Thursday, 26 February 2015

NIHL North weekend preview

The race to reach the NIHL North Moralee D1 play-offs hots up this weekend, with four of the five teams still in contention to reach the end-of-season showdown in action.

Billingham Stars travel to Blackburn Hawks on Saturday, needing just a single point from their final four games to guarantee qualification.

With Stars odds-on to join Hawks in Dumfries, four other teams are in the mix for the remaining two slots.

Solway Sharks currently lie third in the league, one point ahead of Sutton Sting. Sheffield Spartans are four points behind Sting, with Whitley Warriors a further two points back but with a game in hand on the other trio.

Sharks host Sting on Saturday knowing victory would put them in pole position to secure a play-off place.

Sharks' forward Ross Murray (above) says the game is a big one for both teams: "After a disappointing weekend that saw us only pick up two points last week, we want to put it behind us to get the ball rolling again and clinch a play-off spot.

"The game against Sutton is make or break. If we win we're favourites for a play-off spot, but a loss puts us in a battle with Sheffield and Whitley. Having to play Whitley twice out of the four games we have left will be very tough and we can't take anything for granted.

"All the boys agree after losing the league title to Blackburn we are determined not to give up the play-off trophy without a fight. We've lacked consistency this season and the ability to turn up to big games when needed. We're looking to win our remaining four games and prepare for the defence of our play-off title."

Sheffield Senators will claim promotion from Laidler D2 if they beat Bradford Bulldogs on Sunday. Senators triumphed 13-2 in a bad-tempered encounter with the Bulldogs last weekend and are firm favourites to join Solihull Barons and Telford Tigers NIHL in D1 next season.

The battle to finish fourth and reach the promotion/relegation play-off now looks to be down to three teams. Just two points separate Widnes Wild, Hull Jets and Deeside Dragons and all three hit the ice this weekend.

Wild are at home to Dragons on Saturday, before welcoming Blackburn Eagles to Widnes the following day. Jets travel to face the Eagles on Saturday, while Dragons clash with Barons on Sunday.

Bradford v Telford and Coventry v Nottingham completes the Saturday line-up, and Nottingham v Telford is the remaining Sunday game.

(Image permission: Rob Hutchinson)

Monday, 23 February 2015

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

Billingham Stars need a draw from their final four games to secure their place in the NIHL North Moralee D1 play-offs after a four-point weekend.

Michael Elder hit a hat-trick in their 8-0 victory at Manchester Minotaurs and Stars followed up with a 6-3 win at home to Solway Sharks – Chris Sykes (left) scored twice.

Sharks boosted their hopes of a top four finish with a 4-1 success at home to Sheffield Spartans. Blackburn Hawks won 3-0 on home ice against Sutton Sting and 5-2 at Whitley Warriors.

Sheffield Senators moved closer to promotion from Laidler D2 after a 13-2 victory at Bradford Bulldogs.

Solihull Barons extended their winning streak to 50 after a 12-2 home success against Bradford. Hull Jets made it six wins from their last eight games with a 2-0 victory at home to Widnes Wild. Deeside Dragons triumphed 3-1 on home ice against Nottingham Lions.

NIHL1 South leaders Chelmsford Chieftains drew 3-3 at Cardiff NIHL, but enjoyed better fortunes back at the Riverside with a 5-2 success against MK Thunder.

Invicta Dynamos won 7-2 at home to Streatham Redskins – Michal Oravec (2) led their scoring. Jacob Ranson & Alan Lack both scored twice in London Raiders’ 6-3 victory at Wightlink Raiders. Solent Devils won 4-2 at MK Thunder, but they failed to follow up on home ice as they fell 5-4 to Oxford City Stars.

In NIHL2S, Slough Jets maintained their 100% record with a pair of wins. Josh Ealey-Newman scored six in their 8-2 home win against Invicta Mustangs, while Alan Green bagged a hat-trick in Jets’ 7-3 success at Lee Valley Lions.

Chelmsford Warriors won 9-1 at home to Peterborough Islanders. Haringey Racers battled to a 1-0 victory at Lee Valley.

Telford Tigers need one more win to claim the EPL title after a 3-0 success at home to Manchester Phoenix and a 4-3 shoot-out victory at Bracknell Bees.

Guildford Flames picked up four points on home ice, beating Basingstoke Bison 4-3 and Swindon Wildcats 6-2. Flames failed to add a third win as they crashed 5-2 at Manchester.

Swindon won 5-1 at home to MK Lightning and 5-2 at Peterborough Phantoms. Lightning bounced back to win 4-3 at Bracknell and 3-1 on home ice against Sheffield Steeldogs. Ciaran Long hit the decider for Basingstoke as they won 3-2 at home to Sheffield.

Elite League leaders Braehead Clan collected four points from their weekend double-header against Dundee Stars, winning 3-0 on home ice and 5-0 in the reverse fixture. The results confirmed Clan as Gardiner Conference champions.

Sheffield Steelers lost 2-1 at home to Coventry Blaze, but recovered to win 5-4 after overtime at Belfast Giants. Cardiff Devils stay in the title mix after a 3-2 success at Nottingham Panthers and a 3-1 home victory against Fife Flyers.

Edinburgh Capitals won 6-4 at Belfast and 5-4 after a shoot-out at home to Hull Stingrays. Matt Reber & Scott Fleming both scored twice for Fife in their 5-0 home win against Hull. Nottingham’s title hopes look to be over after a 2-1 defeat at Coventry.

In the Elite Challenge Cup semi-final first leg, Cardiff won 4-1 at Coventry and Nottingham triumphed 3-1 at Sheffield.

(Image permission: Dean Reeve)

Friday, 20 February 2015

NIHL North weekend preview

NIHL North champions Blackburn Hawks hit the ice twice this weekend as they bid to maintain their unbeaten Moralee D1 record.

Hawks are at home on Saturday to Sutton Sting, before travelling to Whitley Warriors on Sunday.

Last week's victory over Sheffield Spartans handed Hawks their first ever league title and they are now focused on keeping the momentum going in the run up to the end of season play-offs.

Forward Jake Nurse said winning the league has been Hawks' number one priority this season.

"Winning on Sunday night was an amazing feeling," said Nurse. "Even after our highest finish in the league last year there was a big sense of disappointment in the camp because we didn't bring home any silverware.

"Jared Owen and Daniel Brittle have put together a special group of players that stand united and it's a great dressing room to be part of.

"Since I joined last year the fanbase has grown bigger and bigger and last Sunday the atmosphere was electric. The club and fans deserved that title and it's been a long time coming.

"After the sad loss of Alan Amos we wanted to grasp the title as quickly as possible in his honour. He was a massive driving force behind our club, is loved by many and will be greatly missed.

"Our target for the rest of the season is to come away from the play-offs still unbeaten. We don't look past anyone - we take each game as it comes like we've done all season.

"From a personal point of view being back with the team after my injury has been incredible. The lads supported me while I was away and I was itching to get back in the dressing room.

"Jared has slowly eased me back in, which has given my eye some extra time to improve and also let me regain some fitness after the lay off."

There are three other D1 games this weekend. On Saturday, Solway Sharks face-off against Sheffield, while Manchester Minotaurs play Billingham Stars. Solway travel to Teesside on Sunday to meet Billingham.

In Laidler D2, Sheffield Senators make the trip to Bradford Bulldogs on Saturday looking to move a step closer to D1. With eight games left Senators hold a sizeable advantage over the teams behind them, and need just two more wins to seal the third automatic promotion slot.

Head Coach Andy Ellis said: "The season has been a resounding success so far. For a team established only five years ago, promotion is the prize we've all strived for and will certainly be the greatest achievement in my hockey career.

"The players have worked hard all season and they deserve the opportunity to test themselves week in, week out in NIHL1. However, we need to ensure we focus on the next eight games and the aim is to take all 16 points.

"This won't be easy as we have some tough road games, starting at Bradford this weekend. Despite only picking up two wins, they've made steady improvement throughout the year and will be looking to finish the season strongly.

"We don't underestimate any team and we've prepared well during practice in anticipation of a 60 minute challenge. We're hoping for a win which will set up a chance to clinch promotion at iceSheffield next weekend."

