Thursday, 22 March 2018



Now that the 2017-18 campaign is over for the Northern Trio, I would just like to take this time to thank all those who have contributed to NIHL Northern Trio this season.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Firstly, I would like to thank Colin Lawson of IceHockeyMedia for his weekly supply of photographs and for his unrelenting support, and also Ian Hanlon for his contribution over the course of the season when working alongside, or in the absence of, Colin.     

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Next, I would like to recognise the hard work of Whitley Warriors’ player-coach David Longstaff, Solway Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb and Billingham Stars’ alternate captain Chris Sykes who have provided swift but detailed previews and reflections on a weekly basis whilst supplying additional pieces of information to assist with the writing of my match reports. I would also like to thank Warriors’ forward Philip Edgar and alternate captains Shaun Kippin and Jordan Barnes, Sharks’ captain Struan Tonnar and alternate captain Ross Murray, and Stars’ captain Michael Elder and defenceman Ben Davison for providing their thoughts in addition to those shared by David, Martin and Chris.  

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Further to this, I would like to acknowledge those who provided an alternate viewpoint to ensure that teams outside of the Northern Trio were represented in my weekly previews. Thanks go to Dragons’ captain James Parsons and forward Geoff Wigglesworth; Hawks’ player-coach Steven Duncombe, and forwards Matt Viney and Aaron Davies; Pirates’ defenceman Chris Wilcox and forward Matty Davies; Lions’ captain Elliot Perrin and alternate captain Adz Andrews; Steeldogs’ captain Lewis Bell and defenceman Tom Barry; Barons’ former Head Coach Daniel MacKriel, and forwards Thomas Soar and Adam Brittle; and Telford’s forward Jack Watkins, former defenceman Kim Miettinen and former Dragons’ player-coach and current Tiger Scott McKenzie.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
In addition to these players, I would like to thank Sharks’ forward Iain Bowie and Stars’ alternate captain Chris Sykes for taking the time to share their thoughts following news that they would receive Player of the Month awards, and also thanks to Warrior Sam Zajac who kindly contributed to an NIHL News article after signing for Whitley in December.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Also, Warriors’ player-coach David Longstaff, forward Niall Simpson, Stars’ Latvian imports Artūrs Ozols and Deniss Baškatovs, and Sharks’ Czech defenceman Marek Charvát kindly took the time to be interviewed for ‘Team Talk’ this season. Thank you to everyone who took part; your efforts are very much appreciated.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all those who took part in NIHL Northern Trio’s Christmas feature; many thanks to Sharks Ross Murray, Struan Tonnar, Calum Hepburn and Martin Grubb, Warriors Kyle Ross, Shaun Kippin, DJ Good, Richie Lawson and photographer Colin Lawson, Dragon Owen Bennett, Hawk Kim Miettinen, Baron Thomas Soar, Steeldogs Lewis Bell and Lloyd Gibson, Pirate Chris Wilcox, Tiger Scott McKenzie and Lion Adz Andrews.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Last, but not least, I would like to thank all those who have taken the time to read any of my blog posts over the course of the season, and to all those who have chosen to retweet or share the link to my blog with others.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
I look forward to posting again in September but don’t forget, you can catch up with the latest signing news from Whitley Warriors, Solway Sharks and Billingham Stars over the summer months here too!

NIHL Northern Trio

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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

NIHL Weekend Action: Playoffs

Stars glow in narrow playoff defeat to Steeldogs

Billingham Stars        3

Sheffield Steeldogs   4

Hoping to make the best of this playoff fixture in front of their home crowd, Billingham Stars took to the ice with sixteen skaters and first choice shot stopper James Flavell; the side setting out to showcase their skill though missing forwards Josh Nertney, Scott Ward and Ethan Hehir as well as defencemen Andy Finn and Darren Stattersfield. Sheffield Steeldogs, meanwhile, made the trip to Teesside with just one skater more than the Stars, their line-up including captain Lewis Bell, forward Cameron Brownley and Slovakian Adrian Palak.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Setting out to be more than a match for the Steeldogs, Billingham aimed to challenge Sheffield in the opening stages of the first period but the league champions proved difficult competition as Ben Morgan’s side immediately set their sights on Flavell’s net in their efforts to get ahead in the contest. Rallying in defence to ensure their opposition did not grab a goal, the Stars found their own offensive opportunities few and far between so it was little surprise when the first goal was delivered by their visitors, Brownley opening the scoring with support from left winger Liam Charnock and skilled Slovakian forward Palak on 8:53. With Sheffield dominating in front of goal, Billingham were unable to cause much trouble for Zimozdra at the other end of the ice and instead found themselves holding out against the Steeldogs in their defensive zone to keep the score line at 1-0. A tripping penalty for Stars’ forward Jack Davies on 15:26 then placed the Steeldogs on a power play but the side were unable to beat strong shot stopper Flavell who pulled off some excellent saves to keep his team in the contest. Less than a minute after Davies’ penalty was served, Baškatovs was shown to the sin bin for delaying the game to hand Sheffield the advantage once again. Failing to capitalise with the additional skater, the Steeldogs found their offensive play shut down by the Stars who were able to head in just one goal behind their opposition as a result of their defensive work.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning to the ice with the hope that they could equalise, the Stars were keen to test Zimozdra but Sheffield had other ideas and prevented Billingham’s attempts whilst building momentum around Flavell’s net for a second stanza. Unable to make much of the chances that fell their way, the Stars then found themselves shorthanded for a third time as defenceman Matthew Campbell was sinbinned for clipping on 27:08. Trying to capitalise on this opportunity to double their lead, the Steeldogs were unable to contend with Billingham’s penalty kill and instead accomplished an evenhanded goal around two minutes later when Brownley claimed his second of the game, this time Charnock and Palak assisting once again. Shortly after this goal, it was the Steeldogs’ turn to be reduced to four men, this time alternate captain Timothy Smith sidelined for delaying the game. Pleased to be awarded the power play, Billingham aimed to make an impact but were unsuccessful in their efforts to claw back a goal. With neither side able to add to their tallies in the latter stages of the second period, the teams filed from the ice with just a two-goal margin between them.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Facing off for the third and final period, Billingham Stars soon found themselves presented with their second power play of the game when Charnock made way for tripping on 41:59. Though striving for the net, the Stars were unable to beat Zimozdra and instead conceded a shorthanded goal as Slovakian import Milan Kolena teamed up with forward Lloyd Gibson who netted for his side on 43:00. Three goals down as a result, the Teessiders were eager to make amends and did so twenty four seconds later when Baškatovs chipped away at Billingham’s deficit courtesy of forwards Jack Davies and James Moss. Creating some offensive opportunities of their own following this goal, the Steeldogs were keen to make their victory certain and a penalty for Stars’ forward Jack Emerson on 48:04 appeared to be the perfect chance for Sheffield to grab a fourth goal but Billingham’s penalty kill proved effective. Seeking out a second goal, the Stars were overjoyed to double their tally on 54:06 when Baškatovs bagged himself another, this time receiving the puck from Moss after linkup play from Jack Davies. Spurred on by this goal, Billingham fired a third onto the scoreboard just thirty three seconds later, this time Baškatovs picking up a pass from blue liner Ben Davison to turn assist for Moss who buried the puck to tie the game. Aiming to defend the 3-3 score line whilst recognising the possibility of snatching a winning goal, the home team were keen to hold on in the latter stages of the game but Sheffield were not about to leave without a lead and subsequently slotted a fourth beyond Flavell on 58:31 as Brownley assisted Palak. Unable to draw level with so little time remaining, Billingham were forced to accept that the Steeldogs would have the advantage going into Sunday’s game at Ice Sheffield for the second leg of this playoff match-up. 

