Four-Star Performance Sees Off Spartans
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars picked up from where they left off last weekend with another all-round team performance to see off early National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 League leaders Sheffield Spartans 4-0 at the Billingham Forum on Sunday evening.
Although missing defenseman Richie Thornton and the in-form Scott Ward, Billingham came into the game with a full squad with Tom Keeley returning and the bench boasting five players from the new under-20s squad. Pacesetters Sheffield travelled to the Forum with three lines and the confidence that a 14-goal haul gives, the South Yorkshiremen having put sister side the Senators to the sword over two games last weekend. Just as last Saturday against Solway, the Stars came flying out of the blocks, barely half a minute on the clock when Chris Sykes broke away to test Brandon Stones in the Spartans net and force a good save from the visiting keeper. Billingham kept up the pressure and got the early breakthrough when Sykes picked out Keeley on the blue line from behind the net, Keeleyâ€™s blast too good for Stones this time and the home side 1-0 up with only two minutes gone. Sheffield harried their way back into it and an evenly matched, if scrappy, period followed, the better of the chances falling to the home side. James Moss pinged a shot off the bar in the 12th minute and danger man Dennis BostrÃ¶m made some space for himself to turn and shoot in the 14th minute, but his effort was straight at Stones and an easy save. The Spartans did get the puck in the net in the 17th minute, but the â€˜goalâ€™ was immediately waved off for an obvious high stick, a call unchallenged by the Sheffield bench.
The interval team talk seemed to galvanise the visitors and it was they that looked the brighter of the two teams in the early exchanges of the middle period. They failed to put away any of the chances that they created however, and were made to pay in the 24th minute when Sykes skated from his own zone and fired into the top corner from an impossible-looking angle for 2-0. Again the Spartans fought back and seemed to be in the ascendency when an incident in the 29th minute led to Starsâ€™ Jamie Pattison and Sheffield captain Ollie Barron going toe-to-toe, both men incurring roughing double minors with an additional cross-checking penalty handed out to the Spartans forward. Billingham looked a different team from this point and got the third just over a minute later with another standout goal from BostrÃ¶m into the roof on Stonesâ€™ net. The Sheffield keeper was desperately unfortunate to concede the fourth in the 35th minute as he pulled off a stunning point-blank save to deny Sykes. In the process he lost his stick, the puck rebounding from behind the net and finding BostrÃ¶m unmarked, the Swede making no mistake from four metres.
A scoreless third session was much more even, both sides having spells of pressure but unable to find the back of the net. BostrÃ¶m almost bagged what would have been his hat trick when he hit the bar in the 43rd minute, and Sykes was unlucky not to do better with a snap shot on the turn in the 47th minute. Moss went close on the backhand in the 53rd minute, but it was not all one-way traffic and the Spartans were not without chances of their own. James Flavell was imperious in the Stars net however, and a reflex save in the 54th minute to make sure of his shut out summed up the night for the visitors, the game finishing 4-0 to move Billingham up to third in the League.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Jamie Pattison.
Dennis BostrÃ¶m 2+1; Chris Sykes 1+2; Tom Keeley 1+0; Michael Bowman 0+2; Andrew Munroe 0+1
SOG James Flavell 36 (11 / 15 / 10)
SOG Brandon Stones 38 (11 / 13 / 14)
Billinghamâ€™s General Manager Allen Flavell was quick to praise his side but still sees areas to improve:
â€œIt was an excellent win – it was a great performance tonight. I still think we gave Sheffield too many chances and if it hadn’t been for some decent goaltending we might’ve lost that shut out. We should have taken more chances as well, the score line should have been greater, but 4-0 – we’re pleased with that result.
There was some lovely screening going on in front of the keeper tonight and we picked our spots. Sykesy put one right into the top corner, a lovely goal, and Dennis went through a crowd of players. He was unlucky not to get a hat trick, he pinged the ironwork later on in the game and he really deserved to get a hat trick – that was his best game so far.
Maybe the two preseason challenge games lulled us into a false sense of security because we came out against Blackburn and we just weren’t at the races. They were faster than we were, they were fitter, they were first to everything. Last week we seemed to take that on board, it was a bit of a wake-up call. We went to Solway and although they had some netminder issues we still deserved the win – the goals that they got were quite fortuitous. It was a good team performance and we built on that tonight. We’ve got a road trip to Sheffield next up and then Telford at home in two weeks’ time… they’ll be tough games.
We’ve now got five players who are playing senior Stars hockey and also U20s this year. We’ve also got a group of U18s who are playing up for the U20s. They had a fantastic win yesterday 9-4 over in Manchester which was a great start to their season and things are looking very positive. On the whole as a club we’ve started off really positive – let’s hope we can keep it going.
We’ve got a few empty spots as the League progresses – in December we’ve got quite a layoff and then again in February. Unfortunately there was supposed to be a Cup competition but nothing was sorted and trying to get ice time organised now would be very difficult. We need to fill some of those blanks in otherwise it’s too long a layoff for the lads to not be playing competitive hockey.
Solihull and Telford I’m sure are going to be very competitive teams. The Senators seem to be the weak link in the chain at the moment but possibly they’ll strengthen as the weeks go past. But all the games are going to be tough – Whitley have obviously strengthened up the road but they were held to a 3-all draw down at Telford and sneaked a win tonight 2-1 – it’s going to be tough for everyone.â€
Sheffield Head Coach Martin White was left to rue what he felt were too many missed chances:
â€œIt was finishing again for us today – it’s been our bugbear for the past three seasons. Once we can start putting the puck away from the chances we create then it wouldn’t have been the score line it was. I thought it was a fairly even contest – we coughed a soft one right at the start which we’re not happy about, then it was a decent first – we created but we didn’t finish. There was a spell in the second where we let a few in in a bit of a bunch – we tried to shut down Dennis and move him to the outside. The third was a bit of a melee, it came out to him, bobbled over the D, we weren’t quick enough to move out to him and shut him down – you give him those opportunities and he’ll put them away as we saw in preseason, he’ll snipe from anywhere and go bar down if you’re not on him. We’re a bit flat in the dressing room – we were in the game all the way through but we just couldn’t put it away. Credit to Billingham they took the chances they had, we know what we need to work on on Thursday nights for the next few weeks – it’ll be finishing practice!
We’ve been lucky enough to get hold of a couple of imports this season which is a first for us. It’s given us more depth and allowed us to rejig the lines a little bit. Martin is a true defensive defenseman – he shows that he can rush when he needs to. Losing Jon Kirk to Hull was a big loss for us – happy that he’s had the chance to go to the pros – but Martin has covered that. Maros coming in just before the season started has given us that extra dimension up front.â€
The Stars are not in action next weekend â€“ they face Sheffield Spartans at iceSheffield on Saturday 3rd October followed by a home tie against League new boys Telford Tigers at the Billingham Forum on Sunday 4th October.
Solway Sharks 12 Sheffield Senators 1
Telford Tigers 3 Whitley Warriors 3
Billingham Stars 4 Sheffield Spartans 0
Blackburn Hawks 5 Sutton Sting 0
Whitley Warriors 2 Solihull Barons 1