March 12, 2018

Three of the four league titles were decided on Sunday as the National League season reaches its conclusion with no shortage of drama.

While most eyes were on the Division 1 title races north and south, the first winners of the evening were Sutton Sting who clinched NIHL North 2 (Laidler).  Sutton won 7-5 at home to Altrincham Aces to edge towards the title, then news came from Widnes that the Wild had beaten Hull Jets which meant the title was confirmed for the Sting.

In South 1 (Britton), Basingstoke Bison and Peterborough Phantoms were deadlocked in the standings and their head to head series so it was likely the title would be decided on goal difference.  Bison started slowly on Saturday at home to Invicta while Peterborough were four goals up on Streatham in the first period – advantage to Phantoms.

But the Redhawks battled back to tie at 4-4 while Bison played the middle period of their lives to run rampant on Invicta, eventually running out 10-1 winners.  Although Peterborough recovered to win 6-4, Basingstoke were left with the task of winning by any means possible on Sunday in Cardiff to win the title.  A 1-1 first period may have caused a few nerves but the Bison took control from the middle session and finished up winning 8-1 over the Fire and seal the Britton division crown.

The most dramatic series of the weekend was in North 1 (Moralee) Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs were not only neck and neck at the top of the table, they played a home and home series over the final weekend.  Bonus points for the fixtures setter!

This all-Yorkshire affair saw both rinks sell out ahead of the games, meaning around 5,000 fans in total saw the title deciders.

Saturday’s game in Sheffield had an early goal from Steeldogs’ Jamie Spurr, which remarkably proved to be the only goal. The play went back and forth but Adam Long (Hull) and February player of the month Dmitri Zimozdra (Sheffield) kept the shots at bay.  Dima was to finish with a 41-shot shutout to take the title down to the final night.

So to Hull Arena, the most versatile arena, a packed rink saw a monumental see-saw game.  Sheffield jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Hull levelled before the first break at 2-2.

Another double from Sheffield made it 4-2 before Hull player coach Jason Hewitt responded with a quick pair of goals and it was 4-4.  Breathless.

Three minutes from the end of the middle frame, Liam Charnock’s goal gave Steeldogs a 5-4 interval lead despite being outshot 34-16.

The final frame was tense, with clear chances limited and teams playing not to make a mistake.  The big moment came 11.38 from time as Hewitt was thrown out for abuse of official and Dogs had a five minute powerplay.  Adrian Palak netted the insurance marker at 51.17 and the Steeldogs saw out the remaining time and on the back of another 39 saves from Dima, won the game and lifted the NIHL North 1 Moralee championship.

Congratulations to all winners, focus in division 1 moves to the playoffs while North 2 are still battling to complete their postseason lineup and South 2 (Wilkinson) look like another title race down to the wire.

It’s not half bad this NIHL, is it?

#oneNIHL #NIHLPlayoffs #NIHLChampionshipSeries