Warriors battle in vain as Tigers triumph over Whitley

Whitley Warriors    2

Telford Tigers        5

Playing host to playoff opponents Telford Tigers, Whitley Warriors headed out with a strong line-up of twenty skaters besides netminders Richie Lawson and Mark Turnbull at their disposal, with player-coach David Longstaff opting for the former between the pipes; suspended alternate captain Jordan Barnes amongst those unable to ice for the Warriors, allowing defenceman Josh Maddock to fulfil this leadership role instead. By comparison, Telford travelled with a compact squad of fifteen which included player-coach Tom Watkins, Canadian captain Jason Silverthorn and experienced defenceman Jonathan Weaver.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Facing off against the Tigers with the knowledge that this game would be a challenge, Whitley Warriors were immediately dealt a blow following a fast-paced start as Telford grabbed the lead through Adam Taylor with just 1:14 on the clock following neat work from fellow forward Jack Watkins and alternate captain Weaver. Retaliating with some offensive work of their own, the Warriors began to create intensity to test shot stopper Denis Bell, with forwards Ben Richards, Dean Holland and Philip Edgar striving to level the scoring. A hooking penalty for Macaulay Halford on 7:55 then saw Whitley handed a power play but the Hillheads outfit failed to make the most of this opportunity and were quick to rue their missed chances as the Tigers returned to full strength only to double their lead four seconds later when Silverthorn beat Lawson following linkup play from alternate captain Rick Plant. Continuing to search for a goal, the Warriors ploughed their efforts into their offensive play but for little reward, the side facing excellent netminding from Bell besides strong defensive work from the Tigers who were quick to regain possession to call Lawson into action at the other end of the ice. With the period in its latter stages, the Warriors came incredibly close to scoring but were left wondering what might have been when the net was pushed off its moorings by Bell following a shot from Whitley. With play end-to-end, the Warriors were disappointed to be trailing by two goals at the first interval.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Looking to get back into the game, the Warriors attempted to challenge Bell but the Tigers had victory in their sights and were keen to add to their tally. Making Whitley’s defence work in the early stages of this period and firing two shots at the metalwork, Telford finally snatched a third goal when a low shot from player-coach Watkins filtered past Lawson to make it 3-0 on 24:38. Disappointed to concede in this manner, the Warriors set out in search of their first goal of the game once again but the side were faced with the Tigers’ tough defence and were made to dig the puck out along the boards before targeting Bell’s net. With play becoming flat in this period, play was brought to life when tensions began to fray between Warriors’ forward Callum Watson and Telford’s captain Silverthorn, the pair dropping the gloves to each earn 2+2 for fighting on 32:54. Undeterred by this setback, the Tigers bagged themselves a fourth goal as versatile defenceman Daniel Rose threaded a pass to Plant who rushed into Whitley’s defensive zone to fire home on 35:26 to add to the Warriors’ woes. Despite their aim to at least get on the scoresheet in the final stages of this period, Longstaff’s line-up were hindered by their opposition and filed from the ice with a four-goal deficit to overturn.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Returning to the ice with more intensity than that of the middle stanza, Whitley Warriors began to place netminder Bell under pressure from the outset of the final period and it paid off as some well-worked passing play between Edgar and stand-in alternate captain Maddock incorporated captain Holland who rocketed a shot into the net to make it 4-1 on 43:34. This goal bringing with it some hope for the Warriors, the home team continued to battle for the puck, with Richards amongst those labouring to create a chance for his team. However, the Tigers sought to bounce back from their concession and were able to achieve their fifth goal of the evening just under four minutes later when Jack Watkins pinged the puck past Lawson following neat play from fellow forwards Scott McKenzie and Taylor. Shortly after this goal, McKenzie was sinbinned for a high sticks offence which provided Whitley with a power play. Trying to make the most of this, Holland first hit the bar before trying a shot moments later which saw the puck fall to Edgar to allow the Canadian to punish Telford for their previous misdemeanour on 50:33. The score line 5-2, the Warriors continued to fight for possession to give themselves the best chance at chipping away at their deficit but the Tigers continued to try their luck against Lawson which made it difficult for the home team. With neither side able to find the net again, the final buzzer eventually brought the fast-paced game to an end at 5-2. Reflecting on this defeat, player-coach David Longstaff admitted: “I thought it was a very flat game from both teams. We played really well in the third period but it wasn’t enough.”

Due to adverse weather conditions, Whitley Warriors were prevented from making the trip to Telford on Sunday for their away leg of their playoff quarter-final to leave the overall result at 5-2.

Sharks snatch last minute equaliser in spectacular comeback against Barons

Solway Sharks          4

Solihull Barons     4

Heading into this game with seventeen skaters, including captain Struan Tonnar, alternate captains James Hutchinson and Ross Murray and top points scorer Iain Bowie, Solway Sharks were more than up for this battle as they prepared for their challenging playoff fixture against Solihull, the side missing left winger Steven Moore and two-way player Jordan Buesa from their line-up. By comparison, the Barons made the trip to Dumfries with just one less skater than that of their opposition, forward Thomas Soar, Swedish import Niklas Ottosson and netminder Josh Nicholls amongst those travelling for this game.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Throwing everything into this clash from faceoff, both teams sought to open the scoring but a slashing penalty against Luke Brittle on 2:43 saw Solihull go shorthanded in the early stages of the first period to allow Solway a power play. Though testing Barons’ starting netminder Nicholls, the Sharks failed to make the most of their advantage and were quick to regret their inability to punish Solihull, their visitors finding a way past shot stopper Calum Hepburn just over two minutes after returning to full strength; Ottosson the man on target courtesy of fellow forward Ed Eaton. Shortly after this goal, Solway were presented with an opportunity to equalise when Soar was made to sit out for hooking on 8:37. Again struggling to beat the Barons’ defence, Martin Grubb’s men could not draw level with the advantage and instead watched Solihull return to full strength only to run into some penalty trouble of their own as youngster Lewis Houston made way on 13:14 for tripping. Just fifteen seconds after this penalty, Houston was joined in the sin bin by forward Duncan Speirs who was considered guilty of hooking, a penalty which presented the Barons with a five-on-three situation. Though coping with Solihull’s initial attacking play, the Sharks returned to four men only to concede a second goal five seconds later when their visitors alternate captain Tomas Janak linked up with Soar to allow forward Adam Brittle to find the net on 15:19. Pleased with their 2-0 lead, the Barons then continued to build on their offensive play and were able to find a third goal when forward Andrew Whitehouse played the puck to Elliot Farrell who raced from the blue line of his defensive zone to fire home on 19:30. Frustrated to be behind by three goals, captain Tonnar then clashed with the Barons to earn himself a minor for roughing on 20:00 as the period came to a close.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning to the ice on the power play as a result of Tonnar’s penalty, the Barons tried to find a way past Solway’s netminder Hepburn but missed out on their chance to establish a four-goal lead and instead conceded shortly after the Sharks’ returned to full strength as Speirs collected the puck on the edge of Solihull’s defensive zone and rounded Nicholls to make it 3-1 on 23:12. Just over two minutes later, the Barons went shorthanded when captain Josh Bruce made way for crosschecking. This allowed the Sharks another power play and this time the Dumfries outfit were determined to make the most of it, the side scoring just seven seconds into their advantage when forward Iain Bowie tapped the puck into the net following a long range shot from blue liner Josh Grieveson. The score line a tentative 3-2 in Solihull’s favour, the Sharks were keen to equalise and a slashing penalty against Soar on 27:52 appeared the perfect opportunity for Solway to draw level. However, unable to make the best of this chance, Grubb’s men buried the puck thirty five seconds after Soar was reinstated, this time Tonnar playing the puck across the ice to alternate captain Murray who found himself with enough time and space to recover the deadlock on 30:27. Soon after, the Sharks suffered a setback when forward Connor Henderson made way for holding to hand Solihull a power play and the outfit were all too happy to regain their lead, the side scoring just twenty seconds later when Soar slotted the puck into the net following build up play from Whitehouse and Janak. The score line 4-3 in favour of Solihull, it was then the turn of Barons’ captain Bruce to serve a second penalty; holding his offence on this occasion. Despite Solway’s efforts with the additional skater, the side could not grab an equaliser ahead of the interval and as such, headed in just one goal behind their opposition.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Facing off for the third and final period, Solway were given some reprieve when Nicholls was ejected for spearing on 41:50, the netminder handed a penalty of five plus game to see player-coach Daniel Brittle take his place between the pipes. Unable to make the most of their lengthy power play, the Sharks were then presented with a second opportunity to get ahead in this period as defenceman Daniel Harrison was sidelined for tripping on 48:20 but, despite increasing their efforts on goal, the Dumfries outfit could not find a way past Brittle who remained sturdy in net. Placing the netminder under pressure, the Sharks were forced to deal with counterattacking play from the Barons but, largely untroubled by Solihull’s attempts to extend their lead, Solway continued to search for an equaliser and were eventually rewarded for their hard work when Czech import Marek Charvát saw the puck over the goal line following much perseverance from Lewis Houston and Connor Henderson in the final minute of the game. This goal scored with just forty five seconds of the game remaining, the Sharks were able to hold on to achieve a 4-4 draw ahead of Sunday’s away trip to Hobs Moat Road.

Looking back on this fixture, Solway Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb admitted: “We knew this would be a tough game as Solihull are the form team in the league at the moment and you can’t give them a three-goal start like we did. We did well to battle back and showed real character to get a draw but ultimately we are disappointed not to be taking a lead to Solihull.”

Steeldogs snuff out Stars to progress to playoff semi-finals

Sheffield Steeldogs  9

Billingham Stars        3

(13-6 on aggregate)

