Weekend Preview: Last Group A Games for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars face their final round of National Cup Group A matches this weekend with a slim chance of qualifying for the next stage of the competition still alive providing they defeat Blackburn Hawks tomorrow afternoon in Lancashire and Solway Sharks on Sunday evening at the Forum.
Billingham visit a Blackburn outfit tomorrow who are looking to bag their first win in four games. Since the Hawks were trounced 9-3 on Teesside three weeks ago, they have lost out by the odd goal in three – and on home ice – to both Solihull Barons and Sheffield Steeldogs. The Hawks remain in the chasing pack in the League however, and a win tomorrow will see them qualify for the next round of the National Cup as it will extinguish any lingering hopes of a late comeback by the Stars to rob them of one of the two spots available for progression. The Blackburn surface isn’t one that Billingham find particularly comfortable but having pushed their hosts all the way in their last two visits to lose by just the one goal they will be keen to go one step better this time around.
Solway visit the Forum on Sunday knowing their progression in the Cup competition is already assured. Second in the League and leading the way in the Cup, last season’s treble winners are once again in the mix for trophies on all fronts. The Sharks have found life in the new National League set-up much tougher than in previous seasons and have lost six matches to this point, however they are grinding out results when it matters and their fitness and speed ensure they are able to stay in games for the full 60 minutes, a fact that the Stars have found out to their cost being on the end of two third period comebacks.
Billingham got the confidence boost they so badly needed with a hard-fought 4-9 win over The Dragons in North Wales last Sunday. Travelling to Deeside with just 12 skaters, the Stars were being held at 3-all at the end of the second period before finding an extra gear and blasting six past their opponents in the final session to give the score line a one-sided look. Of note last Sunday was the Teessiders’ special play unit which has come good in fine style in recent weeks, five power play chances converted from eight was another excellent display of special team play. Billingham will be able to add a few more bodies back to the squad for this weekend but will still be short – Ross Hanlon, Dave Thomas and Tom Keeley are all definitely missing, Mark Watson is unavailable today and there are question marks over several other players as the Stars look forward to a much-needed weekend off next weekend to heal up some injuries.
The Stars’ Director of Coaching Terry Ward wants to see consistency from his side in these final Cup games:
“These will be another two tough games but we are approaching them with confidence. Last Sunday’s third period performance is what I am looking for – high tempo, working hard, shooting accurately. We played well against Hull on Saturday also but we just ran out of steam and that is something we must be wary of. We have a weekend off coming up next week, our only weekend off of the season, so we know we can give these two games everything with two weeks to recover. We may be outsiders to qualify but our chance hasn’t disappeared just yet and we will keep fighting until it does.”
The Stars are in National Cup action all weekend with a trip to Blackburn Hawks tomorrow afternoon (face off 5.45pm) before returning to the Forum to take on Solway Sharks on Sunday (face off 6.30pm). Tickets for Sunday evening’s game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10 adults, £6 concessions, £30 family [2+2].
Telford Tigers v The Dragons, Saturday 5.30pm
Solway Sharks v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7pm
Hull Pirates v The Dragons, Sunday 5.30pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 6pm
Nottingham Lions v Telford Tigers, Sunday 7.30pm
National Cup Group A:
Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 5.45pm
Billingham Stars v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6.30pm
Images: Dragons Pete Sheffield; Pirates Linda Crabtree