Weekend Report: Two From Four For Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars had a mixed start to 2018 in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1, a hard-fought win over Nottingham Lions at the Forum on Saturday evening followed by a comprehensive defeat on the road at second-placed Telford Tigers on Sunday night.
Eager to get the jump on nearest League rivals Nottingham on Saturday, the Stars came flying out of the blocks in the first period and put their visitors under immediate pressure. Artūrs Ozols was the first to get away a shot in anger, but his third-minute effort from the blue line went just wide. Seconds later it was captain Michael Elder’s turn to trouble Thomas Hovell in the Lions net when he found himself free out front but Hovell squeezed the pads to make the save. Alex Preston was almost successful in sliding a rebound under Hovell in the fifth minute, but the keeper got his body over the puck. Unfortunately for Hovell he could do nothing about the rebound that fell to Chris Sykes seconds later, Billingham’s top scorer on hand to tap home into the unguarded net to open the home side’s account. The one-way traffic continued, Jack Emerson electing to shoot straight at Hovell whilst on a two-on-one breakaway with James Moss in the sixth minute, then two minutes later Ozols blasted from the point, Hovell only just able to handle the shot. Nottingham eventually got a chance to go on the offensive just before the ten-minute mark as Deniss Baškatovs sat out a tripping call, Cameron Pywell testing netminder James Flavell with half a minute to go on the penalty. Back on the front foot, Moss tried his luck on the backhand at the far post in the 14th minute but Hovell did well to smother. The hosts got their reward for a dominant first period performance a minute later when Sykes delayed his shot long enough to see the perfect shot past Hovell on his stick side.
Realising the significance of the fixture, the Lions came out a different team at the start of the middle session and got themselves back into the game in the 23rd minute when the Stars defence allowed Pywell to skate into the danger area unopposed and roof his effort past Flavell. After a free-flowing first twenty, the penalties started to come and disrupted play, Billingham killing a five-on-three power play successfully following the Nottingham goal. Back at full strength, Elder pinged the crossbar in the 26th minute, then a minute later saw his effort scooped from the ice by Hovell. Still in the hunt, Ruskin Hughes put a wrist shot straight at Flavell in the 33rd minute. At the other end Sykes was looking for his hat trick, his high shot in the 34th minute caught under Hovell’s chin, then two minutes later he somehow managed to send the puck across the face of the goal when scoring seemed easier. More penalties followed, an interference call on Elliot Perrin for knocking a dropped stick away putting the Stars on the power play in the 37th minute, and this time the home side made it count as Elder diverted an Ozols pass to the back stick past Hovells.
Again Nottingham came out fired up and got themselves back within a single goal in the first minute of the third period, Marc Levers putting his blue line effort just inside the near post. Billingham did not panic, Baškatovs’ shot on the spin in the 42nd minute denied by Hovell’s pads. Sykes set up Ozols two minutes later but again Hovell’s pads came to the visitors’ rescue. Sykes got his hat trick in the 46th minute, Elder sliding the puck across with Hovell committed for Sykes to tap into the empty net. Again the Lions narrowed the gap, this time in controversial fashion in the 48th minute as Joe Humphries put the puck into the net on the wraparound with the Stars claiming that Flavell had been illegally impeded. The hosts did not let the incident faze them and they went looking for the goal that would make the game safe, Michael Bowman, Ozols and Richie Thornton all going close. In the 55th minute Elder got around the last defenceman but his decision to shoot rather than pass to the supporting Sykes was the wrong call. He got it absolutely right three minutes later however, Sykes with the break from the Stars defensive zone and the perfect pass to Elder who one-timed into the roof of the net to ensure the points stayed on Teesside.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Chris Sykes.
Chris Sykes 3+1; Michael Elder 2+0; Artūrs Ozols 0+2; Callum Davies 0+2; Darren Stattersfield 0+2
SOG: James Flavell 38 (12 / 11 / 15)
Cameron Pywell 1+1; Joe Humphries 1+0; Marc Levers 1+0; Paul Stanley 0+1; Joseph Gretton 0+1
SOG: Thomas Hovell 56 (15 / 16 / 25)
Billingham Stars TV spoke to the main protagonists after the game:
On Sunday the Stars travelled to Telford without Callum Davies, but otherwise an unchanged squad. The title-chasers were off the mark early, former Star Jack Watkins awarded the goal with just over a minute gone although it appeared to have some help into the net from a Billingham player. Telford had not long returned to full strength when Bowman was called for hooking and the home side seized their opportunity, piling on the pressure and bringing the best out of Flavell. The Stars net remained unbreached and with the penalty successfully killed Billingham then got chances of their own as first Jason Silverthorn and then Rick Plant and Adam Jones together sat out minor penalties. The Stars could not make the five-on-three situation count and paid for it just a minute after the Tigers had returned to five men when Silverthorn slotted home after an inch-perfect pass from Brodie Jesson.
A relatively tight first period in which Billingham set out their stall to contain their hosts fell apart in the second as Telford moved up a gear. Adam Taylor got the home side’s third in the 25th minute before Bowman opened the Stars account two minutes later. Any hopes that the goal might lead to a comeback was killed off less than two minutes after that as Plant hit the fourth. Three goals in three minutes put the Tigers out of sight by the 37th minute as Scott McKenzie, Silverthorn and Dale White all found the back of the net to give the score line a one-sided look by the second interval.
Telford changed their netminder at the start of the final stanza replacing Denis Bell with Jonah Armstrong. To their credit Billingham shut up shop in the third period and went back to the game plan that had worked to an extent in the first session. An early tripping penalty against Bowman was counting down when Elder broke clear and scored short-handed to double the visitors’ tally in the 42nd minute. With the hosts content to play out the remaining time and the Stars with no way back into the game, chances were limited and Armstrong and Flavell were largely untroubled. Jesson was rewarded for an excellent performance with a goal with just under five minutes to go to make the final score 8-2, the Tigers now four points behind leaders Sheffield Steeldogs with a game in hand.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was James Flavell.
Jason Silverthorn 2+2; Rick Plant 1+3; Scott McKenzie 1+1; Dale White 1+1; Brodie Jesson 1+1; Adam Taylor 1+0; Jack Watkins 1+0; Jonathan Weaver 0+2; Jed Moreland 0+1; Daniel Rose 0+1
SOG: Denis Bell 17 (6 / 11); Jonah Armstrong 12
Michael Bowman 1+0; Michael Elder 1+0; James Moss 0+1; Jack Emerson 0+1; Darren Stattersfield 0+1; Deniss Baškatovs 0+1
SOG: James Flavell 54 (23 / 20 / 11)
Billingham entertain basement side The Dragons in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 next Sunday 14th January, face off 6.30pm.
Billingham Stars 5 Nottingham Lions 3
Solway Sharks 7 Whitley Warriors 3
Sheffield Steeldogs 14 The Dragons 2
Whitley Warriors 5 Solihull Barons 3
Sheffield Steeldogs 3 Solway Sharks 0
Telford Tigers 8 Billingham Stars 2
Nottingham Lions 12 The Dragons 2
All images courtesy of Linda Crabtree