Making the trip to Ice Sheffield to take on Sheffield Steeldogs, Billingham Stars travelled with a strong line-up of sixteen skaters, including player-coach Michael Bowman, blue liner Ben Davison and young defenceman James Hellens, besides first choice shot stopper James Flavell, in the hope that they could head into the semi-finals of the competition. Meanwhile, Ben Morgan’s team took to the ice with a squad of nineteen players, their side including captain Lewis Bell and forwards Lloyd Gibson and James Spurr.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
With both teams setting out in their quest for playoff glory, it was unsurprising that play was very even in the opening minutes of the game as the outfits turned their attention towards goal, each calling their opposing netminder into action to see both Flavell and Steeldogs’ sturdy shot stopper Dmitri Zimozdra ensure the scoreboard remained unchanged. As the period progressed, Billingham went shorthanded as a result of a tripping penalty against player-coach Bowman on 8:36. However, with just under a minute of Bowman’s punishment remaining, both teams then ran into penalty trouble as Steeldog Greg Wood and Star Jack Davies were shown to the sin bin for roughing. Shortly after Bowman’s return to the ice, the Teessiders were disappointed to concede their first goal of the game when Gibson found the net on 11:14, player-coach Morgan and forward Charlie Thompson with the assists. Spurred on by this goal, the Steeldogs then doubled their tally just over two minutes later as captain Bell fired a shot beyond Flavell following neat work from left winger Liam Charnock and Slovakian import Adrian Palak. The score line 2-0, the Stars continued to search for a goal to get back into the game but the side suffered a further setback when defenceman Davison was shown to the sin bin for slashing on 17:35. This resulted in a power play for the Steeldogs and, though they were unable to capitalise with the additional skater, the side grabbed their third goal of the game just two seconds after Davison’s return to the ice; forward Cameron Brownley surpassing Billingham’s defence after passing play between Morgan and Slovakian import Milan Kolena. In the aftermath of this goal, Stars’ captain Michael Elder and alternate captain Chris Sykes took the opportunity to converse with referee Andrew Miller, resulting in ten minute misconduct penalties for both players. With this a disappointing end to the period for Billingham, the Teessiders headed in with a three-goal deficit and much work to do to get back into the game.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Resuming play for the middle stanza, the Stars were eager to get a goal to claw their way back into the contest but Sheffield were just as keen to extend their lead and did so on 24:05, Brownley notching his second of the game following a pass from Morgan to make it 4-0. Struggling to test Zimozdra, Billingham then incurred a penalty just over three minutes later when Latvian defenceman Artūrs Ozols was sidelined for delaying the game to award the Steeldogs a power play which they converted as forward James Spurr beat Flavell on 28:35, alternate captain Tim Smith and Morgan with the assists. This goal prompted a change of netminder for the home team who switched Zimozdra with backup Brandon Stones to allow the shot stopper some ice time. With the Steeldogs able to dominate in front of goal, the Stars’ chances on net were few and far between and it was little surprise when Sheffield added a sixth to their tally, this time Kolena on target as Spurr worked with young forward Brady Doxey to assist just beyond the halfway point in the period. Four minutes later, Flavell was again picking the puck from his net when Kolena turned assist for Doxey to see the youngster print his name on the scoresheet. Moments later, the Steeldogs went shorthanded when Gibson was sinbinned for holding sticks but, with Billingham unable to create any strong offensive opportunities on the power play, Morgan’s men bagged themselves a shorthanded goal, Kolena returning the favour to see Spurr achieve his second goal of the game with just forty six seconds of the period remaining. Heading in on the wrong end of the 8-0 score line as a result, the Stars left the ice knowing that the game was all but beyond them, the score line 12-3 on aggregate.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning to the ice with the aim to improve on their performance, the Stars switched shot stopper Flavell with Mark Watson to allow the backup some ice time. Whilst increasing their attacking play, the Stars could not beat Stones and it was only when Brownley made way following an interference call that Billingham could make their efforts count, Bowman achieving the Teessiders’ first goal of the game on the power play with support arriving from captain Elder and alternate captain Callum Davies on 46:45. Buoyed by this goal, the Stars then snatched a second close to the halfway point in the period, Bowman claiming his second of the game following creative play from forwards Alex Preston and Jack Emerson. With both teams demonstrating their ability in front of the net, the Stars were able to edge shots on goal in this period, only just outshooting the league champions by sixteen shots to fifteen. Though Sheffield continued in their efforts to find the back of the net, it was the Stars who were able to find the target next as Elder teamed up with Sykes to allow Davison to hit home on 53:18, making the score line 8-3 in the process; 12-6 on aggregate. Both teams persevering in offence whilst maintaining a strong defence against their opposition, the sides continued to contend with one another but the Steeldogs were able to have the final say as Gibson claimed his second goal of the evening with less than three minutes remaining courtesy of Wood and Thompson. As such, Billingham were forced to accept their crushing 9-3 defeat in their playoff quarter-final, the side beaten on aggregate by thirteen goals to six overall to allow Sheffield to progress to the semi-finals.

Speaking after this clash, Stars’ alternate captain Chris Sykes noted: “Congrats to the Steeldogs. They beat us over two legs. On Saturday, at home, we left ourselves with a chance but at Ice Sheffield, they just played their game and it happened to be so much better than ours. Congrats to the Dogs again.”

Sharks overpowered by Barons as Solihull claim playoff victory

Solihull Barons       5

Solway Sharks      3

(9-7 on aggregate)

Making the trip to Hobs Moat Road with seventeen skaters, including captain Struan Tonnar, forward Scott Henderson and Czech defenceman Marek Charvát, and again opting for netminder Calum Hepburn in net, Solway Sharks were aware of the challenge ahead as they took to the ice against their tough playoff opposition. By comparison, Solihull Barons lined up with just one less skater than that of the Dumfries outfit, the side led by captain Josh Bruce and alternate captains Marcus Maynard and Tomas Janak besides player-coach and starting netminder Daniel Brittle.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Setting out to make a positive start to get ahead in the early stages of the game, both teams looked to create chances in front of goal but it was the Barons who were able to edge into the lead when Luke Brittle worked with fellow forward Ed Eaton to set up Swedish import Niklas Ottosson with just 3:52 on the clock. Just eight seconds after this goal, Solihull suffered a blow when forward Adam Brittle was shown to the sin bin for slashing to award the Sharks a power play. The visitors were unable to make the most of this opportunity however, and instead watched the home team return to full strength only to go shorthanded themselves almost two minutes later when blue liner Josh Grieveson was sidelined for hooking. Though striving to kill this penalty, the Sharks were unsuccessful in their defensive efforts and Solihull claimed a two-goal lead with a power play goal, forward Thomas Soar the man on target following creative play from forward Andrew Whitehouse and alternate captain Janak on 9:28. Just over a minute after Grieveson returned to the ice, forward Daniel Abercrombie warmed a seat in the sin bin for tripping but this time the Barons were unable to capitalise and instead went shorthanded themselves on 13:07 as forward Luke Brittle sat out for hooking. Unable to pull back a goal on the advantage, Solway were disappointed to let this opportunity slip by and, though continuing to test shot stopper Brittle as much as possible, the side could not find a way past the netminder before the break to head in with a 2-0 deficit to overturn.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Though aiming to make a better start to the middle stanza, the Sharks again found themselves shorthanded as captain Tonnar made way for slashing on 23:17. Killing this penalty effectively, Solway returned to full strength and immediately set their sights on goal, scoring just thirty eight seconds later through Czech blue liner Charvát whose unassisted shot beat Brittle to make it 2-1; 6-5 on aggregate. The Sharks’ celebrations proved short-lived however, as just thirty eight seconds later Solihull added a third to their tally, this time Eaton setting up fellow forward Luke Brittle who did not miss his mark. Close to two minutes later, a charging penalty for Barons’ alternate captain Maynard presented the Sharks with a power play but the outfit could not break down Brittle’s defence as Solihull worked hard to return to full strength unscathed. As such, the home team continued to hunt down their next goal in their efforts to extend their lead and put the clash beyond doubt but it took over six minutes after Maynard’s return to the ice for the Barons to make it 4-1, this time Janak burying an unassisted shot to cause Solway some concern. Glad to be handed a power play three seconds after this goal following a tripping call against Soar, Grubb’s men realised their need to make their additional man count, the Sharks finding the net on 38:31 through Speirs who was helped onto the scoresheet by defenceman Kyle Horne and Joe Coulter to wrap up the action for the second period.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning to the ice on the wrong end of the 4-2 score line, Solway were quick off the mark in the third period as forward Scott Henderson took his team within one goal of their opposition on 41:13, Coulter and Hutchinson with the assists. Just twenty four seconds later though, Solihull dashed their visitors’ hopes with a fifth goal, this time Janak finding captain Bruce who surpassed Hepburn to make it 5-3; 9-7 on aggregate. With both teams closely matched in terms of offensive prowess, the outfits persisted with their offensive play as Solihull sought to creep even further ahead in the contest whilst the Sharks looked to close the gap between themselves and the home team to keep their playoff hopes alive. With neither team able to alter the scoreboard in the latter stages of this period, the Sharks were disappointed to go shorthanded with less than three minutes remaining as the side incurred a bench minor for too many men. With time fast running out, Solway found that there was no way they could claw back two goals to tie the game as the final buzzer sounded to confirm Solihull’s progression to the playoff semi-finals. Speaking after his team’s playoff defeat to Solihull Barons, Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb observed: “This game became a winner-takes-all and again it was really disappointing the way we started the game and we never fully recovered. We tried to get back into it but credit to Solihull for making sure they got the job done and, although this isn’t how we wanted out season to end, we have to learn our lessons and regroup for next season. Good luck to the Barons as it was a close series over the course of the season and they played very well over these two games. We had a couple of key injuries at the wrong time but we will be back.”

