Monday, 13 April 2015

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 12th April)

Blackburn Hawks completed the NIHL North Moralee D1 double after an exciting weekend of play-off action in Dumfries.

The reigning league champions found Sheffield Spartans a tough nut to crack in their semi-final, but eventually opened up a two goal lead.

Spartans tied things up at 2-2, before goals by Aaron Davies and Luke Brittle sent Hawks through.

Billingham Stars and Solway Sharks produced a goal-fest in their semi-final. The Teessiders progressed courtesy of a 9-6 victory – Chris Sykes and James Moss both hit hat-tricks.

The final was an end-to-end affair, with Stars going ahead in the first through Michael Elder before Luke Brittle drew Hawks level. Davies put Hawks in front in the middle period, but Stars bounced back early in the third to take the lead though Paul Windridge and Elder.

Hawks refused to lie down, with Davies and Brittle each adding their second of the game before Tom King and Jordan Bannon wrapped up a 6-3 win.

Whitley Warriors retained their D1 status with two comfortable play-off victories against Laidler D2 outfit Widnes Wild. Warriors won 9-3 on the road and followed up with an 11-2 success on home ice.

Invicta Dynamos and Wightlink Raiders will contest the NIHL1 South play-off final after successfully negotiating their last four ties. Dynamos defeated MK Thunder 9-5 on aggregate, while Raiders defeated London Raiders 20-9 overall.

Slough Jets wrapped up their NIHL2S regular season campaign with a 12-3 win at home to Chelmsford Warriors. Bristol Pitbulls triumphed 5-3 on home ice against Wightlink Tigers and Basingstoke Buffalo won 6-3 at Cardiff NIHL2.

Slough now face Basingstoke and Bristol meet Peterborough Islanders, with the winners of each tie playing off for promotion to NIHL1S.

Kirkcaldy Kestrels added the SNL play-off crown to their regular season title after a 4-2 win against Edinburgh Capitals.

(Image permission: Mark Paterson)

Friday, 10 April 2015

NIHL North: Moralee D1 play-off preview

After finally winning their first-ever league title, Moralee D1 champions Blackburn Hawks are hoping to add the play-off crown to their haul in Dumfries this weekend.

Hawks completed the regular season unbeaten and are strongly fancied to secure the double, but Billingham Stars, Solway Sharks and Sheffield Spartans will all be keen to stop them in their tracks.

Here's the Coast to Coast preview of what promises to be an exciting weekend of NIHL North action:

Blackburn Hawks – Swept to the title in impressive fashion, with Luke and Adam Brittle proving an unstoppable force throughout the campaign.

Will want to send departing Player/Coach Jared Owen out on a high, but whether his announcement proves to be an inspiration or a distraction remains to be seen as they strive to make their 25th season even more memorable. Record against their rivals: P12 W10 D2 L0.

Billingham Stars – Frustratingly inconsistent for much of the season, Stars finished strongly to secure the runners-up slot. The likes of Thomas Stuart-Dant and Chris Sykes are capable of causing most defences problems, while netminder James Flavell is one of the best in D1.

Won in Dumfries against Sharks in both league and cup, so facing the hosts on their own ice should hold no fears. Record against their rivals: P12 W6 D0 L6.

Solway Sharks – Failed to mount a serious defence of their league title and will be desperate to hold onto their play-off trophy. Like Stars they struggled to find their form for most of the season, but six wins from their last seven matches should give them confidence.

Have plenty of firepower at their disposal and looked more solid defensively at the back end of the season. Home ice proved advantageous last year and could do so again. Record against their rivals: P12 W4 D0 L8.

Sheffield Spartans – Looked on course to qualify comfortably for the play-offs during the first half of the season, but lost their way after Christmas before bouncing back to clinch fourth on the final day.

Head Coach Martin White has Spartans well-drilled and after twice coming close to beating Hawks during the regular season will be hopeful of making it third time lucky in the semi-final. Record against their rivals: P12 W2 D2 L8.

