U20s: What A First Season That Wasâ€¦
by Ian Weedall
I would like to first of all thank the EIHA for having the vision to set the U20s league up. For too long we have been losing unfulfilled talent from the game, as the gap between juniors and seniors was too great for lots of kids to make the leap. This league, in my opinion, will only add to the rosters of senior teams all over the country. It helps kids who have yet to fulfil their potential toÂ have an extra two years playing ice hockey at a progressive level, and hopefully realise their dreams of playing ice hockey at a senior level. Over time this league will only get better and better, hopefully lift the standard of British ice hockey, and help feed as much talent into the Great Britain set-up as possible.
At the start of the season we had no idea what to expect from any of our opponents, never mind think about making it to the U20s Nationals in Dumfries (which will be held over the weekend of the 7thÂ and 8th May). In our first season in the North U20s league, we had five players ranked in the top ten points scorers. Our netminders finishedÂ third and fifthÂ respectively in the league standings, both with 90%+ save averages and five shut outs. We also finished the campaign with the least penalty minutes in our league. We have tried to bring as many of the younger players in the club into our U20s team this year, this has worked out really well with two of our U18s players having made their senior debut with the Billingham Stars this season.
During the season we beat all our personal expectations, playing fifteen games with only one defeat to a very well drilled Kingston side â€“ because of how well the season had gone, we couldnâ€™t help feeling bad about that! Winning the league meant we were to play the South U20s league winners Guildford to qualify for the Nationals. This game took place at the Coventry Arena on EPL playoff final day. The game was a great showcase of young hockey talent for the fans present, not only Billingham and Guildford fans, but also fans from other EPL teams there to watch the final. Everyone around the rink was very impressed with the skill, sportsmanship, teamwork and, most importantly, the quality of the players on the ice. As a coach, I was very happy that Billingham came out on top, but credit where creditâ€™s due, Guildford did themselves, their fans and their club proud.
There have been a lot of lessons learned for me as a coach of this team, and I would like to thank everyone involved with Billingham Stars U20s – John, Geoff, Les, Tony, Mandy, the club’s directors, families and friends, etc. Although our season is over, we have one last hurdle to jump, the U20s Nationals at Dumfries. We will of course try our best, as always, and give 100%. There will be some great talent on show at this event, with the two best teams from Scotland and England competing to be crowned the British U20s champions. Whatever happensâ€¦ what a fantastic season!
Ian Weedall, Billingham Stars U20s Head Coach
Images from Stars U20s 9-7 win over Guildford Fire Kings can be found by clicking here.