The remaining D2 games are all on Sunday with Hull Jets facing Widnes Wild, Solihull Barons hosting Bradford and Deeside Dragons meeting Nottingham Lions.

(Image permission: Diffuse Photographic)

Monday, 16 February 2015

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

Blackburn Hawks clinched the NIHL North Moralee D1 title after defeating Sheffield Spartans.

Hawks trailed 2-0 early in the second period , but roared back to win 6-2 – Adam Brittle (left) hit a hat-trick.

Sutton Sting won 6-1 at home to Billingham Stars – Ivo Celar (2) & James Spurr (2) led their scoring. Solway Sharks triumphed 9-1 on home ice against Manchester Minotaurs.

Laidler D2 leaders Solihull Barons eased to a 4-1 victory at Nottingham Lions.

Telford Tigers NIHL secured promotion to D1 with a pair of 5-2 home wins against Nottingham and Widnes Wild.

James Parsons (2) & Paul Davies (2) were amongst the goalscorers as Deeside Dragons won 8-2 at home to Blackburn Eagles. Coventry Blaze lost 4-1 at Bradford Bulldogs, but bounced back with a 10-4 success in the reverse fixture.

Chelmsford Chieftains still lead NIHL1 South after a mixed weekend. They crashed 4-0 at Wightlink Raiders, but recovered to win 6-2 at home to Streatham Redskins. Wightlink also won 7-3 at Solent Devils.

Callum Best scored three for Streatham in their 7-3 home victory against Solent. Invicta Dynamos picked up four points on the road, winning 6-3 at Oxford City Stars and 3-2 at MK Thunder.

Jamie Line scored two for Thunder in their 5-1 success at Cardiff NIHL1. London Raiders lost 4-3 at home to Bracknell Hornets.

In NIHL2S, Peterborough Islanders won 3-2 at Invicta Mustangs. Alan Green scored four for Slough Jets as they claimed a 9-0 victory at home to Basingstoke Buffalo in the D2 Cup. Bristol Pitbulls drew 4-4 with the Islanders.

Telford Tigers edged closer to the EPL title after winning 4-1 at Bracknell Bees. Guildford Flames collected four points from their weekend double-header against Sheffield Steeldogs, winning 4-1 on the road and 5-2 back on home ice.

Manchester Phoenix lost 4-2 at Swindon Wildcats, but enjoyed better fortunes at home as they won 5-1 against MK Lightning. Milan Kostourek grabbed a hat-trick for Lightning in their 5-3 home victory against Peterborough Phantoms.

Miroslav Vantroba and Joe Greener both scored twice as Basingstoke won 5-1 at home to Bracknell and Bison followed up with a 5-2 success at Peterborough.

Teflord are through to the final of the British Challenge Cup after completing a 9-5 aggregate win against Guildford. Tigers now face Manchester who defeated Swindon 13-8 overall.

Elite League leaders Braehead Clan won 3-2 after a shoot-out at home to Hull Stingrays, but their title hopes suffered a blow as they fell 3-0 on home ice against Cardiff Devils.

Sheffield Steelers are a point behind Clan with a game in hand after picking up two victories. Steelers won 5-3 at home to Edinburgh Capitals and 3-2 at Nottingham Panthers.

Riley Emmerson hit the winner for Edinburgh in their 2-1 shoot-out success against Cardiff. The Devils had better luck at Dundee Stars as they claimed a 4-2 win.

Coventry Blaze boosted their hopes of a play-off spot with a pair of 3-2 home wins against Belfast Giants. Fife Flyers won 5-2 at home to Dundee, but Jordan Mayer’s last minute strike condemned them to a 5-4 defeat at Hull.

(Image permission: David Morrison)

Friday, 13 February 2015

NIHL North weekend preview

Sutton Sting bid to boost their NIHL North Moralee D1 play-off hopes on Sunday as they host Billingham Stars.

Sting are third in the table after wins against Sheffield Spartans and Whitley Warriors last weekend and they're keen to keep the momentum going against Stars.

Simon Offord was on target against Spartans last Saturday and he's anticipating an exciting finish to the regular season.

