Final Period Blast Sees Off Warriors
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars hit three goals in under four minutes to see off local rivals Whitley Warriors in a hard-fought National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash at the Forum on Sunday evening, eventually running out 6-2 winners.
Billingham welcomed their North East neighbours knowing their place at the end-of-season play-off competition was already mathematically certain, the Warriors defeat at Solway the previous evening sealing the deal. Whitley by contrast are still fighting to climb away from sixth place and iced an almost full squad, netminder Richie Lawson and talented youngster Callum Queenan the notable absentees. The Stars were missing defensemen Andy Finn and Garry Dowd but welcomed back Jamie Pattison, playing his first game of the year after recovering from a serious shoulder injury. The opening exchanges saw both sides test their opposing netminders, Billinghamâ€™s Thomas Stuart-Dant going close in the first minute after being put through by Michael Bowman, then Warriorsâ€™ Ben Richards getting a shot on James Flavell in the Stars net just over a minute later. The home side stepped up a gear and got the early breakthrough when Michael Elder one-timed a pass from Callum Davies from behind the net to beat Whitley goaltender Mark Turnbull on his glove side in the fourth minute. Far from setting the Stars on their way however, the goal seemed to galvanise the visitors who began to take the game to their hosts. Whitley were back on level terms in the seventh minute, Dean Hollandâ€™s slapshot from just inside the blue line going straight through Flavell, the Warriors in the ascendancy and Billingham hanging on somewhat as the period wore on. Both sidesâ€™ rhythm was interrupted by a run of minor penalties, but neither side could capitalise and the session ended all-square.
The second period continued in much the same vein, Whitley applying the pressure but finding Flavell in imperious form between the pipes. The Stars were handed another power play opportunity in the 26th minute when Rob Wilson was called for boarding, and this time the home side punished the offence in fine style as captain Paul Windridge tapped in a Bowman pass at the far post with less than half a minute left on the penalty to put the Teessidersâ€™ noses in front. Still this did not deflate the Warriors, but time and again they found themselves denied by Flavell. Unable to find a way through, the teams went into the interval with Billingham still holding a slender advantage.
The opening four minutes of the final session saw the Stars score three quick goals to change the game completely. Just 17 seconds in, defenseman Tom Keeleyâ€™s speculative shot from the red line caught Turnbull cold, the puck going through his pads for 3-1. Less than a minute later Callum Davies fired into the roof of the Whitley net, prompting Warriors coach Simon Leach to call a time out to rally his men. It was Billingham who came back out all guns blazing, Richie Thornton one-timing a lovely set-up pass from Bowman into the unguarded net with Turnbull covering his other post and failing to get back across his crease in time. Eventually the visitors pulled one back through Ben Richards in the 47th minute, but any hopes of a late comeback were killed off less than two minutes later when Bowman sniped one from the right-hand face off circle to put the game beyond Whitleyâ€™s reach. The Warriors never gave up chasing the game, but the Stars comfortably counted down the clock to see off their local rivals, 6-2 the final score.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was James Flavell.
Michael Bowman 1+2; Callum Davies 1+1; Paul Windridge 1+0; Richie Thornton 1+0; Michael Elder 1+0; Tom Keeley 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+2; Thomas Stuart-Dant 0+2
SOG James Flavell 46 (21 / 10 / 15)
Dean Holland 1+0; Ben Richards 1+0; Alex Lawson 0+1; Martin Crammond 0+1; Dan Pye 0+1
SOG Mark Turnbull 43 (11 / 16 / 16)
Billinghamâ€™s Director of Coaching Terry Ward revealed that some dressing room â€˜wordsâ€™ had the desired effect to see off the Warriors:
â€œWe expected Whitley to come and give us a game because they are a good side, I think people thought after the last game at home that it would be a walk in the park and it definitely wasnâ€™t that. In the first period they played really well and Flav had to come up with some big saves.
In the second we took our foot off the gas a little bit and let them into the game. They worked hard – they wanted that game badly believe me – the work rate they put in that second period was all credit to Whitley.
But itâ€™s game over when you score goals that fast! We had a few words in the dressing room to make sure the lads were up for the third period and it seemed to work. We got out there and took our shots and did what we had to do – a strange goal from Tom Keeley with a shot from the red line that caught the goalie cold set us on our way.
Sutton have got to come here next week and get a result. The lads are aware of that and we donâ€™t want to give them a result after the spanking we took down there. Thereâ€™s a bit of revenge coming for that one I feel.
Theyâ€™re always tough games at Whitley Bay, tonight they’ve given us two tough periods, we got away from them a little bit in the third but weâ€™re expecting a tough game in Whitley because thatâ€™s what we always get.
It was good to see Jamie Pattison back â€“ heâ€™s been out a long time with a bad injury then working away from home so itâ€™s great to get him back and at just the right time.â€
Whitley Head Coach Leach could not fault his hardworking side but acknowledged that luck is not with them:
â€œWe came with a positive attitude today – for the first two periods I thought we were the better team. We had a lot of chances that we havenâ€™t put away. A crazy five or six minutes in the third period has ultimately made the score line a lot larger that it should have been.
Weâ€™ve talked about our lack of luck for a long time – when youâ€™re down there fighting and weâ€™re getting frustrated because weâ€™re not putting the puck away when we get the chance – I keep telling the guys to keep working hard and keep being in the right places, something will change sometime. But unfortunately we just havenâ€™t been getting it and as every game goes by itâ€™s natural that peopleâ€™s confidence starts to drop. But this weekend and also against Blackburn I havenâ€™t seen a drop in confidence because we are still creating a lot of chances but unfortunately at crucial times weâ€™re not able to finish the opportunities that weâ€™re creating. The boys are frustrated but I canâ€™t fault their effort and determination and their togetherness â€“ theyâ€™ve really stuck together and they havenâ€™t got what theyâ€™ve deserved.â€
Billinghamâ€™s final home game of the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 regular season is against Sutton Sting next Sunday 15th March, face off 6.30pm.
National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1:
Manchester Minotaurs 3 Sheffield Spartans 5
Solway Sharks 5 Whitley Warriors 3
Sutton Sting 0 Blackburn Hawks 3
Manchester Minotaurs 5 Solway Sharks 13
Billingham Stars 6 Whitley Warriors 2
Photos courtesy of Linda Crabtree.