Dowd Takes Positives From Zero Points Weekend
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars suffered the nightmare scenario of a zero point weekend in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 as a combination of poor discipline, excellent opposing defensive play and plain bad luck saw them crash to losses against Sheffield Spartans and Telford Tigers.Billingham’s trip to iceSheffield on Saturday afternoon could not have gotten off to a worse start as three players broke skate blades in the warm-up period. Although the team were able to replace those of Scott Ward and Jack Davies, crucially they were unable to source a new blade for in-form netminder James Flavell and started with Mark Watson between the pipes. It looked like the Stars had shaken off their game preparation woes as they took control of the early stages and dominated possession, an early Ben Davison backhand effort well saved by Brandon Stones in the Sheffield net. Billingham kept their collective feet on the gas and Spartans nemesis Dennis Boström opened the scoring with just three minutes played when he skated through the Sheffield defence and waited for Stones to commit before placing the puck past him for his sixth goal against the South Yorkshire outfit in three matches. A Stones double save from Callum Davies and Boström in the sixth minute kept the score at just one, but by now Sheffield had started to find some rhythm whilst Billingham appeared to be content to let the home side come at them. A wayward pass out of defence gave Spartans forward Stuart Brittle a chance to round Watson’s net in the seventh minute, but the Stars keeper was equal to the task and saved well at his near post. In what was to become a feature of the game, Davison found himself in the penalty box on a tripping call in the 12th minute, a misdeed that Sheffield punished less than 40 seconds later when import defenseman Martin Finkes blasted home from the blue line to tie the game up. A great glove save from Watson in the 15th minute prevented Billingham from falling behind but only by minutes as with 90 seconds to go on the period an Elliott Knell shot trickled under Watson’s glove to take the hosts into the dressing rooms a goal to the good. The Stars came out for the second session looking brighter and again it took only three minutes for Boström to light the lamp when he collected the puck straight from a face off in the Spartans defensive zone and fired into the roof of Stones’ net with the Sheffield netminder unsighted. Billingham hit penalty trouble as the period wore on, and eventually they succumbed to a power play goal as Scott Morris finished a well-worked Spartans move with a tip-in to put the home side back in front in the 34th minute. The Stars continued to fall foul of referee Hamilton, and were a man short when Michael Elder and Chris Sykes broke away, Elder finishing Sykes’ pass to even the game up with less than half a minute to play on the middle stanza. It should have been all to play for in the final twenty, but the Teessiders were rocked by a goal just 15 seconds in, Brittle left open at the near post to tip in at close range. To add insult to injury, Watson got hurt in these early exchanges but with Flavell unable to play the netminder was forced to stay on the ice despite having his movement severely restricted. Billingham did not help their cause with further trips to the sin bin, but they managed to claw their way back into contention when Richie Thornton one-timed a Scott Ward pass in the 52nd minute for 4-4. Sheffield Head Coach Martin White immediately called a time out, and his words had the desired effect as just two minutes later the Stars gave Brittle too much room to pick his spot past the clearly-injured Watson. The Stars luck went from bad to worse when Andy Finn received a five plus match penalty in the 55th minute for accidental high sticks, putting the Spartans on the power play for the remainder of the game. A further penalty for Sykes reduced the Stars unit still further, and Chris Wilcox made sure of the points when he squeezed his effort past Watson’s near post with 90 seconds remaining for a 6-4 final score. Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Paul Windridge.
Spartans Stats:Stuart Brittle 2+1; Scott Morris 1+1; Martin Finkes 1+1; Elliott Knell 1+1; Chris Wilcox 1+0; Nick Manning 0+3; Ollie Barron 0+1; Stephen Weeks 0+1; Shaun Wild 0+1 SOG Brandon Stones 43 (14 / 18 / 11)
Stars Stats:Dennis Boström 2+0; Richie Thornton 1+0; Michael Elder 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+2; Paul Windridge 0+1; Scott Ward 0+1; Michael Bowman 0+1 SOG Mark Watson 40 (13 / 10 / 17) The Stars’ Bench Coach Garry Dowd felt his side’s overconfidence may have contributed to their downfall:
“We came out in the first period really strong and we got a quick goal, Dennis scored a nice goal, and then we just seemed to sit back. I don’t know whether it was an overload of confidence with us thinking that we’d beaten them twice before, we’ve scored one and just sat back. They scored two quick goals and we started to panic and struggle and make mistakes.
Mark took an injury very early in the third period, we took a lot of penalties which cost us dearly, you can’t play half a game with the decisions we got given, which in my eyes 90% of them were not very good calls. But you have to live and die by them – we took the penalties, we sat the time in the box, and the score line didn’t come out our way.
Starting from the warm-up we had three players break skates – we mended all except James Flavell’s in time. So we started with Mark Watson and he stood on his head, if it wasn’t for Mark it could’ve been a double figure score line, he played really well. The lads just weren’t into it, we couldn’t get control after the first period.
