Stars Hook Toothless Sharks
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars bounced back from their opening night defeat in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 with a hard-fought 3-5 victory at much-fancied Solway Sharks in Dumfries on Saturday evening.
Billingham travelled to Scotland still licking their wounds following a four-goal mauling at the hands of reigning champions Blackburn Hawks in their first game of the season. They faced a Sharks outfit also smarting from an opening night loss at Whitley Warriors, the Scots bolstered by the midweek signing of former Elite League netminder Andy Jaszczyk. Put straight into the squad as starting keeper, Jaszczyk was called into action in the second minute but spilled Michael Elderâ€™s effort to Callum Davies who poked the puck underneath him to put the Stars on the score sheet very early in the game. Jaszczyk did better in the seventh minute when he got a glove to a long-range Chris Sykes effort. Billingham were dictating all of the early exchanges and doubled their lead in the ninth minute when James Moss broke clear with Elder in support, Mossâ€™s initial shot was saved but fell kindly to Elder who rounded Jaszczyk to score. In an effort to kick-start his team, Solwayâ€™s Ross Murray attempted to engage Stars import forward Dennis BostrÃ¶m in the 13th minute, both men sitting out penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct with an additional minor given to Murray. A minute later Craig Mitchell joined Murray in the Sharks sinbin to give the visitors a two-man advantage. Although Billingham peppered Jaszczyk, the new Solway keeper stood firm to keep the score at 0-2 going into the interval.
It was the Stars who ran into penalty trouble early in the middle session, Luke Brown and Jack Davies falling foul of the officials in the 24th and 25th minutes respectively. This time it was Billingham netminder James Flavellâ€™s turn to shine as he turned away shot after shot to deny the home side. Not long after returning to full strength, Scott Ward broke away clear of the Sharks defence and found himself one-on-one with Jaszczyk, the rejuventated forward making no mistake to put the Stars three goals to the good just before the halfway mark. Solway were in no mood to give the game up and began to pile the pressure on. With much of the play concentrated in the Billingham defensive zone, the Sharks eventually got themselves on the scoresheet when Joe Coulter poked a bobbling puck under Flavellâ€™s pads in the 35th minute. Just 15 seconds later it looked like game on when Struan Tonnar fired through Flavell to narrow the gap to a single strike. The Teessiders ended the period under the cosh, but with Flavell in fine form Solway could not bring themselves back on level terms.
The Stars came out firing on all cylinders at the start of the final stanza, Chris Sykes hitting the roof of the net with just 32 seconds played. It was Sykes again just before the 42-minute mark, one-timing a Michael Bowman pass into the bottom corner to re-establish the three-goal cushion. The hosts could not find the extra gear that had seen them push Billingham so hard at the end of the second period, and it was the Stars who looked more likely to score as Elder and Ward both went close on the breakaway. When called upon, Flavell continued to keep his side well ahead with some fine saves. The Sharks got a late consolation marker when Juraj Senko squeezed the puck inside Flavellâ€™s near post, but despite pulling Jaszczyk for the final 59 seconds, Solway never troubled the net and it was Billingham who claimed both points with a 3-5 win.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Michael Bowman.
Joe Coulter 1+0; Juraj Senko 1+0; Struan Tonnar 1+0; Marc Fowley 0+2; Ross Murray 0+2; Steven Moore 0+1
SOG Andrew Jaszczyk 27 (13 / 6 / 8)
Chris Sykes 2+0; Michael Elder 1+1; Callum Davies 1+1; Scott Ward 1+0; James Moss 0+2; Andrew Munroe 0+1; Paul Windridge 0+1; Michael Bowman 0+1; Benjamin Davison 0+1; Dennis BostrÃ¶m 0+1
SOG James Flavell 30 (7 / 17 / 6)
Billinghamâ€™s Director of Coaching Terry Ward praised his sideâ€™s work ethic after a hard-fought victory:
â€œIt’s a hard place to come and they’ve obviously strengthened. We knew they had a bit of a weakness maybe in the net and that was our focus tonight – pick up any rebounds and to be sharper in front of the net. Our work rate improved from last week – in every way I thought the lads did brilliantly tonight. It was like night and day â€“ we were terrible last week but let’s look at the positives, we were absolutely fantastic in here.