"Last weekend was definitely our best weekend so far this season," said Offord.

"They were two great results against teams we're battling against for play-off places. I think the turning point over the last few weeks has been the three players we've added, and also a few coming back from long term injury which gives us great depth up front. That was something we were greatly lacking early in the season.

"We have to try and build on last weekend against Billingham. They're also pushing hard for the play-offs, and although we beat them last time at home their results are much improved recently. As long as we work hard and stick to our game plan I'm confident we can come away with the points.

"There've been that many twists and turns already this season and I genuinely think any three of five teams could still claim the play-off spots."

There are two other D1 games this weekend, with Solway Sharks hosting Manchester Minotaurs on Saturday while Blackburn Hawks meet Spartans the following day.

In Laidler D2, Nottingham Lions face a difficult weekend as they try and secure a top four finish. Lions travel to second-placed Telford Tigers NIHL on Saturday, before returning to home ice on Sunday to face unbeaten Solihull Barons.

Tigers are also in action on Sunday as they welcome Widnes Wild to Shropshire, while Deeside Dragons face-off against Blackburn Eagles. Bradford Bulldogs meet Coventry Blaze on Saturday, before travelling to the Sky Dome the following day for the reverse fixture.

Monday, 9 February 2015

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 8th February)

Sutton Sting roared into the NIHL North Moralee D1 play-off picture courtesy of an impressive four-point weekend.

A late Simon Offord (left) goal capped a 3-1 win at Sheffield Spartans and Sting followed up with a 6-1 road victory at Whitley Warriors – Ivo Celar (2) led their scoring.

Blackburn Hawks edged nearer their first ever league title with an 8-4 win at home to Solway Sharks. Billingham Stars stay second after a 3-1 home success against Spartans.

Joe Henry and Thomas Soar both scored twice as Laidler D2 leaders Solihull Barons won 7-2 at home to Nottingham Lions. Chris Jones' strike 33 seconds from time secured an 8-8 draw for Deeside Dragons at Telford Tigers NIHL.

Widnes Wild drew 2-2 at Blackburn Eagles and followed up with a 5-3 home victory against Hull Jets.

Chelmsford Chieftains took a big step towards retaining their NIHL1 South crown after collecting  a pair of road wins. Chieftains triumphed 4-2 at Bracknell Hornets and 9-0 at Invicta Dynamos.

Streatham Redskins had a mixed weekend, winning 3-2 at Wightlink Raiders before slipping to a 4-2 home defeat against London Raiders.

MK Thunder kept their top four hopes alive with an 8-5 win at home to Oxford City Stars. Cardiff NIHL1 remain bottom of the table after losing 6-2 on home ice against Invicta and 6-3 at Solent Devils.

NIHL2S leaders Slough Jets retained their 100% record with two road victories. Jets won 3-2 at Chelmsford Warriors and 4-2 at Haringey Racers. Warriors bounced back with a 7-1 home win against Lee Valley Lions. Haringey picked up two points with a 4-0 success at Peterborough Islanders.

Telford Tigers continued their march to the EPL title after securing two victories against MK Lightning. Dan Davies scored the decider in their 2-1 road win, while Jason Silverthorn weighed in with a couple of goals as Tigers cruised to a 6-2 success back on home ice.

Guildford Flames also picked up four points, winning 5-4 at home to Peterborough Phantoms and 4-2 at Bracknell Bees. Donatas Kumeliauskas (2) led the way for Phantoms as they won 6-2 at home to Sheffield Steeldogs.

Swindon Wildcats won 10-1 at home to Bracknell, but failed to follow up as they crashed 5-2 at Manchester Phoenix. Basingstoke Bison eased to a 6-1 home success against the Steeldogs.

In the British Challenge Cup semi-final first leg, Telford came from 3-0 down at Guildford to clinch a 4-3 victory - Nathan Salem grabbed a couple of goals.

Elite League leaders Braehead Clan battled to a 1-0 win at home to Belfast Giants – Leigh Salters scored the goal. Giants picked up two points with a 6-3 home success against Cardiff Devils.