Coast to Coast's one to watch - Brandon Stones: Spartans' netminder (above) enjoyed an excellent second year with the Yorkshire outfit to firmly establish himself as their number one choice. Produced stunning performances in the two draws against the Hawks and will need to be in the same sort of form if Spartans are to spring a surprise.

He commented: "It's been a tough season from start to finish, but I can honestly say we deserve to be where we are and it's far from over yet. It's huge for us to make play-offs and anything can happen. We're just going to go up there and play our game, which we know is enough to turn them over and Blackburn know it too."

The weekend line-up is as follows: Saturday – Hawks v Spartans 1pm; Stars v Sharks 5pm. Sunday – Final 2pm.

(Image permission: David Morrison)

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

UK Ice hockey round-up (up to 6th April)

Coventry Blaze won the Elite League play-offs after a thrilling weekend of action in Nottingham.

Blaze reached the final after a 3-2 shoot-out success against Belfast Giants, while Sheffield Steelers progressed after winning 3-2 against Hull Stingrays.

The West Midlands outfit beat Steelers 4-2 in the final to claim their first post-season title since 2004-05. Belfast beat Hull 8-6 in the third place play-off game.

Peterborough Phantoms clinched the EPL play-off crown with two excellent performances in Coventry.

Phantoms defeated Telford Tigers 4-2 in the semi-final, while Manchester Phoenix went through after winning 7-4 against MK Lightning.

Milan Baranyk (2) led Phantoms' scoring in the final as they sealed a 5-2 victory to end Tony Hand's hopes of a trophy in his final ever game.

NIHL North Laidler D2 champions Solihull Barons clinched the play-off title in dramatic fashion after coming from behind to beat Telford Tigers NIHL.

Barons cruised into the final after a 12-3 win against Widnes Wild, while Tigers progressed courtesy of a 5-1 success against Sheffield Senators. Tigers looked on course for silverware as they raced into a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, but Thomas Soar's hat-trick drew the hosts level before Ryan Selwood's effort four seconds from time capped a remarkable comeback.

Chelmsford Chieftains are through to the semi-final of the NIHL1 South play-offs after a 10-5 aggregate win against London Raiders. Chieftains will face Wightlink Raiders who won 11-5 overall against Bracknell Hornets.

Invicta Dynamos edged through to the last four after an 11-10 aggregate success against Solent Devils. Their opponents will be MK Thunder who won 9-4 overall against Streatham Redskins.

In NIHLS2, Slough Jets won 17-2 at home to Haringey Racers and Bristol Pitbulls triumphed 4-1 against Cardiff NIHL2.

(Image permission: Rob Plaister)

Friday, 3 April 2015

NIHL North: Laidler D2 play-off preview

Solihull Barons first, the rest nowhere – that was the story of the NIHL North Laidler D2 regular season.

League and play-off winners in 2013/14, Barons have swept all before them again to clinch the title without dropping a point.

They are big favourites to make it back-to-back doubles, but Telford Tigers NIHL, Sheffield Senators and Widnes Wild all have other ideas.

Here's the Coast to Coast preview for the Easter weekend showdown at Hobs Moat Road.

Solihull Barons – Never looked like losing during an impressive campaign which saw them score over 300 goals.

Joe Henry, Thomas Soar and Josh Bruce are all capable of playing at a higher level, whilst Niklas Ottosson (above) was a cherry on top of a cake that probably didn't need any cherries adding to it. Perry Doyle and Tomas Janak are formidable figures at the back, ensuring Barons are the team to beat once again. Record against their rivals: P12 W12 D0 L0.

Telford Tigers NIHL – Their entry into NIHL caused ripples in certain quarters, but Tigers' efforts during the season can't be questioned. Coaches Scott McKenzie and Jason Parry assembled a youthful roster with a sprinkling of experience, and the tactic paid off with a second placed finish and promotion to Moralee D1.

