Weekend Report: Cup Dream Over for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars fell at the final hurdle in their quest to progress in the National Cup as they lost out to Solway Sharks in their last Group A game at the Forum on Sunday evening after keeping their hopes alive with a dramatic late comeback win at Blackburn Hawks on Saturday.
Two teams with short benches faced each other on Saturday evening in Lancashire as both Blackburn and Billingham found themselves lacking numbers. The Stars issues were mostly in defence, the lack of recognised defencemen meaning Jack Davies reverted to the blue line to bring the number up to four. The home side were quick off the mark, Richard Bentham finding James Riddoch for the one-time effort past Stars netminder Mark Watson’s skate with just 30 seconds gone. With just under two minutes played it perhaps should have been 2-0 when the Billingham defence lost track of Bentham but he put his shot high and wide. The Teessiders began to hold onto the puck and got a shot on goal on five minutes when James Hellens put in a lifted shot from the point, Hawks goaltender Stuart Ashton with a relatively straightforward save. 90 seconds later Ashton dealt with a more difficult situation when he got a late skate on a Deniss Baškatovs punt at the near post. On the power play on seven minutes, Blackburn Player/Coach Steven Duncombe hit the crossbar, then two minutes later Lee Pollitt put one just wide and the hosts looking to extend their lead. Stars Latvian defenceman Artūrs Ozols became the second player to ring the metalwork in the tenth minute, a precursor to the visitors’ equaliser which came just seconds later when Baškatovs collected a loose puck, Ashton unable to hold on and allowing his wrist shot to trickle over the line. Back came Blackburn, Riddoch with the blast from out front in the 12th minute but Watson stood up well. Two minutes later at the other end Callum Davies got close in on goal but found Ashton covering his near post too well to get sight of goal. In the 15th minute Ashton again failed to deal with a wrist shot effectively, this one from James Moss, but he was saved by his defenceman who cleared the bobbling puck off the line. It was Moss again in the 18th minute with a few chops at the puck at point blank range but Ashton dealt with the danger well. The last act of the period fell to Michael Bowman seconds later when he found himself with time and space out front, but he put his attempt wide.
It was Billingham’s turn to start the middle session at a canter, Chris Sykes shooting low to beat Ashton in the 22nd minute, but their joy lasted just 17 seconds as the Hawks went on the attack from the face off, Watson coming well out of his goal to try to deny Bentham but he found James Royds for an easy tap-in to the empty net. The home side looked much fresher and moved back in front when the Stars lost the puck in their defensive zone and Jozef Ištocy squeezed one through Watson’s pads. With Billingham looking tired, Blackburn always looked the more likely to score again and a fourth came their way with an element of controversy in the 32nd minute when Lewis Baldwin put away his own rebound with the linesman’s arm up for icing but waved off by referee Andrew Miller. The hosts had two further chances to make the game safe before the buzzer when they hit the post in the 37th minute and then Bentham got the best out of Watson with less than two minutes to go, but the gap remained at two going into the break.
The Hawks started the third period brightly enough as they tried to put the result beyond doubt, Bentham with two chances in the 44th minute and then Pollitt shooting high and wide a minute later. Billingham then seemed to find another gear and started to assert themselves, Sykes trying to pick out the top corner but just too high in the 46th minute. The signs were there however and it was captain Michael Elder who reduced the deficit when he poked home with just over 47 minutes gone. Baškatovs almost tied things up on the 48-minute mark but he fanned on his shot when set up at the back post. Half a minute later Sykes found Ashton’s skate as the visitors looked threatening with every attack. Sykes looked determined to get his second and got round Luke Boothroyd to get his shot away in the 51st minute only to be denied by Ashton. Three minutes later he got the goal he’d been working towards, delaying his shot long enough to snipe past Ashton with little the netminder could do. Despite the one-way traffic, less than a minute later Blackburn were back in front when Riddoch bagged his second, but the Stars were not about to let all their hard work be so easily undone and the game was level once more on 56 minutes when the hardworking Baškatovs poached his second of the match. With just under three minutes to go Billingham snatched the win when Sykes broke with Moss in support, Sykes with the inch-perfect slide pass for Moss to tuck past Ashton and give the visitors both Cup points.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Deniss Baškatovs.