Sheffield Steelers won 4-2 at home to Nottingham Panthers, but they found Cardiff a tougher proposition as they fell to a 4-0 road defeat.

Rene Jarolin hit a hat-trick for Edinburgh Capitals in their 5-2 victory at home to Fife Flyers and the Slovakian completed a successful personal weekend with the decider in a 2-1 overtime win against Coventry Blaze.

Dundee Stars lost 2-1 at home to Coventry, but recovered to win 3-0 against Fife. Hull Stingrays shocked title-chasing Nottingham after securing a deserved 5-2 home victory.

(Image permission: Gary Apsley)

Friday, 6 February 2015

NIHL North weekend preview

The race for promotion from NIHL North Laidler D2 continues apace this weekend, with most of the top teams in action.

Telford Tigers NIHL are currently eight points behind leaders Solihull Barons, but look well-placed to secure one of the three automatic slots.

On Saturday they welcome Deeside Dragons to Shropshire and Head Coach Scott McKenzie (left) believes they can complete a clean sweep of victories over their visitors.

"Deeside have a lot of experience in their squad, and I'm sure they'll come to work," said McKenzie. "We played them away in our last league game and beat them 8-2, but I don’t want our guys to expect an easy ride.

"A number of their players still have close links to Telford, so they’ll be determined to make their mark. If we keep it simple and work harder than them, we’ll be fine."

Dragons have slipped out of the promotion picture in recent weeks after failing to win in their last four games.

Player/Coach Steve Fellows said he was still hurting from their last defeat: "This weekend presents us with a chance to redeem ourselves, but it will be a tough game as Telford are a strong side and they're going well in the league.

"Our performance levels and mentality during games have got to be better. It's simply not been good enough in recent weeks and that needs to change.

"I want to see some fight from us and I want us to go out there and battle for the puck and show we have some passion about us. If you do that and you lose the game you can have no complaints, as you know you gave it your best shot."

There are three other D2 games this weekend, with Widnes Wild at Blackburn Eagles on Saturday before returning to home ice the following day to face Hull Jets. Solihull host Nottingham Lions on Sunday.

The Moralee D1 play-off picture could become clearer this weekend, with all of the teams in contention taking to the ice. Sheffield Spartans face a weekend double-header, hosting Sutton Sting on Saturday before travelling North to face Billingham Stars on Sunday.

Sting are also in action on Sunday at Whitley Warriors, while leaders Blackburn Hawks face Solway Sharks.

(Image permission: Telford Tigers)

Monday, 2 February 2015

UK Ice hockey round-up (w/e 1st February)

Blackburn Hawks edged closer to the NIHL North Moralee D1 title after a four-point weekend.

Luke Brittle scored five in their 9-4 win at home to Whitley Warriors and Hawks followed up with a 5-3 success at Billingham Stars.

Solway Sharks endured a miserable weekend, losing 5-2 at home to Billingham and 6-1 at Sheffield Spartans.

Slav Movko & Richie Oliver both scored twice in Sutton Sting’s 8-2 victory against Manchester Minotaurs.

Solihull Barons are still unbeaten in Laidler D2 after two more comfortable wins.

Thomas Soar, Niklas Ottosson (above) & Jake Larkin all hit hat-tricks in their 19-2 success at Bradford Bulldogs, and Barons notched double figures again on home ice with a 14-1 victory against Coventry Blaze.

Widnes Wild boosted their promotion hopes with a pair of wins against Nottingham Lions. Wild triumphed 4-3 on home ice and 6-3 in the reverse fixture.

Streatham Redskins produced two excellent performances against NIHL1 South leaders Chelmsford Chieftains. Redskins won 2-1 at home and followed up with an impressive 6-3 success at the Riverside.

Invicta Dynamos slipped to a disappointing 6-2 loss at home to MK Thunder, but bounced back to win 7-3 at Solent Devils. Alex Barker scored twice in Wightlink's 7-2 home victory against Bracknell Hornets, but Raiders failed to add a second win as they fought out a 3-3 draw at MK Thunder.

Cardiff NIHL1 fell 6-1 at home to Solent, but picked up a point with a 6-6 draw at Oxford City Stars.

