Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars had a frustrating weekend as they struggled to overcome National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 basement side Nottingham Lions on Saturday before their luck deserted them completely in Sunday’s North Cup loss at Sheffield Steeldogs.

A comfortable victory was expected at the Forum on Saturday night, even more so when Nottingham arrived missing both senior netminders and giving a full senior debut to 16-year-old Luca Sheldon. The Stars started brightly enough, Chris Sykes meandering through traffic with just over a minute played, Sheldon forced to sit on his backhand effort, but from then they seemed to slip out of gear. The Lions duly delivered a shock lead on 6.37 when eventual Man-of-the-Match Ruskin Hughes stole the poke in the neutral zone and fired across Billingham goaltender Mark Watson to beat him stick side. Shaken into action, the home side hauled themselves back into the game just over the halfway point of the period when Kevin Boyd fought hard to win and keep the puck in the zone on the penalty kill, eventually receiving it back in just the right spot to place the puck past Sheldon’s glove. Nottingham continued to frustrate their hosts, but they could do little to prevent the go-ahead goal when Edgar Protčenko released James Moss with a superb zone to zone pass on 16.17, Moss finishing the move perfectly to send the Teessiders into the break with their noses in front.

The middle session was hard work for the Stars as they struggled to break down a resilient Lions defence. They paid for their inability to step it up when Nottingham capitalised on some sloppy play in the neutral zone and Hughes made no mistake one-on-one against Watson for the equaliser at 33.53. Forced to push forward, Billingham moved ahead once more less than two minutes later when Boyd found the roof of the net, then they doubled their advantage just over a minute before the interval, Watson finding Sykes on the blue line who then fed Moss, the forward rounding Sheldon for his second of the game.

Stars needed to press it home in the third, led by Boyd who got his hat trick marker on 44.27 when he put the accelerators on and wrapped one around the back of the net, Sheldon unable to get across quick enough and the puck going in off his skate. The Lions were not quite done however, Hughes getting his own hat trick three minutes later to give pause for thought once more. Into the final ten minutes and a goal apiece from Billingham’s Alex Preston and Nottingham’s Cameron Pywell eight seconds apart kept the gap at two, however the Stars would prove to have just too much for their stubborn visitors as first Cal Davies with a tip from a Michael Elder shot and finally Boyd with an empty net short-handed effort in the last minute extended the lead and gave the score a perhaps flattering look at 8-4.

Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Kevin Boyd.

Stars Stats:

Kevin Boyd 4+0; James Moss 2+1; Cal Davies 1+0; Alex Preston 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+4; Edgar Protčenko 0+1; Richie Thornton 0+1; Ben Davison 0+1; Mark Watson 0+1; Jack Emerson 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1; Tom Keeley 0+1

SOG: Mark Watson 27 (11 / 8 / 8)

Lions Stats:

Ruskin Hughes 3+1; Cameron Pywell 1+2; Elliot Perrin 0+1

SOG: Luca Sheldon 54 (12 / 23 / 19)

Billingham Stars TV captured all the post-match reaction:

Billingham knew they could not afford a similar performance against Sheffield Steeldogs the following evening, however the first period was not pretty as both sides struggled to find any rhythm, the Stars weathering pockets of Steeldogs pressure to go into the dressing rooms level as neither side created any meaningful opportunities.

The second stanza started at a higher tempo, Michael Bowman troubling Sheffield netminder Dmitri Zimozdra on the backhand with a little over a minute gone, then James Flavell had to dive on a loose puck at the other end a minute later as both sides pushed for an opening. The home side got it on 24 minutes in slightly controversial fashion, Nathan Salem finishing a three-on-two breakout when arguably the Stars should have been on a power play, Cal Davies taken out by a high stick from Tim Smith moments earlier. Davies would play no further part in the game. Billingham finally started to show some of the play they have been capable of this season and took the game to their opponents, rewarded on 31.50 when Sykes hung onto the puck under pressure before Boyd roofed the loose puck to level the game. Continuing to press forward, the Stars were given a five-on-three power play opportunity late in the period. Sheffield had just returned to four men when Protčenko found Elder who fed Moss for the one timer underneath Zimozdra and a one-goal lead going into the break.

Billingham knew the hosts would come at them from the start and so it proved, however there was a great deal of controversy around the equaliser on 45.41. Cameron Brownley’s shot quite audibly ricocheted off Flavell’s mask, however referee Deana Cuglietta did not whistle down the play and Liam Charnock was on hand to pot home the rebound. Billingham’s players surrounded the official but their pleas were in vain and she allowed the goal to stand. Clearly still reeling, the visitors immediately fell further behind when defensive errors allowed Milan Kolena time to pick his spot past Flavell on his knees. The Stars could not dig themselves out of the hole this time, and despite the hosts giving up several late penalties they were unable to find a way through. Sheffield capitalised on another error behind the net with less than five minutes to play to round off the scoring, Duncan Speirs collecting out front to fire home a short-handed effort for their first North Cup victory of the campaign.

Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Ethan Hehir.

Steeldogs Stats:

Nathan Salem 1+2; Milan Kolena 1+1; Duncan Speirs 1+0; Liam Charnock 1+0; Ben Morgan 0+1; Andrew Hirst 0+1; Cameron Brownley 0+1; Tim Smith 0+1

SOG: Dmitri Zimozdra 20 (4 / 7 / 9)

Stars Stats:

James Moss 1+0; Kevin Boyd 1+0; Edgar Protčenko 0+1; Chris Sykes 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1; Darren Stattersfield 0+1

SOG: James Flavell 36 (14 / 12 / 10)

Speaking after the Cup defeat, Billingham’s Bench Coach Garry Dowd spoke to BigRedMachine Radio - click here to tune in.

The Stars are in Cup and League action again next weekend, a trip to Telford Tigers in the North Cup on Saturday 13th October followed by the visit of Solway Sharks to the Forum in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 on Sunday 14th October.

Weekend Results:

NIHL(N)1:

Billingham Stars 8 Nottingham Lions 4

Sheffield Steeldogs 6 Whitley Warriors 2

Blackburn Hawks 2 Whitley Warriors 4

Nottingham Lions 3 Solway Sharks 6

North Cup:

Solway Sharks 5 Blackburn Hawks 3

Sheffield Steeldogs 4 Billingham Stars 2

 

Images with thanks to Linda Crabtree (Lions) and Peter Best Photography (Steeldogs)