NIHL Laidler Preview

7677The new NIHL season is fast approaching and all sides are strengthening their squads both on the ice and off it.

In this edition we look at the Laidler Conference.

It is no secret Widnes Wild want to follow in the Solihull Barons footsteps in courageous attempt to become league two champions and be able to gain the automatic promotion.

In the light of the very publicised Manchester Storm returning to its former glory starting this season playing out of Altrincham Silver Blades the Manchester Minotaur’s have gone under construction and comes back this season with not only a new Head Coach but also a rebrand, Minotaur’s will no longer exist, as Altrincham Aces graces the ice once again after a spell of over ten years out of the league.

Widnes Wild

Starting with Widnes Wild, a relatively new club already made a mark on the league last two seasons, falling at the last hurdle of promotion into the Moralee league last season; by a hefty defeat from Whitley Warriors in both legs of the promotion/relegation games.

Wild is certainly not holding back straight out of the gate as the registration dates looming starting with changes with the managing staff appointing a new head coach Scott McKenzie after Mick Gillingham steps down.

Scott Mckenzie’s side then under Mark Gillingham reached the play off weekend for a second consecutive year, but with a very ambitious coach this campaign for Wild looks to be exciting with the well-known goal is winning the league for automatic promotion, starting with the first preseasons game have been announced against the Northern league one winners Blackburn Hawks.

Wild have managed to make a few new signings, Chris Gee who comes back from a stint in Canada and stepping up from playing in the recreational team Widnes Wildcats, Michael Fico and Lee Kemp are forwards looking to score goals along with new signing Sheldon Cassidy. Head Coach Scott McKenzie said: “To me everyone is a new signing with a new attitude towards the Widnes Wild. We are very keen to bring freshness to the team which comes from everyone, the players who have been here and the new players.

“With me not really knowing much about the guy’s abilities before I came to the club, it was very much a blank canvas that I started with and the team that we have put together is a team I believe of winning the league.”

The expectations from all aspects going into the campaign, eager to challenge the teams in the league to be top of the overall Laidler conference league, with the resigning’s of many of the crowd favourite and new signings, they look set to have a very positive season.

“They are going to have to be mentally strong. There is going to be a lot of people questioning our ability to win hockey games but with enough hard work and mental strength, we will be just fine.

“I think a lot of teams in this league lose games themselves rather than other teams beating them. That’s where we will differentiate ourselves from the rest of the league. If we lose it is purely because the other team deserved to beat us on that day, not because we weren’t prepared.”

Bradford Bulldogs

Although Bradford Bulldogs finished bottom of the league last season with only two wins all season, it is a team that everyone routes for but not only that, their valiant effort to be inspiration to play the sport the players love with amazing development in the junior programme to shape the future of the sport: Head Coach Andy Brown said; “To continue to improve individual and the team performance whilst providing a platform for junior development.” Then said; “It’s not really, it’s just to have fun but that sounds better!”

Minimal changes this year for the Bulldogs, is a change in the training times, “We’ve rescheduled our training times to better suit the introduction of u18s players playing up and to increase the amount of training we can do.”

Like other clubs Bradford held open trails to find talent that have yet to be recognised and waiting for their chance to shine. Both trails were held on the 8th and 15th July, with announcements of the squad and team training soon.

“First open trial was last night so no signings as yet but many of last year’s team are likely to be coming back with only a couple of new signings planned. I’ve spoken to Nicole Jackson and she is likely to be our starting NM for next season.” However she has now signed for Sheffield Steeldogs as well as playing for Bulldogs.

Blackburn Eagles

Wild lose Bobby Caunce to local rivals Eagles, his ability to score goals will add grit to the team hopeful team up and gel well with another new signing Chris Jones who has so much experience in the game after starting at the age of five, and has a natural gift of placing the puck in the back of the net.

