NIHL North News
Though only a month has passed since playoff weekend, there has already been several adjustments made to teams in NIHL North Division One, with much discussion surrounding the departure of key players from Moralee champions Blackburn Hawks.
The news that player-coach Daniel MacKriel would part company with the Lancashire outfit following family commitments, created a vacancy which was soon snapped up by former Sutton Sting Head Coach Matt Darlow. With his coaching experience ranging from the ENL to the EPL, Darlow takes the reins of a club which has been at its best in recent seasons to become back-to-back NIHL North Moralee Conference and Playoff champions.
However, just days after this appointment, it was announced that captain Chris Arnone would follow in MacKriel’s footsteps, having become a father himself, ultimately leaving the Hawks without one of their strongest defencemen and top points scorers.
Meanwhile, the club were dealt a further blow when confirmation was received that former Hawk Luke Brittle would not return after a spell with Spanish side S.A.D. Majadahonda, following the forward’s decision to move back to his hometown where he will line up with EPL outfit Telford Tigers in September. It would seem that this decision prompted the remaining Brittle brothers to rethink their future with the Hawks as long-serving netminder and player-assistant coach Daniel Brittle broke the news two days later that he would not play an eighth consecutive season with Blackburn and, as anticipated, NIHL North’s top points scorer and alternate captain Adam Brittle was next to make for the exit, also returning to his hometown after three fruitful campaigns at Blackburn Ice Arena.
In addition to these departures, Salford-born forward Lee Pollitt announced that he would not sign on for another season with the Hawks as he prepares to switch to Canadian side Temiscaming Titans, an opportunity too good to miss out on in the early stages of his ice hockey career. Though Blackburn have undoubtedly lost several of their key players over the last two weeks, Darlow has also managed to secure gifted forward Richard Bentham for the 2016-17 campaign alongside sturdy shot stopper Stuart Ashton, who is likely to become Blackburn’s first choice between the pipes in the absence of Brittle, youngster Corey Stones and defencemen Bobby Streetly and Ollie Lomax.
Taking the time to discuss his recent appointment at the club, Head Coach Matt Darlow noted:
“It’s a pleasure being at Blackburn and part of the Silver Blades group of teams. I moved to forward my coaching career and to take on the challenge of rebuilding the Hawks. I knew from day one that many of the team were moving on in hockey and in life so there have been no surprises to me since joining. My aims are to build a team around my coaching philosophy of combining creative offence with structured defence.
“My main aim for season one with the Hawks is to build a sustainable platform for the years ahead and to build a positive team environment where our players and staff enjoy coming to the rink each and every day. I am a process-focused coach with an emphasis on getting the details right in order to play good hockey and entertain our fans.”
In other news, Sutton Sting player-coach John Ross has replaced Martin White as Head Coach of Sheffield Spartans with a view to improve on the side’s league placement playoff place last season which saw the Yorkshire outfit defeat Widnes Wild to remain in the Moralee Conference.
With unpredictable form proving to be detrimental in the early stages of the Spartans’ 2015-16 campaign, consistency further hampered the team’s efforts as the side racked up ten consecutive league defeats from mid-January onwards, a 6-1 loss against Solihull Barons marking the end of a dismal season for the Sheffield squad.
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