James Riddoch 2+0; Jozef Ištocy 1+1; Lewis Baldwin 1+1; James Royds 1+0; Richard Bentham 0+4; Lee Pollitt 0+2; Matt Viney 0+1
SOG: Stuart Ashton 33 (13 / 9 / 11)
Chris Sykes 2+2; Deniss Baškatovs 2+0; Michael Elder 1+3; James Moss 1+2; Michael Bowman 0+1; Ethan Hehir 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1; Matthew Campbell 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 46 (17 / 14 / 15)
Stars Media Team spoke to Terry Ward and Steven Duncombe after the game - you can hear their reactions by clicking here.
On Sunday the Stars welcomed back four defencemen as they looked to overtake Blackburn in the Cup standings by defeating Solway Sharks. Sykes got away a first minute shot on netminder Calum Hepburn but it proved to be a false dawn as Solway dominated the opening exchanges. With Jack Davies in the box for boarding, the visitors moved ahead in the third minute when Steven Moore managed to avoid the attempted block from Ozols to fire straight through Watson. It was two just three minutes later as a point shot from Stuart Kerr was past Watson before he could react. Chances for the home side were limited, Sykes created a little extra space for himself to get the shot away on 12 minutes but his effort was simple enough for Hepburn to deal with. In the 14th minute Vaclav Kolarik showed great speed down the left wing before unleashing a shot into the top corner. Just a minute later and the game was effectively over as Struan Tonnar netted a scrappy goal, the Billingham bench calling a time out to try and rally themselves. At the next stoppage the home side replaced Watson with James Flavell. The Stars clawed one back before the end of the session through Elder, but in truth the period belonged to the visitors.
Starting the second period on the power play, Billingham were immediately back on the score sheet with less than 30 seconds gone when Sykes redirected a Callum Davies effort past Hepburn. The Stars looking more composed than the opening session, Darren Stattersfield released Bowman with an excellent pass out of defence in the 24th minute but the Player/Coach sent his effort wide of the post. Solway still threatened with every attack, ringing the post in the 25th minute and then seeing a Marek Charvat tip go just wide seconds later. They restored their advantage with a touch of fortune in the 27th minute, Ross Murray hitting home with Flavell especially claiming he had used a high stick. Just on 29 minutes gone, Callum Davies closed in on the near post but Hepburn was able to hang on. The Sharks moved further ahead just past the halfway mark with an excellent goal from Duncan Speirs – a tight angle was not enough to prevent him from finding a tiny gap between Flavell’s shoulder and the cross bar and hitting the roof of the net. Jack Davies and Joe Coulter went toe-to-toe in the 33rd minute when the Billingham man took exception to a hit from behind and retaliated, both receiving six penalty minutes for their exertions. With a little under three minutes to play before the buzzer, Stattersfield got one back with a blast from out wide that Hepburn could do nothing about.
With their Cup hopes fading, Billingham tried to narrow the gap early on in the third with chances for Sykes and Callum Davies. Opportunities for both sides were rare however, tired legs from the Stars beginning to show and the Sharks with no need to press. Moss went just wide in the 51st minute then five minutes later Hepburn came well out of his net to dive on the puck and nullify the danger from a potential Sykes break. The game was into the last 55 seconds when Solway put the final nail in the coffin, Scott Henderson shooting low past Flavell on his stick side to give the score line a flattering look for the visitors.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Jack Davies.
Darren Stattersfield 1+2; Chris Sykes 1+0; Michael Elder 1+0; Callum Davies 0+1; Deniss Baškatovs 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 7; James Flavell 43 (7 / 15 / 21)
Duncan Speirs 1+2; Steven Moore 1+2; Struan Tonnar 1+1; Ross Murray 1+1; Stuart Kerr 1+0; Scott Henderson 1+0; Vaclav Kolarik 1+0; Marek Charvat 0+2; James Hutchinson 0+1
SOG: Calum Hepburn 33 (9 / 14 / 10)
Billingham Stars TV captured all the post-game reactions:
Billingham have a rare weekend off next weekend. They return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action on Saturday 2nd December at Hull Pirates (face off 5.30pm) followed by a home tie against Blackburn Hawks on Sunday 3rd December (face off 6.30pm).
Telford Tigers 11 The Dragons 1
Solway Sharks 3 Hull Pirates 6
Hull Pirates 20 The Dragons 3
Sheffield Steeldogs 5 Whitley Warriors 2
Solihull Barons 6 Blackburn Hawks 2
Nottingham Lions 0 Telford Tigers 9
National Cup Group A:
Blackburn Hawks 5 Billingham Stars 6
Billingham Stars 3 Solway Sharks 7
Images Hawks: Steve Pollitt / Images Sharks: as stated