Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars couldn’t find top gear when it mattered against Solway Sharks in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 at the Forum on Sunday, eventually falling to a 3-5 defeat.

Solway came into Sunday’s game off the back of a comprehensive 14-0 besting of The Dragons on home ice the previous evening and that confidence showed as the visitors took the game to their hosts from the first puck drop. Billingham netminder James Flavell was called into action in the third minute as he made a kick save from Steven Moore, then two minutes later he gathered a Vaclav Kolarik effort to his chest. The Stars were finding it difficult to break out of their own zone but on a rare counterattack Chris Sykes saw his shot tipped over by the glove of Sharks goaltender Calum Hepburn in the fifth minute. Back at the other end, the home side’s defence allowed Moore to walk onto the near post in the ninth minute but he put his final effort tamely at Flavell. The returning Jordan Buesa had successive chances to put the visitors ahead in the 13th minute, Flavell catching the first but saved by the post with the second. The deadlock was inevitably broken seconds later as Ross Murray somehow managed to squeeze the puck between Flavell and the near post for a deserved lead. The goal seemed to wake the hosts however and their response was immediate, captain Michael Elder’s wrist shot finding the top corner as the clock ticked past the 14-minute mark. It got better for Billingham before the minute was out, Deniss Baškatovs potting home the rebound from an initial James Moss shot to put the home side ahead despite all of Solway’s pressure. Flavell pulled off the save of the match as he plucked a Moore effort from the air to ensure the Stars went into the dressing room a goal to the good.

A penalty to Duncan Speirs for hooking given on the buzzer meant that Billingham started the middle session on the power play and they went on the attack from the off, Elder bringing out the best of Hepburn with just over half a minute played. The Stars kept the pressure on and before the first minute was up they had doubled their lead, Sykes forcing the puck home. Solway were handed a power play opportunity of their own seconds later as Baškatovs was called for roughing and they too made it count, James Hutchinson firing into the bottom corner past Flavell’s outstretched leg from just inside the blue line with just a second left on the penalty. Play became much more even with chances at both ends – Speirs hit the pipework in the 24th minute, then four minutes later Hepburn caught a high shot over his head when Sykes got on the end of an Elder pass. It was Sykes again in the 31st minute, Hepburn with the glove save to deny the Stars’ top scorer. The metalwork came to Flavell’s rescue again in the 34th minute as Marek Charvat hit the underside of the bar, then seconds later it was déjà vu for Sykes as Hepburn’s glove prevented his effort sailing into the top corner. The Sharks had the puck in the net just before the 35-minute mark but the ‘goal’ was waved off for a man in the crease. There was time left for more chances but no further scoring as Charvat tested Flavell from the point, then in the final minute Jack Emerson almost got through at the near post before Moore broke clear but went wide of the far post on the backhand.

Baškatovs created the first real chance of the final period out of nothing on 44 minutes as he hit the post despite being on his knees under pressure from the Solway defence. A minute later Flavell smothered the puck to keep out Daniel Abercrombie. On 49 minutes Sykes had a golden opportunity to put daylight between the sides as he was fed on a high man break, but his attempt to put the puck over Hepburn’s blocker was too high. It was all square in the 52nd minute – with the Stars looking for a call on Baškatovs the visitors went on the attack, Speirs eventually lifting the puck over the prone Flavell to tie the game up. Less than a minute later Solway had turned the game around completely, Buesa with time just inside the blue line to blast past Flavell. The Sharks turned up the heat on the hosts, Speirs hitting the post once again in the 55th minute then Flavell had to be at his best to deny Buesa with the glove three minutes later. Billingham had nothing to lose and pulled Flavell in the last minute but they lost possession and Charvat had the easiest of chances to fire into the empty net to make the game safe.

Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was James Flavell.

Stars Stats:

Chris Sykes 1+1; Michael Elder 1+1; Deniss Baškatovs 1+0; ArtÅ«rs Ozols 0+1; James Moss 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1

SOG: James Flavell 43 (13 / 19 / 11)

Sharks Stats:

Jordan Buesa 1+1; James Hutchinson 1+1; Marek Charvat 1+0; Duncan Speirs 1+0; Ross Murray 1+0; Connor Henderson 0+2; Steven Moore 0+2; Stuart Kerr 0+1

SOG: Calum Hepburn 19 (6 / 7 / 6)

Billingham’s Director of Coaching Terry Ward recognised that the better side had won, but still took positives from the game:

“At 3-2 we were quite comfortable – we know what a good side Solway are and how fast they play, they gave us the game we expected – and we got a bit short on luck. But they played very well and closed the game out excellently. They started the game better than we did and the first ten minutes it was all Sharks, they were so much sharper. But we will take the positives, the systems we have been working on this week paid off in many areas and we go again next week.”

The Stars have a double game weekend in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 next time out as they host Hull Pirates on Saturday 11th November (face off 5.30pm) before travelling to North Wales to take on The Dragons on Sunday 12th November (face off 5.45pm).


Weekend Results:


Blackburn Hawks 1 Solihull Barons 2

Solway Sharks 14 The Dragons 0

Sheffield Steeldogs 3 Telford Tigers 2

Whitley Warriors 3 Hull Pirates 4 (after overtime and penalty shots)

The Dragons 2 Sheffield Steeldogs 6

Billingham Stars 3 Solway Sharks 5

Nottingham Lions 1 Solihull Barons 6


All images: Tony Burgum Photography