Youngsters shine !
Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars travelled to Blackburn to open their KD Flavell Northern Cup campaign.
A depleted Billingham Stars travelled without Garry Dowd, Stephen Wallace, Martyn Davies, Andy Thornton, Adam Robinson and Mark Watson. Stars Head Coach Terry Ward had anticipated the shortage and made it clear his intention earlier this week to give some of the up and coming younger Stars the chance to shine.
Blackburn made the stronger start but Billingham absorbed their pressure until an interference call on the Stars Ben Davison put them shorthanded, Blackburn failed to build on their advantage and Stars denied them the chance to set up on the power play.
Roles were reversed two minutes later and the stars looked stronger on the power play, they kept the puck in the Blackburn zone but were unable to convert.
With four minutes to play in the first the Stars again found themselves penalised as Jack Davies sat out a 2 minute high sticks call, Blackburn piled on the power play pressure and thought they had moved ahead as the puck was forced past Flavell in the Billingham goal, but referee Steve Wardell instantly indicated no goal due to Blackburn having a player in the Billingham crease. The first closed without score.
The second got underway but an injury to Rob Streetly caused a pause in play whilst blood was cleaned from the ice.
Blackburn turned up the heat on the Stars and some mixed signals from the officials resulted in confusion and an icing infringement call against the Stars bench. The Hawks set to on the power play and were rewarded when Danny MacKriel struck assisted by Adam Brittle and Scott Robson, Billinghamâ€™s challenges over the whistle being blown twice were waived off and referee Steve Wardell consulted with the goal judge who confirmed the puck had crossed the line.
Stars dug deep and pushed back at the Hawks and were rewarded when Richie Thornton pushed up the wing to drop it back to Michael Bowman who sniped a shot past Stuart Ashton in the Hawks pipes.
Late pressure from the Hawks again forced Flavell in the Billingham pipes to show his full range of quality saves, to close the second all square at one goal each.
A tight end to end third session got underway and the Hawks were again pushing their visitors hard.
The Hawks penalty tally increased as with just over 10 minutes to play Aaron Davies took a two minute interference call, Hawks played their penalty off, then with 6 minutes to play Blackburnâ€™s Scott Robinson found himself penalised for a high sticks again the Hawks and in particular their goalie Stuart Ashton stood tall and absorbed some great sustained power play moves from the Stars.
With three minutes to play a Billingham break up the right wing was thwarted by Hawks skipper Chris Arnone who high sticked Billingham captain Paul Windridge across the neck and jaw to earn himself a two minute sit, but the Billingham skipper also found himself called for holding Arnones stick, in what was a clear effort to remove the Blackburn stick from his neck. Play resumed four on four.
A strong Billingham break saw a Michael Bowman shot hit the Hawks cross bar, the resulting rebound fell to Hawks coach Jarred Owen who released Rick Hughes to pick out Craig Rogers who slotted home the go ahead goal for the home side. The Hawks called a time out and play resumed with 1.37 left on the clock.
With one minute to play having gained possession the Stars pulled their goalie to gain the extra man advantage, as the noise levels increased some edge of the seat attacks from the Stars pushed the Hawks onto their back foot, but Stuart Ashton dealt with the shots and the clock counted down to a hard won victory for the Blackburn Hawks.
Billingham Stars man of the match was youngster Luke Brown with hawks goalie Stuart Ashton collecting the award for the home side.
Stars Head Coach Terry Ward felt his side deserved to get something from the match, but was pleased with the performance of his younger players:
â€œWe travelled to Blackburn with quite a few experienced players missing, so we saw it as an opportunity to give some of our younger players an opportunity to show us what they can do and they played really wellâ€.
â€œWe felt we should have had something from the game, another contentious goal but I am sure these things even out across the seasonâ€.
â€œOur plan was to work hard and stop Blackburn getting into their stride, they are normally very aggressive and fast early in the game and we managed to do this, we counter attacked where we could and then as the game wore on we were taking the initiative on the attackâ€.
â€œWe really deserved something out of the game but it wasnâ€™t going to be, but the bright spot of the game has to be the way our young lads played, I think they did an incredible job and itâ€™s another example of our junior development program turning out good hockey playersâ€.