Tough Weekend for Stars!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars return from their festive break this weekend to face their biggest challenge of the season so far in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Conference as they take on league leaders Solway Sharks in Dumfries, followed by a tricky home tie against in-form Blackburn Hawks.
Solway go into the tie on Saturday having lost their last two fixtures â€“ a league defeat at Sheffield followed by a Northern Cup reverse against Blackburn Hawks. The Sharks are certainly not used to losing and will be keen to return to winning ways against second-placed Billingham, as a win for the Stars would see them go level on points, but above the Dumfries-based outfit by virtue of results between the teams. Solway announced the departure of netminder Mark McGill and forward Ross McIntosh just prior to Christmas, however they have been boosted by the return of left-winger Pavol Melichercik, the Slovak last having laced up for the Sharks in the 2010-2011 season.
Blackburn visit the Forum on Sunday on the back of some recent good form. The Hawks stated ambition of the league title looks to be beyond the grasp of the Lancashire club this campaign, inconsistency having cost the club following an excellent start to the season. They are on the hunt for a play-off slot however and have chalked up several impressive victories in recent weeks, including a 7-1 demolition of Billingham last month.
The Stars face this critical weekend again short on numbers. A fixture clash will deprive the Teessiders of their talented juniors on Saturday, as the under-18s face local rivals Whitley at the Forum. In addition Andy Thornton and James Moss are unavailable, plus there is an injury doubt hanging over Michael Elder following a knock picked up against Manchester Minotaurs. Billingham will be boosted however by the return of popular forward James McCabe, who has resumed training and is available for selection this weekend.
Billingham Director of Coaching Terry Ward knows his team face probably their toughest weekend to date this season:
â€œThe gap at the top has been closed: Sheffield did a great job in their 3-2 win, the best result for them in recent times, itâ€™s all going to go down to consistency â€“ the side that travels with a full bench every week will win the title. We will be missing a number of our younger players and thatâ€™s disappointing because we have tried to be a lot more inclusive with our juniors this season, however a fixtures clash with the U16s/U18s and the seniors means they wonâ€™t be available for Dumfries. There is no getting away from it â€“ Solway on their own ice is the toughest fixture. We beat them 6-3 at the Forum and our first game of the season was decided by a single goal.
I felt the Blackburn game [the 7-1 defeat on the road in mid-December] was our worst performance of the season. Poor mistakes left Mark Watson exposed in our net and Blackburn took their chances well. I was told afterwards that I was controlled in the dressing room, the guys heads were down and they knew we had not turned up on the nightâ€. The game at home will be a great game, Blackburn always put that little bit extra in against us, they will be on a high after beating Solway in the Northern Cup plus they really need to start picking up league points after their slow start. Our lads know that this weekend is crucial, all sides will be now eyeing up the top four slots. Itâ€™s fair to say Billingham v Blackburn games can get Â quite physical, but if both sides stick to hockey I know it will be a good game.â€
Billingham travel to Dumfries Ice Bowl to take on Solway Sharks in the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Conference on January 4th, face off 7pm. There is a Supporters Coach running for this game, departing the Forum at 3pm. Contact BIHSC to reserve a seat. The Stars then host Blackburn Hawks at the Billingham Forum on January 5th (face off 6.30pm). Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm on game night priced at Â£7.50 adults, Â£5 concessions, Â£22 family [2+2].