Building Craftsmen Dumfries-sponsored Solway Sharks picked up another two League points on Saturday against one of their main rivals for the fourth and final playoff spot – a 4-2 win over Billingham Stars at the Ice Bowl.

Sharks have been on a good run of form since resuming League play in January and are closing in on a top four finish and a third successive appearance in the NIHL playoff weekend.

This coming Saturday, 27 February, Solway Sharks entertain Solihull Barons at Dumfries Ice Bowl (7pm face off) in another crunch fixture as the regular season winds down in NIHL North.

Last weekend in front of a large Ice Bowl crowd the visitors stunned the Sharks by taking the lead on the game’s first attack – Callum Davies netting just 29 seconds into the contest.

Operating on a powerplay just on the five minute mark, Sharks drew level needing only seven seconds of the man advantage to score. Iain Bowie won the attacking face off, Duncan Speirs drop pass found Juraj Senko and the defenceman’s blueline shot found the back of the net at 5.05.

Midway through the period on another powerplay Sharks took the lead – another set play from the attacking zone, and this time Senko at the blueline faked the shot and instead passed to Joe Coulter at the side of the net and Solway number 9 made no mistake from close range for the go-ahead goal at 12.04. Steven Moore picked up the second assist on the play for the initial face off win.

The second period saw both sides with good scoring chances but the goalies were standing firm until late in the session when Billingham equalised. The teams were both a man short due to penalties as James Moss skated in from the wing to score past Kieran Hobbins just 77 seconds from the end of the period.

Billingham had the momentum at the start of period three and Sharks had to be strong defensively to keep the scores level. What turned out to be the game-winning goal came for the Sharks on 48 minutes. Joe Coulter set up captain Struan Tonnar, his shot was saved by Mark Watson and the rebound fell invitingly to Martin Cingel and he slammed the puck home.

As time wound down, Billingham had late powerplay chances of their own but as the man advantage expired, Duncan Speirs set Iain Bowie on a breakaway and Sharks man pulled a smart move in front of net to wrong-foot the goalie and open the net for the insurance marker at 55.54.

Kieran Hobbins was named man of the match for Solway with the win which takes the Sharks on to 23 points – just two behind fourth place with games in hand on everyone else in the table.

On Sunday the Sharks were due in Lancashire for the final meeting with League leaders Blackburn Hawks. However the team bus was held up on the M6 in the aftermath of Sunday’s fatal accident and the match was postponed and rearranged for Sunday 20 March.

Looking back on the weekend, Sharks head coach Martin Grubb said: “It was a huge win against Billingham and one that was all about the result rather than the performance.

“We came into the game needing to beat a close rival and the players knew it was all about being patient and showing character and that both teams would have to battle.

“I felt we played well in spells and we more importantly got the job done. We dominated the game and scoring chances and we were getting frustrated but we kept plugging away and got our reward in the third period and a good win.

“Kieran [Hobbins] made some huge saves at key times and it shows how much he is improving and giving us a chance to win and we did what we needed to do to help him out and we need to continue to show that pride in our own zone.”

The NIHL standings are incredibly tight heading into the last few weekends of the regular season. Blackburn have 48 points from 28 games, Whitley 43 from 27, Solihull 30 from 24 and Telford complete the top four with 25 points in 25 games. Billingham, Solway and Sutton all have 23 points from 26, 22 and 28 games respectively. Sheffield Spartans have 21 from 28 and the Senators are bottom of the pile with 26 winless games.

Sharks games in hand could prove crucial down the stretch, starting with Saturday’s game against Solihull Barons.

Looking ahead to the game, coach Martin Grubb added: “Solihull are playing very well right now and are scoring goals for fun so we know we have a huge task on our hands. The Barons have taken to this league very well and are well coached by Perry Doyle who has made them a better team and looks like he will steer his team to a playoff spot and they will be a real threat for anyone in the league.

“This yet another huge game in our season and one we again need to win to ensure we are able to be in the playoffs. We have to ensure we win our home games and the Barons game will be tough but we are ready for the battle.”

BCD Solway Sharks face off against Solihull Barons this Saturday at Dumfries Ice Bowl, face off is at 7pm with doors open from 6pm. Tickets are available on the night from Ice Bowl reception priced at £8 adults, £5 concessions and £16 for a family ticket (2+3).

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