An Opening Night To Forget
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars had an â€˜opening night to forgetâ€™ as they slumped to a 0-4 defeat against reigning League champions Blackburn Hawks in their opening National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 encounter on Sunday evening at the Billingham Forum.
Billingham went into the game short on defence but full of confidence after a preseason campaign that seemed to suggest that the Stars were ready to hit the ground running. Blackburn, with seven new faces in the squad, were an unknown quantity and fresh from a two week break. The title holders were quick out of the blocks, captain Chris Arnone forcing a pad save from James Flavell in the Stars net with a little over a minute played. Billingham responded well, Swedish forward Dennis BostrÃ¶m denied by Hawksâ€™ netminder Daniel Brittle in the third minute, and Chris Sykes seeing his effort ping off the bar a minute later. A Brittle stick save prevented Michael Elder from scoring in the 13th minute, however by this point it was the visitors having the better of the play, their reward coming just before the 15-minute mark when Tom King one-timed an Ollie Lomax pass from behind the goal into the bottom corner of Flavellâ€™s net. The lead was doubled just over a minute later, new Canadian signing RJay Berra backhanding into the roof of the net with Flavell already down and committed. Blackburn looked out of sight in controversial fashion in the 18th minute â€“ with Luke Brown sitting out a slashing minor, BostrÃ¶m looked to be breaking clear which would have left him alone on goal. His skate through the centre of the Hawks defence seemed to be illegally impeded but the officials gave no call, the puck returned to the Stars defensive zone just seconds later for the returning Richard Bentham to roof his shot past Flavell for 0-3 and angry protests from the Billingham bench.
Again the home side began the middle session brightly, James Moss skating through most of the opposition in the 21st minute but could only hit the bar. Blackburn hit penalty trouble and handed the Stars five power play opportunities, however Billingham could not work an opening, the Hawks penalty kill unit working so effectively that the Stars could only register a single shot during their spells with the man advantage. Blackburn missed their one golden opportunity just before the buzzer, the period closing with no further additions to the score.
The teams continued to nullify each other in the opening exchanges of the final stanza, with neither side offering any significant threat until the 49th minute when Berra left the Billingham defence static and finished coolly with another top-shelf effort. Moss was foiled twice by Brittle in the 52nd minute, before the Hawks were awarded a penalty shot a minute later, Jordan Bannon going down under an illegal challenge from Jamie Pattison. Flavell stood up well and saved Bannonâ€™s penalty comfortably to leave the score at 0-4. The Stars rallied late on to try and break Brittleâ€™s shut out but could find no way through, Blackburn leaving the Forum with both points.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Luke Brown.
SOG James Flavell 36 (14 / 10 / 12)
RJay Berra 2+0; Tom King 1+0; Richard Bentham 1+0; Adam Brittle 0+2; Aaron Davies 0+1; Jordan Bannon 0+1; Ollie Lomax 0+1; Ben Simister 0+1
SOG Daniel Brittle 30 (12 / 8 / 10)
Billinghamâ€™s Director of Coaching Terry Ward was not impressed with the Stars special play units as he bemoaned a poor first period performance:
â€œIt was an opening night to forget. We didn’t really show up in the first period, it was dreadful. A 3-0 period to Blackburn – they worked hard and outplayed us. In the second and third we came out and worked a bit harder to try and get ourselves back into the game but it was too little, too late. The game was lost by our special team plays, our power plays just weren’t up to scratch at all. The first three power plays we didn’t register a shot, it was abysmal.
It wasn’t opening night nerves. Blackburn came with a game plan and got straight into it. Then it was really difficult for us to get back into it. They came fully prepared for the game and took it to us. We didn’t handle it well.
It’ll be a great game up in Solway next Saturday. We’re two good hockey-playing teams and we’ll be more prepared for that one. When the puck drops on that first period I think we’ll be ready this time round. The guys all know what’s needed, we’ve spoken about it in the dressing room, it’s no good playing for 40 minutes.
Mikey’s put a great check in but unfortunately he’s stumbled back over, went into the boards with his foot and gone over on his ankle. We’ll see how it goes.â€
New Hawks coach Daniel MacKriel was understandably delighted to see his new-look side come away with the first two points of the season:
â€œIt was a good result for us. We played very well in periods one and three. We took too many penalties in the second period but we defended well whilst short-handed. Considering we’ve got seven new signings I think we’ve done pretty well today.
I just said to the boys we haven’t played for a fortnight, we’re still blowing off a bit of the summer but there were signs that we can push on which is encouraging.
In a way it was an easy decision for me to make when I was asked to take over as coach, but in other ways it wasn’t! It’s a club that means a lot to me – I moved up here when I was 17 and had four great seasons, they’ve always looked after me. Coming back to play and coach there were discussions with the family obviously but overall it was an easy decision.
It’s going to be a great league this season. Solway look strong on paper although they’ve been beaten tonight by Whitley. Whitley look very very good on paper. Telford are going to be good, Solihull are going to be good. Sheffield’s second team I don’t know too much about but there’s no bankers in this league. You can’t look at the fixtures and say there’s a guaranteed two points. You’re going to have to fight for every inch. It’s going to be whoever wants it, plays the best and makes the fewest mistakes on the day that’ll get the victories.â€
Billingham travel to Solway Sharks for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixture at Dumfries Ice Bowl next Saturday 12th September, face off 7pm
Billingham Stars 0 Blackburn Hawks 4
Whitley Warriors 7 Solway Sharks 4
Images courtesy of Peter Mallon