Bragging Rights At Stake!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars and local rivals Whitley Warriors do battle in the final Tyne-Tees derby of the regular season at the Forum on Sunday evening with the Stars needing a miracle to make this yearâ€™s National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 playoffs.
The Warriors arrive on Teesside having already secured their playoff berth and second place in the League, a massive turnaround in fortunes having finished second-from-bottom last time around and only remaining in Division 1 by virtue of a relegation playoff victory. Much of their success can be attributed to the return of local hero David Longstaff as Player-Coach, not only getting the best out of his players on the ice, â€˜Lobbyâ€™ is also likely to finish the season as top points scorer. Whitley have chased Blackburn Hawks all the way, but the Lancashire outfit will ensure the League title is theirs for a second season with a point at home to Solway Sharks on Sunday evening. The Warriors faltered last weekend when they travelled to Solihull Barons with a short bench and came away on the wrong end of a 6-4 score line. Longstaff will hope to ice a full squad against Billingham, but will have to do without import Andre Payette as he serves the last game of a three-match suspension.
The Stars have a sliver of hope remaining, but the reality is that their playoff dream may well be over by the time the derby faces off. Solway Sharks take on Telford Tigers in Dumfries tomorrow night in a double points fixture â€“ win this and the Scots cannot be caught for that vital fourth spot. Billingham will keep going regardless, and will want to restore local pride after seeing their Tyneside neighbours take five out of six points in their previous three encounters this season. The Stars remain without Tom Keeley and Jack Davies, whilst the ever-present Luke Brown looks set to miss his first game of the season with an upper body injury. Jamie Pattison could also be unavailable.
Billinghamâ€™s Director of Coaching Terry Ward knows that his sideâ€™s destiny is out of their hands:
â€œWe need some massive favours from other teams now if we are to make the playoffs, but you never know, this League has been so unpredictable all season and every team is capable of beating any other on any given night. We will keep an eye on other results but we cannot influence them, we will see where we are at the end of the weekend.
Regardless of League position, this is a local derby and we want to win it. Every game between us has been very very close so far this season and maybe the Warriors have had the luck with some decisions. They are an excellent side but I think we have proved that we are more than a match for them and I fully expect Sundayâ€™s game to be just as close as the others. We want to make sure our fans have something to brag about â€“ itâ€™s going to be a large crowd and we want to perform.â€
The Stars take on Whitley Warriors in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 at the Forum on Sunday evening, face off 6.30pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at Â£10 adults, Â£6 concessions, Â£30 family [2+2].
Solway Sharks v Telford Tigers NIHL, 7pm Saturday
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, 5.45pm Sunday
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, 6.30pm Sunday
Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree.