Weekend Report: League Openers v Dragons & Hawks
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars suffered mixed fortunes in their opening National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 weekend with a comprehensive home victory over The Dragons followed by a narrow defeat at the death at Blackburn Hawks.
Billingham starting with the maximum bench of 22 players, it was the home side who signalled their intent from the first drop of the puck, Michael Elder providing an early test for Dragons netminder Jonah Armstrong from the right wing with just ten seconds gone. The Welsh outfit failed to shut down the threat and the Stars opened their account 22 seconds later when Player/Coach Michael Bowman fired straight through a static Armstrong for 1-0. The traffic looking distinctly one-way, it was no surprise when the hosts doubled their lead in the sixth minute when Deniss Baškatovs showed some speed and put the perfect pass on a plate for Chris Sykes to one time home on the far post. Dragons were not completely penned in, Scott McKenzie forcing a kick save from Billingham goaltender Mark Watson a minute later, but in truth the Teessiders looked rampant, Elder making it three in the seventh minute when he found the top corner from the face off circle and prompting the Dragons to call a time out. The visitors rallied a little, only a great squeeze of the pads from Watson preventing the puck rebounding to the lurking Dragons forward in the ninth minute. Further hope of getting back into the game came in the form of a slashing call against Callum Davies just before the ten-minute mark, but it was the hosts who looked the more likely to score as the Welshmen failed to trouble Watson. Billingham were back on the scoresheet in the 13th minute when some excellent interplay between Sykes, Baškatovs and Bowman ended with the Latvian unselfishly setting up his Coach for the tap-in. It was compatriot Ozols who stole the show in the 17th minute, his blast into the corner taking the game away from the visitors, although they did pull a goal back late in the period through French import Mickaël Brodin with the Dragons on a five-on-three powerplay.
The Stars came out for the second session looking in the mood to add to their tally with two chances in the 23rd minute as Davies slid one just past the far post then Sykes blasted from close range but Armstrong just held on to nullify the danger. The Dragons had a purple patch of their own in the 25th minute, Watson standing up well in the face of a scramble in front of his net, then getting a glove on a face off shot from Chris Jones. An unsavoury incident in the 26th minute saw Luke Brown sent to the dressing room for an initial kicking match penalty, Brown’s displeasure at the decision compounded by a further match penalty for making an obscene gesture towards the referee. Billingham facing ten minutes short-handed, they played off almost four minutes comfortably before being awarded a penalty shot when Davies broke clear only to be prevented from get his shot away. Davies took the penalty shot, taking the puck wide and around Armstrong before lifting it past him to restore the five-goal advantage. The Dragons finally capitalised on the man advantage in the 31st minute, a defensive lapse letting in Matthew Wainwright who made no mistake. The visitors squandered their final few minutes of the second major penalty when Louis Morgan went to the box for a high stick on Ozols, the Stars able to go back on the offensive and almost immediately back on the scoresheet in the 35th minute when James Moss undressed Brodin on the blue line and fed Baškatovs who returned the favour for Moss to slot home between Armstrong’s pads. A minute later and Bowman had his hat trick, delaying his shot slightly to place it perfectly past Armstrong’s stick and into the top corner, 8-2 the score at the interval.
The comfortable score line enabled the home side to give ice time to their whole squad in the final stanza, with chances still coming their way regularly. Davies set up Moss from behind the net in the 44th minute but he was unable to find the shot. The ninth goal duly came in the 47th minute however, Scott Ward going high from the right wing. A lapse in concentration saw Shaun Dippnall get one back for the visitors half a minute later, but Billingham were not done and continued to press for more goals, Baškatovs unlucky not to score when he was set up by Sykes then Davies denied by an Armstrong glove. The hiatus ended in the 53rd minute when a speculative Ben Davison shot from the blue line trickled past Armstrong and inside his near post. Elder hit the post and Davies missed an open net before Baškatovs rounded out the scoring when he pounced on a spill by Armstrong to make it a comprehensive first League victory of the season for the Stars.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Callum Davies.