James Smith and Karol Jets led Tigers' scoring charts, whilst GB U18 stopper Denis Bell looks like a netminder with a big future ahead of him. Record against their rivals: P12 W6 D0 L6.

Sheffield Senators – Tipped by Coast to Coast at the start of the season as potential promotion contenders, Senators secured their place in the top three with games to spare. Lost three of their four games against Telford during the regular season and will need the likes of Tom Humphries, Josh Gent and Nathan Britton firing on all cylinders if they're to reach the final.

Head Coach Andy Ellis has Senators well organised and he’ll be hopeful his team will give a good account of themselves. Record against their rivals: P12 W5 D0 L7

Widnes Wild – Built on last season’s promising debut in NIHL North to claim fourth place and a chance to win promotion via a play-off against D1 outfit Whitley Warriors. Won just once against the other three play-off contenders during the regular season, and could find Barons too hot to handle in the semi-final.

Filip Supa, Shaun Dippnall and Lee Pollitt are Wild's main threats, but everything points to Solihull going through. Record against their rivals: P12 W1 D0 L11.

Coast to Coast’s one to watch – Niklas Ottosson: The Swede signed for Barons after winning promotion to Allsvenskan with Vita Hästen. His prolific form saw him called up to the Elite League by Coventry Blaze, but he returned to the fold to spearhead Barons' charge to D1.

He commented: "I think we have a great chance to win another trophy. We went through the league unbeaten, so we know we can win against every team. The teams we're playing are good as well, but if we keep up the hard work and play like we've been doing the whole season I do think we'll win the play-offs."

Barons face Wild in the first semi-final on Saturday, with Tigers meeting Senators the following day. The final is scheduled for Easter Monday.

(Image permission: Keith & Jenny Davies)

Monday, 30 March 2015

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 29th March)

Sheffield Spartans clinched the final NIHL North Moralee D1 play-off place after a 7-1 win at Sutton Sting.

Spartans (left) will face Blackburn Hawks at the Dumfries showdown, while Billingham Stars and Solway Sharks meet in the other semi-final.

Solihull Barons completed the Laidler D2 season with their 100% record intact after a 5-2 win at Nottingham Lions.

Sheffield Senators enjoyed a 5-3 victory at home to Coventry Blaze, but ended their campaign with a disappointing 13-2 loss at Deeside Dragons.

Matt Wainwright and Filip Supa both hit hat-tricks in Widnes Wild’s 10-3 win at Bradford Bulldogs. Blackburn Eagles lost 4-3 at home to Deeside. The D2 play-off line-up is: Solihull Barons v Widnes Wild, Telford Tigers NIHL v Sheffield Senators.

Cardiff NIHL1 lost their D1S status after a 3-3 draw at London Raiders. Solent Devils won 5-4 at home to MK Thunder. The D1S play-off quarter-final line-up is: London Raiders v Chelmsford Chieftains, Solent Devils v Invicta Dynamos, MK Thunder v Streatham Redskins, Bracknell Hornets v Wightlink Raiders.

Invicta secured the D1 Cup after two thrilling games against Chelmsford. Dynamos battled to a 4-4 draw in the first leg at the Riverside and claimed the silverware with a 5-3 success back on home ice. Slough Jets won the D2 Cup with an impressive 7-2 win against Basingstoke Buffalo.

Telford Tigers remain on course for the EPL treble after an 11-3 aggregate success in their play-off quarter-final against Sheffield Steeldogs. Tigers now face Peterborough Phantoms who won 6-4 overall against Swindon Wildcats.

Manchester Phoenix are through to the semi-final after an 8-7 aggregate victory against Basingstoke Bison. Their opponents will be MK Lightning who won 7-5 against Guildford Flames over two legs.

Sheffield Steelers booked their place in Elite League finals weekend with a 6-5 aggregate victory over Fife Flyers, while Hull Stingrays claimed a dramatic overtime success against Braehead Clan to go through 5-4 overall.

