Battling It Out In League & Cup
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars will go for National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 and North Cup points this weekend as League basement side Nottingham Lions visit the Forum tomorrow evening, then the Stars hit the road to try and stay on top of the Cup table with a win at Sheffield Steeldogs on Sunday afternoon.
To say that Nottingham haven’t had the best of starts to their League campaign is something of an understatement. The Lions currently prop up the Division 1 table with an unenviable record of seven straight losses, zero points and a whopping -88 goal difference. In a League that is stepping up in quality every season, it seems Nottingham’s inability to keep pace is going to cost them dear – as a development side for their Elite League ‘big brother’ the Panthers, the Lions simply do not have the set-up or resource to compete at this time. They do have plenty of young talent to watch out for, and already the likes of Ruskin Hughes and Cameron Pywell have caught the eye with some excellent individual displays despite the heavy defeats they have taken thus far. The two teams have already faced each other in Nottingham three weeks ago, Billingham coming away 2-6 victors on that occasion, a spirited third period display from the Lions keeping the score respectable.
Sheffield finally enter the North Cup round robin stage on Sunday, their attention thus far being taken solely by the League and the additional Autumn Cup competition. Last season’s League champions are unbeaten in their defence of their title in four Division 1 games, however their Autumn Cup form has been patchy and they have secured just two wins in six attempts, at this point looking uncertain of progressing from the group stage. Steeldogs will therefore focus their efforts on the regional Cup competition in their pursuit of silverware, welcoming the Stars to IceSheffield for the first time this campaign. Their previous League match-up at the Forum for the first game of the season saw Sheffield just edge out a plucky Billingham 3-4, however the larger pad in South Yorkshire has not been the easiest of places to visit for the Stars in recent times and they will need to find another gear if they are to get one over their illustrious opponents.
Billingham suffered their first Cup loss last Saturday at Hull Pirates but bounced straight back to take another two points out of Solway Sharks at the Forum last Sunday, a ‘season’s best’ second period contributing to a 5-2 win. The Stars certainly look more resilient than previous years, even in defeat on Humberside, Billingham took the game to the much-fancied Pirates late on to rally from 6-0 down and take the final period 2-0. The following day they reacted perfectly to going behind by blasting Solway with four unanswered second period goals to take the game out of the Sharks reach. Expected to win tomorrow evening, the Stars will remember the visit of Sutton Sting a fortnight ago and not take any team for granted, Sunday is a different test entirely that will again be a measure of how physically and mentally fit the Teessiders are. Billingham will have to do without Jack Davies as he continues to recover from a lower body injury, whilst games for the Under 18s and Under 20s may also see a juggling of personnel to ensure all sides ice competitively.
The Stars’ Head Coach Tom Brown is upbeat going into the weekend, believing two wins is not out of the realms of possibility:
“We’ve played both teams and we have a better idea what to expect. Nottingham have taken some beatings for sure but complacency has already cost us this season and we won’t be making the same mistakes again. Sheffield have the bigger pad which gives us the same space as it does them – we have nothing to fear, we’ve shown we can stay with them and I want the win.”
Billingham are in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action tomorrow night at the Forum where Nottingham Lions are the visitors, face off 6pm. They then take a trip to Sheffield Steeldogs for a 5.30pm face off in the North Cup on Sunday afternoon. Tickets for tomorrow's encounter can be bought from the box office from 5pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Billingham Stars v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 6pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 5.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Solway Sharks v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 7pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5.30pm
Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree