Leach â€“ Ready for Final
Billingham Stars skipper Paul Windridge holds up last seasons NIHL One (N) Play Off Champions Trophy.
Ultimate Windows Billingham Stars face their two biggest games of their season as they bid to retain their NIHL One (N) Play Off championship title. This seasons showpiece finale games are a re-run of last seasonâ€™s epic encounters against the Blackburn Hawks. The action gets underway in Blackburn on Saturday night (17:45) with the return leg at Billingham Forums Ice Arena on Sunday night -face off 18:30.
The road to the finals saw Billingham dispatch Sutton Sting two weeks ago in an 8 goal thriller. The Hawks journey to the final saw the Lancashire side oust this seasons League Champions the Solway Sharks. Blackburn went behind at Solway (5-3) but in front of a large home crowd they pulled off a 6 â€“ 1 victory to end the Sharks excellent inaugural NIHL One (N) season.
Blackburn have gone 23 years without a major title and came closest in last yearâ€™s final , the Hawks went a goal ahead after a tight 2-1 first leg in Lancashire, it was followed by an exciting clash that saw the Stars battle back to an aggregate 7 â€“ 5 victory in an incident filled winner takes all climax on Teesside.
Fifteen Billingham players, who picked up the trophy on that fantastic night last year, will again be in action against the Hawks over the weekend.
Stars Coach Simon Leach confirms that his side are up for their big weekend.
â€œThe Guys know what we require; itâ€™s the biggest weekend of the season so everyone will be giving both games everything they have gotâ€.
â€œWe are under no illusion that both games will be extremely tough tests, Blackburn turned heads with their result against Solway they are a big game sideâ€.
â€œWe have sneaked two tight single goal wins in Blackburn, over the season but we were pushed all the way, the guys know to expect a hard physical battleâ€.
â€œWe will aim to maintain our discipline and avoid putting ourselves under any unnecessary penalty pressureâ€.
Stars will be without Australian Import Dave Manning who had to return home for the start of the Australian Ice hockey season, Coach Leach is confident that the Billingham bench has the depth to bolster Manningâ€™s former line;
â€œWe have worked on changes to that line over the last four or five training sessions, it became a priority as soon as it became apparent that the fixtures would drag on past Daveâ€™s return dateâ€
â€œIt has been a one game at a time approach all season, this weekend I will be taking it period by period
â€œThe vibe at Billingham is excellent, the lads are really up for the games, I expect physical games with no hanging back the guys will lay their bodies on the line for this trophy, I canâ€™t ask for anything moreâ€.
Blackburnâ€™s Graham Lomax feels that this could be the year of the Hawk;
â€œHaving been at Blackburn for seventeen years, and seen many changes in personnel over that time, I think at the moment we as a club are more stable than we have ever been. We now have experience mixed with youth, and for the short term we seem to be heading in the right direction.â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t that long ago that turmoil existed, resulting in relegation (ironically, saved by the temporary closure of Billingham Forum), and no one experienced this more than myself and Ollie. Having said that, it gave us both the opportunity to spread our wings and experience something new and different and we were greeted with open arms by the people of Teesside, and for that we will always be eternally gratefulâ€.
â€œAt the moment the league is way stronger and stable than it has ever been, and no one can argue that, and the standard improves year on year, I cannot grasp the fact that some clubs are pushing for change, there is clear criteria laid down prior to the start of the season, if you canâ€™t meet that, then, well thatâ€™s life, donâ€™t try and move the goalpostsâ€.
With a large crowd anticipated Stars management urge fans to get to the game early, doors will be opening at 5.30pm for a 6.30pm face off. Tickets available on the night at the TFM Ice Arena reception â€“ Adults Â£7, Concessions (U16s â€“ OAPs â€“ Students) Â£4, Family Ticket (2 Adults + 2 Children) Â£20.