Miserable Weekend for Depleted Stars
A gruelling weekend for Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars saw them slump to back-to-back defeats, first at the hands of league leaders Solway Sharks followed by a bruising battle against a very physical Blackburn Hawks.
Stars knew their trip to Solway would be a test as all younger members of the squad were on U16s and U18s duties. Injuries to Mike Elder and James Flavell saw James McCabe return to the Stars bench for the first time this season.
Struan Tonnar opened for Solway, shooting home in the second minute, before adding a second in the sixteenth. With Stars not looking comfortable and trying to adjust their lines an Iain Bowie wrist shot a minute later put the Sharks 3-0 up by the close of the first. A second period strike from Craig Thurston made it four unanswered goals for the Sharks. Stars injury problems were compounded when Stephen Wallace and Cal Davies could not ice, and the Billingham lines were decimated.
An early third period snipe saw Iain Bowie take it to 5-0 before Marty Davies forced the puck home to score a consolation marker for the Stars. Michael Bowman collected Billinghamâ€™s man of the match at Solway.
Sharks Martin Grubb shared his thoughts on the game and his side’s performance:
“We had a practice and a chat last night and we said that we had to start the New Year with a bang. We knew that last weekend we let ourselves down, not playing for 4 and a half weeks really hurt us. We practiced well last night and we knew what we had to do, we knew we were up against a very good Billingham team and weâ€™d have to be up for it. It may have been a case of who executed it better or who wanted it more who won the game, and Iâ€™m just pleased that weâ€™re back winning and playing as we can.Â
Anytime you get a three-goal cushion it gives you something to play with, something to defend, I think the Stars were a little bit shell-shocked because they were feeling their way into the game.
Obviously the 3 goals helped us and they were well-taken goals â€“ I think we showed that offensively weâ€™re getting back on the ball. Most pleasing for us, although we lost that late goal, was that defensively we were solid all night and we started to look a lot like our old selves.
We brought Pavol back â€“ heâ€™s somebody thatâ€™s accustomed to how we play and to me, we trust him. Last week he looked really frustrated â€“ heâ€™s not played since he last played for us 3 years ago â€“ but tonight we saw that he and Bowie are just going to click. He moves the puck well and his strength down low when he holds onto the puck and he twists and turns, he brings people into the game. Weâ€™re really pleased to have him back â€“ itâ€™s difficult at times with the one import on the ice rule, youâ€™ve got to be smart there, but thatâ€™s our roster done now until the end of the season â€“ weâ€™ll have to go with it and see what we can do.
Any team on any given night can win â€“ Sheffield certainly proved that last week when they played a tight game and got the points against us. I think the only team grinding results out at the minute are Sutton, weâ€™ll have to keep an eye on them but theyâ€™ve got a tough run nearer the end of the month. It keeps everybodyâ€™s motivation and interest up in the league â€“ from our point of view we want to be the team that maintains consistency more than anyone else and grinds out wins, I think the team that does that are going to end up winning the league.”
Less than 24 hours later the Stars faced a full strength Blackburn Hawks at Billingham Forum. With injuries picked up the night before further depleting the Stars, the squad were boosted by the return of the younger players and James Moss, however Andy Munroe arrived back on Teesside with a vomiting bug and could not dress. Wallace, Cal Davies and Elder all remained sidelined and although dressed James Flavell was not comfortable to start.
A flying start saw three goals in the first two minutes, a Blackburn opener from Adam Brittle was cancelled out 11 seconds later as Stars Jack Emerson found the net, the blistering pace saw Daniel Mackriel put the visitors ahead 36 seconds later. A bruising first period ensued with both teams dishing out some big hits. Blackburn Canadian import Jonathon Adams speared Garry Dowd who promptly dropped his gloves ready to go toe-to-toe with Adams, the Blackburn import proved he was no fighter as he curled up awaiting the officials assistance. Blackburn increased the pressure in the Stars zone with Ric Hughes adding their third and an Adam Brittle fourth by the first break.