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Friday, 16 March 2018

NIHL Weekend Preview: Playoffs


Saturday 17th March 2018
Billingham Stars vs. Sheffield Steeldogs
Whitley Warriors vs. Telford Tigers
Solway Sharks vs. Solihull Barons

Sunday 18th March 2018
Sheffield Steeldogs vs. Billingham Stars
Telford Tigers vs. Whitley Warriors
Solihull Barons vs. Solway Sharks

Fixture:    Billingham Stars vs. Sheffield Steeldogs
Date:        17th March 2018       
Venue:     The Forum
Faceoff:  6:00pm

Fixture:    Sheffield Steeldogs vs. Billingham Stars
Date:        18th March 2018       
Venue:     Ice Sheffield
Faceoff:  5:30pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Facing consecutive games against NIHL North Division One (Moralee) champions Sheffield Steeldogs as a result of finishing in eighth position, Billingham Stars will first confront Ben Morgan’s men on home ice on Saturday before making the trip to Ice Sheffield on Sunday in the hope that they can progress to the next stage of the competition. Buoyed by last weekend’s derby victory over local rivals Whitley Warriors, Billingham will head into this contest with much momentum but also the knowledge that these two fixtures will be incredibly difficult, particularly as the Teessiders have yet to win against Sheffield this season. Losing out by seven goals to three away from home in September, the Stars went on to record a 7-4 defeat in early October before achieving a point against the side in an overtime loss just weeks later. More recently beaten 5-1 by the Steeldogs in front of their home crowd, Billingham were disappointed with this result, having demonstrated their ability to contend with the outfit at The Forum earlier in the season; player-coach Michael Bowman the only man to find the net, his unassisted shot ensuring Sheffield did not leave with a shutout. Aiming to give themselves the best chance of success, the Stars will target a positive home performance on Saturday evening and will hope for top points scorers Chris Sykes, Deniss Baškatovs and Michael Elder to be on top form in front of goal, the trio collectively racking up one hundred and sixty eight points between them during their league campaign, with Sykes sixth in NIHL North’s points production chart. The Steeldogs, meanwhile, will look to Slovakian imports Milan Kolena and Adrian Palak, who have a total of sixty two goals and fifty seven assists between them, to make an impact alongside forward James Spurr, defenceman Ashley Calvert and player-coach Morgan. Likely to be a highly competitive game as a result of the offensive prowess of both teams, this playoff encounter will certainly be one to watch. 

Speaking ahead of this fixture, Stars’ alternate captain Chris Sykes admitted:

This is a big weekend against the Steeldogs. It’s going to be tough and we are up for the battle. They won the league because they’ve been the best team all year long but we want to cause an upset and that’s what we will try to do.

Also looking forward to this playoff double header, Sheffield’s captain Lewis Bell shared:

We now have the task of resetting and getting our focus back after the obvious celebrations from winning the league over the weekend. It was a massive high but the boys are now working hard to put that to the back of our minds and concentrate on the new challenge, starting with a tough weekend against Billingham.

Fixture:    Whitley Warriors vs. Telford Tigers
Date:        17th March 2018       
Venue:     Whitley Bay Ice Rink
Faceoff:  5:00pm

Fixture:    Telford Tigers vs. Whitley Warriors
Date:        18th March 2018       
Venue:     Telford Ice Rink
Faceoff:  6:00pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Preparing for a difficult clash against Tom Watkins’ third-placed Tigers this weekend, Whitley Warriors will first play host to the side on Saturday evening at Whitley Bay Ice Rink before making the lengthy trip to Telford on Sunday to take on the Shropshire outfit in a second challenging fixture against the side. So far this season, the Warriors have been able to put up a fight against the Tigers on home ice but have yet to find the back of the net whilst on the road; Whitley suffered a 6-3 defeat at the beginning of October in a competitive clash between the two outfits before losing out by seven unanswered goals in Telford one month later and again in an 8-0 road loss in January. These results were followed up by an impressive narrow 3-2 defeat at Hillheads last month to show that the Warriors have what it takes to contend with their tough opposition should they have a strong team available this weekend. Bouncing back after finding themselves two goals behind in their most recent encounter with the Tigers, Whitley were able to eliminate their deficit courtesy of Canadian import Philip Edgar and player-coach David Longstaff but a goal from Tigers’ captain Jason Silverthorn with just sixty eight seconds remaining prevented the game from going into overtime. Looking to at least put up a fight at Hillheads, the Warriors will plan to travel to Telford on the back of a solid home performance to ensure they have the best chance of progressing to the next stage of the competition. This season, Longstaff has been Whitley’s key playmaker as well as the side’s top points scorer, having tallied seven goals and an impressive thirty eight assists whilst Edgar has produced the most goals for his team, hitting the net thirty times in thirty one games besides notching eleven assists. Meanwhile, Warriors’ captain Dean Holland, alternate captain Shaun Kippin and forward Ben Richards have each accomplished more than thirty points for their side, with Holland close to equalling last season’s points total and both Kippin and Richards bettering their points production this campaign. Likewise, the Tigers have a considerable amount of firepower in their ranks with captain Silverthorn and alternate captain Rick Plant respectively the league’s third and fifth highest points scorers this season. Together, the duo have been responsible for sixty one goals and one hundred and four assists for Telford and they will certainly be ready to cause problems for Whitley’s defence this weekend alongside forwards Scott McKenzie, Warren Tait and defenceman Jonathan Weaver to name but a few. Likely to be another battle between two teams prepared to give their all, these meetings will surely be entertaining if the sides most recent encounter was anything to go by.