Michael Bowman 3+1; Deniss Baškatovs 1+4; Chris Sykes 1+3; Artūrs Ozols 1+1; Callum Davies 1+1; James Moss 1+0; Scott Ward 1+0; Ben Davison 1+0; Michael Elder 1+0; Josh Nertney 0+1; Luke Brown 0+1; Callum Pattison 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 33 (14 / 11 / 8)
Mickaël Brodin 1+1; Shaun Dippnall 1+1; Matthew Wainwright 1+0; James Parsons 0+1; Scott McKenzie 0+1; Ryan Jones 0+1
SOG: Jonah Armstrong 45 (13 / 15 / 17)
Post-game interviews are available via Billingham Stars TV:
The Stars travelled across the Pennines to Lancashire on Sunday evening to take on old foes Blackburn Hawks with another large squad, James Hellens replacing Andy Finn at the back. The opening five minutes was end-to-end as both sides tried to figure each other out, but with no clear-cut opportunities for either team. Baškatovs had the first glimpse of goal in the fifth minute but was taken out of the play by his marker. Seconds later Davison saw his effort go just past the post. Davison was in action at the other end in the eighth minute when he robbed Aaron Davies at the near post with the goal gaping. A minute later Sykes broke clear to go one-on-one with Hawks netminder Stephen Fone but the ex-Manchester Phoenix keeper stood up well. Back in the Billingham zone a minute later, Watson dived onto a James Royds effort as Blackburn pressured the net. The visitors broke the deadlock in the 11th minute, Sykes delaying his shot just long enough to pick his spot high past Fone’s glove. The Stars had a five-on-three power play opportunity as the period wound down as first Lee Pollitt and then Rick Bentham fell foul of the officials, but Darren Stattersfield’s boarding call evened things up and the teams went in at the break with the visitors still just edging it.
The Hawks came at their guests early in the second session. James Neil was left alone to drift into the danger area in the 21st minute, his shot caught high by Watson, but just a minute later the game was all square when Bentham caught Watson unsighted on his blocker side. The home side lost their early momentum and back came the Stars, Sykes pouncing on a big rebound to tap into the empty net in the 26th minute to restore the lead. Blackburn hit the crossbar two minutes later then Jack Emerson put one just past the far post on the backhand as play continued to swing from end to end. In the 33rd minute Moss attempted to force home under Fone but he just got enough squeeze with his pads to prevent it going in. In the period’s final action, an Elder tip just slid past the near post, Billingham still with their noses just in front after 40 minutes of play.
Baškatovs was finding life frustrating on the choppy ice surface, his 42nd minute attempt to shoot through Fone’s skates denied by the netminder. Lewis Baldwin fired just over Watson’s bar a minute later, then Hellens showed great defensive skill to prevent Royds getting his shot away. The Hawks were the side looking hungrier, Watson denying Aaron Davies and Bentham in quick succession. The home side levelled in controversial fashion in the 49th minute, Watson appearing to have killed the puck by lying on it, but the referee did not whistle and Matt Viney was allowed to chop it from under Watson’s arm to score. The game now wide open, Watson flashed the glove to deny Pollitt in the 51st minute then Elder almost dragged the puck under Fone four minutes later. With the prospect of overtime looming, Blackburn took the points with a Bentham goal just over two minutes from time, a defensive error allowing the home side to steal both points.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Artūrs Ozols.
Rick Bentham 2+0; Matt Viney 1+0; Lee Pollitt 0+1; James Royds 0+1; Josef Ištocy 0+1
SOG: Stephen Fone 25 (10 / 8 / 7)
Chris Sykes 2+0; Artūrs Ozols 0+1; Scott Ward 0+1; Dennis Baškatovs 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 31 (6 / 9 / 16)
Post-game interviews with Bench Coach Garry Dowd and Hawks Player/Coach Steven Duncombe are available via BigRedMachine Radio.
The Stars are in National Cup action next weekend when they travel back across the Pennines to take on Blackburn Hawks on Saturday 9th September (face off 5.45pm) followed by a home tie against Solway Sharks on Sunday 10th September (face off at the Forum 6.30pm).
Billingham Stars 11 The Dragons 3
Telford Tigers 4 Sheffield Steeldogs 3 (after overtime and penalty shots)
Blackburn Hawks 3 Billingham Stars 2
The Dragons 2 Solway Sharks 13
Solihull Barons 4 Sheffield Steeldogs 5
Nottingham Lions 2 Telford Tigers 5
National Cup Group A:
Solway Sharks 8 Blackburn Hawks 5
Images Dragons: Linda Crabtree / Hawks: Steve Pollitt