We switched off for five or six minutes at the end of the second. All credit to Solway – you can’t do that against a team of their quality. They are a very good side and they punished us badly for that lapse. When we went in at the interval we had to gather our thoughts and get back to what we were doing in the first period – out working them, making sure every second puck was ours not theirs, making sure we were dumping in on the goal because that’s where they were panicking in and around the net.
It was a great all-round team performance but I think James Flavell needs a special mention because when we were going through that dodgy patch it could have been two or three more goals – he made some vital saves at that time. If your goalie is playing like that then you’re always going to get some kind of result. It’s such a key position – Solway have lost their keeper from last year and it’s absolutely devastated them. We could see their confidence draining away once we got a couple of goals. We had to press that and I thought the lads did an excellent job.
It’s going to be a tough game next week. We know we’ll be players short, but we have to keep this work rate going. Sheffield have strengthened since we played them in preseason too, we need to make sure that the lads we have got will give it all they can.â€
Solway Head Coach Martin Grubb was blunt in his assessment of his teamâ€™s performance:
â€œVery disappointing. For one thing you can’t give a team a three goal head start. Whether you’re at home or on the road is irrelevant – you can’t give teams, and especially teams with the ability that Billingham have, that head start. You can’t give up sloppy goals like we did. You can’t look at the guy next to you on the bench to do your job, everybody needs to be accountable. That’s the most disappointing thing, that’s two games in a row – we’ve discussed pride in our defensive zone, we’re accountable for what we do, for executing our systems… the list goes on. Yet again we’ll discuss our mistakes and our defensive frailties. Even tonight when we did feel our way back into the game with a couple of quick goals we seem to have a good knack of being very wasteful in front of the net, so as much as James made a couple of very good saves we’re still searching for answers – it’s tough to take. At the end of the second period we discussed winning the third and we get something out of the game, then in the first couple of shifts we find ourselves another two goals down. We need to wake up and we need to wake up quickly, we need to get better and that’s my job – I have to take the responsibility as the Head Coach of this team to make our team better.
For our first goal I spoke to Joe Coulter and I asked him to do a specific job. Normally he would have rushed behind the net to help Ross Murray out but he was patient and he waited in front and managed to get us going. We’ve always been that kind of team – we get one we’re likely to get two and quite quickly. We managed to get a second goal and we went in on the front foot. We made a couple of amendments to try and build on that – as the home team you have to come out hard and go after Billingham, make them play on the back foot, make them turn, make them make bad decisions… but we didn’t do that. We let them play their game and dictate the pace of the game – they’ve got offensive ability, they’ve showed that they’ve got a bit of resilience. Both teams were hurting after last week, especially getting shut out at home, we knew they were going to come hard. We didn’t go hard enough – when you concede five goals at home then you’re not going to get anything.
We are still getting guys bedded in but I don’t think we can use that as an excuse. I think Cingel did everything but score – he was frustrated, sometimes they shut him down well, sometimes he managed to make himself some space but he couldn’t buy a goal. Juraj got frustrated at times too because he just wants success, he wants to win and he wants to look up and make the pass. We can’t look at these two guys to create everything – in general we just made too many bad decisions both offensively and defensively. Andy came in after not playing for a while – I don’t think we can blame him for the goals, most of them were rebounds, he made first saves. One of them was a breakaway that we gave up. We’ll get better – we’ve recruited, we’ve got what we’ve got, we need to work with them. I still believe that the team we’ve got is good enough to challenge for honours, but as I’ve just said to the boys, we need to draw a line under this, we’re zero for two, we come back Tuesday night, we work harder and we get our season started next weekend with some points on the board. We have to do that no matter how – whether it be a nice win or an ugly win, we need to start clawing our way back into this. The teams around us and above us are not going to give us any easy games.â€
The Stars face Sheffield Spartans in a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 encounter at the Billingham Forum next Sunday 20th September, face off 6.30pm.
Sheffield Senators 1 Sheffield Spartans 7
Solway Sharks 3 Billingham Stars 5
Blackburn Hawks 5 Telford Tigers 3
Sheffield Spartans 7 Sheffield Senators 1
Solihull Barons 2 Whitley Warriors 6
All images courtesy of Mark Paterson Photography / skidpix.co.uk