Play-Offs Within Sight for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars host local rivals Whitley Warriors in a vital National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash on Sunday evening with both sides desperate for the points for very different reasons.
Whitley find themselves second-from-bottom and facing a potential relegation play-off series against an opponent from Division 2 if they fail to climb out of the bottom two. The Warriors have had a turbulent campaign, badly affected by injuries and a fixture schedule that has been less than kind to the Tynesiders. Having had just one game in the last three weeks, Whitley will play their remaining five fixtures over the next three weekends, starting with a tough road double header which sees them take on Solway Sharks in Dumfries tomorrow night before making the trip down the A19 for Sundayâ€™s derby game. Every point is crucial as the Warriors attempt to drag themselves to safety, however their away record this season against both Solway and the Stars is poor and they will need to find some form quickly if they are to take anything away from either game.
Billingham by contrast are looking to make absolutely certain of qualifying for the end-of-season play-offs, with their target of second place still well within their grasp. A single point is enough, however if their North East neighbours fail to win in Dumfries tomorrow evening then the Stars will go into the game knowing that they are mathematically certain of their place. The points are vital to the Starsâ€™ cause however, as a higher placed League finish will ensure they avoid favourites Blackburn in the semi-finals. Billingham have been boosted by the return to training this week of long-term absentee Jamie Pattison as he comes back from a shoulder injury, and import Thomas Stuart-Dant has recovered after suffering a bad gash to the mouth during last weekâ€™s defeat at the Hawks. Michael Elder also left that game with a knee injury and remains a doubt for Sunday’s clash. Garry Dowd will not start against his former club as he fights to overcome an ankle injury, but the Stars have no other concerns and should ice a full bench for what is sure to be a full-blooded encounter.
Billinghamâ€™s Director of Coaching Terry Ward believes his Stars should have too much for the beleaguered Warriors:
â€œWe know this is going to be a real battle. We both need the points and weâ€™ll both be prepared to fight hard for them, so Iâ€™m expecting a fiery game. Last time out we gave Whitley a good hiding here and Iâ€™m sure that will be playing on their minds. But I know we have the better squad â€“ weâ€™ve been playing very well lately and building momentum at just the right time, whereas the Warriors are struggling to find any sort of form. They will have played a hard game up in Solway the previous night which will take something out of their legs too.
All that said this is a derby game with so much at stake â€“ anything could happen really. We cannot just show up, we need to be on our game and be prepared to fight for every puck, and thatâ€™s exactly what we intend to do.â€
Billingham take on Whitley Warriors in a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash at the Forum on Sunday evening, face off 6.30pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm on game night priced at Â£8.00 adults, Â£5.50 concessions, Â£25 family [2+2].
Fixtures this weekend:
National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1
Manchester Minotaurs v Sheffield Spartans, 5pm Saturday
Solway Sharks v Whitley Warriors, 7pm Saturday
Sutton Sting v Blackburn Hawks, 4.15pm Sunday
Manchester Minotaurs v Solway Sharks, 5pm Sunday
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, 6.30pm Sunday
Photos courtesy of Dean Reeve Photography.