Alongside the two new signings, clubs most valuable player from last year’s team is Phill Crosby, who will be in his usual position of net-minder, when the statistics were released at the end of the season showed that Crosby save 90 percent of shots. In hockey terms he is a big deal for the club.

Coventry Blaze

Blaze last season being one of the contenders scrapping it out towards the end of the season for the vital play off and promotion games but unfortunately fell short and lost out to Widnes Wild, as some games towards the closing stages saw shortage on bench.

This season for the team looks to be better prepared with the resigning of Lui Brindle and Arthur Brookes, alongside one of many new signings for the club such as Matt Maurice who last season scored 13 goals in 14 games could prove vital for the club. A new net minder David Roxburgh who previously played for Solihull Barons, Connor Keyes makes a step from recreational Solihull Spartans with Danny Burke moving from Birmingham Rockets and Mark Morrison who previously played for the British Army Blades.

Deeside Dragons.

Last season Deeside Dragons just missed out on the vital fourth position in the league table for the promotion and relegation league and will look upon strengthen the squad to just that starting with a new Head Coach Lol Paul who was appointed by the new owners Red Hockey who have cash to splash out on for players.

The season will begin with Marc Lovell will once again wear the captaincy armband after extending another year on to his contract. A returnee from local rivals Widnes Wild former captain of the Dragons, Matt Wainwright returns after taken away from the den, the defence will be hard to break down with Wainwright back in the squad. Many have said Dragons will be the team to beat and be the main competitor for the title.

With another former Wild player joins the roaster of the Dragons is Fillip Supa who last season was the leading goal scorer for Wild, will add new development for the team of going forward as a club and hopefully be a contender in the league.

Altrincham Aces

What looks to be a new team isn’t so, rebranding and bringing back a very popular club who sadly folded over a decade ago. Last season the club were known as Manchester Minotaur’s playing in league one, sadly with demise of the team sadly folded and rebranded back into a team that was once very popular to the area with an intriguing nickname “Ace in the pack”

Brian Worrall is set to be Captain for the team this year with many familiar faces after wearing the Minotaur’s jersey will pull on an Aces shirt, with Tomas Revesz makes a move from local team Widnes Wild as assistant captain with John Murrary as alternate captain.

New name, new management, new strips and hopes for a fantastic season being a major competitor within the league.

Nigel said: “The team has a tough task ahead if it’s to live up to the iconic Ace’s name but I am sure the guy are more than up to it. The Ace’s aim this season is to provide a hard, fast and entertaining game of hockey whilst nurturing the young talent coming through the junior system, we want to enjoy our hockey again.

“The Aces are really focused on the task in hand and I am sure the hard work being put in preseason will pay off this coming season. Every team arriving at Altrincham will know they’ve got a game on their hands.”

Robyn said: “I believe that we need to bring back Altrincham Aces hockey like it used to be. Hard, fast and never say die. When you come to Altrincham you will need to expect to be in a game from the outset and that is what will happen.

“The difference in the team is phenomenal. Everyone has a positive outlook and are excited to be on the ice as much as possible. The team has trained together for at least three weeks now and we want to make winning a habit so we are going to start positively with three competitive games before the puck drops for the season.”

_60160413_425851_10150605453523874_506203873_8964563_354329116_nNottingham Lions

Just missing out to be a participant in the  play-off games as well as the vital promotion/relegation game against Whitley Warriors, however the club starts the new season with Luke Tomas returning for a fourth season as captain.

Also an important signing for the Lions is Tom Hovel returns as net minder last season he raked 91% in saves leaving him third in the overall standings.

Hull Jets

Hull Jets will start the season with a new senior side in the Hull Arena after the EIHL Hull Stingrays were replaced by the Hull Pirates in the EPL.  It has been a difficult off season as captain and leading scorer Jaime Cobley is making the step up with the Pirates.

Jess Cowie

Jess is a journalism student at the Univesity of Chester and is well known to Widnes Wild fans as the writer of match reports.

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