Silverware For Stars!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars finished their season in fine style by winning the NIHL North Cup with victories at Blackburn Hawks and Widnes Wild over the weekend.
On Saturday the Stars travelled to Lancashire to take on a Blackburn outfit that had just landed their second League title in successive seasons and who had not lost on their own ice against an NIHL team for over two years. The stakes were high â€“ a win for the Hawks would see them lift the Cup and the second leg of their quest to secure a historic treble. Billingham were the only team that could still snatch the Cup from their grasp, but had to win in order to go to Widnes and still be in with a chance of winning it for themselves. The League champions started the game missing Adam Brittle and Aaron Davies, whilst the Stars had issues at the back with Jamie Pattison and Matthew Campbell out, and Andy Munroe late to arrive. The home side seemed slow out of the blocks and Billingham put the pressure on from the start, Michael Elder, Chris Sykes and Dennis BostrÃ¶m all testing Blackburn netminder Stuart Ashton inside the first five minutes. Richard Bentham was the first Hawk to put a shot in on James Flavell in the Stars net on the five-minute mark, but the visitors were the hungrier of the sides and seconds later play was back at the other end, James Moss blasting over the bar from close range. In the sixth minute Ben Davison broke clear from his own defensive zone and forced a glove save from Ashton. A breakthrough seemed inevitable, and it came in the seventh minute with Billingham just seconds into their first power play opportunity of the evening, an Andy Finn rebound falling to Elder who shot past Ashton on his stick side to put the Teessiders into a deserved lead. That lead was almost doubled a minute later when Josh Nertney put his shot just wide after being set up perfectly by Luke Brown. The hosts were reduced to trying to catch the Stars on the breakaway, Flavell making a pad save from Jordan Bannon in the ninth minute. Billingham were handed another power play chance a minute later when Bannon was sent to the box for boarding, but it was the Hawks who had the best chance when only a last-gasp stick check from Davison denied Ben Simister from having a one-on-one chance against Flavell. In the 12th minute danger man Bentham showed good hands in front of the net but Flavell shut the door to keep his side in front. Two minutes later the Stars shocked the home fans with their second of the evening, Jack Emersonâ€™s drop pass to Brown who blasted into the roof of Ashtonâ€™s net. Half a minute later and that shock turned into stunned silence as Billingham took a three goal lead, Elder with the strike straight from a face off in the Blackburn zone. The Hawks tried to rally, Flavell flashing the glove to deny Simister on the 16-minute mark, and then had a â€˜goalâ€™ washed out in the 17th minute as the official had already blown the puck dead. A late Flavell glove save from Blackburnâ€™s Finnish import Kim Miettinen sent the teams in at the break with the Stars a commanding three goals to the good.
Picking up where they left off, BostrÃ¶m hit the bar in the 21st minute, but found themselves two men down in the 23rd minute with minor penalties called against Sykes and Michael Bowman. The Hawks were quick to capitalise, just 18 seconds into the five-on-three play, captain Chris Arnone fired into an open net with Flavell committed to covering his other post. Billingham survived the remaining penalty and went back on the attack, a speculative Davison effort almost bobbling over Ashtonâ€™s pads in the 26th minute. Two minutes later the visitors restored their three-goal advantage, captain Paul Windridge breaking down the right wing and passing to Emerson who took the shot, Brown the man on the spot to slot home the rebound for 1-4. The Stars played off another penalty against Emerson by restricting the hosts to just a single shot from Miettinen that Flavell knocked away with the pad. Elder tried his luck on the 35-minute mark, but Ashton kicked the puck away well. Blackburn reduced the deficit in the 36th minute when Matt Viney was left to score into an open goal with Flavell down having appeared to have been tripped from behind. Billingham did not panic however, closing the home side down and going back on the offensive, Nertney shooting straight at Ashton in the final minute of the session.
Having taken a slap shot to the foot in the middle period, the Stars had to do without influential centre Cal Davies for the final stanza and rotate their forward lines accordingly. Bowman went just wide with an attempted tip from a Tom Keeley slap shot in the 41st minute, then at the other end two minutes later Flavell tipped a Bannon effort over the bar. The Hawks looked to be doing a better job of restricting the visitorsâ€™ chances but they could do nothing about Billinghamâ€™s fifth goal, BostrÃ¶m with his trademark one-time finish into Ashtonâ€™s top corner in the 49th minute. This seemed to fire the Stars back up, Emerson breaking clear two minutes later but shooting straight at Ashton. The imperious Flavell made an impressive double save in the 54th minute before diving on the loose puck as Billingham sensed a famous victory could be on the cards. That victory was assured a minute later as Elder took the shot, Nertney followed up and Sykes collected the rebound to go round Ashton and slide the puck home. There was time for a late consolation for the Hawks as Bentham fired past Flavell on his stick side in the final minute, but it was too little, too late and the buzzer sounded on an unlikely 3-6 win for the jubilant Stars players and travelling support.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was James Flavell.
