Match Preview: Stars Hoping For Fireworks
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars host Solway Sharks at the Forum in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 on Sunday evening with their confidence restored after their 9-3 demolition of Blackburn Hawks last Sunday ended a 12-game losing streak.
Last season’s treble winners Solway have adapted well to the new League set-up, and although they currently sit just two places above the Stars the points difference is already nine. More known for their defensive strength in recent seasons, it is the Sharks’ firepower that is catching the eye this campaign as the return of Iain Bowie continues to pay dividends. Head Coach Martin Grubb was delighted to add to his offensive threat when he welcomed back young forward Duncan Speirs last week after a short spell in the Elite League with Edinburgh Capitals. 20-year-old Speirs returns keen to get more ice time and revert to his more natural forward position after playing on defence for the Capitals. In stark contrast to Billingham, the Dumfries-based outfit suffered two defeats last weekend at the hands of League leaders Telford Tigers and fourth-placed Whitley Warriors, so will be looking to get back to winning ways against a Stars side that they have beaten three times already this season.
Billingham are on a high after snapping that long losing run so comprehensively last Sunday. A result that many felt had been coming for a while, the manner in which the Stars put their old rivals Blackburn to the sword added to the elation at the final buzzer. Of particular note was the Stars power play – a maximum haul of four goals from four opportunities with the extra man is a definite change for the better from a previously poor special play yield. Now the Teessiders must use that Cup result to push on in the League, where a current return of just three points sees them languishing in eighth spot. The win over the Hawks was achieved with Billingham still missing key players, however some are expected to make a return this weekend. Definitely missing will be Tom Keeley, whilst injury doubts hang over Player/Coach Michael Bowman.
Billingham’s Director of Coaching Terry Ward is in no doubt that a performance to match the game last Sunday will deliver both points and start the Stars climb up the League table:
“The mood in the camp has been buoyant this week. Whilst we have always been confident that the results would come eventually, it has been a massive relief to finally get the monkey off our backs. We knew we were capable of putting in that kind of performance, we had shown it in patches before last Sunday, now we just have to keep it up. The difference now is that we know we can do it. The Sharks always give us a good hockey game, they are an excellent side who pass very well indeed. Our smaller ice gives us a chance to disrupt their game however, and if we play every game with the same intensity as we did against the Hawks then we are likely to win more than we lose.”
The Stars return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action on Sunday evening as Solway Sharks visit the Forum, face off 6.30pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10 adults, £6 concessions, £30 family [2+2].
Blackburn Hawks v Solihull Barons, Saturday 5.45pm
Solway Sharks v The Dragons, Saturday 7pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Telford Tigers, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Hull Pirates, Sunday 5pm
The Dragons v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 5.45pm
Billingham Stars v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Solihull Barons, Sunday 7.30pm
All images: Linda Crabtree