Coventry Blaze defeated Nottingham Panthers 5-4 over two legs and Belfast Giants won 8-3 on aggregate against Cardiff Devils. The play-off semi-final line-up is: Sheffield Steelers v Hull Stingrays, Belfast Giants v Coventry Blaze.

(Image permission: Sheffield Spartans)

Friday, 27 March 2015

NIHL North weekend preview

It's the final round of regular season games in NIHL North this weekend, with just one issue left to settle.

Sutton Sting and Sheffield Spartans face-off at IceSheffield on Saturday, with a place at the Moralee D1 play-offs at stake.

Sting need to win the game, while a draw or better for Spartans will see them join Blackburn Hawks, Billingham Stars and Solway Sharks in Dumfries.

The two teams have been closely matched in their three previous encounters, with the teams sharing two draws during December and Sting winning 3-1 in February.

The D1 play-offs are scheduled for 11-12 April at Dumfries Ice Bowl – please click here for ticket details.

There are five Laidler D2 games this weekend. Sheffield Senators v Coventry Blaze and Blackburn Eagles v Deeside Dragons get things underway on Saturday, while Bradford Bulldogs v Widnes Wild, Deeside v Sheffield and Nottingham Lions v Solihull Barons rounds things off on Sunday.

The D2 play-offs will held 4-6 April at Hobs Moat Road, Solihull – please click here for more information.

Widnes also face a promotion/relegation play-off against D1 outfit Whitley Warriors over the weekend of 11-12 April.

Monday, 23 March 2015

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 22nd March)

Billingham Stars clinched the runners-up slot in NIHL North Moralee D1 with a 4-3 victory at Whitley Warriors – Tom Keeley scored the decider.

Solihull Barons retained their 100% record in Laidler D2 with two wins against Telford Tigers NIHL. Barons won 9-6 in Shropshire and 11-2 on home ice. (Perry Doyle pictured after Barons received their trophy).

Sheffield Senators won 3-1 at home to Nottingham Lions – Josh Gent scored twice – and they followed up with a 5-3 road success in the reverse fixture.

Widnes Wild also collected four points, winning 6-1 at Coventry Blaze and 6-4 at Hull Jets. Kieran Beach (4) & Jamie Cobley (3) led the scoring for Hull in their 10-2 home win against Bradford Bulldogs.

NIHL1 South champions Chelmsford Chieftains finished their league fixtures with a pair of 2-2 draws at Wightlink Raiders and at home to Oxford City Stars.

Streatham Redskins won 5-3 at Bracknell Hornets and 7-2 at Invicta Dynamos. Tom Davis hit the winner for London Raiders in their 5-4 home success against Solent Devils, but they failed to follow up on the road as they slipped to a 6-2 defeat at MK Thunder. Bracknell lost 4-2 at Solent.

Cardiff NIHL1 kept their hopes of avoiding relegation alive with a 7-5 home win against Oxford. Their 9-0 defeat at Wightlink means they need to win at London next week to consign Oxford to the drop.

Slough Jets lost their unbeaten NIHL2S record after a 9-3 defeat at Peterborough Islanders. Bristol Pitbulls won 4-0 at home to Basingstoke Buffalo, Lee Valley Lions cruised to a 10-0 success at Haringey Racers and Wightlink Tigers enjoyed a 6-2 victory at Swindon Wildcats NIHL.

EPL champions Telford Tigers rounded off their regular season campaign with a pair of wins against Guildford Flames. Max Birbraer grabbed the winner in a 2-1 road success, and he repeated the feat in Tigers’ 4-3 overtime victory back on home ice.

Ciaran Long scored twice in Basingstoke Bison's 3-1 win at MK Lightning. Peterborough Phantoms fell 6-2 at Swindon Wildcats, but bounced back with a 4-1 home success against Lightning.

Manchester Phoenix enjoyed a four-point weekend on home ice, beating Bracknell Bees 6-1 and Swindon 6-5. Andy Hirst hit a hat-trick in Sheffield Steeldogs' 8-6 win at Bracknell.

