Stars secure Wallace and Bowman.

Billingham Stars Ice Hockey

Billingham Stars are continuing to put together their 2013 – 14 squad. This week we caught up with Richie Thornton to see how things are going.

Richie explained that in the absence of a named Head Coach work had to begin getting players to put pen to paper.

“At this point in time myself, Michael Bowman and Paul Windridge are looking to put the team together with Terry Wards help and start to prepare for the season, the club are still looking for someone to take on the role of Head coach for the senior side, but that is proving more difficult than anticipated”.

“Simon Leach’s departure has left a big space to fill and he wasted no time when he took the coaching job at Whitley in trying to turn the Warriors around. Whitley have picked up some good players and are starting to put together a really strong team”.

Richie is under no illusion that our league will again improve in quality and looking at the signings other clubs have made Richie anticipates a tough contest.

“Solway are rebuilding well, Sutton are picking up some good names, it looks like we will have five teams chasing four play-off slots, Billingham, Solway, Sutton Whitley and Blackburn, and it’s going to be a tough contest”.

With NIHL One and Two renamed the Moralee and Laidler conferences we asked Richie for his thoughts on the new structure, in particular the removal of promotion / relegation.

“I don’t think it’s the best idea ever, but credit to the likes of Telford, Trafford and Sheffield who have stuck with the higher level, well done to them for committing to our league”.

“One of the issues of no relegation could be that come the deciding games a team that is attempting to secure one of the four play-off slots could come up against a team that is struggling at the bottom of the table, however because there is no threat of relegation is the lower team going to put in as strong an effort as if they had been battling to survive, I am not convinced”.

With news of Billingham’s signings filtering out through social media we asked Richie if there will be any big announcements on signings and any new faces

“ There will be at least one new signing who will be pulling on a Stars top for the first time and we anticipate some quality re –signs”

“Our emphasis this year must involve trying to push the younger players that we have coming on board, we lost players at the end of the season and we have lost players that have moved with Simon to Whitley namely Ross Hanlon who will be a big loss in defence, Karl Culley has also gone back up the A19, he was brought in to do a job when we were hit by injury so I am sure it wasn’t a huge shock that he returned to his home club”.

“We will have a shorter squad, but that will make space for a higher level of junior development than we have seen in the past, those younger players will be spending more time with the seniors and as the season progresses we will be relying on them more and more”.

“Because we will have a shorter squad we need all players to be more effective this season, we don’t have any crowns hanging over us, we are not defending champions, it’s a clean start but we do have something to prove after last season”.

“The guys that have been with us since the formation of the Billingham Stars have been round the game long enough and have now reached a level of maturity in the game where they all know what we need to do to be successful”.

“I am reasonably confident that between now and the first game that we won’t lose any more players, and if we can reduce the number of injury’s that we picked up last season we will be able to compete with any side in our league”

“From the point of view of the fans I think they will see some exciting games with some close results, last season some games were done after six or seven minutes, this year won’t be as easy, but we are all up for the challenge”

Stars resumed training last night and we asked director of coaching Terry Ward how the search for a Head senior coach was going;

“We have irons in the fire, we have spoken to a number of people but it is proving a difficult task to find someone to take on the senior side, Richie, Michael and Spike will be running most training sessions, I will be having an input regarding tactics, there are some things I want to see changed from last season and there are elements of our match play that can be improved”.

“We must give the junior players coming through the ice time to prove that they are worthy of a place on the senior bench, in my mind that is something we have not done since the Stars were formed”.

“Callum West will be in his second season of seniors, Jack Davies has now moved up, we will be looking to some of the other U18s to strengthen our squad with Luke Brown, Matty Campbell and Jack Emmerson playing at both levels”.

Stars manager Allen Flavell confirmed that the Stars would be again issuing season tickets and that the cost would remain pro rata with last season’s prices.

Allen also confirmed the return of Michael Bowman, Mark Watson, and Stephen Wallace for the 2013 -14 season.

“I am delighted that Michael has agreed to play another season for us, I know that he impressed everyone last season, his commitment is 100 % and a great guy to have on board. Mark pulled of some fantastic saves last season, again a very popular guy with players and fans, good to have him back”

“ Stephen doesn’t need any introduction, he formed a fantastic relationship with Michael Bowman last season, they put together some tremendous goals, and I look forward to another season of Wally and Bomber”.

Garry Dowd was also training with the Stars last night although not yet signed, it looks like an odds on certainty that the former Billingham Bomber will be adding a little crunch to the Stars blue line.

As Head coach for the Whitley Warriors senior side. Garry steered the Warriors through a period of transition and change, and as last season wound down Garry laced up his skates and took to the ice to help the Warriors avoid being dragged into the end of season relegation struggle.

With senior appearances dating back to 1990 Garry has iced for some big names in British hockey including BNL Dundee, Chelmsford, Swindon and Blackburn. When the forum closed in 2009 Garry moved north to Whitley and helped the Warriors to two league championships before taking on the role of player coach in 2011.

More Stars signing news to follow this week…..

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