Chris Arnone 1+1; Rick Bentham 1+1; Matt Viney 1+0; Kim Miettinen 0+1
SOG: Stuart Ashton 35 (13 / 11 / 11)
Luke Brown 2+0; Michael Elder 2+0; Chris Sykes 1+2; Dennis BostrÃ¶m 1+0; Paul Windridge 0+2; Jack Emerson 0+2; Tom Keeley 0+1; Josh Nertney 0+1; Andy Finn 0+1; Michael Bowman 0+1
SOG: James Flavell 48 (18 / 14 / 16)
Victory over the Hawks meant that a win against Sundayâ€™s opponents Widnes Wild would hand Billingham their first trophy since winning the playoffs in 2012. The Under-20s also had an important game in Coventry at lunchtime, two of the Stars U20s side playing in a vital 9-7 win over Guildford before heading up the M6 to Widnes to play in the senior Stars Cup game. The Wild were without Player-Coach Scott McKenzie, Tom McDonald getting the nod between the pipes. The Stars were dominant from the off but found it difficult to make the final pass count, McDonald also standing firm as the home side frustrated their Division 1 visitors. Brown got a shot away from the left wing in the second minute, Elder with a carbon-copy attempt from the opposite wing a minute later. A scramble in front of the net in the sixth minute was eventually covered by McDonald with Davies lurking for any sign of a loose puck. A rare Widnes two-man breakaway was foiled by Munroe putting off the first pass, then Flavell batting away the eventual shot in the ninth minute. Three minutes later Sykes set up Davies from behind the net, but McDonald got down well to smother. On the 14-minute mark BostrÃ¶m broke down the right wing and threaded a pass from behind the goal to the rushing Bowman but the Billingham Player-Coach fanned on his shot. The pressure was mounting however, and the Wild resistance was eventually broken in the 15th minute when Brown put the puck under McDonald to soothe the nerves of the travelling Stars supporters. Two minutes later and the lead was doubled, Emerson placing his shot past McDonaldâ€™s glove to give the visitors some breathing space going into the break.
A beautiful tic-tac-toe goal in the 23rd minute put the result beyond doubt, Davies dropping the puck back to Sykes who fed Elder perfectly to finish past the despairing McDonald. A strange incident in the 25th minute saw Davison ejected from the game on a roughing call after team mate BostrÃ¶m looked to have been elbowed in the face, the Widnes instigator Tom Ratcliffe receiving just two minutes for tripping. A minute later Sykes coasted into the Wild zone but delayed his shot too long. Billingham found themselves a man down once again in the 30th minute, Richie Thornton called for holding, but it was the Stars who were the more threatening â€“ BostrÃ¶m with a shot on the spin a minute later but McDonald was quick to get down. Keeley made it four in the 36th minute when he drifted in from the blue line, his low shot beating McDonald and giving the game a party atmosphere. A minute later Munroe almost got on the end of a Bowman pass, then a late Wild show saw Flavell making successive glove saves from Michal Fico and Lee Kemp.
Mark Watson replaced Flavell at the beginning of the third period, Watson having contributed massively to the Billingham Cup campaign with starts in four of the six games played. Davies saw an early chance saved by McDonaldâ€™s pad, but before the first minute was up the Stars has extended their lead when Sykes hung onto the puck long enough to pick out Elder for the one-time effort into McDonaldâ€™s net. Billinghamâ€™s persistent play paid off in the 43rd minute when Sykes collected on the halfway line and skated in unopposed to score his sideâ€™s sixth past McDonald on his stick side. Watson was not a spectator and made a point-blank save in the 51st minute. A minute later Elder hit the post as the visitors showed no sign of letting up. A holding penalty against Billy Nicholson gave Widnes a chance to give their fans something to cheer and they didnâ€™t disappoint, Ratcliffe one-timing past a committed Watson to get the Wild on the score sheet. The destiny of the Cup decided, there was time left for the hardworking Davies to grab the Stars seventh with less than two minutes remaining, the popular centre rounding the keeper to finish the game in style. The buzzer brought ecstatic celebrations from the players and fans, the Cup triumph ensuring that Billinghamâ€™s season finishes on a high.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Dennis BostrÃ¶m.
Tom Ratcliffe 1+0; Sheldon Cassidy 0+1; Shaun Dippnall 0+1
SOG: Tom McDonald 45 (17 / 11 / 17)
Michael Elder 2+0; Chris Sykes 1+3; Cal Davies 1+2; Jack Emerson 1+1; Tom Keeley 1+1; Luke Brown 1+0; Andy Finn 0+1
SOG: James Flavell 21 (9 / 12); Mark Watson 13
Post-game interviews with Terry Ward and Allen Flavell are available via Billingham Stars TV.
Billinghamâ€™s season is now at an end. The 2016-2017 National Ice Hockey League campaign will get underway in September.
Blackburn Hawks 3 Billingham Stars 6
Solway Sharks 5 Widnes Wild 1
Widnes Wild 1 Billingham Stars 7
Images from both games will follow during the week.