NIHL2S leaders Slough Jets retained their 100% record with a 13-1 success at home to Invicta Mustangs. Bristol Pitbulls won 11-1 at Wightlink Tigers, while Peterborough Islanders drew 3-3 at Lee Valley Lions. In the D2 Cup, Haringey Racers drew 6-6 with Basingstoke Buffalo.

Telford Tigers' five game winning streak in the EPL was ended at Peterborough as the Phantoms secured a 3-2 victory. Tigers recovered to win 5-0 at home to Swindon Wildcats, while Phantoms added another two points with a 4-1 victory at Bracknell Bees.

Manchester Phoenix slipped to a 5-4 loss at MK Lightning, but they fared better on home ice as Michal Psurny's shoot-out decider sealed a 4-3 win against Basingstoke Bison.

Sheffield Steeldogs lost 7-4 at Swindon, but bounced back to win 5-3 at home to MK Lightning. Basingstoke won 4-0 at home to Bracknell. In the British Challenge Cup semi-final first leg, Swindon drew 3-3 with Manchester.

Nottingham Panthers boosted their Elite League title hopes with a pair of home wins against Belfast Giants. Chris Lawrence hit the shoot-out winner in a 4-3 victory and he was on target again with the late decider as Panthers clinched a 1-0 success.

Leaders Braehead Clan fell 3-2 at home to Hull Stingrays, but two Leigh Salters goals helped them to a 3-1 win at Dundee Stars. Sheffield Steelers stay in the mix after a four-point weekend. Colton Fretter scored twice in their 6-0 home win against Dundee, while Gord Baldwin grabbed the decider in a 3-2 overtime success at Edinburgh Capitals.

Coventry Blaze won 4-3 after a shoot-out at home to Nottingham and followed up with a 5-4 overtime victory at Cardiff Devils. Fife Flyers won 3-2 on home ice against Cardiff and 4-3 after a shoot-out at Hull.

(Image permission: Keith & Jenny Davies)

Friday, 30 January 2015

NIHL North weekend preview

Blackburn Hawks are set for an emotion-charged weekend as they take to the ice for the first time since the death of club stalwart Alan Amos.

The NIHL North Moralee D1 leaders welcome Whitley Warriors to Lancashire on Saturday, before travelling to the North East the following day to face Billingham Stars.

As a member of the club's management team, Amos was a major driving force behind the scenes for the Hawks and was a popular figure around the club. He became ill before Christmas and sadly passed away this week.

Hawks' Player/Coach Jared Owen spoke with Craig Simpson after last week's victory at Billingham, and dedicated their performance to Amos - please click here.

There are three other D1 games this weekend. On Saturday Solway Sharks host Billingham and Sutton Sting meet Manchester Minotaurs, whilst on Sunday Sharks are at Sheffield Spartans.

Nottingham Lions face a huge home and away double-header against their play-off rivals Widnes Wild this weekend, as the battle to secure a top-four slot gathers pace. Lions have been in sparkling form of late, winning six of their last seven games, and face a Widnes team looking to bounce back from three consecutive defeats.

Forward Ivo Dimitrijevs (above) said: "I think everything is getting better with this Lions team. Players are getting more confidence and we're improving our game with hard practices. We can now compete with any of the top teams in the league.

"These are two very important games for us. There’s no big difference between us in points, so it will be a hard weekend for both sides. Nobody wants to give points away, so we have to play the best hockey we can."

With Lions appearing to have a more difficult run-in, Wild netminder Greg Ruxton is keen to crank up the pressure on their rivals. He said: "It's a big weekend for both teams and could go a long way for either us or Nottingham to clinch fourth place and a chance of promotion.

"If we win both games we have an easier run to the end of the season, only having to play Telford once out of the top three teams, whereas Nottingham have a tougher run and will struggle to catch us up on points.

"Winning both games is a must to take the pressure off us in the race for promotion. All the lads know this and know what's needed, so it should make for a good weekend of hockey."

Runaway D2 leaders Solihull Barons are in action twice this weekend, travelling to Bradford Bulldogs on Saturday before returning to home ice against Coventry Blaze the following evening.

(Image permission: Peter McConnachie)