Weekend Preview: New Year, New Beginnings for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars go into the New Year in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 with new-found confidence after a morale-boosting win over Blackburn Hawks last Saturday lifted them into eighth place, one spot above tomorrow’s opponents Nottingham Lions.
Tomorrow afternoon’s visitors to the Forum are struggling in similar ways to the Stars after electing to take Sutton Sting’s place in the top division over the summer. Nottingham have been a development team in the truest sense of the word for some seasons as they play second fiddle to their Elite League brethren the Panthers, however they do bring talent into the side from places other than their own player development channels. Their squad currently contains many faces familiar to Billingham fans, including Richard Slater, Marc Levers and Adam Andrews, and their form away from home is better than on their own ice so the Stars cannot afford to take the ninth-placed Lions too lightly.
On Sunday Billingham are on the road at second-placed Telford for their first competitive meeting in Shropshire this season. As a former English Premier League outfit, the Tigers are performing as well as most observers predicted and are challenging for the title along with Sheffield Steeldogs and Hull Pirates. Telford’s season has not been without its problems however, a lengthy suspension to Great Britain international Jonathan Weaver early in the season was followed by a game awarded against them and sanctions for Player/Coach Tom Watkins after they broke the rules on coaching staff on the team bench at least once. The Tigers will play Sunday's game without Joe Miller for the first time since his withdrawal from the sport last weekend, a huge blow to Telford’s title aspirations as he had contributed 49 points from 28 games played.
The Stars go into 2018 in a much better frame of mind after they finally snapped their losing streak to overcome Blackburn last weekend. A performance that owed much to team spirit as opposed to quality play, Billingham showed the character that they will need for the rest of the campaign if they are to avoid getting dragged into a relegation dogfight. Tomorrow's game against their nearest rivals Nottingham is a must-win for both sides – lose and the Stars will slip below the Lions once more whilst a win would open up a small gap between them. Billingham will have a good-sized squad to choose from for both games with only long-term injury victims Tom Keeley and Dave Thomas out of the selection frame.
The Stars’ General Manager Allen Flavell wants to see his side push on from last Saturday’s victory:
“I don’t want to pile the pressure on by saying that we must win against the Lions, but there’s no denying it’s a massive game for us. We’ve not faced them so far this season but we know how they set themselves up and we believe we have the game plan to crack them. They’ve got the result on the road against Whitley and Solihull so we cannot afford to be complacent despite their League position. The trip to Telford is obviously a tough one for us but we saw Solway get the win there last Saturday which proves it can be done. We have the confidence now after last weekend – I want to see us use that and push both teams hard.”
The Stars have a double game weekend in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 as they host Nottingham Lions tomorrow afternoon (face off 5.30pm) before travelling to Shropshire to take on Telford Tigers on Sunday(face off 6pm). Tickets for tomorrow afternoon’s game can be bought from the box office from 4.30pm priced at £10 adults, £6 concessions, £30 family [2+2].
Billingham Stars v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 5.30pm
Solway Sharks v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v The Dragons, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Solihull Barons, Sunday 5pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Telford Tigers v Billingham Stars, Sunday 6pm
Nottingham Lions v The Dragons, Sunday 7.30pm
All images courtesy of Tony Burgum Photography