I’ve just been in the dressing room and told the lads what I expect for tomorrow – they need to come to the rink prepared, to be on time, not dawdle in ten minutes before warm-up. We’ll pick it up tomorrow, we’ll sort it.”Sunday’s game back at the Forum saw Billingham take on newly promoted Telford Tigers in an all-action high intensity match. Flavell returned to the Stars net, and with Finn banned Davison reverted to the Billingham blue line as cover. The visitors showed their intent early on and tested Flavell within the first half-minute of the game, then moved ahead in the fourth minute when the Stars defence missed the puck and the danger man in front of the net, Joe Aston getting free and letting fly with a bullet that went straight through Flavell for 0-1. This wake-up call had the desired effect and Billingham went on the offensive, Michael Bowman going round the Tigers defence and making room to shoot in the fifth minute, but his effort went wide of the Telford net. The Stars continued to chip away at the well-drilled Telford defence, eventually getting their reward in the 13th minute when Boström beat every man in his path before sniping his shot into the roof of the net for one of the goals of the season and all-square at the break. Billingham looked hungry in the early exchanges of the middle period, Boström again going for the top corner in the first minute and forcing the blocker save from Denis Bell in the Tigers net. The Stars run of bad luck hadn’t quite finished though, and Telford moved back in front in the 27th minute when a speculative long range shot from Calum Bowley bounced off the top of Flavell’s glove and dropped behind him. Billingham were reeling just 49 seconds later as a terrible pass in the Tigers zone was collected and fired up centre ice to find high man Adam Taylor who made no mistake when one-on-one with Flavell. Finding themselves 1-3 down despite long periods of possession, the Stars again went on the attack, showing a new level of aggression as they fought to get back into the game. Despite hitting the post in the 36th minute however, Billingham were unable to find a way past Bell and went in at the interval still two goals down. An early scare for the Stars in the third as Flavell fumbled the puck behind him once again in the first half-minute, this time however the keeper was able to poke the puck off the line to keep the home side in it. Billingham upped their work rate as they sought the goals to bring them back into the game but were denied time and again by a superbly marshalled Telford defence. Bowman forced a great save from Bell with a short-range blast in the 51st minute, and were handed a power play opportunity just a few seconds later as Taylor incurred a holding minor. This time the Stars finally found a chink in the Tigers armour, Cal Davies finding the back of the net from a rebound in the 52nd minute. With just one goal in it Billingham threw everything at their opponents, pulling Flavell for the final minute to give them the extra man but to no avail, the Tigers surviving the onslaught and taking both points with a 2-3 victory. Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Dennis Boström.
Stars Stats:Dennis Boström 1+0; Callum Davies 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1 SOG James Flavell 32 (10 / 15 / 7)
Tigers Stats:Adam Taylor 1+1 ; Joseph Aston 1+0 ; Calum Bowley 1+0 ; Macauley Heywood 0+2 SOG Denis Bell 38 (11 / 12 / 15) Dowd could not fault his side’s industry this time:
“We were a bit flat after yesterday – today we knew we had to come back to the Forum firing on all cylinders with the type of team that Telford are: a good team, skilful, hard-working. I think we came out and we showed that we wanted to be in this game – all three lines played with intensity. We fell short at the end – there were two goals in the middle period that we just didn’t seem to be able to claw back. We threw everything at the goalie, he was absolutely outstanding all night.
Telford came with 13 skaters and they came with a game plan which they stuck to. They played with five players behind the puck, they defended well. All three lines that we rolled were in their end – we had possession, I’d say the last period and a half we had 75 to 80% of the possession but we just couldn’t get the puck into the net. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
There’s two ways to look at the weekend, we’ve come out with no points – we know that’s not acceptable with the team that we’ve got – but on the positive side we came out tonight with a lot of energy and we showed that we can turn it around after a performance like yesterday. We need to take that energy that we had tonight and roll it onto next week.
We’ll take nothing for granted going to the Senators next weekend. We going to go in treating them as a fresh team and we’re going to work as we did tonight.”Telford Head Coach Jason Parry hailed the ‘perfect road game’ from his talented young team:
“The average age of our team is only 21, and that’s with Karol Jets and Daniel Croft in the line-up who were both missing tonight. We missed their experience but it was good to see the young guys stepping up.
We didn’t look to come here and do anything special, just to dig in on the road. We were short on a few guys and it was ugly stuff at times but we got the points and that’s all that matters.
It was a perfect road game. We’ve got some speed with some of the younger guys. Some of the guys are on two-ways with the EPL side, they’re quick and obviously we’ve got Denis [Bell] at the back who’s one of the best young goalies in the country.
Our opening game was a big wake-up call against the champions in Blackburn. We were 3-0 down after three minutes and I had to call a time out and settle the boys down. From there on in we’ve come on leaps and bounds since that first weekend – we took a big point against Whitley, last week I thought we deserved a point, we came back well from 3-0 down and we were unlucky not to come away with a point. We beat Solway last week and we’ve taken the points here tonight so it’s moving forward nicely.
I don’t think we can really set that goal of the play offs. We go out week to week to beat teams whoever we’ve got up in front of us. We haven’t seen everybody yet in the League so I can’t really say but if you don’t aim high there’s no point in being in the game. We’d like to win the League if we can but play offs would be great.”The Stars are at iceSheffield again next Saturday 10th October as they take on League newcomers Sheffield Senators, face off 4.30pm.