Weekend Preview: Cup Starters for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars are in National Cup Group A action this weekend, a return to Blackburn Hawks tomorrow afternoon followed by the visit of Solway Sharks to the Forum on Sunday evening.
A revamped Cup competition will see the Stars compete with Blackburn and Solway in a round-robin format, the top two teams progressing to the quarter final stage early next year.
Billingham travel to Lancashire tomorrow afternoon looking for immediate revenge after the Hawks snatched a late win on the same ice last Sunday in the League. Although still not quite the finished article, Blackburn dug deep to come from behind in the final period, danger man Rick Bentham striking with little over two minutes to go to grab both points. Player/Coach Steven Duncombe is still in the market for players as he looks to put the finishing touches to his squad and he will be buoyed by the manner in which his side were able to claw their way back into the game. The Hawks have already suffered one loss in the Cup competition having come away from Dumfries last Saturday on the wrong end of an 8-5 scoreline.
Solway visit the Forum on Sunday evening on the back of a maximum point haul in Cup and League last weekend. On paper the Sharks squad does not appear to be quite as strong as last season’s all-conquering treble winners with no less than eight players departing the Scots, including popular Slovakian defenceman Juraj Senko. Head Coach Martin Grubb has brought in Czech blue liner Marek Charvat and just today added compatriot Vaclav Kolarik as the Sharks once again opt for two import defencemen. Also new to the Solway line-up are brothers Lewis and Luke Houston, two-way signing Josh Grieveson, former Elite League and Great Britain star Kyle Horne and former Billingham player Scott Cooper. Iain Bowie has returned after a season on the sidelines and with some style as he hit seven goals in two games last weekend.
The Stars will need to put right the wrongs of the third period last Sunday if they are to get anything from this weekend. They have a much better idea of what to expect from Blackburn, however they will be well aware of how the Hawks were able to exploit defensive errors to come back at the death and grab the win. The Sharks form from last weekend – a Cup win over Blackburn and a 13-2 demolition of The Dragons in North Wales – suggest that last season’s Champions are not ready to relinquish their crowns just yet. Billingham will ice without Ben Davison and James Flavell due to injury, Andy Finn is unavailable, Luke Brown is suspended and James Hellens will be with the under-18 and under-20 sides who both get their seasons underway this weekend.
Billingham General Manager Allen Flavell wants to see more urgency from his Stars:
“I think we got a bit too complacent last weekend. We had a very comfortable win over the Dragons on Saturday night, then on Sunday Chris Sykes had scored two excellent goals to put our noses in front. With the chances we’d had we should have been home and dry, but we let the Hawks come at us, made silly mistakes at the back and they cost us dearly. There’s no way we can be as sloppy as that in this League, the calibre is such now that we will always get punished. This weekend we come up against Rick Bentham again, and Solway’s Iain Bowie is in some form. These are the guys that we need to shut down – if we do that then I’m confident of the four points.”
The Stars are in National Cup action this weekend - they travel across the Pennines to take on Blackburn Hawks tomorrow afternoon (face off 5.45pm), then host Solway Sharks on Sunday evening at the Forum (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].
Hull Pirates v Solihull Barons, Saturday 5.30pm
Solway Sharks v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7pm
Whitley Warriors v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 5pm
The Dragons v Solihull Barons, Sunday 5.45pm
Nottingham Lions v Hull Pirates, Sunday 7.30pm
National Cup Group A:
Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 5.45pm
Billingham Stars v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6.30pm
All images: Linda Crabtree