Match Preview: Stars v Warriors 26th March
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars finish their regular season in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 with a North East derby against Whitley Warriors at the Forum on Sunday evening.
The Warriors will arrive on Teesside with their playoff dream hanging by a thread. They must win Sunday night’s encounter to stand any chance of getting to IceSheffield and hope that Blackburn - the only team they can overhaul - lose their final two games. If they fail then they will perhaps look back at their game in Telford at the beginning of December as the defining moment of their season where they refused to continue the game after clashing with the officials. Although Whitley eventually returned to the ice, the incident cost them a two-point deduction and ultimately almost certainly a playoff berth. Indiscipline at crucial times has been the story of the Warriors season. On Sunday night the team will ice without Andre Payette as he serves yet another suspension after an altercation during last week’s Cup game against Solway Sharks. In what could prove to be his last ever game in a long career, Payette’s clash with Darren Stattersfield will see him sit for seven games. Whitley will also be missing Shaun Kippin through a three-match ban, his attempted head butt in the same game finishing his season prematurely.
The Stars have had their playoff ticket booked for some weeks now but will not be doing the Warriors any favours by rolling over in their last game before the showpiece event in a fortnight’s time. Billingham want to keep that winning habit, however they are also mindful of making sure they do not pick up any more injuries or suspensions – a full and fit bench will be crucial if Billingham are to pick up the season’s last piece of silverware. With that in mind, several players will face late fitness tests ahead of Sunday's game as the Stars look to shake off any niggles and knocks.
The Stars’ Director of Coaching Terry Ward is looking forward to a test of character ahead of the playoff weekend:
“Whitley will give us a very hard game. There’s still a slim chance of them making the playoffs and I’m sure they won’t give it up until that chance has gone. They’re a tough side and when they do play hockey they’ve got a squad full of very talented players that have the ability to trouble anyone. It is a derby as well, no one wants to lose these games regardless of what’s at stake so it should be a good test of our character as well as a hard-fought hockey game. We want to make sure we sign off in front of our own fans at the Forum with a win – it’s important that we go into the playoff weekend with our confidence high. We want to come back to Billingham with that trophy, and this game is the perfect preparation for us in many ways.”
Billingham host Whitley Warriors in their final National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 regular season match on Sunday evening, 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].
The Dragons v Solway Sharks, 5.45pm Sunday
Solihull Barons v Blackburn Hawks, 6pm Sunday
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, 6.30pm Sunday
Solway Sharks v Blackburn Hawks, 7pm Saturday
All images courtesy of Colin Edwards, CJE Photography