Weekend Preview: Road Trips for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars face their toughest weekend of the season so far in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 with trips to former English Premier League sides Sheffield Steeldogs and Hull Pirates.
Billingham made their first journey down the M1 to IceSheffield just two weeks ago, the Stars coming away empty-handed after a 7-3 defeat. The Steeldogs have made a solid start to life in the revamped second tier of British ice hockey with seven points from four games, however they have been less successful in the Autumn Cup where they lie last in their group having so far failed to pick up a point. Sheffield were comfortable winners against the Teessiders a fortnight ago, two goals from Andrew Hirst helping the Steeldogs on their way. That victory was marred by a first-period incident that saw young Billingham defenceman Darren Stattersfield taken to hospital following a nasty coming-together with Thomas Relf, Stattersfield missing again tomorrow evening as he continues his recovery.
Sunday will see the Stars take on Hull Pirates for the first time this season. Of the three ex-EPL sides in the new NIHL North set-up, Hull have made perhaps the shakiest start, currently level on points with Sheffield but having played a game more. Most notably the Pirates have slipped up against Solihull Barons and Blackburn Hawks, teams they may have expected to beat before the campaign got underway. Hull have no lack of talent however and boast Great Britain forward Matty Davies in their ranks as well as long-time Sheffield Steeler Jason Hewitt and the recently returned Bobby Chamberlain.
Billingham go into this tricky weekend looking to end a seven-game losing streak and to start making inroads into the gap that has already opened up between them and sixth-placed Steeldogs. Although the Stars did not expect to have things their own way in this new and improved NIHL, they can perhaps count themselves somewhat unfortunate to only have the one win under their belts thus far. Individual errors, poor finishing and plain bad luck have slowed Billingham’s progress, however confidence remains high and the coaching side are convinced that the Stars’ time will come soon enough. They expect to play this weekend with a shorter bench than in recent games as injury niggles take their toll, Stattersfield, James Flavell and James Moss definitely missing from the squad. Ben Davison can return from his two-match suspension for Sunday's match.
Billingham’s General Manager Allen Flavell insisted that the team had the talent to deliver this weekend:
“We’re under no illusions, this weekend will be very tough for us. We know what to expect from Sheffield, they are a hard-skating physical side, it is important that we learned from the experience of two weeks’ ago and make sure we are better this time. Hull are more of an unknown right now but given their pedigree and the obvious class in their squad we know we will not be in for an easy ride. We will have players missing all over the ice this weekend but our squad is quite large and I have every faith that the lads will get the job done – every player missing gives more ice time to someone else on the bench so it’s up to them to fight to keep it.”
Billingham hit the road for two National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixtures this weekend, starting with a trip to Sheffield Steeldogs tomorrow evening (face off 7.30pm), then a first visit of the season to Hull Pirates on Sunday afternoon (face off 5.30pm).
Telford Tigers v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 5.30pm
Solway Sharks v Solihull Barons, Saturday 7pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Billingham Stars, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Telford Tigers, Sunday 5pm
Hull Pirates v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 6pm
National Cup Group A:
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.45pm
Tigers images: Tony Burgum Photography