Prepared for a challenge this weekend, Whitley’s player-coach David Longstaff noted:

These will be two very tough games. Telford are the only team we haven’t taken any points off in league play so we’re really up against it.
Reflecting on his team’s performance this season and looking ahead to playoffs, Tigers’ forward Scott McKenzie shared:

I think our final league position is a tough one to take. Our season was really decided through a run of tough games through February and by a couple of losses. It was a really close finish to the season and credit to Sheffield for winning out in the final weekend. Playoffs is a completely new tournament that every team that enters has a chance to win. It’s a great opportunity to win a trophy in under a month and we are as prepared as we can be to give it our best shot. We will take Whitley very seriously; we know their style of play and are prepared for a tough weekend.

Fixture:    Solway Sharks vs. Solihull Barons
Date:        17th March 2018       
Venue:     Dumfries Ice Bowl
Faceoff:  7:00pm

Fixture:    Solihull Barons vs. Solway Sharks
Date:        18th March 2018       
Venue:     Hobs Moat Road
Faceoff:  6:00pm
Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Set to confront the fifth-placed Solihull Barons this weekend, Solway Sharks will take on the outfit at the Dumfries Ice Bowl on Saturday before heading to Hobs Moat Road on Sunday for the second game of their playoff double header. Winning three of their four games against Solihull this season, the Sharks first triumphed over the Barons on home ice in October before managing a narrow 3-2 away win in December and succeeding by five goals to two last month. However, suffering a 5-3 defeat to Solihull just two weeks ago, Martin Grubb’s men will have in mind the threat that the Barons pose as they file out onto the ice this weekend. Having finished in a higher league place than Solihull, the Sharks were able to select the order of their home and away legs and opted to continue their routine, deciding to play at the Ice Bowl on Saturday as usual. Hoping that this choice will work to their advantage, Solway will also seek to utilise the skill and goal scoring prowess of top points scorer Iain Bowie, forward Connor Henderson, left winger Steven Moore, alternate captain Ross Murray and forward Duncan Speirs, the quintet having contributed between them eighty five goals and one hundred and twenty nine assists over the course of their league campaign. Meanwhile, Solway’s defence will be called into action no doubt by the pace and power of Solihull who also have at their disposal a strong squad which includes Brittle brothers Luke and Adam, forward Thomas Soar, Swedish import Niklas Ottosson and captain Josh Bruce who have achieved just eleven more points than that of the Sharks’ top five points scorers this season to suggest that this game is going to be a closely contested one. Setting out to make an impact in front of their home crowd on Saturday, the Sharks will aim to take a positive result with them to Hobs Moat Road to ensure that they have the best chances of progressing to the next stage of the competition, particularly as the Dumfries side are the defending champions of the NIHL North Division One (Moralee) Playoffs following last season’s success. Always entertaining and highly competitive, this contest will no doubt be worth the watch as the two sides take to the ice in the hope that they can achieve playoff success.  

Considering this clash, Solway Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb shared:

We go into this series against a good Solihull team who will be a threat. We have a decent record against them winning three out of four games but they were all tight and they will be confident as they won the last game. We know what we are capable of and have a good experience of the playoffs so we will be ready to battle for every puck. We would like to go down to Solihull on Sunday with a lead but we will be looking to win both games to progress.

Also sharing his thoughts ahead of this weekend’s double header, Solihull’s forward Adam Brittle revealed:

Following our relatively successful season, finishing fifth, one place behind this weekend’s opponents, Solway Sharks, we are looking forward to the new playoff format. Recently, we have been in good form, picking up some good results against tough opposition. Hopefully this will give us the confidence we need to gain the edge over the Sharks this weekend. Head to head, we have come up short against Solway, losing three and winning just once. All games have been very close; they are a good skating team, well-disciplined and work hard for sixty minutes. I expect this weekend to be no different and we need to be matching that work rate for all six periods if we wish to progress to next weekend.

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