The EPL play-off quarter-final line-up is: Sheffield v Telford, MK v Guildford, Manchester v Basingstoke, Swindon v Peterborough.

Telford added the British Challenge Cup to their EPL crown after a 5-2 home win against Manchester completed an 8-3 aggregate success.

Sheffield Steelers claimed the Elite League title after tense final week of action. Mathieu Roy's strike 13 seconds from the end of overtime sealed a vital 4-3 win at Nottingham Panthers, and Steelers secured the crown with a 2-1 home success against Cardiff Devils.

Braehead Clan finished second after winning 9-4 at home to Hull Stingrays and 3-2 at Fife Flyers. Devils' had kept their title hopes alive with a 6-3 win at home to Edinburgh Capitals, but their defeat in Sheffield meant their 7-2 final day success against Nottingham left them in third place.

Belfast Giants wrapped up their league fixtures with a 2-0 home win against Coventry and a 3-1 victory at Fife. Coventry and Hull split their double-header with each claiming a shoot-out success. Blaze triumphed 1-0 on the road, but Stingrays gained their revenge in the return with a 2-1 victory. Edinburgh won 5-3 at Dundee Stars and 4-3 after a shoot-out in the reverse fixture.

The Elite League play-off line-up is: Fife v Sheffield, Hull v Braehead, Coventry v Nottingham, Belfast v Cardiff.

(Image permission: Perry Doyle)

Friday, 20 March 2015

NIHL North weekend preview

With just two weekends remaining of the regular season in NIHL North, most of the main issues have been settled.

Blackburn Hawks easily secured the Moralee D1 title, whilst Billingham Stars will finish second if they avoid defeat at Whitley Warriors on Sunday.

Hawks and Stars have also qualified for the end of season play-offs, along with Solway Sharks.

Fourth place and the final play-off slot hinges on the result of next week's game between Sutton Sting and Sheffield Spartans, with the latter needing just a point to join the other trio in Dumfries.

Solihull Barons romped to the Laidler D2 title, with Telford Tigers NIHL and Sheffield Senators filling the other automatic promotion places.

Widnes Wild finished fourth to secure a promotion/relegation play-off against Whitley. The Laidler top four will also hold their own play-offs at Solihull over the Easter weekend.

This week sees Barons travel to face Tigers on Saturday, before returning to home ice for the reverse fixture the following day. Senators also face a weekend double-header, hosting Nottingham on Saturday ahead of a trip into the Lions' den on Sunday.

Coventry Blaze v Widnes and Hull Jets v Bradford Bulldogs are the remaining Saturday fixtures, with Hull v Widnes completing the weekend line-up on Sunday.

One team who had high hopes of pushing for promotion this season were Dragons Dragons. The Welsh outfit finished second in 2013/14 and were expected to mount a serious challenge this time around.

Player departures, injuries and inconsistency cost Dragons dearly, but some improved performances in recent weeks has given Player/Coach Steve Fellows cause for optimism for next season.

He commented: "We had to cope with losing the likes of Shaun Kippin, Ben Simister and Jordan Bannon at the start of this season, and Sam Krempasky has been sidelined with a knee injury for a long while.

"It's been tough, but the 8-8 draw at Telford was a real turning point for us. We found our belief and rhythm on the ice again and we've kicked on since then. A club of this size needs to be challenging for the play-offs, but this season has very much been a year of transition for us.

"The wins last week were a big plus as we'd targeted a four-point weekend, and we want to finish the season on a high note."

Dragons' upturn in fortunes coincided with the signing of forward Tomas Mitrik (pictured above). Fellows praised the impact made by the Slovakian.

"Tomas has been a real asset for us since he came in," said Fellows. "His energy on the ice and willingness to put the gloves down has been a big boost. We'd been playing without an import for much of the season and since Tomas has come in he's helped give us another dimension."

Dragons' final two games are at Blackburn Eagles on 28th March, before facing Sheffield Senators at home the following evening.

