Andersson & Shaun Kippin leaving the club the last thing Dragons needed was any more upheaval, so Jordan Bannon's late switch to Blackburn Hawks doesn't help their cause. However, ex-Telford Titans Mike Roden & Paul Davies are solid additions, and with a number of promising youngsters coming through Dragons will hope to be in the hunt for promotion.

After enduring a torrid time in D1 during 2012/13, Blaze found D2 more to their liking last season as they finished third and reaching the play-offs. Top forwards Josh Nicklin & Josh Gent have moved on, but Gareth O'Flaherty & Dale White are excellent signings. Blaze should be up there challenging, but whether the club would want, or can afford, promotion is another matter.

Lions won D2 in 2012/13 but chose to stay down and ended last season in a disappointing fourth place. Luke Thomas is back as captain once again to lead a young looking roster. Forward Dan Hazeldine should provide goals after an impressive return last term, while Lions hope import Ivo Dimitrijevs bounces back to form after disappointing with the Hawks last season. Questions remain over their desire for promotion, but should be in the mix.

Following a rocky start to life in NIHLN, Wild's form improved during the second half of last season. Forwards Filip Supa, Shaun Dippnall & Bobby Caunce are a handful, while ex-Hawk Sam Dunford should be a hit in D2. Their targeted top three finish may appear ambitious, but with a vociferous crowd behind them Wild could challenge.

With no players announced and their first game a week away, you could be fooled into thinking Hull are set for a difficult season. The likelihood is they'll have their usual mix of solid D2 performers and decent youngsters who'll make things difficult for most of their opponents.

Senators looked on the rise a couple of seasons ago, but struggled for form in 2013/14. Forward Tom Humphries returns after a spell with Sheffield Spartans, while Josh Gent switches from Coventry. Coach Andy Ellis says his squad is stronger this term and it's difficult to disagree. Sens could be the surprise package.

Despite suffering some heavy defeats in the past few seasons, Eagles won many friends around the league for their never-say-die attitude. After picking up a win and a draw last year, Coach Scott Barnett is keen to build on the foundations he's laid and continue improving his team. Unlikely to trouble the top of the table, but may well collect more points this season.

Tigers' entry into the league hasn't met with universal approval, but with the resources they have at their disposal they could be a force to be reckoned with. Macauley Heywood & James Smith are excellent additions from their EPL team and it's expected they'll ice a competitive roster this season. Whether they can challenge Solihull remains to be seen, but could be in the promotion shake up.

Bradford return to NIHLN after a two year absence and face a race against time to organise their squad. With their first game just over a week away, Bulldogs have confirmed just two signings so far. Their junior set-up has an uncanny knack of producing decent players, so it's possible they’ll assemble a competitive roster and improve as the season progresses.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hawks and Sting strengthen forward ranks

Deeside Dragons have confirmed Jordan Bannon has left the club to sign for Blackburn Hawks in NIHL North Moralee D1.

Bannon enjoyed a successful breakout senior year with the Hawks in 2011/12, scoring 17 goals & 21 assists, before moving to the EPL with Telford Tigers ahead of the following campaign. He joined Deeside midway through the season after briefly returning to the Hawks.

Sutton Sting forward Mark Turner has agreed another season with the club. Turner boasts a wealth of experience at EPL & NIHL level and Sting boss Mark Darlow is delighted to have him on board again: "I like Mark, he's my kind of hockey player," said Darlow.

"He does the simple things very well indeed. He's reliable and has a fantastic work ethic. He can chip in with goals and is solid defensively. I see players like Turner adding so much to the team dynamics this season.

"It's not just their experience, but also their approach to the game that's so important to pass on to the kids breaking in, and with the level of competition in NIHL1 our young players are going to need to learn real fast."

Turner commented: "It's great to be back with Sting - I'm looking forward to getting the season started.

"There isn't going to be much room for error this year as there are fewer games to play, but we showed last season we could beat any team in the league so there's no reason why we can't be competing at the top of the table."

In Laidler D2, Blackburn Eagles have signed Joe Charlton from Widnes Wild. Bradford Bulldogs have confirmed Matti Fox and Joe Higham as their netminding duo. Jamie Lewis, Jordon Martin, Jonny Bell, Martin Gray and Arran Bell have all been added to Sheffield Senators' roster.

Invicta Dynamos have added Steve Nightingale to their NIHL1S squad, while Streatham Redskins goalies Will Sanderson, Stefan Nubert and Aaron Taylor are all back for another season. Redskins have also confirmed import Michael Oravec has signed for a further year.

MK Thunder have signed Jamie Line from Slough Jets. Sam Cheema, Nidal Phillips, Simon Howard and Jamie Randall all return for another year, while promising youngster Edward Knaggs has also been added to the Thunder roster.

(Image permissions: Jordan Bannon - PSD-Images; Mark Turner - Sutton Sting)