Ward Up For The Cup
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars return to action on Saturday after a weekend off with a NIHL North Cup fixture against Scottish rivals Solway Sharks at the Forum.
Already out of the running in this seasonâ€™s round-robin Cup competition having lost all three of their ties to date, Solway will see Saturday afternoonâ€™s encounter as an opportunity to get some momentum going ahead of the League clash between the two sides in a weekâ€™s time. The Sharks looked to have found some form at just the right time with a string of good results post-Christmas, but their progress was held up last weekend when they came away from a two-game road trip to the Midlands with just a single point. A particularly feisty match at Solihull on Sunday saw the two sides rack up 157 penalty minutes, most coming in the last ten seconds of the game, as the Scots slumped to a 3-1 loss. With the playoff race the closest it has been in years, Solway will be keen to get one over on close rivals Billingham despite their interest in the Cup being almost nil.
The Stars by contrast are unbeaten so far in the Cup and are the only realistic challengers to Blackburn Hawks for the trophy. A penalty shot win over the Sharks in Dumfries in November was followed by a comfortable defeat of Division 2 outfit Widnes Wild at the Forum last month to leave the Teessiders level with Blackburn at the top of the Cup standings. After a weekend off last weekend, Billingham need to get their run-in to the end of the season started in the best possible way, with revenge for last monthâ€™s home loss to Solway the perfect motivation. The mini-break has given the Stars a chance to rest some weary legs after a hectic January, and some players who have been carrying knocks the opportunity to heal and recuperate. As such Billingham expect to be missing only long-term injury victims Jack Davies and Tom Keeley on Saturday afternoon, as Captain Paul Windridge makes his return from an operation over the festive break.
The Stars Director of Coaching Terry Ward wants to see a good Cup run to get his side back in the groove for the League run-in to come:
â€œWe want to keep our unbeaten record in this competition â€“ it is silverware that is there to be won. Itâ€™s really important to get a winning habit, especially at this stage of the season, so thereâ€™s no chance of us taking this game lightly. We also have a big game coming up against the Sharks in the League next week, we do not want them to get any kind of advantage over us going into that fixture, so a win is vital.
The break has done us a bit of good in that the guys have had the chance to rest up after all those games in January. We have bodies back and that can only be a good thing. We just need to make sure that we come out firing on all cylinders and donâ€™t take too long to get back into game mode. Solway are an excellent side and we cannot give them any kind of start because they will not give one up easily.â€
Billingham face Solway Sharks in their third NIHL North Cup encounter on Saturday afternoon at the Forum, face off 5pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 4pm on game night priced at Â£10 adults, Â£6 concessions, Â£30 family [2+2].
Sheffield Senators v Telford Tigers NIHL, 3.45pm Saturday
Sheffield Spartans v Whitley Warriors, 2.15pm Sunday
Sutton Sting v Blackburn Hawks, 4.15pm Sunday
Billingham Stars v Solway Sharks, 5pm Saturday
Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree.