Match Report: Stars 3 Warriors 6
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars came up against a fired-up Whitley Warriors in their final National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 match of the regular season on Sunday at the Forum, going down 3-6 to their local rivals.
Despite suspensions to Andre Payette and Shaun Kippin, Whitley travelled well down the A19 with a full squad icing as they went all-out for the win they so desperately needed to keep alive their slim hopes of making the playoffs. By contrast the Stars were short in all departments, just 13 skaters lining up with Jack Watkins, James Moss, Andy Finn, Scott Cooper, Jack Emerson and Will Robson all absent. The Warriors made their intent clear and got off to a blistering start, opening the scoring after just 32 seconds when Ben Richards slotted through Billingham netminder James Flavell’s pads on the backhand. The lead was doubled with just 66 seconds on the clock when Callum Watson and DJ Good broke clear from neutral ice with only captain Richie Thornton back as cover, Watson squaring to Good to lift it into the roof of the net. Shell-shocked, the Stars were still struggling to regain their composure when Watson almost made it three in the fifth minute, his backhand effort finding Flavell’s chest instead. From the face off, Dennis Boström collected and raced out of the zone down the left wing, Warriors netminder Richie Lawson coming out of his net to cut the angle as the home side eventually registered a meaningful shot on goal. Watson returned to the ice just a shift later and capitalised on a lazy attempt to clear in the Billingham zone, collecting the puck with ease and lifting it over Flavell’s leg pad for 0-3 with just seven minutes played. The Stars bench called a time out in an attempt to steady the ship and although initially Whitley retained possession the hosts began to make inroads, and in the ninth minute Lawson had to get down quick with the glove after a rebound was pushed towards the net by Luke Brown. Billingham were back in the game on exactly ten minutes, Lawson coughing up a Thornton shot from the blue line for the lurking Michael Bowman to knock in. Buoyed, the home side surged forward and should have cut the gap to a single goal with their very next attack but Callum Davies shot high and wide when one-on-one with Lawson. In the 13th minute Boström got away a shot on the backhand despite pressure from two Warriors defencemen but Lawson was equal to it. A minute later and Good blasted straight at Flavell protecting his near post as the game swung from one end to the other. Boström fired just inches past the near post from a 16th minute face off, then with Watson sitting out a holding call, Ross Hanlon skated from his own zone only to see his final effort knocked away by Lawson with a little over a minute to play before the buzzer.
The visitors were a man down once again just 13 seconds into the middle session as Jordan Barnes was penalised for boarding. The Stars set up well on the power play but found Lawson in superb form, a one-time blast from Boström at the far post from a Chris Sykes pass tracked well across the net. Back at full strength, Whitley had two clear-cut chances in the 23rd and 25th minute through Dean Holland but Mark Watson – stepping up to replace Flavell between the pipes at the start of the second period – had the measure of both. Warriors were back on the front foot however and re-established their three-goal cushion in the 28th minute when promising youngster Jamie Ord found the gap at the near post with Watson not quite set for the shot. Chasing the game again, Billingham responded within two minutes when Daniel Palmebjörk broke out of his own zone down the right wing and found Ben Davison for the one-time effort over Lawson. Less than a minute later Bowman had the chance to get the hosts within one with a shot from out front but was denied by Lawson’s blocker. The Stars had successive power play opportunities as first Josh Maddock and then Harry Harley made trips to the sinbin, but Lawson and his team mates held up well under pressure until the 37th minute when Boström finally got the goal he had been threatening all evening when he rounded the last defenceman and shot low past Lawson. Referee Dave Farren handed out a controversial high stick call to Bowman in the last minute of the session, Bowman appearing to catch Holland in the face after being tripped himself, and the penalty was punished almost immediately, Callum Watson firing straight through namesake Mark with just 14 seconds to go until the interval.
Both teams slowed their pace at the start of the third as news filtered from Solihull that Blackburn Hawks, the only team that Whitley could overtake for a playoff spot, were winning and thus ending the Tynesiders’ dream of a trip to IceSheffield next month. A snap shot from Brown almost fooled Lawson in the 44th minute, but seconds later the game was over as a contest when Holland finished a three-on-two move to open the gap to three once more. Another Billingham power play came and went as a holding call against Liam Smedley went unpunished, the closest the Stars coming to scoring was Sykes out front with two bites of the cherry in the 46th minute, Lawson again the brick wall that could not be beached. Michael Elder stung Lawson’s glove in the 53rd minute, then a minute later Watson’s glove tip onto the post saved the home side from going further behind. Billingham did not give up and had late chances to narrow the gap through Tom Keeley, Sykes and Josh Nertney, but Lawson was not bettered again and the clock counted down to a 3-6 win for the visitors, their celebrations muted as they realised that this would be their final game of the season with no playoff berth this time.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Ben Davison.
Michael Bowman 1+0; Ben Davison 1+0; Dennis Boström 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+2; Richie Thornton 0+1; Ross Hanlon 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1, Daniel Palmebjörk 0+1
SOG: James Flavell 16; Mark Watson 22 (12 / 10)
Callum Watson 2+2; Daniel Good 1+2; Ben Richards 1+2; Dean Holland 1+1; Jamie Ord 1+1; Jordan Barnes 0+2; Josh Maddock 0+1; Harry Harley 0+1
SOG: Richie Lawson 44 (12 / 15 / 17)
Billingham Stars TV caught up with the main protagonists after the game, click on the links to see their interviews:
- Stars Director of Coaching Terry Ward
- Stars Man-of-the-Match Ben Davison
- Warriors Player Coach David Longstaff
Billingham’s regular season is now complete. The team travel to IceSheffield for the playoffs over the weekend of the 8th and 9th of April where they will face Blackburn Hawks in the semi-final.
The Dragons 4 Solway Sharks 4
Solihull Barons 4 Blackburn Hawks 6
Billingham Stars 3 Whitley Warriors 6
Solway Sharks 10 Blackburn Hawks 0
All images courtesy of Linda Crabtree except Bowman scoring, credit Colin Edwards CJE Photography