(Image permission: PSD-Images)

Monday, 16 March 2015

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 15th March)

Sheffield Spartans are in pole position to reach the NIHL North Moralee D1 play-offs after a 4-4 draw at home to Blackburn Hawks.

Sutton Sting's 7-3 defeat at Billingham Stars means Spartans need just a point when the two teams clash on the final day of the regular season to qualify for the Dumfries showdown.

Hawks completed their league campaign unbeaten as they cruised to a 12-1 success against Manchester Minotaurs.

Dean Holland scored three for Whitley in their 8-1 win at Manchester, but Warriors failed to follow up as they lost 3-2 at home to Solway Sharks.

Solihull Barons claimed the Laidler D2 title in style with a 16-4 victory at Coventry Blaze. They extended their winning run with a 7-4 success at Hull Jets.

James Smith (above) & Karol Jets both hit hat-tricks for Telford Tigers NIHL in their 8-0 home win against Hull, and the pair completed a successful personal weekend with five and four goals respectively in Tigers' 15-1 victory at home to Bradford Bulldogs.

Deeside Dragons won 7-4 at Bradford and 8-2 on home ice against Coventry. Sheffield Senators triumphed 10-4 at Blackburn Eagles, while Nottingham Lions completed a miserable weekend for the Lancashire team after a 7-3 home success.

Chelmsford Chieftains retained their NIHL1 South title with a 5-1 win at Cardiff NIHL1, but Bracknell Hornets put a dampener on the celebrations the following day as they recorded a 2-1 success at the Riverside.

Sean Scarborough (2) & Steven Fisher (2) led the scoring for Streatham Redskins in their 7-4 win at home to Invicta Dynamos. Wightlink Raiders won 5-1`at London Raiders, MK Thunder beat Cardiff 5-0 and Oxford City Stars boosted their hopes of avoiding relegation with a 4-4 draw at Bracknell.

Slough Jets maintained their 100% NIHL2S record with a 3-2 win at Haringey Racers. Basingstoke Buffalo won 9-2 at home to Wightlink Tigers and 4-1 in the reverse fixture. Bristol Pitbulls won 5-2 on home ice against Swindon Wildcats NIHL and Chelmsford Warriors enjoyed a 6-1 home success against Invicta Mustangs.

EPL champions Telford Tigers' 13-game unbeaten run came to an end as they fell 6-3 at MK Lightning. Guildford Flames secured second place with a 4-3 win at home to Manchester Phoenix. Flames couldn't follow up as they lost 5-4 at Peterborough Phantoms.

Ciaran Long scored four for Basingstoke in their 8-4 victory at Swindon Wildcats, and Bison made it a four-point weekend with a 6-4 home success against MK Lightning. Sheffield Steeldogs lost 4-3 after overtime at Peterborough and 4-1 on home ice against Swindon. Bracknell Bees slipped to a 5-4 loss at Manchester.

Just two points separate the top three in the Elite League heading into the final week. Sheffield Steelers lead Braehead Clan by a point, with Cardiff Devils a further point behind. The Welsh team have a game in hand on their two rivals.

Sheffield started the week with an 11-0 win at home to Cardiff and followed up with a 2-0 victory against Coventry Blaze. Devils bounced back with a 5-4 success at Hull Stingrays and gained their revenge on the Steelers back on home ice with a 6-3 victory.

Braehead won 5-1 at home to Edinburgh Capitals, but their title hopes suffered a blow as they lost 2-1 in the return game. Nottingham Panthers picked up four points from their double-header at Belfast Giants, winning 3-2 after a shoot-out and 5-1.

Hull had mixed luck in shoot-outs, winning 5-4 at home to Edinburgh but falling 3-2 at Coventry. Ryan Grimshaw grabbed the decider for Dundee Stars in their 4-3 shoot-out success at Fife, but Flyers gained their revenge in the return game with an impressive 8-4 victory.

(Image permission: Telford Tigers)