Teesside On Top!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars bounced back from the disappointment of failing to make this season’s National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 playoffs with a comfortable 4-1 win over local rivals Whitley Warriors in front of a full house at the Forum on Sunday night.Billingham knew their playoff dream had ended before the game had faced off, Solway Sharks having got the win they needed to secure fourth spot the previous evening with a 7-1 defeat of Telford Tigers NIHL. Regardless, the North East derby is still the biggest draw of the year for the fans, and the Forum was full long before the puck was dropped. Both sides had players missing from their respective benches, Warriors having to do without suspended import Andre Payette. Whitley started the brighter of the two teams, James Flavell in the Stars net kicking away a Callum Watson effort in the first minute. Gradually the home side got into their groove and got their noses in front with their first real attack of the evening, top scorer Dennis Boström firing a lethal wrist shot from the far face off circle into the roof of Whitley netminder Richie Lawson’s goal in the third minute. Seconds later James Moss almost doubled the lead when he collected a drop-pass from Boström, but this time Lawson was equal to the challenge. Billingham clearly up for the fight, Moss hit the bar in the seventh minute as the hosts piled on the pressure. At the other end, Flavell knocked a Shaun Kippin shot onto the post with just on eight minutes played, seconds before Jordan Barnes found himself warming the Warriors penalty bench on a roughing minor. The Stars power play was found wanting, the only real chance coming from a Richie Thornton shot from the point in the ninth minute. Billingham looked more effective once their opponents had returned to full strength, Michael Elder sliding one just past the post with Lawson not set in the tenth minute. Chris Sykes almost scored a wonder goal on the penalty kill in the 13th minute – with Stars defenseman Will Robson sitting out a holding minor, Sykes broke clear from the defensive zone and left the last Whitley defenseman bamboozled before putting his shot wide with the goal at his mercy. Billingham were handed a further power play opportunity in the 16th minute as Warriors captain Jamie Tinsley tripped Michael Bowman at the face off, but the home side were unable to capitalise and the period closed out with a single marker separating the sides. An all-action start to the middle session saw Moss shoot over the bar in the first minute of play, followed by a Callum Davies effort that went inches past the post. On 22 minutes, Jack Emerson went for the bottom corner but Lawson was able to get the glove to it at the last second. A minute later Andy Finn lost out to Watson but Flavell got down well to nullify the danger. In the 25th minute Matthew Campbell was on hand to save the Stars when he did just enough to put off Kippin with the Whitley forward bearing down on Flavell. Billingham took that scare as a platform to move up a gear, Elder forcing a big rebound from Lawson in the 27th minute. Seconds later the home side were two up, Bowman finding Boström in front of the net, the big Swede forcing the puck home underneath Lawson. The Stars were not done, in the 32nd minute Thornton tried his luck once more from the point, Lawson flashing the glove to keep his side within touching distance. Three minutes later and Lawson turned from hero to villain as an Andy Finn dump on net somehow went straight through the Warriors netminder to extend Billingham’s lead going into the final period. Whitley put Mark Turnbull between the pipes at the start of the third period, but it was Flavell at the other end who saw the first meaningful action of the session as he made a pad save from DJ Good in the 44th minute. Ben Davison tested Turnbull a few minutes later as he let fly from the far face off circle. Warriors gave themselves hope in the 51st minute when a mistake on the blue line let in Barnes who made no mistake to finally beat Flavell and narrow the gap. Billingham were in no mood to give up now, Sykes again wide with his effort in the 52nd minute, but it was Moss who made sure that the bragging rights were Teesside’s a minute later when Boström pounced on a mistake in the corner and fed Moss out front, the forward roofing the puck to restore the three-goal advantage. The final talking point was an unsavoury incident in the 54th minute that saw Barnes thrown out of the game for a nasty slash on Billy Nicholson, the Whitley man getting an additional ten-minute misconduct penalty for abusing the officials as he initially refused to leave the ice. The Stars could do nothing with the five-minute power play and the clock counted down on a bittersweet derby victory for the home side. Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Richie Thornton.