A shocking second session from the Stars saw the Hawks take the period 5 â€“ 0 with Billingham only testing Daniel Brittle in the Blackburn net 5 times. Mark Watson was left exposed numerous times taking 18 shots and the pressure of the weekend was mounting on the Billingham goalie.
The third started with Flavell in the pipes at Watsonâ€™s request and although the Hawks kept up the pressure they were unable to increase their haul. Some nasty hits to the head from the Hawks went unpunished in the third with both Jack Davies and Scott Ward on the receiving end. Stars skipper Paul Windridge was unable to complete the period after a crunching hit from Hawksâ€™ Chris Arnone, as the clock counted down to a 9-1 Blackburn win and closed a miserable weekend for Teesside ice hockey.
Stars Head Coach Terry Ward felt it had been a very difficult weekend:
“A very poor weekend for the team â€“ we obviously had a lot of injuries, we went to Solway and picked up more injuries to bring into a home game against Blackburn and be embarrassed by the score line, purely down to injured bodies and then having to play others out of position because there was no one else to take those places.
It was a flying start for Solway, but also we hadnâ€™t had a game for a fortnight, weâ€™ve trained once in three weeks due to ice unavailability, so we were rink-rusty in the first period. Solway had played 2 games the week before and they were out of the traps fast and caught us, there were some nice goals credit to them. We came back and battled hard in the next two periods, in the last period we came out and we got some kind of respect back.
Against Blackburn we were at sea, we lost Andy Munroe taken ill just before the game, which upset the balance defensively. We rely a lot on Andy, heâ€™s an excellent defenseman, we had to replace him with a couple of youngsters and that inexperience against an experienced side like Blackburn counts for a lot.
I thought Andy Finn was absolutely fantastic tonight and he was good last night too. I thought Andy Munroe played his best game in a Billingham shirt at Solway â€“ he was absolutely awesome.Â
We are looking out for replacements to strengthen the squad. Weâ€™re hoping to have players coming back also â€“ weâ€™re hopeful to have Mike Elder back next week and weâ€™ve just seen Flavell play a period tonight, so we will start to strengthen. Mark Watson has done a great job but our defensive quality has let him down and left him wide open.
This week will be about picking up the pieces, weâ€™ll get everybody back into training, we must get that winning mentality back. Weâ€™ve got to give everything we have in next weekendâ€™s games.”
Stars Commercial Director Allen Flavell shared Ward’s disappointment:
“We knew we were up against it tonight with so many injuries â€“ it was a question of damage limitation but the damage was higher than we would have liked. We had a game plan but quite quickly that went out of the window. In the last period we managed to hold it at nil-all but it was too little, too late. Weâ€™ve really got to look at ourselves and see where we go from here.
Weâ€™ve got a few irons in the fire and we are looking to bring somebody in â€“ itâ€™s not as easy as it sounds though, thereâ€™s not that many people queuing up to come to Billingham. We are trying to entice one or two players here to strengthen the forwards â€“ we have a reasonable defence but we need a little bit more offence. Weâ€™re doing our best to secure the services of somebody but itâ€™s not quite as easy as it seems.
Hopefully next week weâ€™ll have a couple more of the lads back â€“ James Flavell wasnâ€™t on top form tonight, heâ€™s still suffering from a couple of cracked ribs, we were trying to rest him this weekend, we didnâ€™t really want to play him but we put him in for the last period just to give Mark a bit of respite. It wasnâ€™t really fair to the lad, he was punch-drunk by the end of the second. So hopefully James will be back next week as will Mikey Elder â€“ we had a couple of fitness tests with him this week but he wasnâ€™t right.
Cal Davies damaged a finger yesterday and itâ€™s still very sore. We were right up against it tonight â€“ Stephen Wallace suffered an injury so he was missing â€“ weâ€™ll see what heâ€™s like for next weekend. Right at the eleventh hour Andy Munroe had to withdraw with sickness, so we were really short-benched but hopefully next week a few more of those players will be back.”