Weekend Preview: Back To League Action for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action tomorrow evening with two tough games after a mini-break from their hectic schedule.
First up tomorrow is a visit to in-form Hull Pirates. The former English Premier League outfit are currently the team to beat as they climb steadily up the table. A 6-4 victory over League leaders Sheffield Steeldogs has put the Pirates just three points behind the front runners and with a game in hand. Hull’s standout British players have been the key to their successful transition to the new NIHL set-up, although they were slow out of the blocks with some unexpected early losses in the League. They have found their rhythm now however, an Autumn Cup loss at Swindon Wildcats their only defeat in the whole of November. Their record thus far against the Stars is two for two, a crushing 11-1 win on Humberside in October the yardstick for tomorrow afternoon’s game.
By contrast Sunday's visitors Blackburn Hawks are on a six-game losing streak, their slump having started with a comprehensive defeat at the Forum in the Cup at the end of October. Keen to stop the rot before it really sets in, the Hawks management moved this week to bring back Finnish defenceman Kim Miettinen, a player who last pulled on a Blackburn jersey during the 2015-2016 campaign before moving to Solway Sharks the following season. An ultimately unsuccessful stint at Telford Tigers ended a few weeks ago, leaving the Lancashire outfit free to swoop in and bolster their blue line. Miettinen will line up against Billingham on Sunday for what should be his second game back as the Hawks take on his former club Solway in the National Cup tomorrow evening.
The Stars have not played a League game in three weeks and although they languish in eighth place with just five points, they have five games in hand over seventh placed Whitley Warriors. That last League match was a confidence-boosting win at The Dragons, which they followed up a week later with a last-gasp victory at Blackburn in the Cup. The short bench took it’s toll and the Stars could not follow up the next night against Solway, however the weekend off has given the whole squad the opportunity to rest up and give the knocks and niggles some extra time to heal. Despite this their short-bench woes will continue tomorrow at least, with unavailability robbing the coaches of several key players. Defence will once again be an issue, with the squad expected to travel with just five defencemen at best. The roster for Sunday's game on home ice should be much healthier as the Stars look to make it three from their last three against the Hawks.
Billingham’s Director of Coaching Terry Ward sees the weekend as ‘a test of character’:
“Having that little break could be a blessing or a curse, we just don’t know which one yet. On the one hand it’s given us some much-needed rest time – playing with a short bench continuously makes for a lot of tired legs. But getting out of the rhythm of playing can backfire too, so we have to make sure we are just as prepared mentally as we are physically. We are going to be lacking a few bodies for the trip to Hull so it will be a real test of character for the lads who do turn out. Hull we know are very dangerous offensively and will stretch our back line, Blackburn will be buoyed by the return of Miettinen… it will be another tough weekend.”
The Stars return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action with a trip to Hull Pirates tomorrow evening (face off 6pm) before returning to the Forum to take on Blackburn Hawks on Sunday (face off 6.30pm). Tickets for tomorrow evening’s game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10 adults, £6 concessions, £30 family [2+2].
Nottingham Lions v Solihull Barons, Saturday 12.30pm
Hull Pirates v Billingham Stars, Saturday 6pm
Whitley Warriors v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 5pm
Solihull Barons v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 6.30pm
Nottingham Lions v The Dragons, Sunday 7.30pm
National Cup Group A:
Solway Sharks v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 7pm